How policemen abducted me during stop-and-search, extorted N2.3m — Lagos businessman

By Godfrey George

In this interview with GODFREY GEORGE, media entrepreneur Mr. Sam Ochonma tells the story of how men in police vests accosted him in Lagos and extorted over N2.037m from his account via Point of Sale transfers, leaving him stranded.

What do you do for a living?

My name is Sam Ochonma. I run an advertising agency. We cater to private-sector and public-sector communications. Overall, I am into marketing, branding, and communications. I co-own and run this agency with three other partners. Before that, I worked with the Corporate Communications team of Oando PLC for five years before moving to another company.

You mentioned in an Instagram post how you were accosted by men in police uniforms who extorted money from you. When did this happen?

It was on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. I was on my way back from the gym when the policemen accosted me. It was around 9.45 pm on the island.

How exactly did it happen?

Everything happened so fast. I was approaching David’s Christian Center, which leads into Meadow Hall Road, where I live. I saw a Sienna van parked, and some policemen flagged me down. Initially, I thought it was a broken-down vehicle in need of help. I paused a bit so they would stop fully, and I could navigate my way out of the area.

Before I knew what was happening, four men in police vests came down from the vehicle with guns. It was about two or three of them who approached me with guns. When they came close to me, I noticed that they had mufti on but wore Nigeria Police Force vests with the police logo and everything.

When I inquired why I was being stopped, they said they were on a stop-and-search mission. I was very cordial with them. I asked them how I could be of help, and they said I should open my car boot. I agreed.

All this happened on the road?

Yes, right on David’s Christian Center Road. They first requested my papers, and I gave them. After scanning them for a while, they said I should open my boot. I opened it from inside and told them to look.

One of them with a gun said I needed to come down and look at it with them. I didn’t suspect any foul play. I came down from the car and followed them to the boot as they had requested. Once I came down, one of them jumped into my car. In shock, I asked him what the problem was. They kept giving contradictory instructions, asking for my papers, then my boot.

I asked him, “Sir, what’s the issue? Who are you? Why are you inside my car? What’s the problem? You said I should open my boot, and I did. What do you want?”

He laughed and told me to give him my phone, saying it was part of the stop-and-search. I reached for my phone and gave it to them, as I just wanted to comply, especially since they had guns and I had nothing to hide.

What did they do after that?

They collected the phone after I had unlocked it and started fiddling with it. They typed some keywords on my phone, and the one who had it told the others that I was a cultist. They exclaimed, “Cultist! We have caught a cultist! Cultist!”

I was shocked. I asked them to show me what proved that I was a cultist by just looking through my phone. They refused and one of them put my phone on flight mode, then took me to their own Sienna. Another took my car keys and began to drive.

Why was your phone put on flight mode?

I think they did that so no one would be able to reach me. If anyone tried to call me, it wouldn’t go through. I was handcuffed and ordered into their van and driven off like a common criminal. The guy with my car followed behind. Everything happened so fast. It was like a dream.

How many were there in total?

I think there were about four or five of them.

While in the vehicle, as they drove you, did they tell you what your offence was?

No, they didn’t. They kept asking questions like, “Which cult do you belong to?” One of them kept asking me to confess immediately before they would either shoot me or hang me upside down and torture me.

When the pressure was too much, I told them I wasn’t a cultist and had no idea what they were talking about. The threats continued. One of them told me to keep speaking English until they took me somewhere to hang me or shoot me.

Did they say all that to you?

Yes, they did. At that point, I was scared. They were driving me, and I was cuffed. My phone was in flight mode, and my car was not with me. If anything happened to me, no one would know. They could take me somewhere and hang me or shoot me.

At some point, I think my brain stopped. I stopped thinking. I began to beg them. I told them, “Okay, so what do you want me to do? Let’s settle this right now so I can go home. I am just coming back from the gym.”

They didn’t say anything. Before I knew what was happening, I saw myself on the Third Mainland Bridge.

The first stop was at Oworonshoki. They told me to come down from their car and get into my own car. I entered the back seat of my car and one of them drove it. I was still in handcuffs.

Were you given your phone at this point?

No. My phone was still with them and in flight mode. It was getting really late. On our way to Oworonshoki, one of them said I had to pay a ransom of N10m. He said they had gone through my phone and seen that I was worth more than that. I begged them, saying I did not have that kind of money.

He laughed and said he had checked my WhatsApp messages and knew that I had more than that. I begged them to lower the amount, but they refused.

One of them told me that when they were done with me, the N10m ransom would be too small for me to treat myself.

At that point, I had no choice but to start begging them. They reduced it to N5m and said that would be the last price for the ransom.

When we got to Oworonshoki, we looked for the first PoS person, and all he had was about N100,000 or N150,000. They collected the cash, and I transferred the money to the agent. That was how it started.

From Oworonshoki, they took me to over 20 PoS locations, collecting N150,000, N200,000, N500,000, N120,000, and similar amounts. Whenever they reached a PoS stand, they’d ask the operator to give them all the money they had, and I would simply transfer it while still in the car. I didn’t come out. I didn’t have access to the phone except when I needed to do the transfer. I was still cuffed.

After the extortion, they said they were going to Agege.

How much did they extort in total?

N2.8m was extorted in total from my account by these men.

What was going through your mind as the extortion was going on?

I was devastated. I worked hard for my money, and I was losing it to men in uniform for doing absolutely nothing. I just wanted to leave that place at all costs. I wanted them to take what they wanted and let me go.

Where was the last PoS location?

I really cannot remember, but I think it was around Fela’s shrine. I think it was Fela’s shrine first before we went to Agege. Agege was the last place I used the PoS. I didn’t know where they took me, but I found myself in Ojota. It was in Ojota that they gave me back my car and told me to start going.

What did you do after that?

I drove off and went home. When I got home, it fully dawned on me what had happened. It was already 3.45 am the next day. These men abducted me around 9.45 pm and released me at 3.45 am. You can imagine.

Have you reported to the authorities?

I called a few of my friends and my ex-boss, and they have taken it up with the police. I hope a positive response comes out of it.

How are you processing this trauma? Have you gone to the gym since then? Do you still drive?

I haven’t done anything since then. I’ve just been in my house. I haven’t fully processed everything.

What justice do you want to be done in this matter?

I want them to be fished out and brought to book. That’s all. So it doesn’t happen to other people. I don’t wish this on an enemy, because anything could have happened. They could have collected the money and still shot me or thrown me away somewhere. They could have done anything. But I’m happy I’m still alive today, and my prayer is that it doesn’t happen to any Nigerian again.

Do you have evidence to prove these debits?

Of course, I do. I have every document and I am ready to provide it at any point when the authorities request it.

Would you be able to identify any of the perpetrators if you saw them again?

Of course, yes. I’ll definitely recognise their faces when I see them.

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