“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!” (1 Thessalonians 5: 1-3)
For the students of the Obafemi Awolowo University resident in the off-campus hostels in Oduduwa Estate, the primitive invasion launched by fully armed operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)on November 1, 2023, at the unholy hours of 1.40 am to 4 am, ostensibly in search of internet fraudsters, must have seemed like Armageddon.
There were no warrants and no solid leads. What seemed to have propelled the EFCC officers was the usual Nigerian Jankara cowboy stunt of abducting as many people as possible and then questioning them under gruelling circumstances with the hope that some of them would incriminate themselves. The script is taken straight from the Little Secrets of King Leopold II, the butcher of Belgium who derived joy from harvesting millions of limbs from the Congo.
At a time when governments at all levels are making strident appeals to the Gen-Z to be more inward-looking instead of seeking their fortunes abroad and ‘Japa-ing’, an agency of government is actually giving young people more valid reasons to loathe the land of their birth. The Nigerian establishment alienates its young people and then turns round to accuse them of not having love for their country.
In our days at the then University of Ife, we had an off-campus hostel at Ifewara. Students were bussed to and fro. When I heard of the recent EFCC raid, I dialled back and imagined if it had been a raid on Ifewara hostel by the then Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO), the ancestor of today’s DSS. The result would have been bedlam!
The trauma inflicted on the students can only be imagined, as evidenced by their accounts of what transpired.
One Junaid Hafiz Adeyinka, a Part 5 student of Computer Science and Mathematics was thrown into so much panic when the raid started that he contemplated escaping through the ceiling of his room until he touched a live wire in the darkness and realised that he could easily be electrocuted in the darkness of the ceiling. He quickly texted family and friends to let them know what was happening. Eventually, the invaders wearing jackets emblazoned with the acronym EFCC burst into his room and marched him to join earlier captives lying face down.
He recounts what happened thus:
“It was a harrowing experience as these gun-wielding men surrounded us as I was asked to lay down with my face against the floor, beating us for several minutes before being escorted into the vehicles holding one another like criminals. We were packed tightly into the bus I was taken away with, with several people having to lap others, myself included.
“At this point, I had no idea where I was being taken to, or why I was taken away from my home. Shortly after we started to drive off, we were continuously warned and threatened to keep our heads down and not look up. Not too long after, we stopped, and from the look of things, we had stopped at another hostel within the same estate where, at that moment, I could only imagine that the same actions that were carried out in my hostel, were about to be repeated. This was the case, as several other students and young men joined us. As we departed, another threat was issued, this time it was to give a bullet to anyone who tried to run.
“I am not a fraudster. I have never been into cybercrime and never will. I am just a student with several hobbies and skills all technology-related. I am a software engineer, with a diploma in Software engineering and also a technical writer with a blog where I publish content, I also have several work experiences where I have completed internships, some of these companies are EDFIN Microfinance Bank, Lagos, Mark Calthers Consulting Limited and Flosoft. I have undergone several courses on different platforms including AltSchool, Freecode Camp and Udemy and I’m currently undergoing Harvard CS50.”
The students’ union roundly condemned the incident in a tweet: “We strongly condemn the recent unjust arrest and harassment of our fellow students by members of the EFCC @officialEFCC in the odd hours of today, Nov 1, 2023. This action is unacceptable and goes against the principles of justice and due process.”
Many Nigerians also took to social media to condemn the cruel invasion and the dehumanisation of innocent students. One issue that has been highlighted time and time again is that EFCC’s invasion and subsequent parade of innocent students as common criminals in the media, has smeared the students’ digital footprint. A cursory search of any of the names on the internet brings forth the salacious story of being a possible cybercriminal.
In an interview with Thisday newspaper, another abductee, Kolawole Alao who recently won first place position in the University project exhibition for Digital Nigeria Day with a Design and Development of a 3-axis CNC Milling Machine on October 27, 2023, lamented that anyone could label him an internet fraudster. A few days before the EFCC misadventure, the young man had celebrated his achievement on the X platform: “I’m thrilled to announce that my team won 1st place at the University project exhibition for Digital Nigeria Day with our Design and Development of a 3-axis CNC Milling Machine….”
Apparently, we had been operating a Gestapo or Tontons Macoutes of sorts under the pretext of fighting financial and economic crimes. Many lives have been badly blighted in the process. Take the case of Nasiru Saidu Ali who faced a similar ordeal in 2019 and is yet to recover from the tag. Ali complained on the X platform that, “My image and government name are still on your page and many blogs as a Yahoo boy since 2019. I wrote to your then chairman to take it down but no response. Your lawyers don’t even show up in court. I have lost a lot of opportunities at home and abroad because of this defamation.”
This nonsense must stop forthwith! The fact that 59 of the 69 students abducted were released within 24 hours shows that there was no due diligence in the EFCC operation. In what country do you arrest people first and then start looking for evidence later? It was a rude baptism of fire for the new EFCC Chairman, Ola Olukoyede, a lawyer and experienced security consultant who immediately barred the outfit’s operatives from carrying out sting operations at night.
That can only be the beginning of the necessary changes that must be carried out to humanise the operations of the EFCC. The other urgent matter is to issue papers of complete exoneration to all those who have been unfairly paraded as criminals on the internet and to publicly apologise to them. There is no heroism in plucking unarmed citizens from their beds in the wee hours when honest people should be asleep. You can’t call that heroism. It looks more like banditry.
- Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021