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Police trafficking in and selling traffic offences

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In travelling up and down this country road blocks are a constant encounter except in the northern parts of the country. No matter how many times the Inspector General of Police has declared them illegal, they still persist in existing. It is inconvenient to make them go away. The police have their own. The army has its own. The road safety have their own. And well armed kidnappers also have their own road blocks. And they all fleece the ordinary men and women going about their God blessed everyday responsibilities. At the road blocks traffic offences are bought and sold.

Normally, and not in Nigeria, the police stop the vehicle by a wave of the hand. The driver stops. The police greets him or her and after all protocols have been observed, asks for his driving license. It is on its protection and inspection as current that the police asks if the driver knows that he was speeding just now, or has just made a U turn where he should not. While the driver is preparing her defence the police produce a ticket booklet one of which he proceeds to write for the driver. I didn’t know I was speeding or where is the notice that there is no U turning here? are possible defence arguments.

When the ticket is written and presented the driver accepts it and puts it away. He can pay the five thousand naira admission of guilt fine into the police account and that would be the end of the matter. But the driver might want to contest the offence written in the ticket in which case he indicates that he did not commit any offence and he would appear in court to defend himself. The court will decide.

In Nigeria, the police shout and harry the driver to a stop and without observing any protocol, accuses the driver of having a tainted window, or having four passengers in the back seat of a private car or even an offence he has not seen yet. There and then he invites himself into the car and instructs the driver where to go. Where did you say? asks the driver. Drive me to my police station because I have arrested you for a traffic offence. You have arrested me and I must drive you and myself to your police station, right? Yes, let’s go. Where is the arrest warrant? And why must I drive you to your police station? So that I can charge you for contravening a traffic offence. And what if I refuse to drive you to your police station and order you to get your stinking body out of my car, what will you do?

In the meantime overloaded public transport vehicles are speeding past throwing down one hundred naira notes as they speed away. Decrepit agbegilodo lorries lacking mud guards, windscreen and any lights of any sort – they never go into the forest at night, thank you – spewing black smoke every where go by. These are not stopped.

People gather around the car and wonder what’s going on. An elderly man advises the driver to do the right thing. And what is the right thing in this circumstance, the driver wants to know. You don’t know what to do? Are you new in Jerusalem? The man is looking for something to eat, can’t you see? The driver is mystified. What has his lunch or dinner got to do with me, he wonders. I myself, I have not eaten today. We are not talking about that kind of food, explains the adviser. What type of food the? The driver is getting impatient. He was determined not to drive to the police station to be charged. And then be detained because it is late on a Friday evening to arrange a bail. The prospect of a week end at the police detention centre was not appealing. So when the policeman says let’s go, the driver said yes let’s go but I’m going to my house.

Are you kidnapping me then? I am not a kidnapper, declared the driver. I did not invite you into my car. You invited yourself and, as if you were in a taxi, you ordered me to drive you to your police station so that you can charge me for not having tainted window permit. Did you ask to see my driving license? Did you ask to see the ownership papers of the car? Of course you did not. A woman who had been watching everything and had said until now said: why would he bother himself asking you for what you should have? The police ask for what you don’t have so they milk you for their own gain. Give him something and go on your way.

Something like what? I have nothing to give anybody. I don’t owe him, do I?
Yes you do! Look at him! Look at his shoes. Is that how the shoes of a police officer should look? And with no pair of socks? Look at his shirt. Look at what he is using to hold up his pair of shapeless trousers. Rope, for God’s sake, a piece of rope. And the shirt, grimy on the neck, faded all over and torn hear and there. How can you say you do not owe him something. You owe him plenty wallahi!

The police man, who had not spoken for some time cleared his throat. He doesn’t owe nothing. I’m doing my work. At the station I will charge him. I will tell him how much to pay and give him the account into which he will make the payment. Will it be into the accounts of one of your bosses, asked the adviser again. But you have not been paid for six months and your house in the barracks is a slum. Couldn’t you just a little amount from him and let him go? And you yourself will get a few naira to feed your family tonight. You do not understand us, we the police. Especially we the junior officers. We will save this country. We reject corruption in all its filthy aspects. We rededicate ourselves to the survival of our country. O ya, let’s go to the station. The driver started the car, put the gear in drive and pulled away from the crowd.
I’m not going to any police station. And he sped off.
bankole.omotoso@elizadeuniversity.edu.ng


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