It is obvious that security agents, as usual, are taking advantage of the 10pm - 4am curfew in Lagos and Ogun States as opportunity to harass, exploit and extort citizens of money.
While Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) has always stood against the breach or violation of government directives and orders aimed at the containment of the Covid-19 pandemic; and while RULAAC also encourages citizens to- as much as possible- comply with lawful directives, we must also admit that there are circumstances beyond citizens' control which may inevitably cause them to appear to violate orders. It is our view that such situations call for professional discretion and understating by law enforcement agents.
For example, Lagos State is known for its perennial traffic congestion during certain hours which obstruct traffic flow and impede free movement of vehicles.
Several vehicles and passengers usually get caught in these web of traffic jams and are often delayed in traffic for several hours. Journeys that normally should not last more than 15 minutes end up lasting between 1 and 3 hours in some cases, often keeping vehicles in long stretch of logjam as far as midnight and beyond.
For unscrupulous law enforcement agents, people caught in this type of situation are deemed to have violated the curfew and drivers of such vehicles become easy preys, randomly picked out and ordered to clear and pull out by the side for no more than extortion. In some cases, they are directed to nearby police stations where they end up being extorted of bribe before being allowed to proceed.
Between the last week of June and the week of July 8, RULAAC received several calls from commercial and private drivers from different parts of Lagos complaining that in spite of being caught in a long stretch of traffic logjam- not of their fault, law enforcement agents randomly picked them out and either asked them to pay on the spot or ordered them into a nearby police station where after bargaining and paying certain amounts demanded by the law enforcement agents are allowed to go. Those unable or unwilling to pay are detained until they pay. They are often threatened with the option of vehicles being towed to the headquarters of the Covid-19 enforcement task force where they will either pay more or charged for violating the curfew order.
Complaints against officers stationed around Idimu Police Area Command are rampant. One Uber driver called last week to complain that he left Lagos Island early around 7pm heading home to Igando, hoping to get home before the commencement of the10pm curfew. But by some minutes past 10pm, he was still held in traffic. When he approached Idimu,law enforcement officers at a checkpoint ostensibly enforcing compliance with the curfew singled him and other drivers out from the long stretch of traffic gridlock and were forced to drive into Idimu Area Command Headquarters nearby. He paid five thousand Naira before being let go. He said many other drivers like him were held either by the road side or inside the police station and were pleading and explaining to no avail that they started heading home on time but were caught up in traffic.
On July 8, at 10.48 pm, a man driving in his private car, having left Lagos Island as early as 5 pm, 'in order to beat the curfew', according to him was also caught at Palm Groove area and was also held hostage and required to pay some amounts of money to be allowed to go. He said by this time, there were many other vehicles also caught in the same web of traffic lockjam.
It is safe to assert that, in the pretext of enforcing government laws and directives regarding Covid-19, law enforcement agents engage in harassment and extortion of bribe from hapless citizens.