ONITSHA (SundiataPost) – Yesterday, 29 June 2020, Sundiata Post published the executive summary of a special report on how security agents extorted from transporters approximately N44bn in a 90-day while enforcing the lockdown imposed to check the spread of COVID-19.
We promised to make available the full report of the investigation today. The research covering the period 30 March to 30 June 2020, was carried out by human rights group, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of law (Intersociety).
The special report is titled: Nigerian Security Agencies Pocketed N44B ($120M) Bribes In 90 Days Enforcing Intra/Inter-State “Lockdowns”
The full report:
Background Of This Investigative Statement
The authorities of the Federal Government of Nigeria and those of the country’s 36 States had at different dates in March 2020 announced various measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 virus. Among the measures was imposition of ‘the intra and inter-state lockdowns’. While the 36 State Governors announced total restriction of movements in their States, the Federal Government and the Governors agreed and imposed inter-state lockdowns throughout Nigeria. These were in addition to closing of the country’s borders and coastal lines, water ways, railways and shutting down of its 54 domestic and international air ports.
However, the exercise has been converted by the named security forces and their chiefs as well as their civilian counterparts into instruments for bribery and extortion. The named security agencies brazenly had a field day, collecting bribes at will and with reckless abandon, to the extent that the bribery and extortion have become widespread and unceasing. In the announcement of the intra and inter-state lockdowns, certain categories of vehicles and their movements were exempted. They included ‘those on essential duties’ and others in haulage services’; but contrary was the case as they were heavily extorted and still being heavily extorted. Through collection and pocketing of bribes, too, all types of vehicles particularly those conveying passengers, were and are still being extorted before allowed passage at roadblocks, boundaries and borders. The Nigerian criminal entities have also been operating at will, wrecking havocs on defenseless citizens and properties while the same security agencies looked the other side.
Security “Lockdowns” Bedeviled By Corruption
Both intra and inter-state COVID-19 “lockdowns” have become grossly counter-productive and achieved no meaningful results with regard to COVID-19 prevention. Left unchecked, the Nigeria’s security forces and their chiefs will continuously “recommend” for their extension so as to continue to smile to the bank with illicit proceeds or billions arising from same. Apart from the fact that the Federal Ministry of Health and its NCDC are being economical with the truth with respect to accurate data concerning the real number of COVID-19 infected persons and deaths in Nigeria, many States including Anambra have technically collapsed their counter COVID-19 measures or converted same into instruments of intimidation, extortion and bribery.
For instance, apart from Nigeria being one of the least countries in Africa with COVID-19 testing and management capacities; having carried out total testing of only 130,165 persons as at 28th June 2020, with total confirmed cases of ’24,567’ infections and ‘565’ deaths, the country has acutely under-reported or misrepresented its statistics. By its own recent account, 60% of the 1,774 recent sudden deaths in Kano was COVID-19 related, yet, till date, this has not been reflected in the national COVID-19 data or statistics. As a matter of fact, out of not less than 3,000 sudden deaths that recently hit Kano, Jigawa, Yobe and Bauchi, ‘60%” or 1,800 are COVID-19 related, yet they have been omitted. Contrarily, in South Africa, over 1.2m people have been tested; with 124,590 infections and 2,340 deaths recorded.
In real and credible data capturing, Nigeria should be living with hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 infections and thousands, if not tens of thousands of deaths. In Anambra State, for instance, Government in the State has technically proclaimed same as “COVID-19 free’, yet people are dying secretly and being buried here and there; with their relatives ignorantly blaming their deaths on “high BP”, “high sugar”, “high fever”, “high malaria or typhoid”, “over thinking”, etc. Among the latest COVID-19 causalities in the State was Prof Okwudiri Udemezue, Provost of School of Heath Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nnewi.
‘Four major sources were identified: border post extortion, boundary post extortion, roadblock extortion and extortion arising from illegal and unlawful arrests or threats of same.’
