Can you dare it? Not with any of those conspiring smiling faces that recognise their thuggish language as your ally but with the revolting and defiant face of Adams Oshiomole. I mean it. After some years away from Eastern Nigeria, I was welcomed along Owerri-Port Harcourt Road by men of the Nigerian police force and the army in unpalatable scenes. The distance between a check-point to the next was just two hundred (200) meters or less and one is forced to ask what the hell is happening. Is this a war zone and who is the enemy? Why the closeness to each other and I doubt such proximity of checkpoints exist anywhere in the world. At every checkpoint, the officers don’t seem to be doing any reasonable security check and again you wonder what the guns here are meant for.
As typical of the cerebral weaknesses in most Nigerian security officers, they look out for innocent passengers on-call and bully them to their satisfaction. Another security measure is to check who is carrying a laptop and the receipt for the laptop even though they have no right to do this or the other useless security measures that come with the entire episode. A journey of sixty (60) minutes or less is done in two hours or more but what will you do? What can you do? If you’ve been following the news since this country was forged (forget the hype around the accidental discharge of the past few days), the Kalashnikovs in their hands is simply meant to check and put arrogant Nigerians and some Nigerian-looking blacks in line.
A Lebanese, Indian, European or American, as long as you are not Nigerian or look like one, is given civil treatment. Some Chinese folks here will abuse employees and still call the Nigerian police to come and give you some brushing and they will oblige. I asked the driver conveying us why they have to keep doing the same thing every time, why they have to give these guys money every time they pass the route and why the men are welding AK’s and setting up roadblocks on two cities that are not at war? Corruption! This country no go ever better, he said, before adding and that yeye man say him dey fight corruption. If you are going from Owerri to Port Harcourt, the men are more human in their illegal taxing, the driver narrated. Sometimes, they charge Fifty Naira when you are in Owerri but once you step into PH city, the fee rises to Hundred Naira and you have at least ten checkpoints, if you dodge well, to work with.
His Sienna has room for seven passengers and on Christmas and festive periods, he charges One Thousand Five Hundred (1500) Naira per passenger (to meet up with the demands of additional checkpoints and ‘normal’ increase in fuel price) and on normal days, the cost is reduced to Eight Hundred (800) or a Thousand (1000) Naira, therefore, to survive, he has to be creative with the tax collectors. In some checkpoints, he resorts to jokes with the hope of eliciting laughter and pardon for a crime he didn’t commit and the uniformed men either jokingly frown and stretch their hands in for their due, seriously frown and tell the man to park, or they laugh and tell their own jokes to collect their due or forgive the driver who committed the crime of plying the route. Any driver asked to park will experience a new baptism. He must provide his driving licence, tire expiry date, fire extinguisher, he must show that his side mirrors, speedometer, brakes, airbag and other manufactured jargons are in perfect condition. The attempt is to break or teach him a lesson.
To the officer, refusing to give bribe is a deliberate attempt to disrespect, dishonour and disgrace the Nigerian police force or army and usually, from his records, the set of Nigerians who attempt this are the stubborn type who disdains the force. Acting with this knowledge, he makes sure the driver spends enough time to deny him money for two trips. After a while, he is broken and tries to give the bribe (Bribe? To be honest, even a bribe is supposed be given to avoid punishment for some real offense you committed. What exactly is the offense here?) but this time the officer is angry and there is massive compound interest in the initial Hundred (100) Naira he was supposed to pay. He responds by acting like the officer had asked him to provide his PhD in driving when he doesn’t even have any legitimate certificate in any field. He adds another zero but he knows in his heart he messed up already. Another zero will do but that is because the officer only wants to ‘help’ him. Next time he joins the queue.
Refuse and get humiliated for trying to disrespect the officer but that is because I am assuming these are the humanoids among them. I am assuming something that rarely exists. The other creatures know what they are holding and wouldn’t want their toughness soiled by the toughness of the moralist on wheels so they pull the trigger. Accidental Discharge is the word, but admitting that will be dependent on the type of creature involved or the video evidences available. Most of the time you put on your TV and see dead bodies and outdated guns lined up by their side, just have in mind you could be looking at the body of one of these drivers or other innocent drivers who rejected their evil advances. But wait! Why do our security forces advertise and insult dead bodies? Some day we will treat that. These officers have come to interpret the act of holding guns to the power of using guns and like the typical uncivilized Homosapien drunk in power, might is stronger.
Last week, our lawmakers passed some of the most ridiculous bills in the history of ridiculous bills and more power was granted to an already power drunk police. The bill was supposed to serve as reformations for the police force but if there is anything we learned from it, it is that it is simply the renewal; revival and licensing of men in uniform to execute more rascality. In the past, when a cop kills an individual and the usual Accidental Discharge excuse can’t hold water, he is charged with homicide after dismissal and the courts pass capital punishment or life imprisonment but the new law seeks to correct such inappropriate humanity. The legislature proposed a period of two years jail term or an option of One Million Naira and this was passed off as the progress we need to have a more responsible police force. Meanwhile, a fine of five million naira or five years jail time was put as punishment for impersonating the Nigerian police.
This is the Nigeria they want to build: a country of insane leaders and docile masses. I mean, which is worse? Impersonating the police or killing another human being? Who in his right senses will allow the passage of such law or even allow the wild thought that proposed it? Isn’t such a person qualified to be called mad? The implication of these new laws is more impunity for a system already being strangled by impunity. If just a Million Naira is the requirement for washing off of murder, the evil politician will easily pay a willing tool in the force both execution and redemption fee. Laws like this will only act as a pep talk to the officers along Owerri-Port Harcourt Road and elevate their impunity. Nothing was said about the brutality that has become the trademark of police checkpoints.
Drunk police officers will have to pay Twenty Thousand Naira as fine for drinking on duty while any person resisting arrest pays Hundred Thousand Naira. Assaulting a police officer was made punishable by Six Months jail term but assault by police officers on civilians was conditional. Only mad men could propose these laws. And on rubber bullets or shock devices, none was proposed even though we are sure that most of the guys holding guns are irredeemable psychos. Disarming them would reduce the killings and should be accompanied with the education of the madhouse, tests to ascertain the level of cerebral damage in all officers, expulsion of the crazy ones and the recruitment of sound persons. It looks fruitless writing these things but I am simply trying to raise the level of consciousness. If anyone in position of power gets to read this, I’m hundred percent sure he wouldn’t act on it as lack of knowledge isn’t usually the problem but the absence of the will to do well. They are aware of the stealing and brutality going along Owerri-Port Harcourt Road but nothing will be done about it. They are planning for more protection for madmen and less for the sane and as long the divided masses chose not to work together, they will keep winning.