Its a few minutes past 6pm, we are speeding past towns, villages and “check points” that have now become characteristic to Nigerian roads. We approach yet another one of these checks and our vehicle is waved to a stop.
“Wetin you carry” the police man inquires of our driver.
We all know this is not the Police asking what he has in the booth or who the passengers are. This is asking for a bribe, cash compensation for what again?
Our driver feigns ignorance and claims he is only carrying passengers. The policeman goes ahead to ask for a drivers license, and other particulars, the driver provides them. He then asks for a fire extinguisher and the driver is unable to produce one. This is where our travail begins. We are parked for about 20 minutes, our driver compromises and hands him ‘something’, a squeezed 100 naira note and drives off.
About 45minutes later, we encounter another check point, the policemen ask us to park, the driver brings the vehicle to a screeching halt and alights. After an exchange with the driver, the officer asks all the passengers to alight and open their bags. This will take another 20-30 minutes and it was already dark, in the middle of nowhere. The driver calls him aside and they negotiate a price, he hands him the token and again, we drive off. Throughout the journey from the North to Lagos, we encountered over 25 checkpoints that I counted, yet, people still get robbed on the road.
The Nigerian police are not your friends, but they aren’t necessarily your enemies. It is just a matter of slipping in a few notes. What you drop on the table will determine what they become to you, it is like a tale of two cities. You’ll be an ingrate to not put your hands in your pocket. The pot bellied ones are the meanest, it’s hard to imagine they don’t pour all the bribe they collect into a pouch in their stomach. They are always holding their guns in a ready situation, as if aiming to shoot.
Bail is not free, nothing is free with the Nigerian police. Even the air you you breathe when you step into any of their stations have to be paid for. You want to report a situation? You pay.
This brings to mind a lot of questions. Is the police force underfunded? Are their men underpaid? Why are police stations always unkempt? Why do our policemen live in face-me-i-face you dilapidated apartments?
I remember trying to get a police report once for my missing ID card as the school had requested. It was supposed to be done in few hours or minutes but everyday I went there, there was one issue or another. First it was the generator, it wouldn’t come on for hours. They later discovered it was fuel and I had to pay for it. I did and then the printer wasn’t working. This will take them another two days to fix. Then there wasn’t paper to print, then the officer who was meant to sign the report wasn’t on seat. One day, I just sat down and cried at the station, I needed to get another ID soon cause it was getting increasingly difficult to navigate the city, the boko haram insurgency was thick then and ID cards were saviors from disgruntled military men. My tears redeemed me, I got the report the third day and proceeded to get a court affidavit.