The State’s infection records have remained stagnated at “71” as against its neighbouring Delta State which has 912, Ebonyi 395, Imo 303, Abia 302 and Enugu 261; yet Anambra is the gateway into the named States. Enugu State has just lost to COVID-19 a serving High Court Judge, Justice Fidelis Ngwu. The only sign of COVID-19 prevention enforcement in Anambra State presently is the enforcement of ‘wearing of facemasks’ for criminal fees, which has provided a field day for police and Government hired militant entities including criminal taskforces.
Sources Of The Bribery & Extortion
Four major sources were identified: border post extortion, boundary post extortion, roadblock extortion and extortion arising from illegal and unlawful arrests or threats of same. Illegal and unlawful arrests involved impoundment of passenger vehicles and mass arrest of their occupants resulting in their torture, detention and extortion. They also included late evening and night invasion of restaurants, provision sales stores, event centers, drinking and eating joints, hotels, motor parks, playing grounds and residential houses, etc. These were perpetrated and are still being perpetrated by General Duties, SARS and Operational Police officers and in some cases by the Joint Security Taskforce (comprising military, police and paramilitary personnel).
Short Data On Nigerian Geography & Territorial Security
Nigeria is a country of estimated 204m citizens (UN estimates 2020) with general labour force of 60.08m; 923, 768 km2 of land mass, 853km of coastline, 8,600km waterways, 4,477km border distance, 198,200 kilometers of road network (trunk A, trunk B and trunk C) and 3,505km of railway as well as 54 serviceable airports. The country’s road networks are further divided into four major categories including trans-national or international border highways; 34, 200km of Federal or Trunk A Roads, 34, 000km of State or Trunk B Roads and 130,000km of Communal/Local Government or Trunk C Roads. Out of the referenced Federal and State Roads, about 60% are paved.
Number Of Security Employees Securing The Above:
Nigeria’s security forces (military, paramilitaries, police and intelligence) are presently put at about 740,000 including 215,000 active and 52,000 reservist officers and personnel of the Armed Forces (Army, Air Force and Navy); 300, 892 sworn police officers, 100, 822 paramilitary personnel and 60,000-70,000 intelligence personnel; totaling 740,000 armed officers and personnel. Also other than, the country’s 853km of Coastline, 8,600km of waterways and 3,505km of railway, the rest are ‘instruments of bribery and extortion’ using ‘COVID-19 intra and inter-state lockdowns’. Nigeria also shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in the north. It also shares a border with southern part of Cameroon or self proclaimed ‘Republic of Ambazonia’. These are represented by four major Trans National Highways joining Nigeria with the four countries; with adjoining roads. Such roads are classified as “A1 Highway, A2 Highway, A3 Highway, A4 Highway”, etc.
A Case Study Of Onitsha Niger Bridge & Southeast:
Onitsha Niger Bridge has been under our monitoring since 30th March 2020. It is used in this investigative statement as a case study; likewise Anambra State and the Southeast Region. In three months or from 30th March to 30th June 2020, by our counting and calculation, not less than N720m is strongly believed to have been criminally collected and pocketed at Onitsha Niger Bridgehead alone; involving mostly haulage, passenger and other vehicles crossing Onitsha into Asaba and other parts of the country as well as those coming into Onitsha. Those responsible or participating in the bribery and extortion exercise, sighted and identified included: (1) soldiers of 302 Artillery, Onitsha, (2) Nigerian Navy Post, Ogbaru, (3) officers of the Nigeria Police Force, Anambra State Police Command (different departments), (4) Federal Road Safety Corps, (5) the Nigerian Security & Civil Defense Corps, (6) the Vigilante Group of Nigeria and (7) the COVID-19 officials from the State Ministries of Health and Transport. Included are different squads of Government and private militant revenue agents. The named extortionists had engaged and still engage the services of civilians as ‘their criminal toll collectors’.
