The streets were near empty, except for a few people who perpetually were late-goers to the early morning Mass. Femi and his friend Kalusia sat shirtless on a bench in front of their house that was overlooking the major street, Nike. Each with a bottle of beer in their hands; and there were two other empty bottles lying prostrate under the bench. It was 6.45am on a Sunday.
I had observed Femi and Kalusia for some time before we finally became friends. I took interest in them because of their love for books. We were barely 18 or 19 then, but what they had in their ‘heads’ were amazing. Any of Femi or Kalusia could engage in a discussion for hours on diverse topics in books they had read, like Russian sub-marine, the battle of Stalingrad, The Fall of Rome, Mafiaoso of the old country Sicily, Nigeria’s 1966 coup, and Revolutionary tales of Thomas Sankara. I became enthralled and hooked to books.
The state library at Ogui Road, Enugu, became our hub because it was the only library around town then. The fierce competition amongst us drove some of us into even reading about ancient mysticism and occultism. I recall how reading The Luciano Testament by Martin Gosch and Richard Hammer blew our minds. The book was so gripping that we had to strip the book into four parts to ensure that we guarded against anyone taking it away as a unit. You would finish one part, then return it before you could get the other parts to read. Sorry I digressed!
Femi and Kalusia sat that early Sunday morning, sipping their cold beer kept for them by Femi’s uncle from a wedding he attended the previous day. In what seemed like a flash, a rickety police patrol station wagon driven by a sleepy-eyed-old man with two other disheveled officers as occupants pulled up in front of them. Wielding guns and cudgels, the sergeant leading the police team fired an unexpected question as he approached the boys: “Why una dey drink this early morning?”
Both Femi and Kalusia were too startled to provide an answer immediately. Then the officer followed up with another question, this time in Igbo: “unu egburu agu unu ji a ńu mmanya n’isi ututu a?” More confusion!
As Femi’s uncle rushed to the scene to intervene, the lads who were unable to explain the oddity of that early morning relaxation were already being slap-forced into the boot of the rusty police vehicle.
“What is the problem? What did they do?” asked Femi’s uncle.
“There is an intelligence report on boys who drink at odd times,” replied the sergeant, as he struggled to adjust his protruding bulk to fit under the steering wheel.
Stripped of their shirts, belts, foot wears and money, they were put behind the counter at the police station waiting to be charged. As it was in those days at that police station, there was this very elderly police officer with a bushy moustache whose duty was to figure out appropriate charges to slam against their prey. Officer Onwubiko took a long look at Femi and his friend Kalusia. Displaying his tobacco-stained teeth, he muttered some words before writing ‘armed robbery’ as their crime on the police chalkboard. Femi and Kalusia were later to be ‘bailed’ with N3, 000 each after negotiations. This was 1994 when a bottle of beer sold for N35 only.
You better believe it, the Nigeria Police, as presently constituted, are not structured to serve and protect the citizens, instead they are for the protection of the regime or government in power. The psyche of typical Nigerian police personnel is to parade, torture and pronounce one guilty even before an investigation is concluded.
Just last week, in a tweet that went viral, an assistant commissioner of police (ACP), Abayomi Shogunle, @YomiShogunle, while trying to defend the dehumanizing assault and molestation of about 70 women during a raid on some nightclubs in Abuja by the Nigeria Police for alleged prostitution, posted:
How does one even start to deconstruct the mental makeup of sub-literates in police uniform like Yomi Shogunle? It’s terrifying and worrisome that there are many other high-ranking law enforcement agents that still think like this in 2019! It is not enough for the police to claim their officers arrested prostitutes or armed robbers like Femi and Kalusia, they must show the law they acted upon to arrest these people. In September, 2005, the entire 120 peace-keeping contingent of the Nigeria Police in the DR Congo was sent home. Reason: for sexual exploitation of young girls in the DR Congo. The Nigeria Police have a problem; the Abuja rape isn’t new.
To put things in proper perspectives, the Nigeria Police are rated the worst in the world, according to the 2016 World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI).
Even as we are all self-absorbed, locked in our own comfort zones. It will be a therapeutic and liberating experience to be drawn outside ourselves and face the reality of our collapsed internal security. There is something at stake for all of us, let’s all lend our support to end police brutality and commence the reformation of Nigeria police for a better tomorrow.
Young Ozogwu writes from Abuja. You can follow him on Twitter @youngies