This Day (Lagos)

30 August 2014

Nigeria: An Encounter With a Bad Cop

opinion

As is often the case, I close late from work. Penultimate Thursday was no exception. When it is that late, the roads are expectedly free. And so it was on that day that in 20 or so minutes I was already in Festac Town. As I drove into the town, I noticed an unusual roadblock just beside Zenith Bank premises on 2nd Avenue. Policemen were all over the place, on both sides of the road. Two police trucks were on both sides of the road with their siren lights blinking noiselessly.

There was an old Volvo car, possibly a Kabukabu, parked by the side of the road, beside the fence of the bank. Some policemen had surrounded its driver who seem to be fiddling with some parts of the car apparently taking advantage of the lighting from the Bank. A Police Hilux Van had blocked the road ahead of the Volvo car. I was wondering what the matter was, as I waited in my car, beaming the light on them. About seven minutes or so later, the police truck that blocked the road reversed and parked by the road side and the Volvo car was driven away. Some of the policemen then signalled me to go. I engaged my gear to move. The wheels have barely rolled when the harsh voice of a Policeman thundered: "why are you so much in a hurry?", as he came charging towards me. I applied the brakes, wound down my window and calmly said "But I have been waiting for you guys to finish... " My statement infuriated the policeman whose voice reached a high pitch, rebuking me: "what manner of sarcastic language is that?" Sarcastic? I wondered what was sarcastic in my statement. But the policeman, smartly dressed though, began a long session of pouring tirades at me. I immediately remembered my late colleague and friend, Abayomi Ogundeji, whom we suspect, was killed by policemen, some five or so years ago, around Akowonjo, in Lagos. Some had reckoned that Abayomi may have argued with the policemen warranting his being shot. Abayomi is dead. Nobody can tell his own side of the story. I was so conscious of the many atrocities policemen commit. The advice that only the living can judge case kept echoing in my head. But the policeman will not let me. His men, seeing that their boss was raging, had surrounded my car in a way you will think they caught an unarmed Abubakar Shekau. They all had very long guns, which they logged menacingly. Some made to even hit me, but their boss cautioned them. It was about 12.40am. They asked who I was. I replied that I am a Nigerian and later showed them my ID card, as a journalist. It only elicited more abuses and intimidating tendencies.

I came out of the car, approached the raging policeman, and asked: "Are you Mr Okoro?" I asked because I had had so many stories about a certain Mr Okoro who is pompous and arrogant and who boasts that he can "do and undo". The character exhibition of the policeman pouring invectives on me, perfectly fitted the portraiture I had heard about. My question was like pouring petrol into a flame. His voice rose sharply and began to blurt out terrible English, which broke most rules of grammar; "Am I wearing traditional clothes? Who are you to ask my name? : "You are rudy". Yes, you are rudy! I told you you are being sarcastic in your language... ." I did not know what he meant by "rudy". It is not an English word. I told him there was nothing sarcastic in what I said. And that the Police ought to be our friend, as they say... . He flared up again charging me to quote where it is written in the constitution that the Police should be a friend, adding the foul sauce: "even if I should be a friend, is it to a rudy person like you? And who are you to interpret my semantics? Do you know semantics? ... .." he went on and on and on, speaking high-sounding words, perhaps to impress his men. He had made so much song and dance about his English, stressing that "you do not have the resume to teach Okoro anything, who are you?" He was full of buffoonery, making me wonder whether it is for him that the name "Okoro" has become a metaphor for rough-neck conducts among his folksmen. I had to tell him my first degree was in English and I know what sarcasm means pointing out that what I said had nothing to do with sarcasm. His anger and voice pitch had been on a steady rise, as he announced that he is a lawyer. His service pistol was tucked by the side of his waist. His bleached face twinkling with angry sparks. I drew near to check if he was drunk. But there was no smell of alcohol around him. Yet he was bullying me with relish. I then got into the car, and called my wife to tell her I was having some problem with some policemen within Festac. "Just beg them so they will allow you go", she advised, asking if she should drive down, which I objected to. Already, a scene had been created. Okoro demanded my vehicle particulars and my driver's licence. My anger was rising. As I made to open my compartment for the particulars of the car, he began to use his camera phone to snap me and the car from various angles. I did not know what that was meant for. I got pissed and refused to give him the particulars after he had done a "visual forensic" on my licence all in a bid to look for what to hold against me. I told him I was prepared to be locked up in his cell since he so wanted to flaunt his power on me. My licence was valid.

