It was a dramatic encounter for me on (Saturday) at Oshodi under the pedestrian bridge. I had as usual taken my camera to get some shots and a taste of street photography.
I had planned to write an article about some of the things happening there. I had also planned to catch up with my friend, Samuel Leusman who was performing one of his poems at a poetry event in Yaba. Little did I know that the gods had other sad plans for me.
After alighting just before the bridge at Oshodi, I sauntered down the corners under the bridge, taking photos of places I fancied, what I didn’t know was that one unruly police officer and his Lagos sanitation colleague have been positioned to make my day a hellish one. I took different pictures from the bridge, the railway tracks, traffic gridlock and the ever mammoth crowd for which the area is known. For close to 30 minutes, I watched with rapt attention observing how people who refused to take the pedestrian bridge but opted to cross the road by foot were caught and held by their trousers by Lagos sanitation officers wearing plain white polos and brown trousers.
I was struck by an ugly incident playing before my very eyes. I noticed with total dismay how the sanitation officers were patronising the women who crossed the road by foot instead of using the bridge. It dawned on me that when the sanitation officers -of which 98% are men- seize women crossing the road by foot, they allow them to go scotfree unlike their male counterpart. I couldn’t understand what the officers were doing initially, but then I realized that the women could be giving the officers ‘unmentioned’ favours as I discovered they interacted in hushed voices.
Before my eyes, more than two women who crossed the road in flagrant disobedience to the law were allowed to go scot-free without being dragged, shoved or even pushed by the obviously randy sanitation officers. I wondered why the officers were treating the women in a different manner. Are the laws gender-based now? I wasn’t happy inside me as I thought of what will become of the men who were caught crossing the road instead of using the bridge. I watched the loneliness in their eyes afar as they are pushed, shoved and forcefully tucked into the back of a van that looked like a ‘black Maria’ where the only thing you could see are heads and tiny legs.
Many stayed in the van for hours without being allowed any communication with those outside. I looked at the poor souls and felt sad. Is there not a specific part of the law which stipulated the punishment for such an offence – like say a fine – instead of forcefully throwing grownups into the back of a van who were going about their normal activities all in the name of traffic law? What stupid country does that! There is no warning stating that crossing the road without using the bridge is a sign and many people unaware of that use the road thereby falling victim to the waiting sanitation officers.
I couldn’t take photos because my camera battery had drained. In the brouhaha playing out before me, I noticed the rain drizzling. But, I stood still without moving before decided to bring out my phone. I switched on the camera and began recording the sad event I had witnessed. I had concluded in my mind to write about the partiality of the system and the disturbing attitude of the sanitation officers. Not long have I started recording when a cold voice echoed from my back. It was that of a sanitation officer querying me. Before I could say jack, the cretin snatched my phone and helloed a police officer standing near the police car to arrest me. I protested asking what gave him the audacity for such inglorious act. I followed him to the police officer, a certain Adebayo Taiwo who by all standard should never be allowed to wear the police uniform owing to his goatish manners. Taiwo asked me to identify myself of which I told him the obvious – that I am a journalist. He asked for an identity card. I tried searching for it but didn’t see my ID in the bag. I had misplaced it. There was no excuse why I forgot my ID at home, which I explained to the police officer and opted to provide another means of identification. Moreover, I have never heard where an ID is needed for one to snap photos or record an incident. Howbeit, I probed my bag and found my driver’s licence which I tendered for identification.
The officer said I had no right to take shots and video activities under the pedestrian bridge. I demanded to know why and which part of the law such was written. It was a rude shock when the officer ruffled my cloth and clutched on it demanding that I must follow him to the other side of the bridge, there was another police officer. That idea hit me like the stench of tobacco, so I seriously rebuffed it and stood my ground stating that I will not move an inch if he doesn’t read out the offence I committed.
By this time, the senseless sanitation officer tried to drag me by the trouser, I smacked his hands off my trouser. The erratic police officer joined him, dragged my polo and tore it. I was livid and demanded from the officer what was the cause of such stupid act from him. I shouted at him. He threatened to beat me up. I was upset and began shouting at him the more why he would want to drag me to a place I know not about when I did not commit any offence. As this was happening, the other police officer who has been witnessing the incident told Taiwo to take things easy. Taiwo came at me and said he will deal with me. He threatened and said he will show me that I am a small boy. I told Taiwo that he will buy me a new polo for after he tore my cloth. He was still barking and threatening to deal with me. I told him that it is because of men like that ordinary Nigerians see the police as the enemy. How can a police officer be ignorant of the law as to not know when a citizen has committed an offence?
Eventually, a senior police officer called us over, still at the bridge where Taiwo explained what happened. When he asked me to explain, he was so absent-minded busy talking to someone but insisted that I keep explaining that he was listening even with the distraction. I finished, he said I should be taken to the office to write a statement. I still insisted that my torn polo must be replaced.
