FEATURE ARTICLE

Wednesday, June 26, 2019
[email protected]
Port Harcourt, Nigeria
NIGERIA: BETWEEN THE POLICEMAN, THE KIDNAPPER AND THE ARMED ROBBER

he above three groups or segments of the Nigerian society have become the hottest topics amongst Nigerians in recent times. Their activities and exploits feature daily in the print and electronic media, as well as in the daily discussions of many Nigerians. The view canvassed in this article is that in Nigeria currently, there is hardly any discernible difference between the Nigerian Police, the society of kidnappers, and of robbers. Time there was when the Police, reeling from the criticisms and accusations of incompetence and indiscipline from the citizenry, would cynically and arrogantly retort that whoever thought the Police was incompetent should invite armed robbers when next they had a security problem. But times have changed. It does seem superior wisdom now to seek out and pay protection money to leaders of criminal gangs. If Nigeria's criminals - cultists, robbers, kidnappers, etc. - were not Nigerians, and therefore imbued with that peculiar Nigerian greed and lack of depth; I would prefer to deal with them than with the Nigerian Police.

To be candid the society of kidnappers and armed robbers are not relenting in their efforts to make Nigeria one of the most dangerous places to live on earth. While the kidnappers continue to waylay and take captive busload after busload of commuters, in order to exchange them for huge sums paid out as ransom monies; the armed robbers relentlessly attack homes and business places without let or hindrance. A pharmacist friend of mine recently told of how a gang of five attacked his pharmaceutical store and took him captive in their car. They drove with him round the city until they had used his ATM card to withdraw all the cash in his bank account. And this was after they had helped themselves to whatever cash or valuable they found in the store. One of these fiends in human skin also sexually assaulted a married female member of his staff! That notwithstanding, I still contend that members of the Nigerian Police Force are also doing their bit to claim the prize as the most despicable elements of the Nigerian society. A personal experience relayed below would justify the conclusion that the Nigerian Police is not anyone's friend.

Returning to Port Harcourt from a trip to Lagos and Abuja, sometime in March 2019, I was accosted (that is more apt to describe the way these Police officers stop you), by persons who turned out to be members of the Nigerian Police. I was on the notorious East-West Road axis of Rivers State, within half an hour from Port Harcourt. For those conversant with current Nigerian affairs in relation to insecurity at this time, (Rivers State in particular), the stretch of road between Patani and Port Harcourt is the headquarters of Nigeria's Federal Agency for Kidnapping, Robbery and Like Offences. When did Nigeria start having an agency for kidnapping, you ask? Well, if an average of four such incidents occurs weekly on that stretch of road, the zone qualifies as headquarters of the trades I am discussing. Reports from victims who survived the ordeal (not many live to tell their story), indicate clearly that these incidents happen in between check points mounted by the Nigerian Police. Did you also know that these check points are usually less than a quarter mile from each other? No joke. You can actually see the next check point from the last! That being the case, and with the regularity of the kidnappings, which had virtually become a daily affair, it did not take long for mischief makers like us to begin to imagine things.

If you are wise and prudent in Nigeria, you should recognize and add to your vocab catch phrases like the words 'Cooperate' and 'Roger'. If you live or do business or travel to Nigeria, knowledge of the meaning of such words could be that thin line between life and death any time you encounter the Nigerian Police. You see, our Police love people who 'cooperate'; politicians, businessmen, expatriates, diaspora returnees, market women, landlord and tenants, farmers, students, and even primary school pupils. If you know both how to 'cooperate' and 'Roger' as well, you can have what you will in Nigeria, and the Police will cooperate with you too. By the way, it is only fair to mention that 'roger' happens in all Nigerian public and private institutions, for example, the judiciary and banks. Its name adapts from one environment to the other. But Mr Police, this does not excuse or justify your extortions (sometimes on pain of death) that you shamelessly brand as cooperation! In any case, it did not take long before the gentlemen of the 'other' (M Buhari, et al) trades realised that their business interests would be greatly enhanced if they inculcated the above virtues as part of their business skills. In simple terms, the business minded criminals amongst us, from political and governmental criminals to kidnappers, from armed robbers to petty thieves; they all enrolled and completed courses in the Police School of 'Cooperation and Rogering'. Subsequently and unsurprisingly, their businesses thrived.

Anyway, it is a no brainer that the greater majority of Police personnel in Nigeria would aid and abet criminal activities for the right amount of 'cooperation'. Recall that Police personnel have severally been caught in the past with their hands in the cookie jar. So many times in the past Nigerian Police officers have been found to be complicit in very heinous criminal activities. A good example occurred in the eighties, during the reign of terror unleashed by the duo of Lawrence Aninih and Monday Osunbor. A certain George Inyamu, a senior police officer was fingered as their armourer and collaborator in chief. Apart from such notorious examples as the Anini/Osunbor/Inyamu case, the countless everyday experience of Nigerian's with their 'friendly' Police is enough to convince even the most optimistic that you are safe in the hands of only a tiny fraction of Nigerian Police personnel. The rest are your enemies! The only way out is to understand and know how to 'cooperate' and do 'roger'. And keep in mind that the quality and quantity may differ depending on your tribe and tongue, or the particular problems the policeman is facing at the time; wedding plans, for example. Back to my encounter with the Police officers I met on my return journey to Port Harcourt from Lagos. The story should help put some sense into the overly simple-minded person.

