Onwuzuruike Lukeson Oguchi, a young man, has shared his experience with members of the Special Weapons And Tactics Squad, a unit of the Nigeria Police Force which replaced the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), according to SaharaReporters.
In October 2020, after a series of protests by young men and women across the country against the notoriety of the SARS unit, the SWAT squad was introduced to “fill the gaps” left by SARS.
However, in recent times, there have been reports of illegal stop and search operations and extortions by officers of SWAT.
Oguchi, who was a victim of the unit on Thursday said he had gone to Port Harcourt in Rivers State to help a friend in a research programme but was stopped by the officers who were already cajoling other victims to make transfers into their (the officers’) bank accounts.
According to him, the officers questioned his source of income and how he was able to afford two iPhones.
The young man said he noted that the officers profile young men based on appearances such as hairstyles, dress sense, and quality of cars they drive.
He said, “I was returning from Port Harcourt city to Onelga in Rivers State with my friend and my younger brother.
“I received a call from my mum warning me not to follow Elele Ikiri Road that she learnt that the route was unsafe. I promised her that I would not be taking that route but deep down within me, I knew I was already on the route.
“Shortly after my mum’s call, I got a call from a friend’s pastor, who said he saw me and would like to join our vehicle since we were all headed to the same destination. I waited for a few minutes then he arrived and off we went.
“In the vehicle, Pastor Elijah Kelvin was telling us about how the police had been terrorising Port Harcourt in the last few days that he spent there. He even told us about his encounter with them and I told him outright that I wouldn’t let any officer bully me or even search my phone.
“We approached Elele town, a road between Umuawa and Elele town, and we were flagged down by a group of officers of the Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (SWAT) of which I quickly obliged and was awaiting their next order. An officer ordered us all to alight from the vehicle without even pulling over properly.
“Again, we obeyed without questions but this time around, he ordered everybody in the car to follow his colleagues who were all dressed in black and were waiting in a Black Maria designed for convicts.
“At this point, I started sensing that I’d finally met the much talked about devils that strive on the blood of innocent Nigerian youths, especially since he didn’t ask for my driver’s license, vehicle papers, or try to search the boot of my car. Looking at his lips and that of the other officer, they were obviously drug addicts.
“He looked inside the vehicle and saw 2 iPhone X. He quickly reached for those phones, took them, and asked me to follow him towards the Black Maria.
“I looked into the Black Maria and sighted about four young men inside the vehicle whom I guessed were their victims but I followed him and made my resolve to speak up even if I must die even though I was scared because they obviously chose a very strategic place for their ungodly duty. The road was very lonely. There is no community there, they were well-positioned. They know that in such a place, help cannot come easily.
“Getting to the Black Maria, he handed my phones to another officer inside the Black Maria who I believe was their boss. Quickly, he asked me to come into the vehicle but I immediately objected citing my fears of not feeling safe around or inside that vehicle. He looked at me and suspected I knew my rights.
“He alighted from the vehicle, asked me who owned the phones, I assured him they were mine. He asked what I was doing with 2 iPhones. He asked me what I do for a living. I introduced myself as a promoter of youth development around my immediate environment and as an artiste.
“He asked me who my father was, his occupation, I told him. He asked again who I am and I said I am a returnee, he asked me when did I return and I told him I just returned in 2019. He said, you said you’re a youth leader, I said no. He asked if I was a CDC chairman, I said no. He was just beating around the bush.
“He asked us where we were coming from and where we were going, I told him we were coming from Port Harcourt city and heading to Omoku in Onelga. We had gone to Port Harcourt to help someone trying to conduct a research in UPTH, who will also be concluding his research in my community. I told him my friends and I are the human specimens for the research.
“Immediately, he asked me to unlock the phones, I refused. He was shocked and asked why. I told him it is not within his mandate as a security officer. I said, ‘Your duty is to search my vehicle for any incriminating item if actually, I’m a suspect’.
“Immediately, his colleague sensed we were wrong candidates for oppression and asked him to give me my phones and allow us to go that I sounded genuine.
“I was questioned solely, my friends were taken to the other side where a vehicle that looked like a black maria was parked but it was painted white instead. One of my friends’ phones was searched, they searched their pockets, the one whose phone was searched told them his father is a police officer. He mentioned the name of one of the big police officers in this area here so they gave him back his phone. According to him, they were bringing them to the black maria but since they saw me resisting, that saved us in a way.
“Meanwhile, the other young men I saw in the black maria were sweating profusely, I even saw one of them making a transfer to the account of the officers. They had been cajoled by the officers.
“From what I observed, these guys have not stopped profiling people based on appearance. I am an artiste, they saw my dreadlocks and the other young man in the car with me. He’s also an artiste under my label, he weaved his hair; I think that was what made them stop us. One of the guys in the Black Maria had a growing dreadlock.
“It was just pure profiling, there were just young boys in the vehicle, no other gender and I am sure I’d be older than them. Those guys were driving one of the latest Lexus so the officers profiled them as Yahoo boys (Internet fraudsters).
”I could tell from the officers’ lips that they were drugs addicts; when you see someone who is into Indian hemp, you will know. They have very black lips.”