Show Me The Receipt of Your Wristwatch.
By Atsar Terver
The Nigerian Policeman could be nasty and in the most annoying of ways. And for me, since my very first encounter with the Police at the age of 14, they have consistently exhibited the same form of behaviour bereft of the politesse and professionalism expected of a law enforcement agency.
I received my baptism in Police misdemeanour at the age of 14. I was then in Form four at Government Secondary School Ushongo. Our Agric Teacher had asked me among other Prefects to assist him invigilate an examination for a junior class. While on ‘duty’, I caught this diminutive girl called Erdoo (not her real name) copying the answers directly from her notebook. In those days, such an act was a taboo especially in the Northern part of the country. Yes there was a time in this country when examination malpractice was embarrassing to even the students themselves. The Nigerian child had not yet been indoctrinated to accept the culture of examination fraud as a norm. So I reported her to the Teacher.
Erdoo was only physically diminutive; her fighting spirit was quite tall and sophisticated for a schoolgirl in Form one. In fact she was a militant of some sort as she had a gang of bad boys who fought her battles. I was to know this only after the teacher gave her a befitting punishment for her act and she vowed to deal with me.
Usually I would be the last person to leave the school premises because as a Library Prefect, I needed to rearrange all the books on the shelves at the end of each day. And so she waited for me in one of the classrooms. On my way home in the company of a friend, I noticed a group of boys trailing us and in their midst was Erdoo. I instantly smelt a rat. They soon closed in on us and in a symbolic gesture akin to the sign Judas gave his gang to identify Jesus their target, this tiny girl walked up to me and landed a heavy punch on my lower back. His boys then went into action straightaway.
Of course my friend and a passerby who was also our classmate intervened and I was set free to go home. I later learnt that Erdoo insisted my friend must pay for setting me free and so the fight continued in my absence until the Police were called in. I was picked up an hour later and thrown into a detention cell. Then began my journey into discovery of the rottenness in the Police system. And they have never disappointed me once since then.
In the cell, I found myself in the midst of hardened criminals. I can’t really say I came face to face with them because I could not see any of their faces. The cell was completely dark. I could only hear voices; husky voices, hungry voices and some nasty comments. They asked me my name and what brought me there. I refused to say a word. I leaned against the wall in the corner, unable to bear the pong oozing from their skins and the only hole in the wall which served as a urinary. The only ray of light that filtered in through this hole was quickly absorbed by their dark skins. One of them that sounded like a leader assured me that I was most welcome and that I should feel free to share my story with them that they could perceive I was a small boy and they decided not to touch me. Incredible! Here were supposed criminals who had the wisdom to know it was wrong to put a juvenile inside a detention cell; wisdom that the Policemen did not have.
Soon the news got to the School Principal and he quickly dispatched some teachers to come secure my freedom immediately since he regarded the matter as one to be handled by the school authority instead of the Police. A group of students also gathered in front of the station to demand my release but the Sergeant on duty rebuffed their entireties insisting that I must spend the Night in the cell. I was later to learn that Erdoo’s father had given the Sergeant some money to ensure that I slept in the cell to teach me a lesson. This Sergeant had called my father aside to ‘explain’ that if he could bring a higher amount than Erdoo’s Dad, then he would secure my release! My dad declined this deal and told him to take me to court if indeed he could!
Looking back at some of the decisions my Dad took while he was alive and those I have taken at certain critical times, I can say I took after him in many ways. For instance, he was not one to keep quiet in the face of tyranny or injustice. Somehow, I just find myself unable to keep quiet when Police cross their boundaries and attempt to encroach on my fundamental rights and freedom as a law abiding citizen. Incidentally this is what the average Nigerian Policeman hates, and I in turn hate them for it. I once told my younger brothers that if any of them should decide to join the Police, I will visit the welder to elongate the handle of my spoon so we could still eat together as our culture demands. Every time I encounter them, I have something to write (but not home) about.
On 13th June 2009, I was in Lagos for some personal engagements. On arrival, I took a cab on my way from the Murltala Muhamed International Airport to Surulele. Along Western Avenue, by the Yaba link, the cab was flagged down by a Policeman. The driver pulled over respectfully and the Policeman bent over to my side of the car and the following conversation ensued.
‘Oga, come down for searching’ he said in an authoritative manner.
‘You want to search me or the car?’ I asked him calmly
‘You!’ he interjected harshly
‘You have a warrant for this search on me or you suspect something?’
