Merely seconds later when he glanced back to steal a second look at the stranger's hair, Ayobami witnessed as he was being forcefully dragged into a yellow commercial bus, popularly called danfo, by a team of men who he later discovered to be police officers.

With the bus parked squarely in the middle of the road with a trail of other cars behind it, the purple-haired man struggled relentlessly against the officers but was soon subdued and thrown into the back of the bus, the first victim of what soon became a full-blown raid.

Three armed officers alighted from the bus and started picking young men off the street, the bus following slowly behind, with what appeared to be a random selection.

A young man who had witnessed the first arrest had sought refuge inside a residential building that was just by the side of the road, but the officers must have sighted him first because they went into the building without reservations and dragged him out with another person that appeared to be a friend to become unwilling occupants of the yellow bus.

The yellow danfo bus is the vehicle of choice for officers of the anti-cultism unit in Lagos who regularly carry out raids that improperly profile young Nigerians based on mode of dressing, hairstyle, tattoos and any other made up crimes they can exploit to extort money from their helpless victims [Connect Nigeria]

When the dust settled, the officers picked up five young men, and it soon became clear that their only immediately obvious crime was their choice of hairstyle.

The plain-clothed police officers that picked them up, Ayobami soon learned, were men of the Special Anti-Cultism Squad (SACS) of the Lagos State Police Command, a unit that was created to combat the unique problem of cultism in Nigeria's economic capital.

The modus operandi of the unit has, in recent time, left a lot to be desired as officers appear to have taken it upon themselves to act as the Fashion Police while jeopardising the civil liberties of everyday Nigerians, with youths being their prime targets.

The officers are notorious for punishing and tagging as cultists people with curly hair, dreadlocks, coloured hair, or any manner of alterations to natural hair, as dictated by the whims of the officers. Young Nigerians sporting tattoos and others dressed in peculiar fashion are no exceptions, too.

A basket of bad apples

For nearly two years, there has been a concerted effort by a great portion of Nigerians, especially on social media, to pressure the government into scrapping the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) for a series of well-publicised misconducts.

The birth of the #EndSARS campaign was as a result of the public's outrage at the impunity of the Police unit that had several allegations of misconducts levelled against it including harassment, extortion, assault and extra-judicial killing.

SARS' notoriety has grown so great in the country that when news filtered on social media that police officers irresponsibly shot and killed Kolade Johnson, a 36-year-old father of one, in Lagos on Sunday, March 31, many wrongly pointed accusing fingers at SARS.

Kolade Johnson was killed by men of the Special Anti Cultism Squad (SACS) of the Lagos State Police Command [Facebook/Styles Kolade Johnson]

However, the latest example of Police barbarity in Nigeria was committed by officers of the Special Anti-Cultism Squad (SACS) of the Lagos State Police Command.

SACS officers had arrived at the Mangoro area of Lagos on Sunday to conduct another indiscriminate raid when they attempted to arrest a certain Ismail Folorunsho, a well-known man in the neighbourhood who appeared to have been targeted simply because he was sporting dreadlocks.

The scene of the attempted arrest was close to a viewing centre where Johnson had been with his friends watching the English Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspurs, a game that started at 4:30pm.

Many in the neighbourhood, including Johnson, had gathered around the team to assure them that Folorunsho was innocent of whatever he was being targeted for when gunshots rang in the air to disperse the crowd. Johnson was the only victim of those gunshots as he died minutes after he was pierced by two bullets.

Deji Omoloja, an eyewitness, told Premium Times that he had been picked up at Ikeja Under Bridge by the same SACS team, for sporting curly hair, just before they arrived in Mangoro where Johnson was eventually killed. 

According to him, the infamous danfo already housed eight victims, all young, male and sporting either curly hair or dreadlocks, when he was picked up and driven to Mangoro.

Johnson's fatal shooting and, more importantly, the events that led up to it has now beamed a stark spotlight on the years of improper acts committed by SACS officers who, like their SARS counterparts, appear to prosecute the nation's laws based on their personal whims and wield their power to torture, extort, and, in Johnson's case, sometimes kill innocent Nigerians.

SACS reign of terror in Lagos

Michael (not real name) told Pulse that he was randomly picked up by the Gbagada division of SACS on Thursday, March 28, and labelled a cultist strictly for his hairstyle.

He claimed he was slapped for initially resisting arrest and reported that another young man, a student, was sprayed with teargas in his eyes for resisting even more stubbornly.

