In my country, somewhere in the western part of Africa, I have always wondered if the police is actually my (our) friend. I mean if the policemen are really friends to the citizens, atleast to the immediate community which they have been designated to serve and protect. The organization through the media has always encouraged the citizens, especially the good ones and the security conscious members of a society to deem it fit to report any suspicious acts to the force. Towards the end of their (police) advert/jingles, a catchy line always rolls in: “Police is your friend”
More often than not, events occur, which contradict the aforesaid sentence.
On one fateful night, walking on a sidewalk of a street in Ekosodin, a community densely populated by University students, I sighted a human body lying unconsciously and helplessly at the side of the road, covered with a pool of blood gushing through the forehead. I saw as life gently creeping out of the impotent body. He was a final year student as I later heard, shot by a cult member, probably from a rival group. A version of the story had it that he was shot because of a woman.
Like an old car, I felt battered and chilly in my body as I got a bit closer to the stretched out body now surrounded by onlookers. To worsen my feelings, the passersby only got closer to the young man who’s around twenty two, looked straight into his face for identification, shake their heads in pity, dusts their palms as if covered in dust, thereafter muttered words as they take a quick walk away from the scene. I watched from a closed distance as people took turn to perform the ritual of “look, pity, talk and walk away” around the body, which now seemed lifeless.
“Please give me a helping hand” I said as I bent towards the body to lift it up on a motorcycle, which I stopped so that we could save his life, atleast taking him to the nearest hospital. “He might be revived” I muttered assuredly. A young lady from the onlookers warned me not to take the risk. As if rehearsed, voices came in unison in a tone of warning, that I might get myself into a grievous danger if I take the boy to the hospital. “You don’t trust the police boy” an elderly man advised. But his words came as a warning other than advice. I insisted on helping the young man, but was discouraged by the last warning when I asked them why would my little help, trying to save a life lead me to danger? Then, a voice which I quickly recognized said loudly, “guy, police fit say na you kill that guy o, so if you like yourself and you no wan end for prison, you either stand dey look or you waka trowey as other people dey do since o. police go soon come here now” he said. I felt weak and left the body. In spite of the candid warning, I stayed and looked on, with blood stain in my hands. An idea popped up in my mind: “since no one is ready to help him, though dead, then I need to inform the police” I thought.
I checked my wrist and it was 8:00pm. My encounter with the police made me see reasons with the onlookers’ decisions. I was held at the police station after I got there that night to report the case. I was almost accused of murder! “Oh! Na una kill am, u come report abi” one of the corporal said. I felt dazed at what he said, and couldn’t utter a word. After I was given a pen and a paper to state what I saw, I was directed to stay at the counter while some men were mobilized to visit the scene. My act of courage and being a good citizen ironically became a sin. I was left at the counter unattended to. When I looked at the wall clock opposite the counter, it was already 12:22am. Then I realized I was going to spend the night there.
The following morning, an intimate friend of mine who stayed close to the station came in for my sake after I had called him the previous night. He was asked to pay some token for my release. It was then I realized I was actually arrested. I couldn’t just utter a word so as to avoid any provocation. My friend thereafter condemned my act of concern, and warned me against a next time. “Oh! Next time, I go jump am pass” I thought as I nodded my head to every of his warning advice. A police emerged from the door behind the counter. His black uniform bore the two red stripes of a corporal. I was waiting to get my belongings taken from me the previous night. He bent towards a drawer attached to the counter. I collected my phone and belt. “Sorry my friend, I really apologize for the check on you” he said as he handed my items back to me. “Thank you sir” I managed to muttered. “Always be a good citizen, hun!” he said with a tight-lipped smile. I felt something insincere about the smile. “Don’t you have anything for your guy, or anything to send to the D.P.O?” He said as we were about to leave. “I was the one who made your release very quick, if not…ehn…..” he further said. “Release! What was my offence?” I asked in surprise, but was held back by my friend Chuka as he brought out a two hundred naira note and handed it over to him. “Thank you”. I looked on in disgust and forcefully let out a smile. My gaze was fixed on a poster on the opposite wall as we backed the entrance. Although I have seen the poster many times before, it never failed to arrest my attention. It was a picture of a police smiling broadly and benignly, and radiating the caption beneath it: THE POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND.
I have always read it from international magazines and see it in foreign movies how police officers give an individual some money so as to get reliable information. They call it “tip”. The police become your friends so that they can help you. Definitely not Nigerian Police. A policeman once advised me never to have anything to do with a policeman, atleast a Nigerian policeman. That they’re not to be trusted, him not excluded.
Danladi was a young man of early thirties, earning very low-income as a factory worker in a cement company. He had opportunity to get higher education, but walked out of school because according to him, he despised schooling and reading books. “Reading books make me stupid” he claimed. While out of school in his twenties, he joined a bunch of urchins. They caused trouble in the community. He sometimes went to building sites and worked with masons, so as to get daily bread before he was casually employed to work in the factory.
There was no increase in his wages despite increase in taste and age. He became disturbed and unsated. He had a turn in life when he became loyal to a gang. He stayed home all through the day, went out at night, and returned the following morning tired and slept almost all through. This was observed by Mr Kude and his wife, who were Dalandi’s neighbour where he got a small apartment, but decided to shun it, since it seemed not their problem at the moment. They lived peacefully with Dalandi and other neighbours until few months later, after Danladi had moved out of the house, but was always seen once in a while in the community.
* * *
It’s almost two years since Danladi left the compound. He returned to the area, but not to the same compound in a grand style and obviously he was now “a big boy”. He was now “made” and wealthy, as he settled in his family house where he had his childhood after he rebuild it to his taste. The house that used to look like a dumping site was overnight converted into a paradise housing friends of same category and associate. It was noticed that Danladi most often was never at home at nights but stayed in during the day. And many times, he returned home with items of various types. One thing was so spectacular about him; his unusual kindness and giving attitude towards people he loved and those around the community.