‘It is a routine check ‘
‘But how do you decide who to search and who not to search please?’
‘There are no criteria Sir. It is at random’
‘Ok. Do your work’, I said as I stepped out from the car.
I stretched my hands aside as he frisked me quite professionally, I must admit. His hands soon found my wallet which was rather very fat at the moment. I could sense a spell of excitement in his eyes. Obviously a fat wallet meant a fat settlement, should the need for it arise. I pitied him though, as I was not ready to part with any ‘shishi’ of mine under whatever name he would call it.
‘What is this?’ he belched with some form of consternation in his tone as if he had found a gun on me.
‘My wallet of course’
‘Bring it out’
I did. He needed to be sure it was money so he could charge me with ‘money laundering’ in case he found no other issues against me.
‘Open it’ he instructed.
‘What exactly do you want to see in my wallet?’ I asked still trying to maintain my sanity. But my temper was already at boiling point. All the same I opened the wallet. It was full of crisp 1,000 Naira Notes. He nodded his head in a mischievous manner. At that point, I knew he would stop at nothing until he finds a loophole. As a last resort, he could work on my emotions to get me angry so we could go into a confrontation and then he could use that against me. Knowing this to be his plan, I resisted the urge to blow up. So I stayed calm.’
'You are very thorough, unlike most Policemen who collect 20 naira and allow people to go’. I commended him, but in a way he would not miss the disdain. But I guess he did as he smiled childishly obviously enjoying the praise.But his smile lasted for a few seconds, and then his countenance changed again to a tight no-nonsense officer that he either was or wanted me to believe he was.
‘Where is your ID card?’ he demanded.
I reached for the inner breast pocket of my jacket and brought out my Identity Card. His countenance brightened again similar to the expression I had seen on his face when he sighted the content of my wallet.
‘So you work with an oil company?’ He asked as he snatched the ID card from my hand and refused to give it back to me.I obviously did not need to answer that question.
‘Oya what are you carrying in those bags?' He pointed to my travelling bag and the Laptop carrier at the backseat of the cab.
‘My personal effects. I responded’
‘Open the bags.’
I did. He rummaged the bag carelessly and in the process ruffled my clothes which were hitherto neatly packed.
‘Officer, I am sorry you have the right to search my bag but none to tangle my clothes, so be careful ok?’ I cautioned him. At this point he picked out my cologne lifted it up quizzically and asked rather desperately: ‘Wetin be this?’
‘The name is there on it, but if you need help with that I can assist’. I said almost shouting.
He got the message and quietly dropped it in the bag and then reached for my Laptop.
‘Whose is it?’ He shouted pointing at the laptop.
‘Mine of course’
‘Can I see the receipt?’
‘Yes you can, provided you can show me the receipt of the handset and the wristwatch on your arm’. I said almost carelessly not minding what was going to come next. He was stunned for a while, as he rummaged his brain in search for a way to come out of the corner he had boxed himself into.
‘Are you a Benue man?’
‘Why does that matter? I am a Nigerian.'
‘Na Tiv people de talk like this’
‘A ha, Tiv people? They talk like how?'
‘Una no dey respect Police’
‘Point of correction, we respect police, we respect the law, but we hate injustice and foul play.'
‘Take your ID Card. You are even my brother.’
I looked at his name tag and realised he was a Tiv man.
‘Are you letting me go because I am your brother or you have not found anything on me?’ I asked.
‘Are you a lawyer?’
'I am just wondering what would have happened if I were an Ibo man or an Effik' .
Part two of this article continues next week
About 2 years ago, l had my most memorable encounter with NPF. The officer accused me of being a "money changer" and for confusing him by using the word "peruse". All these charges came from reading my letter stated "... we have changed our proposal currency from Naira to Dollar per your request at the meeting today.... attached are 2 copies of the proposal for you and Mrs. Kemi to peruse..."
After many hours of yapping and interrogations, l shamefully gave the officer N1,000 to get the foolish man out of my life. What else can l do?, following him to his station and face his oga could be deadly.
I had my baptism of fire with a police man in primary school. The overzealous officer was passing by and yours sincerely in his holy naughtiness after starring at the man for a long while simply executed an "attenshun" with all the attendant stamping of feet ala policeman style! I was not rewarded with a smile. He turned back, grabbed me by my ears took me to the headmaster's office where i was ordered flogged for...disrespecting a policeman! Since then, i 've learn't my lesson!
