Nigerian Police Force spokespersons and top officials will always tell you that the police is your friend. Frank Odita, whom I knew personally and Frank Mbah (whom I encountered in the market square) did everything to assure us of the friendliness of our police. However, there is a wide gap between what is and what ought to be! (I think that is what Economists term positive and normative economics or what strategists call espoused and operative objectives). I am not a very boastful person but today, I boast that very few non-professional drivers have encountered the Nigerian Police Force in action( the Good, bad, ugly and messy) on our roads as much as I have had.
In the good old days, as a banker-bachelor based in Enugu, with my good old 504GR/AC( An3705ED,cost N8800),when the mind was willing and the body strong, when the roads were safe and fuel cost a few kobo a litre, I drove around Nigeria on several occasions. On one occasion, I drove from Enugu to Jos/Vom to Bauchi to Azare to Gombe to Maidugiri via Biu to Kano to Kaduna to Abuja to Ikare to Benin to Warri to PH to Aba to Owerri and back to Enugu. This took about one month. I had worked at Jos, Kaduna and Kano and as a ‘village man’ that I have always been, I drove regularly from those locations to my ancestral home whenever necessary and even when unnecessary!
30 years ago, I relocated to Lagos, a city that I had once loathed with passion( because of its traffic and disorderliness), and since then plying the Lagos-Onitsha route has became my ‘daily bread’. All along, I have seen the police in their various colours, at their best and at their worst and at times, in their Zeburudayaist ( buffoonery) moods as when a policeman in Kaduna charged me with ‘attempted jamming’ (attempting to jam him) and when another around Okigwe accused me of having an irregular plate-number. However, of late, the policemen- those on the road- so threw away the good and exhibited more of the bad and ugly, that I decided not to drive again on the Lagos-Onitsha expressway. That was when on an occasion, I encountered 102 police toll-gates and on another, I spent more time to cross the Niger-Bridge than I spent from Lagos-Asaba. But I still visited Igbo-Ukwu regularly. I was not trekking neither was I flying; I outsourced all the hassles to the commercial Sienna mini-busses.
The other day (11/10/23) however, I had a need to drive down to the east and I saw what has become of our perfidious friends, our fiends as they interface with their customers. The number of police toll-gates on the road from Ijebu-Ode to Onitsha is so uncountable that you need to see it so as to believe and appreciate. From Ijebu-Ode to Ore, they are stationed after every one kilometre, to the extent that while one set of policemen were ‘attending’ to you, you will see the next set close bye and that was why on that particular day, The Ijebu-Ode-Ore route that took about 90 minutes, took 3 whole hours-and there was no hold-up. All of them have a sole objective: to optimise their EPV (earnings per vehicle), by all means fair and foul. Some will beg you, some will delay you, some would ask for papers that are no longer in existence and some would charge you of offences that do not exist in our books. But you watch people driving bye easily with unnumbered vehicles! Anyway, come along with me as I share my experiences on that day, when Ijebuo-Ode to Onitsha that ordinarily took 5 hours, ended up ‘costing’ me and my emergency driver, about 9 hours. By the time I left Ijebuo-Ode around 10 am due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, I had expected that the road would be freer. It would have been but for the antics of our ‘fiends’ of the Nigerian Police Force. On that trip,, my vehicle was stopped on all the toll-gates but subjected to SAS or WUC ( Stop and Search;Wetin U Carry) for more than 50 times but I will share with you a few of the experiences with our fiends. Immediately we left Ijebuo-Ode, one of the policemen stopped us and asked for water. Luckily, I had an extra bottle of water, which I gladly handed over to him. However his colleague did not find it funny; he accused me of being mean and wicked! Mean and wicked? But he asked for water! As we were approaching Ore, one of them asked where we were headed to and I replied Anambra. He told me that he hated Imo people the most! A federal officer, working on a Federal highway, saying that he hated a particular set of people. In shock, I asked him why and he explained that they had not been able to control ‘these boys’. By these boys, he meant the UGM and I wondered how an Imo man or woman would checkmate the known and unknown gunmen who are also terrorising them. I asked one of them why he allowed all the vehicles before me to pass but stopped mine. He wanted to show his power and importance and asked if I was above the law? I agreed with him that he had a legitimate right to search and he started foraging through my papers and found out that I am a lecturer. He then declared gleefully that he would chop my money as I had chopped his hand-out money. I retorted that I had never chopped handout money from him or from anybody and he said that even if I did not, my ‘brothers’ chopped his money in 2013/2014 at UNIBEN where he graduated in Public Administration. So, this was educated up to University level.
Around Agbor, one of them got tired of searching the booth and asked for my CMR and allocation of plate-number. I told him that I did not have those documents and that without them, I would not have registered the car and been on the road for the 4th year running. I also told him that I didn’t need this stress as I had been on the road since morning. He ‘calmed down’ and assured me that he would not want to bother me since he saw that I was an elder but that I should just help us fuel their vehicle with N15000. And I shouted at him: N15000? Have I fuelled my own car? As he was acting ‘you will see’, I went into the car and brought out ALL the papers he could possibly ask for in this world and the world to come. He rudely shoved them back at me in frustration and disappointment!
At the next toll-gate, they started harassing the driver as usual and I alighted from the vehicle and asked the one who appeared to be the leader: ‘What exactly are you looking for? At this age and stage, do you think that I have stollen this 4th hand car or that I am on my way to a thieving operation’? He retorted that ‘nobody is above the law’! After Isele-Ukwu, one of them stopped us, peeped inside and exchanged greetings with me and then asked the driver to open the booth. However when I came down from the vehicle he asked in a surprised tone: were you inside this car? When I responded in the affirmative he replied: please go! How could somebody who saw and greeted me turn round to ask me if I were inside the car? One of them looked into the car and said: ‘I have seen that you are an ‘agbalagba’ and also a chief. I don’t know how to ask of anything from you. Go well’ and I thanked him and we left. Some of them simply greeted: ‘your boys are here’ or ‘anything for the boys’ and I replied that in this BATified economy, I did not even have enough not to talk of something for the boys! That’s is a snippet of my experience travelling from Ijebu-Ode to Onitsha on Friday, 11/10/23.
Few days later, the Police PRO issued a statement that ‘policemen who trot guns at Nigerians in order to extort them are not different from armed robbers’! So, what do we call all these who humiliated, delayed, and deliberately made things difficult for travellers so as to extract some ‘water’ from them, and they are all armed? It is a rape scenario because people are FORCED to give! They are armed and they are extorting (modified robbing) and they therefore should be classified as armed robbers as per the declaration by the PPRO.
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When we were growing up, the Igbo term for bribery was ‘aka-azu’( literarily, back-hand, what you give behind your back) which means what one is so ashamed to do that he did it in secret. At that time, the policemen or the officers receiving should not even know what they were offered. Today, it is ‘aka-ihu’( front-hand) as the policemen would collect the money, look at it very well to confirm the denomination and its genuineness and give change to the driver, and give you a number to quote on the next trip to indicate that you had done clearance for the day. It happens all over the country. If all or almost all of the policemen of our highways are now ‘armed robbers’, what then should we do? Should we adopt the Liberia option, when President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson sacked all the staff of their Central Bank?