I’m sure I’d have had enough by the time I encounter these rogues for a second time. And by that time, my allegiance to the country called Nigeria would be as good as dead.
I swear I love Nigeria. Or maybe I’m just very comfortable with being here. Comfortable in a country I can proudly call my own rather than getting caught up in a web of uncertainties in no man’s land. Several opportunities to ‘flee’ the deflating Nigerian system and I’ve only made half-assed efforts that even shock friends and family who ‘want the best’ for me.
But that rope of patriotism is fast wearing thin, no thanks to men of the police force – extortionists and abusers masquerading as providers of much needed security for citizens. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before the unfortunate hand of the clock reaches me, again. I have so far been lucky as I navigate my way around Lagos in search of the holy grail, with the closest I’ve got to falling victim to these rogues being over four years ago.
I still remember that, clearly.
I had just gotten to my bus stop, on my way to see my then girlfriend – now wife – when an officer accosted me and asked that I follow him to a small, commercial bus where his ‘boss’ was waiting to see me. I obliged. It wasn’t long before the gun-wielding officer began to rummage through my phone, a small Nokia. My Blackberry phone had just developed fault at the time and the Nokia had come in handy to receive important calls and messages, so it was the only device found with me. Still, this officer went through my messages with a concentration that belied their unprofessional nature in unraveling real criminal cases.
In the end, the phone investigator found nothing. And I was let go. I remember I was too dumbfounded to leave the spot as their vehicle zoomed off, taking along with them another young man who pleaded that he was on his way to an important appointment. His offence? He was found in possession of an international passport – the reason for his appointment.
Tears quickly formed in my eyes, as I eventually got myself together and found a spot in the next keke napep to my girlfriend’s house.
I didn’t cry because I was beaten (I wasn’t), but because I knew my luck could have been different if I stepped out with my Blackberry, as these officers would have had access to my chats and cynically found a way to pin something on me. I still move around in paranoia that I could get to encounter these SARS operatives again. I have been very vocal, on Twitter, about police harassment of innocent citizens but something caught my attention today and it might have informed a review of my level of ‘patriotism’.
A young doctor shared his recent experience with the operatives in Mile 2 area of Lagos, and while several others painstakingly detailed their personal experiences in the thread, a Twitter user, @diamondmayor commented: “I was just thinking about this today! I want to enroll my lil brother for a web design class at Anthony, but I’m so scared of having him go from ikorodu to Anthony everyday with a MacBook. The possibility of him been [sic] harassed scared me.”
That comment sent shivers down my spine. And my thoughts are succinctly captured by the next commenter, @Umehwrites, who wrote in response to @diamondmayor, “Just imagine this. Someone wants to better their life, but are scared of what the police that’s supposed to protect them will do to them.”
As a writer and aspiring graphic artist, my job requires that I move around a lot with my laptop and I can immediately see the danger I’m exposed to at the hands of rampaging rogue officers. That is not to say I’m ignorant to the fact that you only need to be a young man living in Nigeria to attract these officers’ unwarranted attention.
See, my closest friends have all left and many of them keep wondering what I’m still doing here. Maybe they don’t understand me, but I understand them. This situation we are in has no happy ending. At least not anytime soon. And these leaders don’t care.
Now, I can’t say how much longer I can stick around in hopes that this SARS menace will be effectively nipped in the bud by the authorities but I’m sure I’d have had enough by the time I encounter these rogues for a second time. And by that time, my allegiance to the country called Nigeria would be as good as dead.
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