Insight

Police: Making up charges to fleece innocent Nigerians

 

 

Relying on instincts to make arrest

 

Police have a penchant for arresting people based on their manner of dressing. Although different Inspectors-General of Police have warned against such practices, termed rights violation, these persist. In this report, JULIANA FRANCIS examines why police still make arrest based on the way people look or dress

 

Yinka Badmus, 24, a photojournalist, looked pale. He could barely speak; he mumbled his words and one has to strain to hear him. He had just been granted bail from the Ikoyi Prison, Lagos, less than 48 hours earlier.

 

He was granted bail after spending 11 horrifying days in the prison. He was arrested by operatives of the Nigeria Police for sporting dreadlocks.

 

The young man described the days of his arrest and eventual remand in Ikoyi Prison as, “days of hell.” Badmus said that since his arrest and incarceration, nightmares had become his bed mates. As Badmus gathered his scattered thoughts to tell his story, he stared into space, looking into the activities of the past days.

 

He said: “We were 16 young men that were ushered into the Ikoyi Prison on that

Before, after prison, Knee injured in detention

day; every one of us was transferred from Gbagada Anti-Cultism Unit. We were given garri to drink in the prison. I couldn’t drink it. I kept asking myself; what am I doing here? I’m not a criminal!”

 

Badmus, who said that he was arrested for sporting dreadlocks, disclosed that his journey to prison showed him a whole new scaring world of crime and the human race. Badmus, who said that sporting dreadlocks was his creative way of expressing himself, was not the first Nigerian who had been arrested and labelled a ‘criminal’ because of their fashion sense. Many had often taken to social media to air their outrage.

 

Many had to part with money before they were released. Before Bamdus came to Lagos, he was in Ibadan, Oyo State with his parents and siblings. His singular purpose in venturing to Lagos was to pursue a dream; the dream is to become one of the renowned photographers in Nigeria. Before he was arrested for his dreadlocks and labelled a cultist, he had already won an international scholarship, to further his study in photographing.

 

He almost lost the scholarship owing to his arrest. On the day the school called him on Skype to have an interview with him he was in prison, battling not to lose his mind. His mentor, Stephen Oguntoyinbo, who also doubles as his boss, had painfully explained to the school the whereabouts of Badmus and the reason for his incarceration.

 

The school was said to have become shocked and had promised to keep the slot open for him until the following week, hoping for a bail. And then, showing an incredible solidarity for Badmus, the school went on twitter to demand his liberation. Before the international scholarship, Badmus had just completed a three-month scholarship in September with Shola Animasahun’s Academy.

 

The drama that led to Badmus becoming one of the inmates in Ikoyi Prison started on December 31, 2018, at Olatilewa Street, Surulere. He had just returned from a photo session. The time was about 11.45p.m. People were already in churches, waiting for the clock to strike 12a.m., so that they could start screaming, “Happy New Year.”

 

Tired and hungry, Badmus quickly sighted the heavily pregnant Iya-Abike. She was still at her stand, where she sells noodles. Badmus made a beeline for her and placed an order. He had not eaten more than a few forkfuls, when policemen appeared from nowhere and all hell was let loose.

 

Badmus said: “I was eating noodles at Olatilewa Street, Surulere, when I saw policemen chase some boys. One of the policemen moved towards me. He is tall, huge and light in complexion. He has tribal marks. Immediately he came near, he used his rifle to hit my plate.

 

The plate and its content fell to the ground. I was shocked and simply held my fork, gaping at him. The policeman said, ‘so, this is the fork you use to oppress people isn’t it?’ “The next thing he did was to slap my face. I told him that I was in my street, I pointed to my house. I told him I had not done anything wrong. I introduced myself as a photographer. He didn’t listen; rather, he slapped me again and again. I lost count of the number of times he slapped me.

 

“He kicked me and then held my shirt. He dragged and bundled me into a bus, painted Lagos State commercial colour. I met six young people in the bus; they were in handcuffs. They were shouting, ‘we were going to church, we were going to church. We didn’t do anything.’ On the way, the police started shooting tear gas. One of those arrested is an asthmatic patient. He was about to had a crisis. He couldn’t breathe properly; he suddenly jumped out through the bus window.