I wish i could proffer some solutions for the problem called NPF, but apparently it seems these guys have defied all available solutions. Please note though that the NPF has some individuals who are brave, patriotic and selfless, but those are few, very very few. As a matter of fact, they seems to now relish the "bad boy" tag given them.
Final Word, Whenever you are cornered by the police, kindly desist from arguing with a policeman. Do as you are told. Talk less, Answer curtly but pleasantly. Never allow them get under your skin. Do not offer bribe and when demanded, firmly but responsibly decline. Do not flaunt your uncle or distant relation in the force. Desist from talking constitutional right-the average ones you meet on the road do not understand what the constitution looks like.Always look for a witness whenever you are dealing with them...the list is endless, but summarily, Be a good Boy...they are the Bad Boys Here o...
It's a pity. This is how a police woman asked me for the receipt of my laptop in computer village. When will these people change?
konkomitant, I don't see them change because most, if not all, NPF officers don't get salary at the end of the month, thus your bribe is the substitution for their salaries.
I don't excuse the NPF -- it is, on the whole, a criminal and despicable militia. Yet, it is an off-shoot of today's Nigeria; a roundly decadent society. And, the NPF is by no measurable means the worst "finger of a leprous hand" unless you have not had the pleasure of the Nigerian Customs Service, Goverment (at all levels), VIO's, PHCN......... even the average "ordinary Nigerian".
Those chaps in the NPF are Nigerians; no better, probably no worse.
Terver, Terver, Terver. How many times did I call you? You dis Tiv man; I can see that you have not been reading my pieces. If you did, you would never have behaved the way you did. You are very lucky to be alive. The last thing I would do, coming from MMA1 is to open my wallet for a policeman and even go ahead to open my bag for him to search. Every time I go home, I make sure I hold some $1 and $5 notes. Some times, I even buy some Thai Bhats or Rands, since the Italian Lira is no longer around. I greet "our" people well well, ask them about family and work and give them 50 000 Lira (not worth a stick of cigarette). If you do not do that and you argue with them, then show them your wallet, you could be taken to the station. Worse still, they could kill you along the way, for "attempting to escape". I am sure that guy realised almost immediately that you were Tiv. A similar thing happened to my friend near Bauchi, as he was accosted by 2 Igede policemen. He foolishly opened a big box of money, and pronto, the policemen began to discuss how to dispatch him and his friend and report on exchange of fire with two robbers. My friend was lucky to react (his friend was Igbo and didn't understand what the policemen were planning). The short of it was that the policemen advised him against moving with such large amounts of money. Someone here, a Yoruba lady, told me Igedes are few in number; and that my friend's intervention would not have mattered if it was 2 Yoruba or Igbo or Hausa policemen against their own people, as those ethnic groups are larger and generally treat each other like non-relatives (just her thoughts).
There are things that I can do but opening my bag for the Nigerian policeman is not one of them, especially when there are not tens of witnesses. It is not a level playing field.
A friend of mine had the unfortunate experience of almost being killed by a drunken trigger happy policeman in the wake of the 86 ABU inspired nationwide student riots. He innocently identified himself as a student at a checkpoint in Enugu & was ordered down from the vehicle conveying him & his friends. The drunken policeman called "War" lamented the travails of his fellow policemen at the hands of students during the riots & thanked his lot that he now had a student in his grasp whom he would summarily execute. In his drunken state he bragged how he had his own extra bullets as at the time policemen who were issued guns (cork & shoot) were also given bullets which were recorded & had to be accounted for upon return to the armory. Despite pleas from his fellow officers he proceeded to march my friend into the bush for execution, fortunately for my dear friend "War" further bragged about his warrior lineage & providently mentioned his hometown which was also my friends own. My friend in panic screamed to him about killing his own blood brother & fortunately this piece of information got through to the drunken policemans brain. Upon further inquiry, "War" knew my friends family as they are very prominent in the town.
If he had been from anywhere he else he would have just been one the many dead & gone statistics of our pinhead policemen.
A friend lost her mom in UK. when they flew the corpse home, her family went to the airport to claim it. On their way back, at the junction just after the international airport, the police men there waved them down for checking. One of her cousins came down to explain to them that they were carrying a corpse and nothing else. An argument ensued and before you knew it, her cousin was shot. He died on the spot.