He soon ordered that I drive to the police station, a few meters away. With one of his policemen in my car, we eventually left the Zenith Bank area for the police station. He ordered that the car be parked in the inner precinct of the station. Already, the entire station had become animated. Yet again, he resumed another round of dress down, accusing me of being stubborn and all what not. He ordered his Station Officer, one Mr Effiong Nnana, an Inspector, to impound my car and obtain a statement from me. They ushered me into an office and its door was closed. While there, my wife arrived. As she asked to see me, Mr Okoro began a strange narrative, telling her that the police accosted me where I parked by the bank suspiciously, seeming to sell the insinuation that I could be or was a threat to the bank, making a telling reference to how an ATM was recently robbed, which is why the police accosted me, and that I soon started abusing the police for asking me what I was doing there. Gash! I could not believe the fertile lies of this cop. If they had shot me (God forbid), that is how the story will be manufactured to criminalise me and justify their "alertness and professional adeptness".

Writing the so-called statement soon became another issue. Mr Effiong, with a seemingly calm mien, insisted I must write what he wanted me to write and not what transpired. I refused. There was a stalemate. "Write a little of your biography", he insisted. Time was ticking away. The first statement was now condemned as he insisted I write another. Eventually I obliged him. He then asked for the particulars of the car, which I handed over to him, and after perusing through for almost a dozen minutes, quipped: " I put it to you that you refused to tender the documents because they had expired". I told him it is not true. After some half-hearted jokes, Effiong rushed out and soon returned with Bail Bond, and asked me fill it, explaining that I have been granted bail on "self-recognition". After those police "rituals", he finally allowed me to go, having seized the keys and particulars of the car. Time was 2.48am. Okoro had long gone. My wife took me home in her car, tired but unbowed. At about 9.00pm on Saturday, August 23, my phone rang. Mr Effiong was on the line. "Oga has just come now. Would you want to come and see him?', he asked politely. I accepted and soon drove to the station. He then announced my presence to the almighty Okoro, the Area Commander, who after a while asked me to come in. I had just stepped into his office when he began a long tutorial laced with invectives and tirades. " I could have arraigned you and charged you with five or six charges over what you did that night", he said, repeating most of the offensive lines of Thursday night. I had resolved not to join issues with him again. He stood me up for over 40 minutes making gratuitous claims of his learnedness... . How he's got "four B.Sc degrees apart from the Law degree", adding that "my Ph.D is in view". After that session, he ordered that my car be released to me.

All I could see was a man so full of himself. His office bore all the trademarks of an egoistic man. His large portraits and roll-up banners were all over the office, as he sat on his seat with the gait of an emperor. A man who thinks himself a god or even a deity, who must be faithfully venerated by his devotees. And that is why it rankled him that I had the guts to look him in the eyeball and told him he was the aggressor in this matter. That he was most unfriendly. He could not bear to be told the plain truth. But the fact is that the likes of Dan Nkem Okoro, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, are not only a bad influence to the junior rank and file of the Police Force, but indeed, a veritable source of the image problem which has defined the portrait of the police. It is even a wonder that such a behavioural deficit could rise to his present rank in the force. The likes of Okoro have no business being in public service, with his raw and uncouth character. I gathered that his notoriety is legendary and that he often flaunts the fact that he was once the ADC to the recently retired Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, and so he is an "untouchable". That perhaps explains his unbridled arrogance and uncouth conduct. I have never met a saucier brute officer. Here is an Area Commander, I hear, who once slapped the Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Chairman, Mr Ayodele Adewale over a disagreement. He made reference to their disagreement with very snide remarks that night, while he gave me his last tutorial. Here is an Area Commander, under whose watch, the theft of petroleum products from the pipelines at the canal at the end of 4th Avenue has increased.

His brusque and brazen conduct had impacted his subordinates so much that most of his men operate with godless impunity. Last May, some policemen at the dead of the night, stormed a shanty on 7th Avenue, Festac Town, where Okada riders normally sleep and raided them allegedly for riding motorcycles, as if it is an offence to ride motorcycle in the dream, as to warrant the seizure of the motorcycles. The Okada riders rose in revolt as they have suffered such illegal raids in the past where they had to pay heavily to reclaim their motorbikes which often get seized during such raids. In anger, three or so of the policemen were killed and burnt by the Okada riders. Expectedly, it threw the neighbourhood into confusion as the police stormed the place, destroyed it and stationed APC and several police trucks there for over one month.

Two weeks before that deadly raid, in the same month of May, the same Police under Okoro's Area command, had shot dead a 33-year-old Oyoma Edewor, in Festac Town, allegedly for not quickly stopping the towing van towing his car. That was the end of that young man. Nobody knows what ever happened to the police who pulled the trigger. I hear the Police high command is inundated with tons of petitions against Okoro, but because he had a "god-father", he has continued to wax stronger in his ways, endangering the rest of society. Okoro must be contained. He belongs to the old order that sees society as a subservient entity that must be oppressed, harassed bullied and intimidated. We can do without his likes.

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