Unconfiscatable? Using Bitcoin to Resist Police Extortion in Nigeria

Nigerian programmer Adebiyi David Adedoyin hears knocking at his apartment door. He’s just woken up and headed to the bathroom. He decides to take his time. He’ll answer in a minute.

But the knocking grows louder – and more urgent. 

Inching open the bathroom door, Adedoyin sees someone clawing open his apartment window. 

“Someone’s there,” a voice says.

It’s probably the police trying to break in, he realizes, from all the stories he’s heard.

Adedoyin is sure he hasn’t done anything wrong. But with the Nigerian police, that doesn’t matter. He still might need to brace for trouble. 

As he thinks through what to do next, Adedoyin is thankful a chunk of his money is stored in bitcoin. His crypto wallet is in a hiding spot the officers probably won’t think to check. That means they’re less likely to steal it.

Police corruption

While there are many principled police officers in Nigeria who help tackle crimes, police corruption is pervasive. Many Nigerian police are known for extorting and even sometimes torturing citizens rather than helping them solve legal quandaries.

“Right there in the bathroom, where I was in my boxers with just my phone, AirPods and pack of cigarettes, I could hear them shouting for me to come open the door,” Adedoyin told CoinDesk.

This is a well-documented phenomenon in Nigeria. Over the past several years, an online social media movement has emerged against the police. On Twitter, people use the hashtag #EndSARS to publicize the poor treatment they’ve received from police. SARS stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which is a particularly brutal and mistrusted wing of the Nigerian police force.

Human rights research organization Human Rights Watch released a 102-page report outlining the abuses in painful detail in 2010.

“Human Rights Watch’s research revealed that people refusing to pay bribes are routinely subjected to arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention and threats until they or their family…

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