EFCC’s harassment of young Nigerians

ROUTINELY, Nigeria’s security agencies employ cruel, outdated tactics in the course of law enforcement. Their repertoire includes harassment, extortion of the youth, illegal arrests, detention and extra-judicial killings. Instead of refraining from such hubbub, it seems the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has joined in this crude show of force with its operatives’ sacking of the patrons of a nightclub in Ibadan, Oyo State, recently. Law enforcement is a given in a society, but the manner in which the EFCC invaded the club is a cause for concern.

Citing fraudulent activities at the nightclub, EFCC officers swooped on Club 360, described as a popular resort for the youth in the Oluyole area of the state capital, in the middle of the night. Media reports stated that the officers ransacked the club and subjected those present to a humiliating ordeal. This is crude. The officers confiscated vehicles, phones and laptops. In all, 89 young people were arrested. This is an unusual way to enforce the law, and smacks of harassment. Granted, suspected fraudsters might be patronising the club, what of the innocent citizens who went there to relax? They should not be victims of the anti-graft agency’s over-drive in its operations. Law enforcement should be intelligence-driven.

Although the EFCC’s remit is to interdict crime, the incursion into a nightclub on allegations of harbouring internet fraudsters – or “Yahoo Yahoo Boys” in local parlance – is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The outcome is unintended results, one of which is that it discourages investment in the business of service delivery and makes the youth to be less trusting of the nation-state. But the World Economic Forum says in distrustful societies, people are more likely to craft public policy and do business in ways that benefit their own family, social class, tribe or religion. And that poses serious danger for the future.

For a struggling economy, one that is also desirous of diversifying its revenue base away from crude oil, this is an antithesis. Innocent patrons will be wary of venturing out to relax in such clubs, bearing in mind that they are vulnerable to unwarranted humiliation, arrest and detention. Similarly, it creates a negative business environment for tourism. In comparison, out of four sectors – services, manufacturing, construction and tourism – the United Kingdom Office for National Statistics says the services contributed over 80 per cent of Britain’s $2.65 trillion GDP in 2016. These services included retail, food and beverage, and entertainment. Here, under the pretext of law enforcement, the EFCC is on the rampage against service providers. There is neither foresight nor any tangible benefit to be derived from such precipitate action. Instead, it should be all hands on deck to promote the services sector.

The EFCC invasion of the club exposes the crude state of the country’s security agencies. Twenty years into the Fourth Republic, they have yet to imbibe the basics of law enforcement in a democratic setting. That is too long a time to adjust to the present reality as against the brutal days of military dictatorship.

Among other instances, EFCC officers stormed a nightclub in Osogbo, Osun State, in October 2019. At the end of the operation, they arrested suspected 94 Yahoo Yahoo Boys on allegations that they had turned the place into a den of internet fraudsters. The EFCC had also carried out mass arrests of youths on such suspicions in Enugu, Uyo, Aba and Lagos. Sadly, such clubs might never recover from these invasions. In a well known case, the EFCC arrested a musician, Naira Marley (real name Afeez Fashola), allegedly for singing songs that glorified internet fraud. This is baffling. The Nigerian Communications Commission and the Nigerian Copyright Council, as regulators, are in charge of this field. The EFCC should have let them ban the song and given him the appropriate penalty.

Furthermore, the youth have other security agencies to contend with. The youth who carry backpacks, drive expensive cars, use iphones, laptops and tech gadgets are regularly harassed by the police and the military. At a stage in 2017, the harassment was so much that some young Nigerians founded the hashtag, #EndSARS that December. A popular movement, #EndSARS was outraged by the human rights abuses: arrests, extortion and detention of the youth by the police. Feeling the fire, the police high command promised to reform SARS.

That never happened. As soon as the heat subsided, the police renewed their abuses. One officer killed Kolade Johnson, 36, at a TV viewing centre in Lagos last April in his desperation to arrest young men and women wearing dreadlocks and “sagging” trousers. For wearing tattoos, the military descended on some of them in Aba last year, arrested and tortured them. In December, four police officers in the Rivers State Command allegedly tortured an artisan, Ikwunado Chima, to death on allegations of being a secret cult member. At random, officers stop vehicles and arrest young people for flimsy reasons, apparently with the intent to extort money from them.

On the wrong assumption that every young person is a criminal, the security agents terrorise them. Many times, they force them at gunpoint to transfer money electronically to their (police) accounts. Girls are accused of wandering, wearing trousers and indecent dressing, and are maltreated, apparently because of the religious beliefs of such officers. In 2018, police harassment forced an undergraduate of the Kwara State University, Oluwadara Adedayo, to jump off the Cele-Okota Bridge in Lagos.

Unlike in Nigeria, it could be an advantage to be a youth in other climes. Those societies give the youth quality education, jobs and actively prepare them for positions in authority. Here, the lot of the youth is precarious. Socially, their future is dire: education, healthcare and jobs are practically out of their reach. In the third quarter of 2018, the National Bureau of Statistics put Nigeria’s youth unemployment/underemployment rate at 55.4 per cent.Therefore, the EFCC should stop adding to the misery of the law-abiding youth. The anti-graft agency should resist the temptation of violating the rights of Nigerian citizens. It should enforce the law with civility, not like a gangster organisation and stop harassing the youth over the way they dress or where they go for relaxation.




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