To gain citizens’ confidence, law enforcement acts and approaches should be guided by public safety and an officers show of integrity.
More and more Nigerians continue to protest across the country against law enforcement misconduct and brutality.
As to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Executive Director Abdulrasheed Ahmed Bawa’s ascension was welcomed by the people as he promised rule of law and professionalism in the EFCC.
With what reportedly happened at the hotel some days ago by EFCC officials, the lawless, violent, and insensitive image of officials of the so-called and now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) comes to mind.
The EFCC was said to have conducted a sting operation against alleged internet fraudsters at two sites; the Lakers Lounge Hotel and Bar and De Butlers Hotel, both located in the Ikorodu area of Lagos.
The EFCC must be praised for going after alleged cyber criminals, especially when we know from global reports that internet-related crimes cost the global economy about $445 billion every year. Just imagine what it is doing to a shaky economy like Nigeria’s. Havoc.
Cybercrimes cause damage to businesses and lead to consequences ranging from theft of personal information, loss of valuable data, sexual victimization, child abuse, extortion of money and can affect systems that depend on critical infrastructures, such as banks, power plants, schools, and hospitals. So, we need more EFCC services, which include internet sting operations to shockingly catch offenders. This type of undercover, sudden, and shocking arrest, when done properly, can sometimes change the lives of youths and young adults, telling them to get their lives back and stay away from a life of crime.
But why should law enforcement investigators and operatives be abusive and cruel or engage in the use of threats and violence?
The EFCC operatives’ raid of the Lagos hotels reportedly involved misconduct during the sting operations. There were complaints that officials allegedly ordered customers and workers to lie on the floor and beat up those who protested the order. For what?
It has been reported that many of the law enforcement operations involved people-beating, but how does that help in a reasonable court of law? The use of threats of violence by operators against suspects could potentially lead to a valid entrapment defense.
In operations such as the ones involving suspicious cybercrimes, it is very reasonable for operatives to confiscate cash, computers, and phones, as this is to ensure adequate criminal investigations.
Individuals should not benefit from their illegal acts. But such seized cash, computers, and phones must immediately be safeguarded for safekeeping throughout the investigation.
The seized cash, from the time it is seized until it is sealed, is evidence and should be counted, placed in a bag or container stored in the office’s overnight vault or security container, which every office must have.
The seized money, which serves as evidence, is then retrieved and taken to a bank for an official count. Seized assets, like phones and computers, should immediately undergo inventory and be safeguarded. After proper and less stressful follow-up by investigators, some assets are returned to the owner or kept for prosecutor reasons or forfeited to the government.
We know these types of undercover and sting operations are moments that can inspire fear and dread in anyone—including law-abiding citizens.
Nigerian citizens, whether at home or in a place like a hotel, should not be worried about operatives appearing at their door, unannounced, at any time, as such stings can come with an arrest/search warrant or no warrant.
However, you are not required to speak with them. No matter how much they embarrass you, to protect your legal rights, you do not have to talk to them. You have an absolute right to refuse to speak with the official, and you should always consult with a criminal lawyer before speaking with any law enforcement official.
The phrase “anything you say can and will be used against you” applies whether you are under arrest. But do not let anything interfere with the search because doing so may result in a charge of obstruction of justice.
If the EFCC follows the law in everything they do, unlike the Nigeria Police Force, which has a history of arbitrarily arresting and extorting money from ordinary citizens, the EFCC and other like-minded organizations will not be perceived as unrefined in tactics and rude in dealings with citizens.
The manner and approach of EFCC officials to the hotel raid and an apparent victims’ report in the Nigerian Punch newspaper showed how EFCC missed the mark: A customer, Oladapo Ogunyinka, said the EFCC officials seized people’s phones, adding that he had yet to recover his seized property.
He said, “I left Ikeja with two guests to have fun at the club. We were upstairs when the EFCC operatives invaded the premises with guns and sticks. One of them, Olumide, approached us with a gun, seized my iPhone PRO Max 13 and Samsung Galaxy A22, valued at N900,000, and ordered us to go down.
