Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Sparing a sober moment for our endangered Cops

Credit: Google Images

These are tough times to be a policeman. Not that it has ever been easy; with the dubious welfare and being sitting-targets for bad jokes and scathing social commentaries. But these days, the shadow of peril is more pronounced, and the deadly attacks on them have attained alarming levels of uniformity.

I remember a few years ago, a friend of ours had a nearly ruptured appendix and we were maniacally tearing through the roads of Enugu egged on by his tortured moans. We made it to the Teaching Hospital, but collectively froze at the entrance doorways. It was a horror scene.  At the sight, our sick pal who was earlier bent and twisted in agony, miraculously straightened out and gaped with the rest of us, his pains forgotten.  There was blood everywhere: blood on the tables; bloodied bandages across a bloodied head here, and a displaced limb there. The wrenching cries, the shrieking relatives, the obvious hopelessness: a nightmare. And they were all dressed in police uniform.

There was no vacant spot so went to sit outside. We sat beside a policeman; one of the luckier casualties. He had a heavily bandaged arm and leg. We murmured our sympathies and asked “what happened?” Their team was driving home from a routine patrol and suddenly encountered robbers attacking a convoy of newly-weds. The bridegroom was already shot in the head. Gun fire erupted. The bad guys had superior fire power and tumbled their patrol-car down the hills in a hail of bullets and he woke up in this hospital. He stared at us with a bleary eye and muttered “I have a son at the university, three more kids in secondary school, and this is how I would have ended their future. No life insurance, just a beggarly pension, and yet people say we are bad people.” I must have shed tears.

Now, contrast this with the night of my Call-to-Bar in Abuja, a couple of years later. After the formal ceremonies, I was naturally called to another kind of bar by my excited friends. We partied till the wee hours before heading homewards. At an intersection, we were waved to a stop by a police patrol team. They asked to share in the celebrations, and we readily handed out 500 Naira. The lead guy pocketed it but haggled that we could do better, we bantered cheerily that the country was hard; safe in the knowledge that it was just a routine delay. Well, it wasn’t. A big Hilux van screeched to a stop and a more menacing group of cops jumped out. “Step out of the car! Hands on your head!” I quickly looked upon the guy we had given the 500 Naira to act on our incipient friendship. But he looked the other way, and waved his colleagues ahead. We were bundled into the van and to the nearest station. In the streets, you learn not to introduce yourself as a lawyer to the police at night, so we had to empty our pockets to avoid the inevitable. I consider myself sufficiently prodigious, but being called to three different bars in one night would have been a bit too much. In any case, the bitter memory remained, and I eagerly swelled the population of cop-bashers.

Of course my own travails pale beside more gory tales of accidental discharges, random bullying and maiming. And the collective hatred for our cops daily overflows to near apocalyptic proportions.
Yet, at the first sign of trouble...nay, inconvenience; we call them.

And they are always available. In fact they typically avail themselves beyond the call of duty and become enforcers in civil claims and domestic disputes. They become debt-recovery agents, club bouncers and veritable tools for teaching errant neighbours. Depending on the side you are on, they become friend or fiend. And these guys can act any of these parts to perfection. Their talent lies in magnifying little faults and exaggerating possible consequences enough to quake the stoutest hearts.

So, we flee from the courts and other administrative machinery. Their procedures and bureaucracy are frustrating. Police guarantees instant results. So, everyday, we cloak them with more powers, then cry foul when we are visited with the same absolute powers we have conferred. It reads somewhat like the thoughts of Kasco (in Soyinka’s “A Play of Giants”): “Power comes only with the death of politics (procedure); that is why I chose to become Emperor. ...At the realm of my coronation, I signal to the world that I transcend the mundane-ness of politics; now I inhabit only the pure realm of power...” 

This was illustrated in a recent bus ride I had from Uyo. Bus discussions were typically noisy, I never partake in them. Having passed series of check-points with corresponding delays, the collective cop-bashing commenced. Some particularly vociferous fellow with an annoying habit of talking with a mouthful of cashew-nuts (which he never seemed to run out of throughout the journey) had numerous police-anecdotes and had the crowd in boisterous stitches. Suddenly, a booming voice interrupted the party in protest. It was some gentleman seated at the back. His English was polished and the thought-sequence, impressive.  He stated that people only became police victims as a result of ignorance as dedicated phone numbers were published everyday for people to report police-victimization. He took us on a tour of trial-within-trial and validity-checks for confessional statements, ending by announcing that the police administration was bent on eliminating their bad eggs. Before his arguments could be drowned in the expected wave of cynicism; he introduced himself. He was Police Area Commander of a certain Northern Territory. He dug into his briefcase and brought out brochures with contact details of the relevant administrative officers in every tiny crevice of the country.

There was a stampede for the brochures. “Please, I need the number for Rivers State, Eleme in particular” “Abeg, does anyone have for Enugu?” “Oga, we want your own number too sir” The whole episode would have been hilarious if I hadn’t overheard the girl beside me (who had copied almost all available numbers in the booklet) heatedly announcing to another woman: “There is this man who has had my 400 thousand Naira for two years now, Once I get back to PH I will call the Area Command to deal with him.”

Our hero alighted at Abuja, evidently elated at his redemption message of the Police Force; while in reality, he had just empowered another set of vengeful Nigerians, looking for even quicker dispensation of evil upon those who trespass against them...

Viewed in another light too, the policeman’s effort was probably a cry for help to any random Nigerian headed up-North: We are on your side too, please stop killing us.

In any case; we cannot sit aside smugly in our civilian clothes while the violence continues. In a land tilting everyday towards anarchy, I shudder at the possible fate of lawyers when our armed counterparts are being taken out this easy.

I rest.  

Also published on Thisday Newspaper, Tuesday 21 May, 2013: http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/sparing-a-sober-moment-for-our-cops/148107/

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