After all I’ve been hearing and after several months/years of expecting it, men of the Special Armed Response Squad of the Nigeria Police Force popularly known as SARS stopped me and my friends while returning home in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
We were driving along East-West Road headed towards Rumuokoro, Obio-Akpor Local Government Area. We just crossed the Obiri-Ikwerre flyover when we approached their checkpoint. We wound down our glasses and after just one peep in, I was told to park and I did.
These men were dressed in black all through and had fierce looking weapons. There gowns/shirts had inscriptions of “IGP Special Squad FHQ” on their backs.
They didn’t ask us any questions as to who we are, where we are coming from or where we are headed. The next order was to come down. We all did. Next, they collected our phones. They searched us all to make sure we didn’t have hidden phones or gadgets – this they did while we were told to raise our hands and we obliged.
One of the officers said we’re all going straight to the station (maybe to frighten us) we didn’t fret. One took the car key from me and they said one person would ride with the officer driving my car while the rest will be in their van. I being the owner rode with him while my friends alongside other officers were in the van.
While driving the guy was asking me details about the the car and my business in a very calm tone i answered all calmly too. I liked the guy on the spot. After over a 15-minute drive (which was enjoyable by the way), we arrived at the “station”. The drive was enjoyable because the van had its siren on and we were driving opposite the flow of traffic (what we normally call one-way). It felt like I was with personal security detail of armed police men.
The “station” had paintings in the colors of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) with flags too but no signpost of the NPF. Located along NTA road (as marked in the map below).
Inside the station, a fierce looking officer who drove in the van gave us an introductory speech how we could open up now and settle them easily and save ourselves from the harassment and manhandling that’ll follow if we’re found wanting because he has many friends who are into the business. His outlook wasn’t at all friendly unlike the guy that drove my car. Then he also threatened we will be handed to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and taken directly to it’s Abuja Headquarters.
We were all taken to a room and told to each identify our phones which they had arranged on a table. We all did. First they called my friend who had an iPhone XS Max and took him to another room. Next was me. The guy was going through my apps one after the other. Scrolled through all my personal WhatsApp chats. Then proceeded to all my WhatsApp Business chats. Then to Telegram where he kept on asking me to identify chats from white people on the business (NetNaija.com) account which I kept on explaining they were chats related to my website/business. He opened WhatsApp again opened the new chat screen and went through the pictures of all my contacts. I sensed he was already getting frustrated but he was determined he must find something that’ll link me to cyber crime. To understand how frustrated he was becoming, he opened my ADM (Android Download Manager) and asked why my chats were not coming up, i had to explain it was only a download manager. He also opened my calculator app and told me to unlock it (probably believing the numbers on the screen is a lock screen to an app). I had to explain it was a calculator. He was still in doubts, he did a quick math calculation to confirm.
Then he got to the app he could argue about, Paypal – which hasn’t occurred to me to hide. Learning from all the news around social media, I hide all my Bank Apps and Payoneer from my apps list. My Skype app is also hidden because I know it will be tiring defending all of the chats i have with foreign advertisers there.
He opened the PayPal app which already had NetNaija’s PayPal email remembered and told me to sign in. I held the phone facing him while I typed the password. The very first transaction he saw on the PayPal account had a Russian name and he asked me who that was and I explained he/she only paid for services rendered. He was adamant and told his colleagues that I am a “Picker”. To the best of my knowledge, “a Picker” in his context is someone who receives money on behalf of a scammer from a victim and pays the scammer after taking his agreed commission. They go through this process to avoid their real names (as shown in their bank accounts) from getting to their victims.
It was hard trying to argue. I finally kept quite and let him ramble on about how I think I’m very smart. Then he finally handed the phone to a more friendly looking officer who was there when we arrived (and i believe him to be highest ranked present at that moment). This other officer tried to get me to understand “I’ve been caught” and my only option is “settling”.
He was a no nonsense man – that I could gather from our conversation but he was only calm trying to get me in a good mood so I can pay a good sum. He was more listening compared to the fierce officer so I told him to verify that the name on the “foreign account” is the same as the name on my Business Certificate issued by the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria. I always have a photocopy of the certificate in my car for this reason. He never checked but kept on “being busy” on his phone. Best guess he was either waiting for me to react or say something about settling.
At a point he noticed I was wearing a smart band on my right wrist and a wristwatch on the left. He asked ‘what is that?’, pointing to my wrist. I pointed towards the watch and asked ‘this?” he pointed directly to my right wrist and said “that!”. Told him it’s a smart band that is connected to my phone for fitness and notification purposes. He asked me to hand it to him and I did. He kept on swiping through, his colleague asked what that was and he said it is a recorder. I told him it isn’t but he looked at me sternly as if to say “You think I’m a fool?” I just looked down and kept mute.
We stayed there for over 45 mins. Repeating this cycle; He will ask any random question, I’ll answer, he goes back to “being busy”. While still on the cycle the team that brought us in left.
Finally he asked if I want them to continue the investigation, I replied. “Yes sir, I have nothing to hide”. The fierce looking guy had asked about my Tinted Permit previously because the glasses of my car are tinted, now this friendlier one asked about it I presented it from my vehicle documents. He checked them and gave them back. Then asked for the vehicle documents which I handed to him. He then asked if I had ever worked on my car (as in, full body work), told him aside regular maintenance, no. Then he asked why the color of my car is indicated as ‘custom’ on the car receipt I told him I didn’t have an explanation to that, that it was issued to me just like that.
He then said he had to go see the car. We came out, headed towards the car but he didn’t go near it. While outside I noticed all 3 of my friends had been “processed” and were outside waiting on me. The officer stood there and acted as if he was on a call, couldn’t tell if he was really on one. After that we went back inside. At this point he asked how many employees I had, I answered.
Finally he told me to drop something and go. I knew I could argue I don’t have anything but that would result in further delays. I then opened up my wallet which had NGN3,000 (in NGN1,000 notes) that is equivalent to about $8.5 and other lower denomination notes and the man asked if that was N20,000 (i.e approx. $85) I answered negative then he stretched forth his arm signalling me to hand it to him, I brought out the NGN3000 and handed it to him. Then he handed me my smart band, smartphone, vehicle papers and car key and told me that I can go.