At about 6.30PM, I approached a Police checkpoint along the Mbiama/Ahoada axis of the East-West Road. Exhausted and wearied by the long drive and the numerous previous checkpoints I had stopped at, I hoped this one would not waste my time, especially as I was barely thirty minutes to the end of my journey. But as soon as I slowed to a stop, my Nigerian instinct told me to prepare for the toughest test of the entire journey. The rough and scruffy looking officer who flagged me down asked for my car 'patikulas' (car registration documents). As soon as I surrendered what I had, which had satisfied at least fifty previous security checks, this aggressive and belligerent looking policeman demanded to see the proof of ownership of the car. To which I retorted that the car had been on the road for a good few years, and that what I gave him had satisfied previous officers. I also introduced myself to assure him that I was unlikely to be driving around in a stolen car. That appeared to touch a raw nerve, or he probably feigned anger. He promptly ordered me to park the car facing the bushes on the side of the road I was travelling. I grudgingly obeyed. All further efforts to reason with him proved futile. I noticed that as it got darker this gang of six policemen became more aggressive with me and the other commuters and drivers they had stopped. Indeed, one commuter or driver was handcuffed to the back headrest of the car seat, which clearly was their duty vehicle. And it was an unmarked Toyota Camry model car!

Then, looking more closely I noticed that the careless attires of this criminals were meant to hide their identities. One or two were half-clad with police vests and sleeveless cardigans. About three others were almost fully attired and kitted in their uniforms, but had their name tags removed. As stated earlier, past events known to me involving the police only heightened my discomfort. This was more or less confirmed when one of them who had appeared to be conciliatory towards me (a well-known strategy to force or persuade you to 'roger'), suddenly released a volley of shots into the air. I then pretended I was trying to prove that I was a lawyer by getting someone on the phone to confirm this, since the scruffy looking officer had sneered and told me that I was an impostor after I introduced myself. While I was able to get someone (a colleague) to speak to them, the real strategy was to let them know that people now knew where I was, and that they might be unable to cover up their tracks should they decide to act funny. The colleague I spoke to sounded more alarmed than I was. This was understandable. His first reason was that I had no business remaining on that part of the East-West Road by night fall; the second was that the situation I had explained to him I was in was as dangerous as having the kidnappers for company. His advice was that I should immediately 'cooperate' ('settle' is yet another word for this business), with the policemen and find a place to stay for the night. He strongly advised against continuing with the journey.

I was forced to 'roger' these thugs with N500, instead of the 10,000 I was asked to pay; most likely I suspect, because they actually believed I am a lawyer. My understanding of what goes on in the cowardly and dark interiors of such people was also helpful. I refused to back down, using the same tactics they employed; one moment conciliatory, the next acting like I was unaware of the danger they posed to me. But never allowing their foolish minds to think they had me on all fours. In any case, I did not have as much as half what they had asked for. So I used that argument persuasively and ended up parting with only a fraction of what I actually had. After that I continued with my journey into Port Harcourt, to the consternation and utter shock of my colleague and friend. I had little choice; I met these crude creatures of the wild in what may be termed a no man's land; in the middle of what has become known as kidnapper territory. The implication was that each of the three alternative courses of actions that faced me carried the same amount of risk or danger. One choice was to stay where I was; another was to beat a retreat and go find a hotel to sleep in; the third was to complete the journey. All three would happen within the same territory! In that event, I chose the last and surrendered my spirit, soul and body to my maker. To the glory of God, somehow, I made it into Port Harcourt in one piece.

From my experience as depicted above, some salient questions arise. First, would it be unimaginable that if I had plenty raw cash on me, especially foreign currency, to the knowledge of these brutes that they would not have attempted to end my sojourn on earth there and then? Two, is it unthinkable that these men transmute from policemen to kidnappers and back, depending upon what suits, and what time of the day it was? And if that is too farfetched (and I am sold on that idea), what is to stop such very low characters from cooperating or conniving with the kidnappers, as alleged by several commuters, so as to cash in on what has now become a lucrative business whose dividends runs into millions of Naira? What is to stop a police officer shooting and killing a defenceless citizen or renting out his weapons if he did not have to give account of the munitions allocated to his firearm? It is also widely acknowledged that a lot of illegal arms and ammunition have made their way into our public space. Indeed, it is relatively easier to access a weapon in Nigeria than it is to access employment or secure admission into any of our public tertiary educational institutions. It follows as a matter of simple logic that if this view is correct, and our police force as unscrupulous and lacking in empathy, civility and professional discipline as we now know them to be; then, I got away that night only by divine intervention.

All said I believe that there is very little difference, if any, between most Nigerian police officers and the kidnappers and armed men they are employed to protect us from. That simply is the painful truth.

NEWS SECTIONS