The Nigeria Police made a total of N20.35 billion between January last year and June this year from extorting money from motorists at illegal checkpoints, a report by the global organisation, Human Rights Watch has revealed.

Emeka Umeagbalasi, the chairman of the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law presented the report in Lagos said checkpoints in the South East yielded the highest sums. Giving a breakdown of what is made from the different regions, Mr. Umeagbalasi said N9.35 billion was realised from the South East, South-South brought in N4 billion, while the South-West nets the police N4 billion. In the North Central, which includes Abuja, N2 billion was made, while the North East and North West brought in N500 million each.

“Of course that shows that the extortion is highly concentrated in the southern part of the country,” said Mr Umeagbalasi.

Yesterday, the Nigeria Police dismissed the report as “embellished innuendoes and suggestive graphics aimed at reaching a preconceived conclusion”. A statement by Emeka Ojukwu, Force spokesman, said the report lacked merit and should not be relied upon.

The report titled, ‘Everyone’s in on the Game: Corruption and Human Rights Abuses by the Nigeria Police Force,’ said, “one civil society group in Anambra State estimated that in 2008 the police collected approximately N540 million ($4.5million) in illegal ‘tolls’ from some 70 police checkpoints along the state’s roadways.” Eric Guttschuss, a researcher at the Human Rights Watch, called on the appropriate authority to ensure that legislations are put in place to end the extortions. The group said the sum did not include the “wetin you carry” money, the pre-trial bail fees, and commercialisation of criminal enquiry, but concentrated on just the N20 illegal toll, so the figures do not represent the entire extortion sum.

“What the Human Right Watch is saying is that yes we know that police is corrupt and killing outside the law, now, what are the factors that make them corrupt and kill outside the law? This is where corruption comes in. The situation is if you are able to pay you will be released and if not you will die, the situation is that worse,” Mr. Umeagbalasi said.

Corruption unlimited

The report observes that corruption in the force ranges from armed officers extorting money at checkpoints to top officials embezzling police funds, thereby depriving people from living in a more secured environment.

The Network on Police Reform in Nigeria claims yesterday that 34,000 individuals have been killed outside the law, “in the last 11 years, over 13,000 people have been killed within the context of ethno religious crisis in Nigeria, and then we now say that outside this about 10,000 might have died over police related unlawful killings. I am sure you know police can kill, but there is a legal stipulation, otherwise we say unlawful killing. Then another 10,000 died as a result of vigilante killing.”

The 102-page report said there was lack of political will to reform the force and the impunity in the system means Nigerians are more likely to encounter police threatening them and demanding bribes than enforcing law.

“Good policing is the bedrock for the rule of law and public safety,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The long-term failure of the Nigerian authorities to address police bribery, extortion, and wholesale embezzlement threatens the basic rights of all Nigerians.” The report is part of the group’s findings from a field research conducted in Lagos, Anambra, Abuja and Kaduna; and telephone interviews in Rivers and Ebonyi states, all representing different geo-political zones in the country.

The report revealed that in major Nigerian cities, armed police set up checkpoints every evening ostensibly to control high levels of crime, including armed robbery and kidnapping, but the checkpoints are in reality tolls at which officers attempt to force motorists to pay money by all means, using familiar slangs that are familiar with commercial motorists.

A long way

Mr. Ojukwu, said he believes that the Nigeria Police have come a long way from “its colonial era of oppression and has survived many years of neglect and under-funding.” He said that the force has faced enormous challenges in meeting its obligations of ensuring safety and security.

He said in its efforts to sanitise the system, the force has in the last one year sanctioned 764 senior officers and 8,831 junior officers for various acts of indiscipline

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