Patterns Used By The Extortionists:
While they pretended to be enforcing the inter-state lockdown at the Onitsha Niger Bridge, their hired civilian toll collectors were found busy counting vehicles and collecting the tolls upfront before allowing them passage. With four lines formed leading to long gridlock stretching down to Onitsha Upper Iweka on daily basis, the collectors usually count 25 vehicles from each line and another 25 from second line or 50 vehicles per two lines, collect their tolls upfront and allow them to move. These they do under the watchful eyes of their “employers” or extorting security agencies; after which another set of 50 vehicles will be counted from the other two lines. It also takes about an hour to pass 100 vehicles, leading to twenty passes per day, totaling passage of 2000 vehicles daily involving haulage, passenger and other vehicles including those belonging to pharmaceutical companies or delivering licit drugs to Onitsha drug marketers. Those coming into Onitsha are also not free from the bribery and extortion as they pay sundry tolls to stationed soldiers, police, FRSC and private and Government militant revenue agents before being allowed passage.
Amounts Charged & Collected:
Sums extorted or criminally collected and pocketed varied. They ranged from N10, 000-N7, 000-N5, 000 especially at the heat of the lockdowns to 5,000-N3, 000-N2, 000-N1, 000 as at today; all per haulage or passenger vehicle. For vehicles hauling drugs; illicit and licitly imported types, they are a gold mine for the extortionists as tolls to be collected and pocketed must not be less than N50,000-N1m as case may and depending on the drug type and the owner. For purpose of this investigative statement, ‘N3, 000’ flat benchmark is used. That is to say at passage of 100 vehicles per hour at Onitsha Niger Bridge, N300,000 is criminally collected and pocketed and for 2000 vehicles passed per day, it is N6m, N180m per month and N540m in the last three months of 30th March to 30th June 2020.
Another N2m is criminally collected and pocketed daily from vehicles allowed into Onitsha at the same Bridge. This further translates to N60m per month and N180m in the past three months. In all, therefore, a total sum of N720m is likely to have been criminally collected and pocketed at the Onitsha Niger Bridge in the past three months of 30th March to 30th June 2020. This further singles out Onitsha Niger Bridge (Delta-Anambra Boundary) as the ‘most lucrative’ boundary post extortion throughout Nigeria. Using same statistics, too, another N400m (N200m each) is likely to have been criminally collected and pocketed from Anambra section of Amamsea/Ugwuoba or Anambra/Enugu boundary and Uli/Mgbidi/Amorka or Anambra/Imo boundary.
Added to the two (N720m and N400m) is N1.4bn arising from the existing daily police extortion from estimated 800 police roadblocks in Anambra State in the past three months. By the existing data, N40, 000 is extorted daily on average by each of the 800 police roadblocks in the State, translating to N32m daily, N960m monthly and N2.88b in the past three months. But owing to drastic reduction in the ‘extortion instruments’ (i.e. movements of vehicles, humans and wares) during the intra state COVID-19 lockdown in the State, the N2.88bn strongly believed to have been criminally collected and pocketed by 800 police roadblocks since 30th March, has been reduced to half or N1.4bn. In all, therefore, the total COVID-19 bribery and extortion from Anambra roads is validly estimated at N2.5bn; out of which Onitsha Niger Bridgehead accounted for N720m.
In Abia State, using the same statistics, at N40, 000 per police roadblock daily multiplied by 800 police roadblocks in the State, same N2.88b was supposed to have been criminally collected and pocketed in the past three months, but having been reduced to N1.4b and added to N500m strongly believed to have criminally collected and pocketed by COVID-19 security taskforces at the key boundaries of the State with other States (i.e. Abia-Imo, Abia-Rivers, Abia-Ebonyi, Abia-Akwa Ibom and Abia-Enugu); total sum of N1.8b is likely to have been criminally collected and pocketed. In Imo, it is N1.3b arising from N900m being half of its N1.8b existing police roadblock extortion in the past three months and N400m strongly believed to have been criminally collected and pocketed by COVID-19 security taskforces at its key boundaries with other States (i.e. Imo-Anambra, Imo-Rivers, Imo-Abia and Imo-Enugu).
