When I was just growing up in the 80’s, can’t remember precisely the age then, there was this policeman who was very fond of me and always refer to me as his friend. I am sure the age difference between us then would be nothing less than 15, but he will never stop referring to me as his friend. I can’t particularly remember how we met, why he liked me and how we became friends, but I know he is just somebody I liked to be with whenever time permits. During my spare time, I pay him visits in his office at the police station. That was the very first time I got to see the inside of a police station. I have always glanced from the fence on passing by or each time dreaded armed robbers are nabbed and paraded at the police station where their gates are flung open for everybody to see, but without gaining access to the compound.
Each time I visit my friend at the station, I always get small gifts from him and share some gist alongside other police men in the station, but what our gist centres around still remains an illusion to me.
Soon after my friendship with the police guy became blossomed, a few friends of mine advised that I should severe ties with him because policemen are never to be trusted. They said a policeman would make friend with you only to rope you in one case or another. Well, I heeded to their advice and somehow refused to visit my police friend from that moment until the memory of him faded gently, but the fear I had then unknowingly was waiting for me somewhere in the future.
It happened on a very beautiful Sunday morning during my second year in the university. I had gone to take my usual morning breakfast in Mallam Sumaila’s (RIP) shop when the whole incidence began to play out. Mallam Sumaila is a ‘Mai Shayi (Bread and tea seller) who sells very close to my house. I lived in an off campus residence with a friend and shared a small compound with a group of students who though are very intelligent and brilliant, cannot do without drinking and Smoking marijuana. As much as I detest what they do, I usually enjoyed their company because each time we gather to discuss issues, you could tell from their opinions that these are youths who know what it takes to make the world a better place. Because of our relatively secluded place of abode, some of their friends usually join in the drinking and smoking frenzy.
I had barely finished taking my tea and bread that Sunday morning when I noticed some young men alighted from a chattered taxi and headed straight to our compound. I had no inclination as to who they are and what they had come for until I finished the tea and decided to go back to my room. Just as I was entering the compound, I saw my roommate been escorted out by three gun wielding policemen. He didn’t mention anything to me and I didn’t say anything either. We just passed ourselves. It was when I got into the compound that I was told the policemen said a group of boys attacked the daughter a former Managing Director of PHCN and carted away her phone worth N150,000 and one of the guys suspected was traced to our compound. Although the suspect does not live with us in the compound, he had always come around to join his ‘Igbo’ smoking friends.
The particular guy they had come to look for was my direct next door neighbour, but as at the time they came to search his room, he had already gone to church. Rather than make a counter plan, the policemen decided to go for my own room, searched, found nothing but decided to pick my roommate and my mobile phone I left behind while I had gone to mallam Sumaila’s shop.
As soon as I got this information, I knew they were going to come back for me. Besides, I was not ready to part with my phone and the SIM card which I bought at the rate of N12,000 and N18,000 respectively, so I dressed up, took some money as well as the receipt of my phone and SIM card and headed to the police station. On getting there, I introduced myself, thinking I will just get my phone back and use the money probably to bail my roommate, but that was the beginning of the my ordeal.
Despite confirmation by the lady whose N150,000 phone was stolen that my N12,000 phone is not her own, the police did not only refused to release my phone, but also held me at the station. I sat at the counter for several hours until I was eventually thrown inside the cell. In the cell was my roommate, the guy who was suspected to have stolen the 150,000 phone and a few other guys. The luck I had was there was nobody who thought it necessary to beat me as I have always heard of police cells. Rather, I was the one who did the beating. It pounced on the guy who was suspected to have stolen the phone with the anger that I am going to spend my first night in police cell on the allegation of stealing because of him. It took the intervention of the other cell mates before I could let go. Meanwhile, my roommate was at one corner crying seriously.
Inside the cell, there was nothing to eat, but the luck I had was the money I took along while going. I pleaded with one of the policemen to help me buy fried yam and bean cake which I shared with everybody in the cell, but not until I parted with some money for the policeman who went on the errand. As soon as the night fell, a policeman approached me and said he could allow me sleep in the counter, instead of the smelly, dirty and mosquito filled cell if I am ready to part with some of my money. I initially accepted and parted with N200 of my money only for the DPO to arrive that night and send me back to the cell. Well, I lost my N200 and still ended up sleeping in the cell.
It was the following morning I begged one of the police officer to allow me use his phone to call my dad, but the police officer said he will charge N250 per minute for a call MTN charges N50 for. Well, I beggar has no choice they said. I accepted and the phone was sneaked for me to call my dad who then asked a close relation living in the town to come to my aid. When my relative arrived, he was told to pay bail sums for me, my roommate, and my phone and also pay for pen and paper that would be used to write the bail, but clearly written on the wall at the counter is “Bail is Free, Don’t Pay”. The man was so furious that he even insulted the police man that brought the message, but at the end of the day, he was able to negotiate our bail and we were set free.
Ever since that incidence, I have always asked myself questions like what if I had no money on me while I got to the station? What if I had nobody to call for coming to my rescue? What if there was nobody in that town that could quickly see that am released? I probably would have spent days or months in that cell without anybody knowing about my where about or even find someone to bail me. Incidences like this and even worse happen every day. Those who are lucky get out of it alive, those who are not remain in those cells for as longs as possible or even die as a result, yet these are people who are supposed to protect every citizen. Tomorrow, they will be selling us the mantra of Police is your friend.
I hate the Nigerian Police, They can never be my friend.
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