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How police ‘extort’ victims before tracking kidnappers, thieves

Investigations revealed that officers in charge of tracking stolen devices collect between N50,000 and N100,000 from members of the public, depending on the individual’s bargaining…

Concerns and misgivings are growing among Nigerians over actions of the operatives of the Nigerian Police who allegedly demand and collect money before having kidnap victims, lost phones and cars tracked, Daily Trust reports.

Investigations revealed that officers in charge of tracking stolen devices collect between N50,000 and N100,000 from members of the public, depending on the individual’s bargaining power.

This development, according to victims and security experts who spoke to our correspondents, constitute “Unprofessional and illegal” conduct, which was at the “Root to corruption in the country”.

But the police authority in a swift reaction dismissed the allegations against the force, saying by all standards, officers of the force are not allowed to ask any Nigerian to pay when their service is needed.

The Force Public Relations Officers, Frank Mba, in an interview with one of our correspondents directed any Nigerian who is asked to pay by any police officer, to report to the appropriate authorities for necessary action.

Daily Trust had reported how tracking equipment being used by the officers to locate bandits, terrorists, kidnappers and other criminals terrorising the country remained inactive for the past seven months.

The equipment, meant to monitor and track phones which kidnappers use to negotiate for ransom, were supposed to be subscribed to but there has been no subscription on it since the beginning of 2021.

Findings had also revealed that the police sometimes liaise with the sister agency, the Department of State Services (DSS) or the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA) to tackle some urgent cases.

Police officers have been groaning over the paucity of funds. A Commissioner of Police had in April confided in this newspaper that police divisions received only N10,000 monthly, which he said was also not timely.

A police officer attached to Lagos State Police Command who does not wish to be named told our correspondent that the force has not been able to track any missing items in the past three months.

He said the satellite with which the force track stolen cars has crashed and that Chinese experts are currently working round the clock to ensure that the fault is rectified before the end of September.

“We have not been able to do anything. Our Network is currently down and the Chinese firm in charge along with the force IT personnel are on it.

“Aside, it is difficult to track stolen cars in the North because of poor network coverage. We rely on service providers to help trace movement of stolen vehicles to where it is parked.

“This is one of the reasons why those in charge collect money from those with cases of stolen vehicles or phones” he added.

‘We pay ‘through the nose’

Narrating his experience to Daily Trust, a lawyer, Nkem Okoro Esq, whose iPhone was snatched around Kugbo, along Abuja – Keffi Expressway, said he paid N50, 000 to the police to track and recover his phone.

The lawyer stressed that the action of the police demanding money from victims of robbery or kidnapping in the country is unprofessional, illegal and unconstitutional, tracing same the root to corruption.

A lady, whose phones and valuables were stolen when she was attacked along with other passengers while travelling to Delta State said that she was asked to pay N100,000 to facilitate the process of tracking the devices when she reported at the police station.

The lady who does not want her name mentioned for fear of intimidation and harassment said policemen attached to the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Lagos State Police Command demanded for N100,000 from her when she sought help for the tracking of the stolen devices, especially her iPhones.

“I went to the RRS office in Alausa to officially lodge a complaint about the attack on me by some robbers early last month.

“The policeman took my statement and I was happy that at last, the smelling-looking marauders would meet their Waterloo.

“But I got the shocker of my life when the policeman said that I was going to give them the N100,000 mobilisation fee before anything could be done.

“Here I am still nursing the pains from the beating I received from the robbers being asked to pay N100,000 if I want to recover my stolen items.

“I begged them to take N20,000 but they refused. One of them bluntly told me that without the money nothing can be done as the search might take them outside Lagos State.

“In fact, he told me that the unit is not funded by the force. I left angrily and that was the end. I lost everything, including cash and contacts,” she said.

Another victim told our correspondent that he had to pay N50,000 to police “Trackers” at the command headquarters, some months ago to get his stolen car tracked.

“They eventually tracked the car to an auto stand at Otta, in Ogun State where it was about to be sold,” he added.

An accounting official, who simply identified herself as Sarah, also told Daily Trust that her phone was snatched in the Utako area of Abuja by a taxi driver in June.

She said when she reported the matter to the police, she was told that her phone could not be tracked at the time because the equipment to track it was down.

Sarah said she couldn’t say whether the phone was not tracked because she didn’t pay the police or showed any interest she was ready to pay.

‘Police pay private tracking companies’

A Commissioner of Police who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as he had no authority to speak on the matter, said many private tracking companies were being careful of their personal security hence they can’t deal with citizens directly.

He explained that the kidnapping gangs might act as customers who want to patronise them and use the avenue kill them because they see them as enemies.

According to him, “Some of these people who even do these tracking for us don’t want to deal with the public directly because they are scared of their life because they believe that if they start dealing with the public directly, the kidnappers and the armed robbers might pretend that they want to patronise them and get at them and then take them out because they see them as their enemies.”

