Policing and the Uninformed Policeman

Money Palaver

By George Eze Emeghara

The habit of Security agents in Nigeria, especially police men, have of profiling people they see carrying laptop computers, smart phones and tablets, branding them fraudsters and harassing them was what triggered the recent End SARS protests across Nigeria.

Unfortunately even after all the problems the END SARS protests brought about for both the citizens and the police, it appears the Policemen have not learnt any lessons from what happened. They have continued with their practice of harassing people carrying Lap tops and smart phones, collecting their phones and going through them. Obviously the amount of money they are making from doing so is too much for them to pass up.

This undue harassment is driven in part by greed but mostly by ignorance.The Policemen check laptops and phones with a view to extorting money from people who have something incriminating on their phones and those who have healthy bank balances.

Most of our policemen are genuinely ignorant about technological advances in the world and the uses of technology. If they were not so ignorant, they would not see every one who is carrying a tablet, phone or laptop as a criminal.

In most parts of the world these digital gadgets are as common as books. In some schools, even in Nigeria most of the teaching and work are done on laptops and computers. People download hundreds of books on laptops and phones, do their assignments on them and submit them to the lecturer through the internet.

Most professionals work online and rely heavily on their computers and the internet. These include Bankers, Finance consultants, Architects, Lawyers Doctors Soft ware and conventional engineers, auto mechanics, lawyers, journalists, bloggers, traders of all sorts, graphics and web designers, video producers, film and book editors, gamblers, business people, importers and exporters to mention a few. People also hook on to the internet through their gadgets to play games and watch movies and not just for work alone.

ENDSARS protests provoked by police abuses.

In fact almost every member of the digital generation is online these days or is using computer or digital hardware, software and apps in one way or the other to make their jobs and leisure easier, faster and more efficient.

The world of e- commerce which the internet has opened up and which can only be accessed through phones, tablets and computers is very lucrative.
The whole world is now one big market place. People buy and sell online, making money through all kinds of activities. Fraud is just a negligible aspect of what can be done online or through computers.
It is safe to say that only a tiny percentage of computer and internet users are involved in fraud or crime.
Most young people these days need only a computer or a smart phone to make legitimate money.
And some of them really hit it big.

An example being the two young men who, it was disclosed during the EndSARS protests, sold their internet start up for 200million Dollars. Can anyone imagine what their fate would have been if they had run into some ignorant Policemen. After searching them the police men would have seen some details of the transactions on their phones. How would the policemen believe that all that money was legitimate

They would have branded them “Yahoo” kingpins, detained them, devised a means of extorting as much of that money as they could and even murdered them to cover their tracks.
There is a huge need to keep training and retraining policemen and security agents if this ongoing profiling and branding of anyone who is seen with a computer or digital gadget as a fraudster must stop.

The level of ignorance in the police force even among those who should know boggles the mind.
Recently, someone told a story about a Chief Superintendent of Police who had just been transferred from heading a mobile police unit to a Detective squad, who had never heard that DNA was now being used to solve crimes. He was amazed as he listened to the possible uses of DNA and confessed that he had never heard about it.

A Chief Superintendent of Police. A graduate for that matter.

If he could be so out of touch, what of his juniors who a not as educated and exposed as he is ?
How do you tell such people that digital gadgets like computers and others can be used for other things apart from fraud?

Unfortunately it is not only the Police who fail to understand that all many people need to earn a living these days is a digital gadget and internet access.

Most of the raids on the residences of the so called Yahoo boys have been at the instigation of nosey neighbours who reported to the police that one young man or the other in their neighbourhood “hardly ever leaves his house, yet he lives well, dresses well and drives nice cars.” Some will go to the Police to say that a certain young man’s generator never goes off, so he must be a “Yahoo” boy.

Some of the boys have even been outed by their landlords who wonder how they are able to pay their rent promptly when they don’t seem to have any job.
The police pounce on such young people without conducting any sort of investigation

They arrest them humiliate them, parade them on TV as Yahoo boys, impound their property and lock them up indefinitely in cells with hardened criminals and miscreants.

Even when they eventually discover that the alleged “Yahoo” boys are innocent, they still extort money from them. At the end of the day no compensation or restitution is made to the poor boys who have been so horribly victimised and are just grateful to be alive.

What is required to check this worrisome trend is better training and retraining for police men in particular, and security men in general , to keep them abreast of developments around them.

An enlightenment campaign is also necessary to educate the general public, including police men, about the many and varied uses of the Internet and digital gadgets such as laptops tablets and smart phones as well as the abundant opportunities available online and how people are exploiting them.
This will no doubt go a long way in changing their perception about any computer totting young man they see and bring an end to the on going undue harassment such people experience.

George Eze Emeghara is a Nigerian journalist, writer and public affairs commentator based in the southeastern city of Owerri. Money Palaver is his weekly column for Nairaweb.ng.