Police extortion pushing bar owners to the brink
The brazen manner in which police extort money from bar owners has been brought to the fore by a woman who decided to go public about her frustrations at the hands of officers based at Kitengela Police Station.
Though Police Headquarters has denied the allegations, investigations by People Daily revealed the extortion in the form of “protection fees” was going on with the full knowledge and consent of senior officers at station and sub-county levels.
Estimates from Bar Hotels and Liquor Traders Association of Kenya show police across the country could be pocketing as much as Sh200 million a month in bribes from business owners in liquor trade.
On Sunday, National Police spokesman Bruno Shioso said the businesswoman’s complaints were being investigated but also urged traders to operate within the law to ensure officers do not have any reason to demand bribes.
In Nakuru, a section of bar and nightclub operators accused police of extortion, harassment, and unlawful arrests.
The operators, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, revealed that police were moving around bars on Kanu Street and White House areas fleecing bar owners. They observed that the situation was so dire that some traders had opted to close shop, adding that three quarters of their earnings go to licences and bribes.
“We only ‘breathe’ three days a week; they (police) normally camp here on Mondays and Fridays demanding Sh200 to Sh300 ... those who fail to comply end up in courts where they are charged with offences they have not committed,” claimed one of the operators on Kanu Street.
She further revealed that some officers terrorise traders, including those who have fully complied with all regulations, lamenting that the raids scare away customers.
“Some traders have been forced to pay monthly ‘protection fees’, known as ‘subscription’, to avoid being harassed ... those who do so operate without any hitch and no customer can be arrested. It is only us who have little or no means who are being intimidated,” she added.
Traders said officers arrive as early as 9pm when clubs are full. Since the owners fear losing customers, they have to pay up to avoid any commotion that may make the clients flee. “Sometimes I am forced to buy the officers drinks. It is very unfortunate,” the trader added.
In Kitengela, Merceline Atieno went public and said she needed help urgently. “Kitengela police have made me a very, very easy target all the time. I own and run a bar and restaurant, but it’s like I’m only working for the police,” she wrote, adding that in addition to giving out Sh5,000 every month, she is also forced to part with Sh200 daily to officers on mobile (car) patrol.
“The officers on foot patrol collect Sh50 to Sh100 daily. In spite of bribing them, I still get arrested every two weeks and get extorted!” she lamented.
Her claims have been confirmed by a number of business operators across the country who revealed that officers sometimes arrest customers just to extort from bar owners. Now bar owners are urging police bosses to urgently address the matter, which, they said, costs them about Sh30 million a month.
In Nairobi, the Bar Hotels and Liquor Traders Association of Kenya urged Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai to rein in rogue officers. The group’s secretary-general, Boniface Gachoka, also claimed that rogue ‘askaris’ also engaged in the vice.
“Police officers have made it a habit of moving around premises on Tuesdays asking for bribes. We have reported this matter to their seniors but nothing has been done. If you fail to give them a bribe, they arrest the customers,” complained Gachoka.
The official said the extortion affected even bar owners who had complied with all the regulations.
“In Nairobi we have about 12,800 bars and I can tell you that on a monthly basis we lose over Sh33 million, which is usually collected by police and some officers who claim to be from the office of the Inspector-General,” he said. According to Gachoka, the worst affected areas include Kilimani, Lang’ata, Mwiki and Shauri-Moyo.
“We have written to the IG and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority and we have asked them to form a committee that will help in tracing officers who collect bribes,” said Gachoka.
Fridah Katiku, a bar owner in Umoja 3, confirmed the cases of harassment, saying that failure to part with a bribe leads to arrest of her customers. “Giving bribes is not a new thing to us. If we don’t, these officers can even shoot you. To avoid confrontation, we just opt to give them for the sake of our peace,” she said.
Gachoka noted that police have gone to the extent of collaborating with officers from the county government to deny licences to anyone who refuses to part with a bribe in the application process.
“These people have established a serious gang that demands Sh50,000 for you to acquire a liquor licence. They have made it so difficult that everyone who wishes to venture into the business must pay that amount,” complained Gachoka.
The official said this has been happening despite Nairobi Governor Ann Kananu granting them a 50 per cent waiver on all liquor licences.
Some corrupt officers have also been accused of framing locals and even planting evidence on them. One of the latest cases under investigation involves a bar owner who was busy serving his customers at his premises in Khayega market in Kakamega County when a policeman rushed in with some luggage in a carton and asked him to keep it for him. The officer was familiar to him and a regular customer, so the bar owner did not suspect anything.
About 10 minutes later, a contingent of police officers and a local assistant chief raided the premises and ordered the trader to open the counter. They went straight for the sealed carton.
They opened it, found it full of chang’aa in bottles and accused him of engaging in the sale of illegal liquor in his premises.
“They did not even give me time to explain myself. They took me to Shisasari police station,” he narrated.
The suspect was held in the police cells for three days. Interestingly, he never set his eyes again on the “friendly” policeman who dumped the luggage in his bar. He then discovered it was all a set-up.
For others, failure to pay “protection fees” results in heavy consequences. Beatrice Kusimba, for instance, noticed that she was losing many customers after declining to pay the “levies”.
“I tried reaching out to some of the customers who opened up to me. They said they were harassed by security officers whenever they left my bar to their various destinations,” said Beatrice.
Investigations established that chang’aa and busaa sellers also go through the same ordeals. In Ikolomani, brewers, distillers and sellers part with Sh300 on the 15th day of every month and another Sh300 at the end of the month. This is meant for police who use motorbikes to collect it. They have even drawn lists of the brewers and sellers.
The situation is not any different in Kiambu where most bar owners said failure to give out the daily-collected bribes usually results in threats and arrests.
In Mombasa, the Bar, Hotels and Liquor Secretary-General Kennedy Mudibo asked the police boss to rein in rogue officers, saying they were collecting a daily fee of Sh300 from each bar. “The vice is so rampant that they do it mostly on Mondays and Fridays. It is really hurting our members who are yet to recover from Covid-19 disruptions,” said Mudibo. He noted that Nyali was leading in the vice, followed by Kisauni and Changamwe.
“There is a fee which is usually set aside for the OCS. This is money which has to be submitted either on weekly or monthly basis, considering that before you apply for the liquor licence there is a form which needs to be filled by a senior officer within the area of operation. This way, you have to keep parting with money to remain in business,” he said. Mombasa has over 780 bars.
—Report by Alvin Mwangi,
Roy Lumbe, Mathew Ndungu,
Sophia Njoka, Dennis Lumiti