The criminal law enforcement economy is beyond SARS. The late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti warned in the 1989 classic, “Overtake Don Overtake Overtake”, Police Station Don Turn into Bank, DPO Na Managing Inspector. Arbiterz analysis values all “units” of the SARS+ economy at about N40.77 Billion [$107.3 million] per month, far more than finance expert Feyi Fawehinmi’s referenced estimate of $7 million.
The on-going protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] and the Nigerian Police Force establishment have birthed a renewed interest in a question that has been on many minds for a long time: just how much does the Nigerian police make?
It is highly unlikely that the real figure would correlate with any official statistic released by the Federal Government, as the police is known to make a lot of its money from extra-legal sources. Beyond the irony that the primary law-enforcing body sustains itself financially by breaking the law, this practice has been particularly notorious in recent times as it has coincided with increased police violence against citizens.
For this reason, there have been calls for accountability not only in terms of lives lost, but monies accumulated. It is not uncommon to find SARS officials living lavishly on what the BBC estimates to be N54,000 monthly salaries. This is majorly because these operatives do not survive on what they are paid by the government; the badge only facilitates access to multiple streams of illicit income.
Bail is free—one of the Nigerian Police Force’s most common sayings—is, of course, a lie. More to the point, bail is not only fixed at certain fees, it is a reliable source of revenue for police officers looking to exploit the dilapidated system. This is a well-documented fact that even the government has acknowledged. In November 2018, the former Assistant Commissioner of Police and Head of the Public Complaint Rapid Response Unit [PCRRU], Abayomi Shogunle, said that the police had recovered N7.5 million unlawfully received as bail money by members of the NPF throughout the year. But the amount of monies collected as bail in total was unaccounted for. In fact, according to Shogunle, only 10 police officers were relieved of their duties in a move supposedly geared towards eradicating bail fraud nationwide. Clearly, the government’s approach does not even begin to scratch the surface of this generation-spanning fraud.
The 2019 Corruption in Nigeria report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC] showed that Nigerians pay N675 billion as bribe to public official yearly. About 16% of the bribes [data achieved through the sampling of the top 100 bribes] was for unconstitutional bail from jail. If that percentage is applied to the total number of bribes paid yearly, then we have N108 billion in yearly bail-related revenue. Monthly, the revenue from bail becomes N9 billion.
A 2019 investigative report by Fisayo Soyombo, who went undercover in an Ikoyi prison, revealed that bail is at least N10,000 depending on the severity of the allegation. It detailed numerous other charges that cannot be accounted for in totality [e.g phone charging costs, cost of making calls etc].
Beyond those minor charges, the report also revealed that visitors were asked to pay N1,000 before they could be allowed access to the inmates they had come to see. This is despite the fact that “Visit is Free” is written boldly on a gate at the point of entry. In reality, it was another money-making scheme—the prison had roughly 18 visitors an hour, making the profit N18,000 per hour. With five visitation hours, that is N90,000 illegal revenue sourced solely from inmates receiving visitors. If this statistic is applied to all the 107 police stations in Lagos, that would be a total revenue of N9,630,000 in a single day and N288,900,000 per month. While no official statistic could be found on the total police stations in Nigeria, one can only speculate how much that figure multiplies when other states are factored in. Applied across the states, based on the knowledge that such practice is spread nationwide, that gives N10,689,300,000.
The modern history of policing in Nigeria is tied to bribery and extortion. Nigerian police officers are known to demand bribes to turn a blind eye to real and invented offences. At the receiving end of this are usually commercial bus drivers and private car owners who are stopped at the numerous police checkpoints and made to drop something or face consequences that range from delay on the road to instant execution.
This is one of the reasons Nigerian roads are filled with numerous checkpoints. Pulse found a total of 100 police checkpoints between Lagos and Calabar, a 15-hour drive per Google Maps. That is approximately seven checkpoints every hour. And it is difficult to come across the police that often without eventually parting with some money. The 2019 National Bureau of Statistics’ Corruption in Nigeria Survey Report showed that 33% of Nigerians who came into contact with a police officer resorted to giving bribes.
It is difficult to keep track of just how much the organized crime that is the police force extorts from Nigeria as its operations seem to get more lucrative as the years go by. A 2010 report by Sahara Reporters found that the police had raked in N9.35 billion in 18 months from roadblocks in the South-Eastern part of the country. By 2018, that number had multiplied significantly. A report by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law revealed that the police pocketed up to N78 billion in the South-Eastern part of the country between 2015 and 2018 through roadside bribery and extortion. According to the same report, the police checkpoints generated a monthly “revenue” of roughly N570 million per state between 2017 and 2018. Applied across the states and the Federal Capital Territory, that is N21.09 billion per month from the numerous road blocks around the country.
While it is virtually impossible to separate the SARS loot from the financial crimes of the entire Nigerian Police Force, it is important to single out the methods employed by SARS operatives in getting these monies. Their tactics are not limited to road blocks or charged for access to police officers. They are often much more nefarious than that.
Maxwell [real name withheld] is an 18-year-old student who lives in Osogbo with a mother who is in severe debt and has developed hypertension and a mental illness. His family has been thrown into misery and is currently battling severe setbacks. And he blames SARS for it.
“It happened around June this year,” he told Arbiterz. “They had been raiding random houses. They came one early morning around 5am. They jumped through the fence; their footsteps woke me and my two brothers up. They broke the door down and started hitting all three of us. My mother was alerted and came right in but they pushed her aside and forcefully dragged my brothers and me inside their bus.
“We were taken to the Crime Investigation Department [in Osogbo]. With tasers and cutlasses in their hands, they forced us to write made-up statements incriminating ourselves in crimes we did not even know anything about. They called my mother and threatened to charge us to court if she did not pay up N450,000 in bail within three days. My mother is a petty trader. All her goods do not even amount to that. She had to sell some property and borrow money. Now, she has an empty shop and is up to her neck in debt. She fears she will lose her life soon due to depression.”
While all of this happens, SARS operatives laugh their way to the bank in such a coordinated robbery gang activity that rivals the terrors committed by the likes of Shina Rambo and Lawrence Anini—whose activities in the 1980s and 1990s indirectly influenced the creation of the unit in the first place.
Checkpoints: N21.09 Billion
Bail: N9 Billion
Visitation: N10.68 Billion
Total: N40.77 Billion [$107.3 million]