By Muyiwa Adetiba
I crave your indulgence this morning to tell a personal story. It has to do with my most recent, in fact, ongoing experience with the Nigerian Police. In doing this, I plead as my defence, the words of the late Cassandra, one of the greatest columnists that ever wielded the pen, who was said to have remarked in one of his daily columns in the London Mirror that, ‘there is no point being a columnist if you cannot use it to tell your own story.’ (Or words to that effect).
Even with this, I still nurse some hesitation for fears of raising a storm in a tea cup. Many people on reading this story would scoff and say worse things happen on a daily basis with the Police. But that is exactly my point! It is one of the reasons I have decided to narrate this experience.
We should never be so inured to injustice, sloth and abuse that we shrug them off because doing that debases us as human beings. Especially if they come from people whose raison d’etre is to make us feel safe and protected. Many of us would probably be able to handle this unnecessary distraction—because that is what is—with minimum fuss.
But how about the many defenceless Nigerians whose time would be unnecessarily wasted, whose meagre resources would be expended—or extorted—for offences everybody knows they are innocent of; or, as in my case, not even aware of.
I have a warehouse space in Oregun which I was using for publishing and printing purposes. When the exigencies of ‘modern day’ publishing almost forced me into bankruptcy and early retirement, I sold the machines and leased out the space. I kept an office as a business contact and for meetings.
I visit the place about twice a week for a couple of hours usually on my way to, wait for it, Police College for squash. Over the years, I have watched how my street became suffused with mechanics and illegal diesel peddlers.
Nobody has had the will from the Police which visit the place about once a week, to the Lagos State Task Force which hardly comes there, to flush out the illegal trade. A serene environment has gradually turned into a possible home for miscreants; the result of which we are possibly witnessing in my story.
My General Manager in the days of Prime People magazine is now a 76-year-old man. We have been together for over 30 years. He is now more of a big brother than staff having been through the vagaries of the Nigerian business environment with me and our families have become interwoven.
He is the face of the place as Property Manager. We have a neighbour who has shared a fence with us for as long as I can remember and that cannot be less than 15 years. He is an expatriate who runs a factory. I recall meeting him once when he came over to ask for assistance in moving some machinery into his compound from our side through the fence.
Last week Thursday, our Property Manager received a call from a Police Officer who wanted to drop a letter of invitation from Area F Police station. He fixed a date with the officer for the following day but on the advice of a senior lawyer who feared it might be a ploy from kidnappers, he decided to go to Area F in Ikeja to ascertain the genuineness of the invitation.
Area F confirmed the invitation and asked him to come on Monday. He was there in the morning. It transpired that our neighbour the expatriate, had his factory burgled and the Police were investigating. My man was made to write a statement and instead of being released promptly, was left in limbo under the pretext that a more superior officer needed to look at the statement.
He phoned to keep me abreast of what was going on and by four pm, it was obvious that a deliberate delaying tactic was being used. By five, I was getting agitated. This you must remember, is a 76-year-old man who probably hadn’t had a meal; who probably didn’t bring his drugs.
By six, he was asked to find somebody to bail him. The implication was that he was going to be detained if he did not. This was an old man who had no prior inkling that a crime had been committed; who had responded to a civic duty; who comes to the office three times a week at most and hardly at weekends.
How come he now has to find someone to bail him? He insisted on being released on self-cognisance or be detained and taken to court. At this time his blood pressure had gone up. He was short of breath and belching. He was finally released on self-cognisance and asked to come back the following day.
The same scenario almost repeated itself the following day. It took a call from the Managing Director of a prominent newspaper to the officer’s boss after three hours of being told to wait by the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) before he was released.
Now, as at the time of writing this article, the police have served all the tenants including expatriate ones, and the Land Lord with invitation letters. In all probability, a whole day would be wasted and we would all then be asked to be bailed out or detained.
These are people who run their own busy schedules and didn’t even know a crime had been committed not to talk of being involved. I can understand the officer going there to ask if anybody saw any strange movement or people loitering. But to assume someone to be guilty until they can prove themselves innocent is procedurally wrong.
I should have no business with what happens in another person’s warehouse unless somebody can link me with the crime, either as a perpetrator or a receiver. I have enough issues with my own security without having to bother with another man’s security challenges. I have decided to write about this because nobody needs to ‘know’ someone before he is accorded respect, decency and justice.
The Lagos State Commissioner of Police seems a decent man. I met him only once when I led the executives of Police College Squash Racket Club to his office. I had not been around the few times he came to the club to play. But members have a favourable opinion of him.
He needs to be aware of how his men treat people that come in contact with them and how they are threatened with detention at any excuse. He also needs to curb the arbitrary arrests of decent, well dressed people in front of restaurants or their houses who are then dumped in cells until they can be bailed.
If they say the police are our friends then they should demonstrate it.