 

The policemen caught and dragged him back into the bus.” Badmus said that about 12.20a.m., the bus driver drove into Itire Police Station in Surulere. The following morning, which was January 1, the policemen came and started asking each of them if they had anyone they wanted to call; someone who could come for their bail. Some of the detainees quickly called their relatives.

 

Badmus narrated: “Relatives, who came to bail people paid as much as N30,000, N40,000 and N50,000. I didn’t have anyone I could call, at least anyone with that kind of money for bail. My mentor, Stephen, had travelled.

 

Moreover, I kept telling myself that I didn’t commit any crime. I thought they would have a rethink and release me, but they didn’t.” He said that by Wednesday, more relatives came to bail their loved ones. The rest of the detainees and Badmus were moved to Gbagada, where the police have Anti-Cultism Unit. When they got there, Badmus and others were asked to sit on the ground, while machetes were allegedly placed in front of them. Later, they were asked to file into an office.

 

He said: “We were asked to pull off our shirts. The policemen started writing statement for every detainee. I refused to allow them to write mine. I didn’t want them to write what I didn’t do. When I insisted that I wanted to write my statement myself, one of them hit me on my back with an axe. Later, they marched every one of us into the cell. We were there until Thursday.”

 

Badmus said that while in detention, he met Segun, who stayed in the same community with him. Unfortunately, he didn’t know Segun, but Segun knows him. He said that Segun and his friends were bailed for N75,000. Segun is about 18-yearold. He and his friends were returning from a Catholic church when they were all arrested. “They even had the Catholic church bulletins with them. When he was leaving, I begged him to alert my friend.

 

On Thursday, my Uncle, Stephen, came to the station,” he said. Stephen took over the story, explaining that he was in Abeokuta, Ogun State, when he received the call that Badmus had been detained. When Stephen received the call, he abandoned his conference and headed to Lagos.

 

He said: “When I got here, Yinka saw me and was shocked. He was shocked because he didn’t know how I got the information. To be truthful, I had repeatedly warned Yinka to cut off his dreadlocks. The policemen further told me that the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) in charge of Yinka’s case was not around. I was asked to return tomorrow.

 

As I was leaving, they asked me to ‘bring something’ when I would be coming tomorrow.” The following day, which was a Friday, Stephen went to the station. He was shocked to discover that the detainees were being led like sheep going to a slaughter slab into a waiting Black Maria. Stephen hurried to find Badmus’ IPO. He tried to facilitate the lad’s bail, but the IPO was allegedly rude to him.

 

Badmus and others were moved to court. Stephen rushed to court. He was approached by a lawyer, ‘Barrister’ Bright. He thought Badmus could be granted bail through the intervention of Bright. Stephen said that he thought he was dealing with an experienced lawyer, he didn’t know that Badmus was the first case Bright had ever had since he left Law School.

 

And before he knew what was happening, Badmus was remanded in prison custody. He was asked to get some documents ready for Badmus’ bail on Monday. Monday seemed like hundred years away, but the day finally came and Stephen quickly called Bright. But the lawyer said that he was not around.

 

By then, Stephen had got all the items that Bright asked him to get, including utility bills and passport. “He said that I would pay N25,000 for bail bond. I reminded him that he didn’t tell me about that. Before then I had transferred N10,000 for the tax clearance. He then said his bill was N25,000,” Stephen said. He said Bright was making too much demands and everything was becoming all too confusing.

 

By the time Stephen called Bright the next day, stating that he had raise the N25,000, the lawyer said that the money had been jacked up to  N75,000. Stephen became livid. When Stephen learnt that Bright didn’t know what he was doing, he started making calls and moves to get Badmus out of prison. He said: “I know Yinka very well.

 

He is not a bad boy. Once its 7p.m., he is back at home, in his room, pressing phone. I don’t stay out late myself, except when we have jobs somewhere to shoot or have a conference. We just had a conference on story telling; Yinka was one of our best students.”

 

Stephen disclosed that at a point, everyone, who knew Badmus, including President Muhammadu Buhari’s photographer, Bayo Omoboriowo, reached out to people he reasoned could be able to facilitate the lad’s release. “Yinka had worked with many of these notable Nigerians.

