— Bolaji Abdullahi
Sometime in November 2002. It was a Saturday night. I just closed production and was returning home around 11pm. Just around Tin Can Island, my car suddenly stopped. Anyone who knows that part of Lagos will know that that’s probably one of the worst places such thing could happen to anyone, especially at night.
As I sweated and fidgeted with plugs and fuses that I hardly knew anything about, I chanted all the Quranic verses that I was told could help in such desperate situations. God is indeed a wonderful God. Within minutes, strident siren heralded the arrival of a police truck. Before I could even shut the bonnet of my car, I had been surrounded by several AK-47 wielding men.
“What are you doing here?” One of them demanded menacingly. From the dim light coming from an advertisement board nearby, I could glimpse their faces. The comfort that I felt with their arrival began to leave me.
I work with ThisDay newspapers. I am a journalist. I just closed from work and I am returning home. My car suddenly developed a fault. Here is my ID card. I could as well be talking to myself.
Within minutes, two of them had made a short work of ransacking my car. If I had even a pin hidden in that car they would have found it. They did not find anything that interested them, either in my car or in me, a poor rickety-car driving journalist. What did they do next? They simply jumped into their truck and left. The last of them even muttered to me that the place was dangerous. But he left all the same.
If I was afraid before, now I was truly terrified. But I did not have the time to contemplate my misfortune for long. Soon as the police truck disappeared, some boys materialised from the darkness. They must have been there all along, watching my encounter with the police. I could feel my legs shaking.
“Do you have money?” One of them inquired. I said I didn’t have any money, I just wanted to get home. Another one came forward and sized me up. “Look, leave that man alone. Let’s help him.” He said in Yoruba. He must be the leader as the others simply turned away. “Where are you going? Did you hear me? I say let’s help him.”
I was now back behind the steering as they pushed me to a nearby fuel station. Again the leader spoke to the station’s security to allow my car in. God answers prayers after all. Only that His favours are sometimes be found in unexpected places.
Why did the police men leave me there even when they knew that the place they found me, stranded in the dead of night, was dangerous? They only saw me as a potential criminal. And they understood their duty strictly in terms of arresting criminals. Having satisfied themselves that I was not a criminal, they lost interest in me and left. Job done.
It did not occur to them to help me because they did not understand that their primary duty was to protect me and ensure that I was safe. The irony here however was that the “criminals” that I should actually be afraid of were the ones that protected me.
Like everyone is saying, this #EndSars protest provides a great opportunity to reform the police. My point is that regardless of what else we do, we need to start with changing the philosophy of policing. Our new police must be instilled a mindset of citizens protection rather than apprehension. As long as the police view every citizen as potential criminal rather than potential victim, nothing would change.
* Bolaji Abdullahi is a former Minister of Youth and Sports.