By Emmanuel Nwobi
I believe in the Nigerian dream and I am filled with patriotic outrage when I see my fellow country men pull down the symbols of our nation hood, smash them on the ground and grind them with their heels.
Recently, I read an article about a Nigerian writer based abroad who was arrested by the Nigerian Police- one of our national symbols- and detained ‘without bail’ for being in possession of a laptop and a blackberry phone. The writer pointed out that the Nigerian police have held many Nigerians in detention, for similar “crime.” I have experienced such too.
I was commuting from one part of Lagos to another, in a hired public cab with my younger brother. In the course of our journey, we were flagged down by the Nigerian Police, who are popularly called “the men in black.”
They told us they were on ‘stop and search,’ and requested to see the contents of our bags.
Embarrassed by this invasion of privacy by members of the police force, I watched them dip their hands into my personal belongings and ransacked through my things.
Well, I could not protest as these policemen had guns, with a reputation for ‘accidental discharge’.
In order not to add to the tally of reckless police killings in the country, we submitted to this humiliating ‘search’.
They, of course, found my laptop in my bag. After affirming by words that I own it, they promptly asked for the obnoxious proof of ownership- the receipt of purchase.
I told them that I do not take receipts of my items around, as I showed them my drivers’ licence and work identity card (at least to show I earn enough to own a laptop).
The Policemen insisted I must produce the receipt or be detained. They eventually took my brother and I to their station and demanded for money to secure my release. The policemen later admitted that they were convinced I own the laptop based on my identification but I needed to ‘settle’ before they release me!
Well, this is one of many skirmishes I have had with policemen demanding receipts for personal effects. They have demanded for receipts for a discarded car radio in the trunk of my car, even after verifying from my documents that I own the car. They once asked for receipts for my digital camera, which costs less than three percent the amount I bought the car I was driving. At another time, they asked for receipts for a gas cylinder I went to refill and on every occasion have demanded to be ‘settled’ in exchange for the ‘no-receipt’ offense.
I am proud to be a Nigerian but when I think about my fellow citizens who have made our police force a butt of many a joke, I weep because it is a huge national embarrassment for such an important symbol of our existence as a nation to be dragged in the mud. And our leaders seem so disconnected from it all. What is our hope?
I have visited other countries, within and outside Africa and never for one day, has a policeman for any reason accosted me.
The engine house of policing is intelligence and I, at times, wonder about the recruiting criteria and selection process of the Nigerian Police Force. But at other times, I say to myself, “these men are not daft, they don’t just realise the enormity of the responsibility we as a country has placed on their shoulders. They are just not aware of the sacredness of the uniform and the badge.”
Like most of our national symbols, the police force suffers abuse. I believe in Nigeria but faith has a substance. If the substance of faith loses its value, what is left to believe in?