An experience with the Police
If the feel of a Police Station is used as a barometer for measuring the value that a nation pays to security, a visit to Ogbere Police Station surmises that Security is not high on the list of Nigeria’s priorities. There are many things that show leadership complacency at the station. Examples include the many policemen strolling around in street clothes with no uniforms, the puddles of water in the compound, the inadequate care of the police post building. From the time we drove in, the rots were so visible that the blind could see them.
Directly in front of us is a roundabout at the centre of which stand two slim white poles holding the flags of the country and that of the Nigeria Police. It was a breezeless morning, and the flags were limp, just like everything else in our immediate vicinity, they struggle to exist. A few metres behind is the police station building. At the long concrete counter sit two police officers, a woman and a man. They are the only two officers in uniforms that we have seen so far. The concrete counter in front of them is worn from years of use and the seats on which they sat should have been thrown to the recyclers a long time ago. By the side of the counter is a wooden plank that serves as a pedestrian control. It is placed horizontally and has to be lifted up for one to access the corridor that leads to the offices. A book is wedged between it and the counter to reduce the attenuating noise from being dropped after one has passed through. Such a plank has no reason to be part of the infrastructure in any police station, even one in Mogadishu! Just looking at it gives me horrors, fear that those that manage this station and are unconcerned about this will have no concerns about anything else.
On our right is the waiting room where the public is attended to. It is full of wooden benches and tables, comfort and convenience are not words that exist here. There is neither air conditioning nor fans, the epileptic power system of the country is enough excuse to justify their non-existence. Though the windows are fully opened, the whole room stinks of body odours.
As I was with a “Big Man”, we made straight for the Station Officer’s (SO) office where introductions were made and our mission to the station was given. The SO, a shortish man, called “Old School” to his office and assigned him as the Investigating Officer for the case. He looks quite the opposite of the SO in many respect. While the SO is bullyish, as revealed from the way he was shouting down orders to others on his small mobile handset which he struggles to maintain, “Old School” with his soft voice appears different.
He is a slender man with sunken cheeks. He has the appearance of a man who had seen better days. In his late thirties, one is likely to guess he was much older, time has not been favourable to him. As Nigerians are wont to say, “the change promised by Buhari has changed him for the worse”. Though soft spoken, he appears firm in character and resolute in pursuit.
Soon we are back in the car with “Old School” taking the front passenger seat and guiding the driver through the backroads to avoid the traffic congestion that has blocked the main roads in and out of the Ogbere area.
I understand Old School’s eagerness to avoid the traffic congestion, it is simply insane! The previous day, I had spent countless hours held up in traffic, a result of inadequate planning by those appointed to serve us – the political leadership and the public servants. The Ogbere bridge is being re-constructed and, with no alternative roads clearly marked out to take the high volume of traffic that uses it, the entire area has become a blocked grid. As I was to learn, this has been the situation for weeks and would be the same for weeks more.
By the time we got through the traffic, I was exhausted from the experience such that I was just relieved to be alighting from the taxi. At that time, the least concerning issue on my mind was my phone. It was much later that I discovered that I might have left it in the taxi or it dell off my body as I alighted. I resorted to Google Maps and successfully traced the phone to the house it was last taken into before the battery drained.
Having related my loss to Mr. Bigman, he had promised to get some police men to come to my aid in fishing out the phone from wherever it is in the identified house. I arrived timely at out agreed meeting location but Mr. Bigman did not. He kept me waiting amidst hemp smoking able-bodied young men that should be contributing to the GDP of Nigeria but were not. I was an easy target that could be robbed if they had chosen to. I was afraid but tried to compensate for the inner fear by putting on a stern face and constantly rubbing the Swiss Army Knife I had on my body, assuring myself that I can be safe.
When he finally showed up, he was accompanied by a driver and an able political hand, no policeman was brought. We did a quick survey of the neighbourhood and given the stern, poverty-stricken faces that we saw all around us, we agreed that getting the police involved was a wiser decision. This is what brought us to the Ogbere police station and how “Old School” has become a part of our party.
Along our way to the house I had mapped out, we stopped to pick “Olooto”, another police officer. He was not in uniform and there was nothing to show he is a policeman. The way he defers to Old School suggests he is of a junior rank to him. Soon we arrived at the neighbourhood we are visiting and as we turn into the street, the entire weed-smoking congregation of young able-bodied men saw Old School and Olooto and called after them. The duo are akin to a raving Nigerian music star in this area, very well-known. The car stopped for a moment for Old School and Olooto to exchange pleasantries with the area boys with a promise that we will soon be back.
We parked the car some few meters from the house we were going and walked the remaining distance, avoiding the dry gutters that run in front of the elevated frontage. It is a tenement house of ten rooms equally divided with five rooms on each side of the passageway. On entering, we made for the backyard where Old School did a quick scan of the entire environment before announcing our presence. It was in response to this that two women came out from somewhere in the house.
Old School started his questioning and based on the information received ended up in targeting two rooms as the probable location of the phone. One of this lined up with the Google map information we have. Old School was brilliant in his questioning and impressive with the way he went about gathering information, using deductive reasoning and the process of elimination to arrive at the rooms we should look at.
The occupants of the rooms were away and we had no search warrant. This did not deter Old School from forcibly opening the two rooms and carrying out a search. We did not find the phone.
Back at the police station, I was told I could leave and attend to my pressing businesses and the police would contact me if there were further developments. I demanded to file a report and after a bit of hesitation from Old School, I was given a piece of paper to write my statement. In my own words and handwriting, I wrote what I considered to be the truth around the events that transpired but Old School took a look at this and dismissed what I had written as not acceptable as a statement. I held my ground that I was not going to re-write or change what I had written, and he backed off.
I demanded for a police report and having taking a deep look at me, he decided to issue me one. I watched with pity as “Old School” labours through writing this out on a piece of paper. There was no computer here and even if there was, I am not sure the skill set to manage it was available. As he wrote, he told me that they normally charge between N30,000 and N50,000 for the issuance of the report. I knew what he was driving at but feigned ignorance. In my statement, I had written a value as the cost of the lost phone. He had seen this and had mentally summarised that I am affluent enough for him to get some money off me.
He handed me the report with a look of expectations in his eyes. I reached into my pockets and gave him three thousand Naira which he received thanklessly. I had earlier given Olooto two thousand Naira as we dropped him off where we had earlier picked him. In exchanging pleasantries as we depart the station, Mr. Bigman beckoned me to give him three thousand naira. Out of the station, we dropped the Youth Leader some distance away and I gave him two thousand naira as well.
At the end of the day, the phone hasn’t been found and, in addition to the hours wasted and losing such a precious and costly asset, I was out-of-pocket by ten thousand naira.
I was on my way out of the city when I received a phone call from Mr. Bigman. The police are requesting that I come to the station. The occupants of the two rooms have shown up at the station and denied having been in contact with my phone. No one could give me a convincing reason for my presence at the station. I told them that if they’ve found the phone and want me to identify it, I can come over but I see nothing that I have to do with the suspect. The police should do their job.
A few days later, Mr. Bigman called again informing that the police will like to know if I was still interested in the search for the phone and would want me to come to the station. Why my presence is needed at the station was baffling and I retorted that I had no business there but I am still interested in the search for the phone. I am still waiting to hear back from the Ogbere police station on the progress of this search.