 

They know he doesn’t smoke or drink. Yinka stays with me. You can’t stay with me without meeting certain standards and principles. People know me for that,” said Stephen. On Monday Stephen tendered the documents required and later Badmus was released.

 

When the noise over Badmus’ arrest became too much, the Lagos State Police Command came out with a statement, insisting that Badmus was arrested for cultism and for being in possession of Indian hemp.

 

Police further said that he was arrested along with other cultists. The police had previously told Badmus that he was arrested because of his dreadlocks. When the stories hit the dailies, everyone focused on the illegalities of arresting Nigerians because of the way they chose to dress.

 

The statement, which was signed by the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Chike Oti, reads in part: “The attention of the authorities of Lagos State Police Command has been drawn to the news making the rounds on the social media and published by some sections of the print media to the effect that Yinka Badmus, a photojournalist, has been arrested and remanded in Ikoyi Prison, for allegedly sporting a hairstyle, which some policemen felt made him look like a cultist.

 

“Ordinarily, the command would not have responded to the news but because of numerous phone calls and enquiries from well-meaning Nigerians, it decided to put the issue in proper perspective. To start with, it is ridiculous to say that the Anti-Cultism Unit of the Lagos State Police Command charged a suspect to court because of his hairstyle.

 

Yinka Badmus and 13 others were charged to Ogudu Magistrate’s Court on January 4, 2019, on a two-count charge. The first count is conspiracy, for conspiring among themselves to commit felony to wit membership of unlawful society contrary to and punishable under Section 411, Cap CH, C17, Vol. 3 Laws of Lagos, 2015.

 

The second count holds them for belonging to an unlawful society known as Eiye Confraternity contrary to and punishable under Section 42(a), Cap CH, C17 Vol. 3, Laws of Lagos State 2015.

 

“The suspects were, however, granted bail in the sum of N50,000 by a court of competent jurisdiction. However, those who could not meet the bail conditions were remanded in prison custody pending when they would meet the stipulated conditions for their bail. This is an issue that is neither within the purview of the Force nor its control.

 

“For the avoidance of doubt, there is no section of the Lagos State Criminal Law and indeed the Criminal Code that criminalises hairstyle.

 

Therefore, there is no way Badmus could have been charged to court for wearing dreadlocks by the police. Suspects are charged to court based on the existing law and not for mundane reasons.” Stephen said that when he saw the police statement, he was disappointed and also found it very funny.

 

He said: “The police twisted the story. I don’t even think the commissioner of police or any of his men bothered to go to the scene of the arrest to carry out investigation. They all relied on what the policemen who arrested Yinka told them.” Badmus told our reporter: “I never knew what made the police to arrest me until when we were being transferred to Gbagada.

 

When I saw the policeman that arrested me, I asked him what crime I had committed? He responded in Yoruba, that it was my dreadlocks. I told him I was a creative photo artist; the dreadlocks were my way of expressing myself; it was my signature.”

 

At Ikoyi Prison, Badmus was placed in a cell dubbed, ‘Welcome cell.’ He said new inmates like him were made to squat by other inmates. He said: “We were over 70 new inmates in the ‘Welcome Cell’ on that particular day. We were called Alejo (visitors).

 

The way we were made to sit was very painful. We sat facing one another, some people were screaming in pain. Inmates on death row told us to call and tell our family members to transfer recharge cards of N2,000, if we wanted to leave the ‘welcome cell’ and moved to a better cell. I didn’t call anyone. I was tired and my legs were sore, but I couldn’t complain. Those that complained were beaten with belts.

 

When it was about 7a.m, we were given beans and garri in a single bowl; a bowl for 10 people. I couldn’t eat.” Badmus noted that beans were usually taken with garri, while eba was taken with watery soup. He noticed that some new inmates, after a few days in the prison, developed giant boils all over their bodies.

 

Further recalling his experience, Badmus said: “Later someone came that they were going to cut off our hair with blades. They were using one blade for six inmates. I didn’t allow them to touch my hair. I called a friend to send me a recharged card; he sent N1,000 worth of recharged card. I used the card to ensure a new blade was used to cut my hair. The inmates had phones with them.

 

There are barbers in the prison. The prison is a complete nation or community. We were then distributed into different cells. Mine was B4. We had a DPO, Mopol and elders.