The CP added that there are fundamental problems, noting that “Until we deal with those problems, we cannot solve those things”.

Another Commissioner of Police who spoke to Daily Trust on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak, wondered why Nigerians could not direct their anger to the government for its failure to provide necessary equipment and resources for the police officers to perform.

The senior police officer argued that the government has the sole responsibility of providing necessary equipment and resources for the police, urging the media to help in informing the government on why the force should be funded properly.

The CP noted that police officers in most cases, use tracking equipment that belong to private companies, hence, there is a need to pay to the companies.

“Is it not your newspapers that wrote the fact that our tracking equipment is down? So, if now our tracking equipment is down and we have to use a private tracker, and the private tracker is expecting him to pay money, is it his salary that he’s going to use to make the payment?

“You people are not being fair to us. You are not just being real. We leave in a country where everybody is just pretending that you’ve provided these people the tools to work and you know they don’t have it.

“You wrote a report and you know our tracking equipment is down. So, when they want to track and they had to contact somebody and they have to pay the person, how many times should they use their money to pay?”

‘Tracking kidnappers, carjackers via GPS technology’

Information and Technology (IT) experts have said insincerity on the part of the government to combat crimes using modern technology is mainly responsible for the inability to track criminals through their communications devices.

Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, the experts also said some people in government are playing politics with security issues while some of them have allowed ethnicity to becloud their judgement on the security situation in Nigeria.

A Lagos-based IT expert, Mr Tokunboh Smith, told Daily Trust that  relevant laws are also not enforced to effectively make technology function well in combating crimes in the country.

“It is difficult because the government agency and people responsible are not sincere in combatting it. They have compromised and continuously live on it. Also, the laws are not enforced transparently”, Smith said.

He said there is an effective tracking system in the country, but “The powers that be, do not allow it to function(well)”.

He advised the government and politicians against playing politics with security issues or turn it to ethnicity.  Another IT expert, Ahmad Muritala said those manning tracking systems for the government are not inadequate and many of the private companies doing it are incapacitated by lack of funds as a result of low patronage.

Explaining how a tracking system works, Muritala who is based in Ibadan, said under a vehicle tracking system, the use of automatic vehicle location is combined with computer programs that collect and process data to give a comprehensive analysis of a vehicle’s location and movement.

Also known as geo-tracking, automatic vehicle location refers to the means by which the geographical location of a car is determined and transmitted automatically. It is this location data that is accessed and processed by a vehicle tracking system, he added.

Though he argues that tracking systems work in Nigeria, many people who need to track their phones or cars usually fail to provide adequate information for tracking companies or government security agencies to work with.

Devices meant for state to fight crime – Experts

Security Risk Management and Intelligence Specialist, Kabir Adamu, who said tracking devices are majorly in the custody of the Police, the Department of State Service and the office of the National Security Adviser, added that there are others, which are not public-oriented that are in the hands of other law enforcement and intelligence organisations.

He noted that there are private security firms that conduct investigation into missing devices but none, operating under the ambit of the law has the capacity to track devices or intercept calls.

He said tracking of devices should be part of the investigation process by security agencies but unfortunately, some operatives take advantage of the corruption in the system to demand for mobilisation and administrative fees and others.

“It is a statutory requirement for them to conduct an investigation. It is not the responsibility of citizens to pay money for that at least for now,” he said.

He argued that if the corruption involved in the management of the tracking devices is addressed, it could be another means of generating revenue for the force.

On his part, a retired Director with the Department of State Service, Mike Ejiofor, said tracking devices are procured primarily for the state to fight crime.

“These devices are expensive and they also pay for the license. It is not met for the purpose of an individual losing his or her phones but if there are criminal activities being committed or offences against the state, people are not supposed to pay.

“But if private individuals contact them to assist to track their stolen devices, I think they should pay.

“How many people lose their phones daily that the police will concentrate on recovering them? It is time-consuming and a waste of resources,” the security consultant noted.

He, however, added that if the devices got stolen in the process of committing a crime against the state, such as kidnapping, the individual cannot be asked to pay. He urged Nigerians to be careful in  handling their devices

‘Report erring officers’

Reacting to Nigerians’ outrage, Mba said, “By our standard operational procedure, we don’t ask for money to do our services. Policing is a social service, provided for and paid for, by the governments. We don’t ask for money to do those things.

“If anybody is asked to pay money for investigation, he should report to appropriate oversight agencies. It is as simple as that. When such happens, we don’t treat them with levity hands.

“Anybody that finds himself in such situation where they are making such unlawful demands should please report to the officers supervising that department – the DPOs, the Area Commanders, the Commissioners of Police in charge of the states, or any other departments having oversight on such unit.”

By Idowu Isamotu, John C. Azu, Zakariyya Adaramola (Abuja), Abiodun Alade &  Eugene Agha (Lagos)

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