“When we got down, the operatives told us to lie down flat. The official who confiscated my phone immediately began filming. The officials went to the hotel attached to the club, broke the doors and brought the lodgers outside. There was a particular couple that came out; the man was wearing only boxers, and the lady, a pair of pants and a bra.
“There was a lady that started convulsing due to the shock of the incident, and one of the officers still beat her with a stick and said she was pretending. They treated people like animals; if I am lying, they have the CCTV footage with them. They should play it.
“They tied us in pairs of two; I explained to one of the operatives that I was a realtor that just came to the club to have fun, and he informed the officer that led the operation from Ibadan, Chris Odofin, and I was untied.” But they did not release my phones.
Ogunyinka said the operatives instructed him to visit the EFCC office in Ibadan, Oyo State, to ask for one Momoh to claim his phone, adding that despite visiting the office, he had yet to retrieve his property.
I had nothing incriminating on my phones, so I visited their office and asked for Momoh, who took me to where the seized phones were kept, but I didn’t see my phones. I became angry and started shouting, and luckily, I was able to identify the person that seized my phone and Momoh also saw the officer.
“So, their boss had to intervene and told Momoh to call the officer. Their boss, who is a woman, gave them 72 hours to produce my phones, but till date, they have yet to produce them. It is surprising that I gave my phones to an EFCC official, and he stole my phones instead of tendering them as exhibits.
“The incident was a nightmare. They harassed customers and workers at the club and didn’t even interview most people. I explained everything to their boss in Ibadan and she was just apologizing, “he added.
In the above case, once it has been established that the police erred in his detention, the property which is supposed to be safe in a specific place in the office will be given to him, and there will be no need for an erratically conducted search for his phone.
For how long will the EFCC allow its errors to result in outcomes like this? Earlier this year, the Federal High Court in Abuja awarded N50m in damages to a businessman, Babatunde Morakinyo, who sued the EFCC for arresting him within court premises after he was released on bail.
The above interactions with the victim justify the need for disciplinary action against an erring official sometimes. or outright dismissal of some officers. I believe that there are policies in place under Bawa that speak about lawful law enforcement procedures in regard to excessive force, false arrest, and arrestee valuables.
The EFCC and other law enforcement agencies must understand this. Police brutality and lawless behavior hinder good law enforcement in all democracies as they lead to anti-democratic outcomes, which include willful and intentional acts of danger to unsuspecting officers, ambushing of officers, violent injuries, and costly police misconduct lawsuits.
Most Nigerians believe Nigeria’s democracy is in crisis; public trust in government institutions remains low; and bad policing is holding a “dagger” at the throat of Nigerian democracy. It is my hope that the incoming governments will prioritize democratizing law enforcement by emphasizing accountability and implementing democratic law enforcement systems, which should include state police across the country.
John Egbeazien Oshodi, who was born in Uromi, Edo State in Nigeria to a father who served in the Nigeria police for 37 years, is an American based Police/Prison Scientist and Forensic/Clinical/Legal Psychologist. A government consultant on matters of forensic-clinical adult and child psychological services in the USA; Chief Educator and Clinician at the Transatlantic Enrichment and Refresher Institute, an Online Lifelong Center for Personal, Professional, and Career Development. He is a former Interim Associate Dean/Assistant Professor at Broward College, Florida. The Founder of the Dr. John Egbeazien Oshodi Foundation, Center for Psychological Health and Behavioral Change in African Settings In 2011, he introduced State-of-the-Art Forensic Psychology into Nigeria through N.U.C and Nasarawa State University, where he served in the Department of Psychology as an Associate Professor. I am currently a Virtual Behavioral Leadership Professor at ISCOM University, Republic of Benin. Founder of the proposed Transatlantic Egbeazien Open University (TEU) of Values and Ethics, a digital project of Truth, Ethics, and Openness. Over forty academic publications and creations, at least 200 public opinion pieces on African issues, and various books have been written by him. He specializes in psycho-prescriptive writings regarding African institutional and governance issues.
Prof. Oshodi wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org