 

“They told us to respect the elders. When we as ‘Alejo’ are called, we should respond by answering sir.” Badmus was further advised by one of the elders to plan well or else he would suffer inside the prison. He said that to have a good bunk, an inmate has to pay between N30,000 and N60,000. Badmus’ voice drifted off as he remembered some other things, shook his head and said: “That place was hell.”

 

Veering off into another train of thought, he said: “I’ve always had a dream; to be a filmmaker. I also would like to venture into movie writing, fashion, lifestyle and street photographing. Right now, I cover events, shows and I have won scholarships. I’m even going for one, but they said until I finish this court case. As for me, I want to express myself because I’m a creative person.”

 

Our reporter embarked on an investigation to Badmus’s community, to find out what truly transpired. A motorcycle ride from La-wanson Bus Stop takes the reporter into a community with network of streets. One of these streets is Olatilewa, where Badmus was eating his noodles, when the policemen arrived.

 

Olatilewa is a stretch, but snakes off to different streets. One of those streets is Odunlami, where Badmus lives. Odunlami and Olatilewa are close. A resident of Odunlami Street, Juwo Lere, 22, gave an insight into what truly transpired on that fateful night.

 

 

 

He said: “As you can see, there are many streets in this community. Some boys, from two different streets, fought over a girl. Police came to raid those fighting and everyone started running, while police chased them. Police started firing tear-gas. People that were sleeping ran out because of the tear-gas.

 

That was how they arrested Yinka. In fact, he travelled, I was expecting him. I was in church, chatting with him to meet me in church for the Cross-Over service. But he was not responding to my chat.

 

When I returned from church, I heard what happened.” Lere, an undergraduate, who is into printing, added: “Everyone was shocked when they heard that Yinka had been arrested. He is a quiet young man, who likes keeping to himself. His discussions are always about life and how to be successful. He came to this community two years ago; he doesn’t even know anyone.

 

But people know him. He is into entertainment. He is always busy; always travelling. If he is at home, he stays indoors and only comes out when it is time to buy food to eat. He avoids conflict. I have never seen him exchange heated words with anyone. “What police did was wrong. They didn’t ask him anything just bundled him into their bus. In fact, many people with dyed hair were arrested. Others, when they heard about the police raid, rushed to shave off their dyed hair.” Lere’s grandmother, Alhaja Raliat Ayoka, who is over 90 years old, chips into the conversation: “Yinka is not a bad boy. He some-

 

times comes to my shop to sit and he wouldn’t say anything to anyone. He keeps to himself. I studied him and began to like him. Whenever he comes here, I give him food. If he is a bad boy, I wouldn’t allow him into my shop, let alone close to my grandson.” Our reporter went to look for Iya-Abike, the noodle seller, but she doesn’t live where she sells. She lives some streets away. It was also discovered that she was delivered of a baby a few days earlier.

 

After visits to two streets and moving from one building to another, asking of a “noodle seller” who sells at Olatilewa Junction and that was just delivered of a baby. The woman was finally located, in a boys’ quarter. She said: “It was a terrible day! Yinka was just eating his noodles when the police came and grabbed him. He had just returned from a journey. He didn’t do anything. They fired tear-gas, we couldn’t breathe.

 

There was panic and confusion everywhere.” Incidentally, Badmus is not the only Nigerian who had been arrested because of his fashion sense. Abdulkareem Thompson was arrested thrice by policemen from Sango Police Station, Ogun State for having a tattoo.

 

According to him, each time he was arrested, he  was made to pay N10,000. He said: “So having tattoo now is a crime in Ogun State? I was arrested all because of my tattoo at Sango Police Station. If you don’t pay, you’re going to court. My N30,000 is with Sango Police Station. A lot of innocent people are in their custody because they didn’t have N10,000 for bail. Is tattoo a crime?

 

Aniekan Williams, who recently returned to Nigeria, was arrested for not combing his hair. “I took the decision to leave Nigeria after an unpleasant and unexpected welcome to Lagos less than two weeks after I arrived the country. I have been robbed, slapped and made to spend a night in police cell just because I didn’t comb my hair,” he said.

