An image of a billboard on a Lagos street that says EFCC on it.

A motorcycle taxi drives past the sign of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Lagos.

Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images.

The EFCC’s Nighttime Raids: Tales of Fear, Chaos, and Student Arrests in Nigeria

The country’s law enforcement agency, created to combat internet fraud and cybercrime, has been accused of causing more harm than good with its raids.

On October 3rd this year, I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of clamoring and banging. In the recent past, houses on my street had been robbed around this time. There I was, holed in my room, terrified and trying to keep mute, while on the other side of the door, a scourge of men pounded from door to door, yelling threats. I was sure I was about to be robbed. Maybe raped, too, if not for my period. I deleted my banking apps, hid my phone, and hoped against the worst.

Only to realize it was the EFCC — agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission — the Nigerian law enforcement agency that answers to the president and is responsible for investigating and prosecuting fraud, money laundering, and cybercrime. When they got to my door, they yelled, “Come out or we will throw pepper spray inside this room,” and “We are EFCC. We know you are inside, we will break down this door.” It was 3 a.m. and they were raiding my apartment block, which is partially inhabited by University students, in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom state.

They banged on doors and dragged people out of their houses. They damaged my window while forcing it open, and pepper sprayed my room. I took cover behind my door and refused to step out because I’d heard and read the horror stories. When these things happen in Nigeria, due diligence is thrown out the door, innocent people are rounded up and carted away along with supposed suspects, sometimes until money has changed hands.

“There were up to 20 men armed with guns and canisters,” says my gateman, who was held at gunpoint and forced to point out each room and gender of occupants. “They cut the barbed wire, and scaled the gates and walls with a ladder they brought with them.” Some of my neighbors also resisted the raid, refusing to open their doors to armed and yelling men in the middle of the night, law enforcement or not. It was 6 a.m. when they finally left.

A pattern of nighttime raids

My neighbors and I are not alone in this harrowing experience. These random nighttime raids have been going on for a few years now, and there seems to be a pattern, which is preying on and targeting young men – and sometimes women – perceived to be doing fairly well for themselves. “Fairly well” can be anything from a working-class man driving a decent car, to an undergraduate owning a laptop or a smartphone. High profile figures, from musicians Skales and Shallipopi, to former reality stars Dorathy and Leo Dasilva, have not been exempt from this new plague of intrusion and harassment at the hands of the EFCC.

The most recent was of a boys’ hostel in OAU, a federal university in Osun state on November 1st. On Wednesday morning around 5:30 a.m., David, who gave an interview on the condition that their name be changed for publication, received a call from his brother’s friend. “He was panicking on the phone, telling me they’d raided my brother’s hostel and that my brother had been taken among others,” he told OkayAfrica.

By 6:30 a.m., David got to the EFCC’s zonal office in Ibadan in search of his brother. “They were sitting on the ground when I saw them. They were being paraded just like in the pictures the EFCC posted online, which have now been taken down.” David recalls that parents and guardians were initially allowed in, only to be suddenly evacuated. “We later learned it was because OAU students were coming to protest en masse. We were told to leave and return later. They were taken in the middle of the night, and when I eventually got to speak with my brother around 1 p.m., he told me he and the others hadn’t eaten anything. He also told me they had been beaten and flogged during the raid. I was disheartened.”

David hung around the premises, determined not to leave without his younger brother. “Later, one of the EFCC officials told me to get a lawyer and if I couldn’t, they’d get one for me.” David alleges the idea was that the lawyer would charge him a representation fee, and then the officials would get a cut out of that. “One of the officials point-blank asked if my brother was innocent. I insisted that he was. The official told me to prepare some money. He assured me that my brother would come out if he was innocent, and all I had to do was prepare 150,000 naira (about $177). I started to feel frustrated at this point.”

David thinks it was due to the students’ union intervention both online and offline, and how hard parents and guardians were protesting outside, that his brother and the others were eventually released. “But they didn’t release the seized phones and laptops,” he adds. “They said they wanted to ‘run more forensics’ on the gadgets.”

Mayokun, one of the students in the hostel whose interview was also conditional on altering their name at publication, was working on his laptop at the time of the raid. “It was around 2 a.m. and I was still awake,” he told OkayAfrica. He lives upstairs, and when he heard loud banging, he took a look from the kitchen window. “I saw some guys hitting a neighbor’s door with this huge hammer-like tool. There was a lot of shouting. They told people to come out, to lie on the ground.”

Mayokun thought they were robbers. “Although I saw the EFCC prints on their backs, I found it difficult to believe. I didn’t understand why the EFCC would come at that time and why they’d be trying to force the door open.” After checking the hostel group chat, where his neighbors had also concluded they were robbers, Mayokun switched off his iPhone and hid it. “I brought out my other phone, an Android, with the resignation that if they were going to steal anything, they’d take that.”

He also hid his laptop and blocked the door with his bed. “But they still forced it open and dragged me out of the kitchen where I was hiding,” he recalls. “At this point, I still wasn’t sure if they were robbers or really EFCC. One of the agents started flogging me, asking why I was hiding and why I blocked the door with my bed.” Mayokun says he was lying on the floor, trying to explain that he thought they were robbers, while they flogged him. “It was with this light silver rod used for curtains.”

A public call for answers

Since the public outcry following the arrest and detention of the students, the EFCC has reviewed their arrest and bail procedure. They also banned sting operations at night. But this is not enough recourse. Incensed Nigerians are calling for a public apology to the students, an internet cleanup of all published names, payment for damages, and even disciplinary action against the officers. Deborah Tolu-Kolawole, a student rights activist, says that she and some concerned Nigerians will be suing the EFCC for intentionally exposing the government names of the 69 students to the media and by extension, the public. “By deliberately exposing their government names,” she writes, “the EFCC has tainted their digital footprints and has caused untold damage to their reputations.”

The EFCC also blocked David’s brother’s bank account on the morning he was taken from his hostel. At the time of writing this, there is no way to know if his account has been unblocked. “My brother’s phones have also not been returned to him,” David adds.

“I think I was just lucky,” Mayokun says. “They went through my phones and laptop. My work email too.” Eventually, the EFCC agents left his room, and asked him not to do anything. “They accused the boys of resisting and therefore having something to hide as they paraded them outside that morning in the hostel, making them lie on the ground, hitting and flogging them with rods,” he says. “But it’s only normal to resist when you think you’re being robbed by armed robbers by 2 a.m. Anyone would have done the same.”

Dele Oyewale, official spokesperson for the EFCC, told OkayAfrica, “Everything we have done concerning the arrests and raid at the OAU hostel is in line with our mandate as an anti-corruption agency. Note that none of the students were labeled conclusively as fraudsters. They were reported as suspected fraudsters.” He says investigations are still ongoing, and when asked if this means the students who were released are still being investigated, he replied, “I’m not saying that. I’m saying investigations are still ongoing.”

Oyewale insists that the arrests have done no harm to the students’ image. “There was no tarnishing of any students’ image. We are a very careful and responsible law enforcement agency.” In response to David’s mention of an EFCC official asking to be bribed, and to the claims of abuse by Mayorkun and other students, Oyewale says, “There was nothing like asking for money or abuse. We have rules of engagement outside of which officials do not operate. People are just making all these wild and unfounded claims because the raid happened at night, which is why the executive chairman has banned midnight raids.”

Out of the 69 arrested OAU students, 58 have been released at the time of writing this story. The remaining 11 have been charged to court.