In Enugu State, it is N500m or half of existing N1, 12bn police roadblock extortion from its 500 police roadblocks at N25,000 per day in the past three months, added to N300m strongly believed to have been criminally collected and pocketed by its COVID-19 taskforces at its key boundaries with other States (i.e. Enugu-Anambra, Enugu-Benue, Enugu-Kogi, Enugu-Ebonyi and Enugu-Abia), totaling N800m. Same sum of N800m is credited to Ebonyi State including N500m police roadblock extortion and N300m COVID-19 security taskforce extortion at its key boundaries including Ebonyi-Enugu, Ebonyi-Cross River, Ebonyi-Benue and Ebonyi-Abia boundaries. Enugu and Ebonyi States are the least States in the Southeast with “abundant” extortion ‘instruments’. This is owing to their ‘blue-collar classes’.
Other Geopolitical Regions Projected & Covered: South-south:
Based on similar statistics, South-south was also projected and covered and credited with total COVID-19 extortion of N6.5bn. The amount principally arose from ‘boundary post’ and ‘police roadblock’ COVID-19 extortions. The amount was also credited because the region is highly industrialized and an ‘oil region’; with high volume of ‘extortion instruments’ largely found in Rivers, Edo, Delta, Cross River; with remainders in Akwa Ibom and Beyelsa States. Southwest: This region is likely to have lost N5.5bn to police roadblock and COVID-19 boundary post security extortion. Northwest: This region with seven States is likely to have lost N4bn. Though higher in the number of States, but it is not “blessed with high volume of extortion instruments”. North-central: Though a gateway between North and East and West, but its ‘extortion instruments’ are lower than those of other regions except Northeast; therefore, it is likely to have lost N3bn. Northeast: It is the least region with “extortion instruments” and likely to have lost N2bn to police roadblock and COVID-19 boundary post security extortions in the past three months or 30th March to 30th June 2020.
Proceeds From Military Roadblocks:
Going by our existing data on military roadblock extortion in the Southeast and South-south, it strongly indicates that daily average of N60,000 is extorted by each of the projected 600 military roadblocks in the two regions, translating to N36m daily, N1.08b monthly and N3,24b in the past three months or since 30th March 2020; but owing to drastic reduction in ‘extortion instruments’ during intra state and interstate lockdowns, the amount has been cut down to N1.6bn or N800m for each of the two regions. Using same method, Southwest is likely to have lost N500m to military roadblock extortion, North-central N300m, Northwest N200m and Northeast N100m; totaling N2.7bn. The amount of N2.7bn from military roadblock extortion is entirely different from inter-state boundary post and inter-country border post COVID-19 military blockades and extortions.
International Border Blockade Extortion:
From our recent interactions with Muslim traders from Republics of Niger and Chad who crossed over to Nigeria in April and May to buy goods in Onitsha, it was found that ‘they are heavily being extorted at borders by soldiers, Customs, Police Border patrols and other security agencies”.. Their ware-billed goods “are also heavily extorted” before being allowed passage. It is therefore our projection that ‘not less than N8bn’ has been lost to Nigerian border security personnel in connection with COVID-19 security extortion. This is on average of N2bn for each of the country’s four major international borders and their road routes.
N4bn Arising From Mass Arrest Extortion:
A total of not less than N4bn is strongly believed to have been criminally collected and pocketed by various security and law enforcement agencies particularly the ‘Police SARS’, ‘Anti Cult Police’, ‘General Duties Police’, ‘Anti Terror Police or CTU’, ‘Police Patrol Teams’ and ‘Joint Security Taskforce or JTF’. The N4b emanated from late evening and night invasions or raiding or broad day arrests and ‘bail fees’ imposed, collected and pocketed. By availability of ‘extortion instruments’, therefore, Southeast takes the lion’s share of N1.5bn, South-south N1bn, Southwest N600m, North-central N400m, Northwest N300m and Northeast N200m, totaling N4bn. In that of the Southeast, it is Anambra State N500m, Abia N400m, Imo N300m and Enugu and Ebonyi N150m each.