 

Mrs. Juliet Bumah, an editor, was flagged down because she had dreadlocks. Many others have been arrested for looking young and driving expensive cars. Others have been arrested for looking like cybercrime criminals aka ‘Yahoo Yahoo boys’.

 

And still many people for looking young, but wearing expensive clothes, wristwatches, shoes, using expensive phones and driving expensive cars. Many local and international stars, ranging from sports icons, musicians, down to actors and actresses do have tattoos, dye hair and have dreadlocks.

 

The Director, International Press Centre, Lagos, Lanre Arogundade, condemned Badmus’ arrest. He said: “It was unconstitutional for Yinka to have been detained for many days before being eventually arraigned.” Miriam Obioma Okoro, Esq, said she didn’t know of any law that forbids dreadlocks and tattoos in Nigeria. She said that most times, individuals, particularly the youth get harassed unnecessarily by security agents because of their looks.

 

According to her, this has to change as such practice is a huge infringement on their fundamental human rights. She said: “No one deserves to be harassed or even arrested as a result of whatsoever a security agent thinks about his appearance.

 

Therefore, it can’t be termed a ‘criminal offence’ since no Nigerian law suggests that. However, security agents must bear this in mind while carrying out their duties in order to avoid complex issues arising from unlawful detention.”

 

Okoro said that arrest before investigation was illegal and unconstitutional going by the provisions of Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides for the fundamental rights to personal liberty. This, however, is what is obtainable in the Nigerian society, among police personnel. She said: “It also extensively stipulates the circumstances under which a person could be deprived of such liberties.

 

Also, the courts in several cases have expressly determined that before an arrest is effected, you must have investigated the matter and established a prima facie case against the individual.

 

“However, the security agencies have the right to invite certain individuals to their station for questioning but must not detain such people in their custody for over 48 hours, going by the provisions of the constitution.” A legal practitioner, Mr. Oluseye Banjoko, said: “It’s not an offence or a crime for a youth to wear dreadlocks or draws a tattoo on his body. There is no law in Nigeria that states such appearances as a criminal act.

 

“I think the police are just being overzealous in discharging their duties by making such an arrest. It is totally wrong for police officers to arrest anyone in this country, simply because the person was seen wearing dreadlocks or tattoos. “Also, on the issue of investigation and arrest, I think it would have made common sense for the police to investigate first before making an arrest. Except they find themselves in the position where making that arrest would help them conduct a proper investigation.

 

But ordinarily, it doesn’t make sense arresting someone who you are not sure has committed any offence. This is simply because you cannot arrest someone without knowing the exact offence which you would be charging him/her for. And if you have arrested someone you are not sure has committed an offence, how do you intend to deal with it especially in terms of arraigning the person in court?

 

“The law stipulates 48 hours to arraign a suspect who has been accused of committing an offence. So how do the police intend to arraign such a person in court without having a record or iota of evidence against the person?

 

Therefore, it would be more proper for the police to first conduct an investigation to be sure who has actually committed an offence and then proceed in making an arrest in order to take the person to court within 48 hours, as stipulated.

 

This would help their case and also not result in the filing of a charge entirely different from what the person actually committed.” The National Coordinator of Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN), Okechukwu Nwanguma, said:

 

“The arrest and detention and eventual arraignment of Yinka Badmus by the Anti-Cultism Unit of the Lagos State Police Command represents a major setback to the efforts and successes recorded by the Lagos State Police in changing the way police officers conduct themselves or treat citizens.

 

“It may not, however, be the official position of the command that a citizen could be arrested because of his hairstyle. The fact that an officer of the police could say that and then go ahead to arraign innocent people because they could not pay money to be left off the hook after they were wrongfully arrested indicates that there still exists within the police, elements who continue to resist change and want to continue to indulge in unprofessional conducts that portray the police in bad light and alienate them from the community they serve.

 

“This refusal to accept change and continued indulgence in misconduct and crime also explains why, despite warnings by police hierarchy to the contrary, some police officers continue to stop and invade the privacy of citizens going about their legitimate businesses by searching their phones, laptops, wallets and especially young people.

 

“The commissioner of police, who is clearly on a mission of cleansing the police of bad elements should look closely in this direction and ensure that officers who continue to indulge in these misconduct are fished out and neutralised.”

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