Almost everyone in the area observed the unusual nature and the happenings around this pauper turned wealthy “overnight”. Mr. Kude was more curious about Danladi so he walked up to the police to tender this oddity he observed. He was assured by the police that his (Kude) identity shall be kept anonymous for security reasons and their eyes shall be on Danladi. A corporal walked up to him as he got closer to the gate, “oga, my oga dey call you” the young policeman said as Kude turned back in response. At the counter, he was asked to pay a mobilization fee. “Mobilization fee …!” Kude said in amazement. He gave some money to the officer in charge after they insisted he ought to pay. Kudu went home that evening fulfilled having played the role of a good concern citizen. . The inscriptions: “POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND; be security conscious and report any suspicious act to the police” kept coming up in his mind. He informed his wife about it, but was condemned and warned by her never to try that next time, because “our police are not trained to be trusted” she said provokingly.
The following morning, Kude purposely sat outside his yard to monitor the movement around while going through an old newspaper. It was cold that morning after a heavy downpour. Appeared from the downside of the street was a police van. Kude recognized one of the men, he was among the police he talked with the previous day. The van stopped at Danladi’s gate as the men randomly jumped out of the van. Kude watched as one of them knocked on the high gate attached to the extravagantly high fence. One could barely see the structure of the house, except the green roof. The security guard opened the gate and the three men went in with their guns strapped to their chest, one of them stood outside and often paced around the gate while the driver was glued to the driver’s sit in the van.
Thirty minutes later, the men came out with Danladi laughing loudly and uncontrollably. It was obvious things went well with them. Kude was shocked when his expectation wasn’t met. He thought Danladi would be pushed into the van with hand cuffed to his back.
The police visited Danladi subsequently after that first encounter. Kude was detained after he went to the police station to report another suspicious act he observed around Danaldi’s house. Some items were taken into the compound at the midnight and Kude explained everything he observed in black and white, but was detained thereafter. He was accused of being an accomplice to Danladi and that he only came to report so as not to be seen as a suspect. His wife was worried after she got a call from him the following morning from the station. She went there and bailed him. And one of the policemen walked towards them as they were leaving the station. “Sorry oga… abeg I need to advise you o… make you dey mind your own business o…, Nigeria police are not friendly o”… he said as he walked hastily through an alley close to the road. Kude and his wife walked home in silence.
It was another tragedy when they got home. Their four children were beaten up by some boys for the simple reason that their father didn’t mind his business, which their children said were from Danladi’s house. Kude felt suddenly frustrated and forced out of the area after subsequent humiliations and threat which were traced to Danladi. Concerned persons advised him to move his family out of the area, that even if he reported the issue to the police, they would not attend to him. That Danladi, though a criminal is a friend to the police and they prayed he shall come to his end one day.
*NOTE: The short stories you just finished reading are fictions, but representation of realities. These events unfold in our Nigeria society often. A total cleansing really needs to be done in this part of our society atleast bringing the bad eggs to book and resuscitate the force in and out so that Nigeria can have faith in it again.
The Nigerian Police, through lack of proper training, has helped in modernizing crime in Nigeria and propagating corruption. It’s been ascertained that so many people in the Nigerian Police force today got in, not primarily because they are keen in helping to maintain law and order or as an option in making ends meet, but to avoid the constant harassments and bullying by the police. Most grown up Nigerians who ever lived had, at a time or the other, been embarrassed by the police without any explanation or apology. They go from bullying a young man of age for a stick of cigarette to his hair style; from walking by a place with no curfew to making a phone call in their presence. Even a poor man understood that the only way to be free from these bullies is to “buy your freedom” and that of your family and/or whatever you do. Then police work became more lucrative and the masses more frightened; you can be arrested and threatened for anything or nothing and God help you if you can’t buy your freedom. This friend of yours arrests you for any reason or no reason at all and, even after being found innocent, demands large sum which of course is always denied in writing for your release. They extort money from the masses and are now extorting even from themselves with guns in hand and fully loaded. What a shame.
Kudos that the Nigerian Police is receiving a satellite facelift, but in order to make sure that these same bad eggs in the police do not hijack these innovations for their evil purposes, few steps must be taken into consideration as suggested by a Nigerian, Ikechukwu:
1. A new independent group, body, or paramilitary unit should be set up to have unrestricted access to the police communication, roll and activities if crime is to be combated.
2. The communication channels of the police should be controlled by an independent unit to minimize enemy snoopers in the police force.
3. The Nigerian Police should have CCTVs installed in the every office to check their excesses.
4. An independent body where any citizen can lay complaints with proves against any police and expect a full investigation and prosecution should be set up. If this organization has been in place, then it’s either dead or collaborating with the police. This organization should have unlimited access to the Nigerian Police archive in the event of a case in progress.
5. The federal government, in washing its hands, should establish a fully functional ‘police court’ where every accused police officer will be prosecuted without delays.
6. New training on how to relate to the masses in this modern time, no matter from which level they are should be incorporated into the usual Nigerian Police training.
The Police, no doubt was indeed created to be our closest friend, and it should be so. A great healing that Nigeria needs is bridging this large gap between the police and the masses. The federal government should prove to the public that the Nigerian Police has not been turned into their tools to enforce and compel submission, but rather a partner in the united dream of making Nigeria truly the giant that every other Africa countries look up to.
my profound appreciation to Constance O.Isaac for her “eye&hand” on this piece.
Posted by ODIN G.A