"A guy whose wife just gave birth through caesarean section and went to buy food for her was arrested. No reason," he tweeted shortly upon his release six hours after his indiscriminate arrest.

When Michael called a friend to come down to the Gbagada station to bail him out of detention, he was also detained after it was discovered that he was sporting a punk hairstyle.

"When he got there they were trying to aggravate the situation by saying that my hairstyle gave me off. He was wearing a cap so they asked him to take it off. Next thing they saw his hair and were like, 'Ah you sef be cultist'. They asked him to pull his shirt off and detained him," he said.

Both were only released after Michael called another friend to bail them out. They paid N10,000 "with a lot of begging" to regain their freedom, something that's quite a common story for the, mostly, young men who have been unfortunate to come in contact with SACS officers.

Leye S.O and his brother, nicknamed Hylarious, were waiting to board a bus home around 8pm at Alapere Bus Stop on Monday, March 25, when a SACS officer started dragging his brother, a drummer, towards that dreaded danfo bus, with many other youths getting ushered into it by other officers.

"My brother was slapped just because he asked the policeman of his offence. I tried to intervene but the other officers told me frankly they would shoot if I didn't move back," he told Pulse.

He could not reach his brother until 11:20 pm when the detainee was finally allowed to make a phone call, usually one you're only reasonably expected to make to someone that could pay for your freedom.

"I stepped into the police station to see some terrifying faces of some policemen sitting very close to the gate. Then this man on white T-shirt and big tummy came to me with a machete in his hand," he recounted with horror.

The man on white T-shirt and big tummy who was brandishing the machete, and eventually collected 10,000 from Leye to secure his brother's release, is Inspector Ogunyemi Olalekan.

In a statement released by the Police on Tuesday, April 2, Olalekan and Sergeant Godwin Orji were named as the primary suspects in the fatal shooting of Kolade Johnson.

Inspector Ogunyemi Olalekan has been accused by at least two people that spoke to Pulse as the man that extorted them after they were arrested for no just cause by SACS [Nigeria Police Force]

The Police disclosed that the two men have been subjected to internal disciplinary procedures and may be prosecuted in conventional court if implicated by investigation.

Olalekan, it turns out, is quite well-known for coordinating the racket of picking up young people at random through illegal profiling and holding them for ransom until they can pay their way to freedom.

Since he was unmasked on Tuesday, many, including Leye, have taken to social media to accuse him of extorting them or someone they know.

One of the most striking complaints made was by a certain Oluwasegun Haziz on Twitter (@hazizsegun), who raised alarm over how one of his work colleagues was arrested, because of his hairstyle, by Gbagada's anti-cultism unit in Sabo, Yaba on Thursday, March 21.

In a series of tweets posted on March 22, Haziz claimed the head of Gbagada's anti-cultism unit, popularly known as Omo Eko, made him pay the sum of N5,000 for the release of his colleague after initially demanding for the sum of N50,000.

Even though he attached a picture of the officer and tagged the official Twitter account of the Complaint Response Unit (CRU), a unit responsible for resolving complaints against police officers in Nigeria, his complaint was never acknowledged on Twitter.

While efforts to reach Haziz to comment on if a complaint was officially filed were futile, Leye positively identified the man in his Twitter complaint, referred to as Omo Eko, to be the same Inspector Olalekan who's now suspected to have been the one that pulled the trigger that took Johnson's life.

Stanley (not real name), another victim of SACS extortion who wishes to be anonymous, also positively identified Sergeant Orji as one of the officers that assaulted and arrested him for no just cause at Zibet Bus Stop, Ajah on Saturday, March 23.

Unlike others, Stanley wasn't arrested due to his hairstyle or non-existent tattoos, he was targeted for 'irresponsibly' holding a red cup while seeing a female friend off at a party.

"I was tasered a couple of times like I stole. I was bruised and violated like a common thief. They said I'm an irresponsible person," he told Pulse.

To regain his freedom for no discernible crime for which he was arrested and driven to Langbasa Police Station, he said his friend paid the officers the sum of N10,000, "which they used to drink local brandy in my very presence".

Officers are well-known to sometimes get intoxicated on the job, a violation of service rules.

Michael told Pulse that SACS officers were smoking weed, a banned substance popularly called Indian hemp, in the Gbagada station compound while he was detained.

Curiously, the compound, according to Michael and two others that spoke to Pulse, is where SACS mostly conducts its business as it has turned it into a revolving door of young men who are brought in, not entered into the system because of their bogus arrests, and then made to pay to regain their freedom.