Quantum of irrefutable evidence gathered in the course of this investigative statement abounds, but few are cited here for want of space. One of such is from the Arewa Agenda, an association of Truck Drivers from Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Borno and other parts of the North who briefly converged at a trailer park in Port Harcourt, Rivers State few days ago where they raised alarm over ‘cruelty and reckless extortion continuously meted on them by men of some security and law enforcement agencies including soldiers, policemen and others with exception of the personnel of the Immigration, Fire and Prison Services and intelligence agencies”.
According to the leader of the truck drivers, who spoke in Hausa: “The situation is so incredible that we may be transporting goods worth sometimes as little as three hundred thousand naira only for an example, from the North to the South or vice versa or thro and fro. But before you get to your destination, you may have spent over a hundred and fifty thousand naira on uniformed men alone. It has gotten to a point where if you don’t give them money, they will ask you to park and if you park and refuse to oblige them, they will threaten to shoot you and boast that nothing will happen if they kill you. Civil Defense officers, Soldiers, and Policemen have made it mandatory on us to settle them before we pass”.
“Truck drivers are being treated like robbers. And we are the ones transporting the same food that feeds the nation. Now, we are ferrying fertilizer from Port Harcourt, and all the drivers that loaded have set aside hundred and fifty thousand Naira each for road passage. Even at that it may not be enough. If you refuse to give, they will threaten to shoot and boast that the highest that will happen is that they will be redeployed,” the truck drivers’ leader added. The situation has deteriorated so much that drivers are being extorted right in front of barracks. It has gotten to an extent that they would abuse us, beat us like thieves. Another truck driver who said he was a victim, revealed that soldiers even threatened to burn down his truck in Ahoada, Cross River State”. The link to their media interview is here:https://globalsentinelng.com/2020/06/25/arewa-truck-drivers-accuse-security-paramilitary-personnel-of-extortion/?fbclid=IwAR28p_ZsXAj-_IWv4HRXBY-Pbb5eLW6LuJCXykni879nhBoMA88KWDO3pas
In addition to the above, we further gathered that the roadblock, boundary post and border post COVID-19 security bribery and extortion have since led to astronomical increase in the prices charged from passengers by local and interstate passenger vehicles as well as haulage vehicles. For SIENNA cars going to Lagos, for instance, prices have doubled from N6,500 per passenger to N15,000 and N17,000 if coming from Lagos to Owerri. Passenger prices for 13-seater buses have also doubled from N6,000 per passenger to N15, 000 from Onitsha to Lagos or vice versa. Each of these named vehicles spends over N50,000 on roadblock and boundary post bribery and extortion. Similar situation is found in ‘KEKE’, ‘Okada’, Datsun, Diana and 911 Lorry’s haulage vehicles as they now charge double from what they used to charge so as to bribe their way through at security and law enforcement roadblocks and boundary post blockades. Some, if not many passenger transport companies have also unbranded their vehicles to evade detection.
Cases abound and are rampant especially at the heat of the intra state lockdowns whereby Police SARS, Police Anti Cult, Police Patrol and General Duties Police Squads had and still have a field day, invading and arresting citizens en masse; claiming to be “enforcing lockdown”, or “wearing of facemasks”, or “enforcing Government movement restriction or “curfew”. Such mass arrests were reported in many, if not most parts of Nigeria particularly in Anambra and Abia States. The real motives behind such mass arrests and detention were and still are to extort the victims.
In one of such arrests carried out in Awada area of Anambra State, near Onitsha, over 40 citizens sitting and discussing in front of their residences were surrounded and arrested in April 2020 by a police team identified as “Police Anti Cult Unit” from Oba in Anambra State. In the end, each of the over 40 arrested citizens was forced to pay N10,000 as “bail fee” and over N400,000 was instantly collected and pocketed by the Officer-in-Charge and his men. The N400, 000 collected further translates to total daily extortion sum by ten police roadblocks at N40, 000 per day and for each of the ten squads.
For: International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law
Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chair; Damaris Amaka Onuoha, Head of Campaign & Publicity; Comrade Samuel Kamanyaoku, Head, Field Data Collection & Documentation, and Obianuju Igboeli, Head of Civil Liberties & Rule of Law