The time was about 4:55pm on the fateful day and the two policemen were already itching to leave the banking environment where they have been assigned to perform guard duty for the week since their usual closing time was 5pm. They are usually picked and dropped off at the FCT command headquarters located in the Garki area of the city at the close of business. Their colleagues from the Police Mobile Force, popularly known as MOPOL are on ground to man the environment all-night since that is the standard in banks.
It was actually the holy month of Ramadan fast and the police sergeant, a Muslim from my observation was tired and exhausted after a long day work coupled with his fasting mood and couldn’t just wait for a minute past 5pm to go home. Around 4:58, the intercom line at the back gate where I was stationed to monitor the entry and exit of all official vehicles rang, lo and behold an instruction came that on no account must I open the gate for the only vehicle stationed in the compound at that moment, that a marketer is scheduled to meet a client with it.
Ogar police sergeant, together with his senior colleague, an inspector by ranking are already inside the vehicle, counting by seconds while waiting for the driver. The dilemma of an ‘o yes’ security man! How do I meet an angry and hungry AK47 wielding policeman to tell him to alight from the vehicle where he has been relaxed in the past 10 minutes in readiness to zoom off? How do I flout the instruction of my employer that will eventually put my job on the line? I asked myself. While I was ruminating, another driver assigned to actually convey them to the command, knowing whom they are called to tell me he was very close and that they should be patient while he arrives. I quickly approached the Inspector, “Sir the driver assigned to convey you to the said he is almost here. A marketer is going out with this one, you may please be patient for a while” I whispered. Like petrol in fire, oga sergeant roared, “You are stupid. What do you take us for? Are we your mate?”
While the abuses were raining in quick succession, oga sergeant was not only fuming but was huffing and puffing, viciously embittered and vociferously angered as he charged toward me with his AK47 assault rifle. “Open that gate” he commanded hoarsely. While I was still making efforts to appeal, hot slaps started raining all over my face while every other person watched from a safe distance. “Open that gate or you want to disarm me?” he roared again as he cocked his rifle, scratched the barrel of his gun on the ground in apparent readiness to shoot while blood and fire was almost pumping out from his eyes. “I will kill you here and nothing will happen,” he told me. Poor me! What if I run and the bullet goes off on my tiny head? I asked myself. I was jittery. Partially gone and the silent prayer was actually loud as I nursed the pain of the festival of slap. Unto thee do I commit myself oh Lord of mercy. Is this my end? I wondered aloud.
While I may have since got the ugly scenario behind me long ago, the events of recent times in our country where our people have taken to the street to protest the perennial police brutality revived the trauma and renewed an old injury which scar still lingers in my memory. Interesting, millions of Nigerians have at least one gory tale of callous unprofessionalism, near death experience or at best extortion and harassment of police to tell.
In previous interventions, this writer has remained very critical of the impunity at which our people are carelessly dispatched to their ancestors in the hands of ungodly policemen. From the popular ‘Apo 6’ to Ikoku 5, murderous policing system in the South East Nigeria, particularly Aba where at least 10 persons were killed by law enforcement officers enforcing COVID-19 lockdown earlier in the year to the killing of citizen Kolade Johnson in Lagos and other atrocious aberrances the police and indeed other security forces have consistently exhibited, the stories are the same. As a young Nigerian, each time I read the obituary of a patriot murdered in cold blood on the account police overzealousness, I always whisper to myself, ‘this could be you.’
You know what? They are right as most often, nothing really happens. They walk away with blue murder. Over time, the people’s confidence in the government has been fatally fractured and trust brazenly eroded. The prolonged procession against police brutality across the country advertises nothing but the peak of the frustration of our youth populace who mostly are at the receiving end professional infractions of those engaged and paid to guarantee our security.
We live in a country where people are not reprimanded for their offences irrespective of how heinous and the youths are saying no to it. We live in a country where those in political positions do not owe a sense of accountability to the people and the youths are saying no to it. We live in a country where a killing gang called SARS is renamed SWAT and the youths are saying no to it. We live in a society where ‘we will’ do not translate to ‘we have’ for decades. We live in a society where criminals reign supreme while innocent citizens are being hounded about and the youths are saying no to it.
Metaphorically, the #EndSARS protest speaks to legion of other hydra headed and cancerous national issues, particularly visionless governance, corruption, favouritism, ethnic and religious correctness, looting and betrayal of public trust. For those who do not know, what we are seeing today is a byproduct of accumulated anger and consequences of chains of broken dreams precipitate by dysfunctionality of the state. It is an open secret that it is tantamount to the proverbial camel passing through the eye of the needle than for you as son of nobody to secure a job in any of the ‘juicy’ agencies even with your overwhelming merit without resorting to bribery and inducement. Jobs in MDAs are hawked in the open the way gala and biscuits are hawked in the streets. They are exclusively reserved for the sons and daughters of ‘the connected’, the rich and affluent while the sons and daughters of the plebian are free to wait for N-POWER programme or political thuggery.
The social inequality and imbalances have hit the rooftop, making our young population permanently on the scavenge for any possible route to exit the country to just anywhere else. They don’t see any future in the country they call theirs. The same old failed leaders have continued to recycle themselves and cronies to preside over our affairs fruitlessly while the youths have been reduced to mere alleluia singers. It is only those who have bountifully harvested from the scandalously skewed system and corrupt system that kick against the voice of reasoning which our patriots in the street represent.
A Nigeria that works for all is one where I am first seen as a Nigerian before the narrow prism of my religious and ethnic affiliations. A Nigeria that works for all is one where I do not need to see or know anyone in government offices before bidding for contract or employment. A Nigeria that works for all is one where justice is served to both victims and perpetrators of police impunity irrespective of their ethnicity and network of connection in high places. A Nigeria that works for all is one where I can go to market with my meagre income and come home with value and not the one where as a minimum wage earner, I will have to join three months salaries to buy a bag of rice for my family. A Nigeria that works for all is one where the President will not turn a deaf ear to the yearnings of his people and refuse to act in a manner that ministers to their demands. A Nigeria that works for all is one where protesters exercising their constitutional rights are not at the mercy of hired hoodlums and trigger-happy security agents.
Lastly, I deeply and sympathetically mourn our dear compatriots who were at any point felled by the bullets of errant and wayward security agents across our country. Your deaths are not in vain as we are committed to a rebranded Nigeria as the least way to honour you. The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain. Time for a reformed police and policing system is now.
Enemanna is an Abuja-based journalist