I entered the police car with Taiwo and two other police officers. Inside the car, Taiwo threatened to smash my Ipad when he saw me typing into it, I told him he can’t dare and he threatened to beat me up. I threatened not to let the matter die and do a story about it as I accused him of not knowing the law which makes what he is doing a mockery. I had highlighted as we rode in the car that his responsibility at the bridge should be to maintain law and order and not to harass innocent and law abiding citizens of Nigeria. At the police office, the idiotic Taiwo calmed down as he led me through the office corridors before we met some senior police officers as the ritual of re-telling what happened continued, he still did not mention what offence I committed. I shouted at him why he would embarrass, assault, harass and intimidate me when I know my right and haven’t committed any crime. I was obviously angry at the station. I was told to write a statement which I did and the irresponsible police officer, Taiwo had disappeared in the process.
As I sat inside one of the police offices watching the news being read, a fatherly senior police officer started talking to me about the incident between me and Taiwo. Obviously, he had seen Taiwo’s wrong. That was the first time it hit me that among the bad eggs which Taiwo and a majority of Nigerian police officers belong to, there are still good ones.
The fatherly police officer who should be in his 50s looked at me and told me to calm down. He told me a story about his son, about the need to forgive and forget when people do you wrong. He said everything must not end in a fight. That what happened was a misunderstanding and I should let it go. He said I should try and contain my anger in some situations. He narrated how a woman had bashed his car and condemned the bumper. As is with police officers in Nigeria, when such an incident happens, they always try to ‘show themselves’.
But, this fatherly police officer told me that he’s not that kind of person. He repaired his car which cost him a lot of money. Even when his son recommended he teach the woman a lesson, he talked him out of it. The fatherly police officer also told me that as is the norm with many police officers in Lagos not to pay money when they enter buses in Lagos, he is different because he tries as much as possible not to even allow commuters know that he’s a police officer as he doesn’t want wahala. I’d never seen such a sensible, fatherly and a most wonderful police officer ever in my life. It was an eye-opener for me as I learnt that every police officer can’t be the same.
Taiwo is a total misfit that should never be seen near a police uniform – a sad timebomb. He is one police officer who does not know that his duty is to protect law abiding citizens not to threaten and harass them. He is given to intimidate and threaten people who challenge his malnourished police mind. I agree that his poor educational background is an impediment, but he must be warned before his injudiciousness gets out of hand.
I was still at the police office when the fatherly police officer told me to calm down and let it slide. He asked one of the female police officers to take me to their warehouse for a change of cloth. We couldn’t find anything befitting so she took some money as we went to the market and bought me a new polo. The female police officer took my torn cloth even as I begged her to take a photo of me wearing the torn polo -for memory sake- she refused and said that as a journalist she knows what I’m capable of doing. I gave up. Handed her the torn polo and wore the new one. She handed my phone and driver’s licence to me and bade me farewell.
As I was leaving the police premises, the fatherly police officer who in my understanding is an asset and the best image for the Nigerian police -a man who told me that many times he entered a public bus, people stepped on his toes and still make trouble even daring him to do his worst. But he will be the one to plead with the offender just to end the matter. How many police officers can do that? Most of his colleagues would bounce on such an individual and bundle him or her to the police station just to showoff that they are members of the Nigeria police. Such a pity what the police has become!!
His story calmed my nerves. That’s a wonderful father figure.
In all the troubles, I was very grateful to have met such an exceptional police officer. We exchanged numbers, hugged him and I left the police premises. Such wisdom from him, I said to myself as I strolled along the road. Although my day was ruined by a nitwit junior police officer named Taiwo and his half-baked sanitation counterpart, I was too grateful to have met the fatherly police officer.
I end this piece on a glad note knowing that not all policemen are bad. The good and reasonable ones still exist but most of them are not out there but in their offices. The ones that patrol our roads have had their brains cooked by its wretchedness so much so that they no longer understand the purpose for which they were recruited. Police officers should know that their primary assignment is to protect law abiding citizens and avoid any unnecessary confrontation.
I call on the Lagos state government to set up a committee to monitor the activities of its sanitation officers. Their overzealous attitude, gender partiality and a wanton desire to harass innocent individuals is a slap on our faces. That is not what they are employed to do. I have my eyes on them and I will bring their activities to the fore – good and bad. I saw them engage in malpractices yesterday. The Oshodi under bridge stinks like hell. The environment is an eyesore, but sanitation officers would rather prey on innocent citizens waiting to pounce on, victimize and extort money from them.
There is no sign anywhere to say ‘USE THE PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE’ which should be the first thing there if crossing by road is an offence! It is stupid of the government to extort its citizens knowingly without first posting a warning sign for all to see. The Lagos state government must do the right thing!
-Alexander Thandi Ubani is an Editor with tori.ng. He writes from Lagos.