Those who can't pay their way out are sometimes paraded before the media as suspected cultists who are then charged to court and sometimes languish in Nigeria's abhorrent prison system.

The institutional dysfunction of SACS

The largely unchecked menace of SACS officers like Olalekan and Orji is one that has run for years without gaining national spotlight like it has after the unfortunate shooting of Kolade Johnson, and this is fueled largely by the belief that Lagos has a widespread cultism problem.

Former Lagos Police Commissioner, Imohimi Edgal, bizarrely claimed last year that six in 10 youths in the state are involved in cultism.

"I asked one of my officers to do in-depth research or investigation on the reasons for increase in cultism among the young ones and it was revealed that six out of 10 children are into cultism," he said during a town hall meeting with some residents of Surulere in June 2018.

Former Lagos Police Commissioner, Imohimi Edgal, was vocal against the scourge of cultism in the state [SaharaReporters]

Blowing the spectre of the problem out of proportion appears to be a fuel for the scandalous tactics employed by officers of the anti-cultism unit who have turned their job into a means to enrich themselves while extorting and maiming Nigerians.

Even though Lagos Police spokesperson, Bala Elkana, condemned the way SACS officers profile young Nigerians, he still claimed that authorities have established a connection between cultism and people who sport dreadlocks or have tattoos drawn on their bodies.

While speaking to BBC Pidgin on Tuesday, he maintained that tattoos and dreadlocks are "strange to our culture", despite their presence in the African culture for centuries.

The institutional problem with SACS has manifested itself several times over the past couple of years without the amount of attention that the unit is now getting from the Nigerian public.

In September 2017, Edgal removed Adejobi Akinade as the Officer-in-Charge of the unit over alleged corruption and replaced him with Godwin Agbegbe who was later removed in June 2018 over allegations of unprofessional conducts and corruption. He was replaced by Akaninyene Etuk.

In January 2019, officers of the unit invaded the premises of Lakers County, a popular night club in the Ikorodu area of Lagos, and seized valuables worth millions of naira from customers and staff.

Narrating what happened during the raid, the club's Chief Executive Officer, Oladimeji Ogunfolaju, said, "I have 40 CCTV cameras that record everything happening here, and it was through the recorded footage that I saw the whole drama that the officers acted out.

"It showed the way they assaulted my workers and customers; how one of them broke into my bar to steal almost N1 million in sales proceeds; how they took my drinks and drank them while they were operating; how they broke my tables and collected customers' valuables like chains and mobile phones; everything was recorded.

"I can't imagine police officers using axes to beat customers, including pregnant women. I learnt that one of the pregnant women, who was there during the operation, lost her pregnancy."

Then-Lagos Police spokesperson, Chike Oti, said the officers were there to arrest a known cultist at the club but retreated after they were violently resisted by his gang members.

Two days later, 13 of the 19 SACS officers who conducted the raid were arrested for unprofessional conduct and Edgal ordered the withdrawal of Etuk to the command's headquarters to enable investigators determine his role in the raid. Not much has been heard about the case since then.

A Police source, who wished to not be named, disclosed to Pulse on Tuesday that the raid was legitimate because the club was truly harbouring a wanted cultist, but the conduct of the officers soiled what could have been a big score for the unit.

With the widespread knowledge of how SACS operates, it's incredibly challenging to believe such a claim when the rules are unclear on how they routinely arrive at probable cause for suspicion.

A lack of trust in the system is why many of those who have fallen victims of SACS officers have failed to file official complaints.

When quizzed on why he didn't file a complaint against the officers that indiscriminately arrested his brother and extorted him, Leye replied, "I want no trouble. I would rather have a chat with a mad man than policemen. They are terrible people, trust me. I just moved on and took them to God in prayer."

Johnson's shooting has led to a resurgence of the campaign to scrap SARS, renamed Federal SARS (FSARS) last year as part of the government's haphazard reform efforts, but has also given room for calls to totally revamp the Police Force.

Senate President Bukola Saraki revealed on Monday that a report on the Police Reform Bill 2018 will be laid before the upper legislative chamber on Tuesday, April 9.

While it is hoped that this would improve the operational conduct of the Force in quite a few ways if passed, the human problem remains, and if it's not SARS, it's SACS, or whichever unit is so empowered.

The tragic killing of Kolade Johnson is one that has, unfortunately but luckily, resulted in important conversations about how to put a definitive end to the impunity of the 'bad eggs' in the Force.

However, question marks remain on whether Kolade Johnson will be the last victim of this heinous campaign of oppression visited on the Nigerian public, or if another one is just around the corner.