Monday, 15 October 2018

₦50 NOTE: HOW TO GET AWAY FROM THE POLICE

Corrupt policeman collecting N50 bribe. 

The Nigerian Police... Hmm.

I really think that we should discuss the things that are happening on our roads, especially as it affects motorists who have to deal with the policemen stationed at various checkpoints along these roads.

I live in the one of the towns on the outskirts of Abuja. Something you should know about neighborhoods like mine is that they are usually heavily populated in comparison to the city center and the suburban areas. Of course the reason is that they are more affordable than the expensive collection of towns that is at the heart the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria.

It was to these neighborhoods that Okada riders were confined to when Nasir El Rufai, the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, placed a ban on them in 2006 as part of his design to make Nigeria's capital city more cosmopolitan. As a result, thousands of Okada riders had to stop plying the city routes.

While many of us are thankful that we still have this option for transportation – which is about the only means of transportation that can go into inner communities and regions with horrible roads – there is something that is happening that makes it harder to use the option. I will use my neighborhood for this example.

If I have to return home late – and by late I mean any time after 9pm – I usually would have to take an Okada from Nyanya to my house in Jikwoyi. It is a pretty straight forward road which should take about 10 minutes on an Okada.

Here is the thing though; as soon as it gets to 9pm, five police check points prop up close to the Karu mosque, CBN and Phase II Junctions in Jikwoyi. These check points should basically be considered three but you will soon understand why I said they are five.

Any Okada rider who has to take a passenger to Jikwoyi would have to consider if he ready to deal with the policemen at the Karu mosque and CBN junction. And if they are to return to Nyanya, they would have to deal with the policemen close to Jikwoyi Phase II, and the opposite sides of CBN junction and close to the Karu mosque. Why is this a problem? Well, the later it gets, the more likely the policemen would stop the Okada rider for any and every infraction; real and imagined. To get out of these problems, the Okada men have to be ready with their ₦50 notes to prevent a lengthy conversation or even an arrest. Where the Okada rider isn't cooperative with the ₦50, they are asked for all sorts of vehicle identification that is not in the purview of the police to request. And because a lot of these Okada men know that they are unable to provide the documents required to ply the roads, documents I have come to realize are constantly changing based on who is asking, they chuck the N50 they give as the sacrifice needed to continue plying the roads and getting their daily meals. In essence, if they are lucky, they pay ₦50 and where they are not, which is most likely the case, they would have to pay as much as ₦250 to get their passengers to Jikwoyi and back to Nyanya.

The direct result of this is that, as soon as it gets late, transport fares for Okada rides go up. Usually, it costs ₦150 to get from Nyanya to Jikwoyi. With the possibilities of having to pay ₦250, the average Okada rider would ask for ₦300 to take a person there. No matter how hard you beg, they wouldn't budge. Where they do, they never go below ₦250.

Okada riders are not the only ones who suffer this. You can be sure that Keke riders, and even drivers of cars are constantly being stopped by the police for their 'token'.

Now, I am not averse to the police ensuring that Okada riders (and other motorists) obey the rules. What I cannot stand is the deliberate attempt to box these motorists into situations where they are forced to give at least ₦50. I have seen police men ask for documents that no one in the car or keke I was in had ever heard about. I have seen police men delay Okada riders for minutes on end with the threat of arrest and even cold blooded murder. Or worse, deliberately letting those who break the law continue to do because of the “opportunity” each infraction would afford them. Many of these police men are themselves drunken, disheveled louts in comparison to the men and women they stop on the roads. But their uniform gives them so much power.

It is so bad that even when people are not guilty, they get their ₦50 ready when they approach a check point. Let me give you an example. One Friday night, a couple of us had gone out for drinks. We left the spot at almost 2am and headed for my friend’s house where we were going to sleep. Close to the Banex Junction in Abuja was a police checkpoint. Soon as we got there, we were stopped. They asked the routine questions about where we had been and where we were headed to. One of my friends joked with them and brought out money to give them. I was livid! Soon as the money exchanged hands, the police officer became friendlier and waved us on. Again, I was livid! I asked why she paid the money and she said she just didn’t want any problems. We were girls, we were out late and all sorts of things could wrong. I understood the logic but I was still mad. The friend who was driving said he knew he had all his papers and that he wouldn’t have paid anything but like I said, I understood the logic. We have heard of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, Linda Angela Igwetu, who was killed by the police in Abuja. And I was still writing this piece when another girl, Anita Akapson was reportedly killed by the police in Maitama. So yes, I understood the logic. But I am still mad that we had to deal with a police force that inspired fear rather than confidence; even when we were absolutely innocent.

So how is the government handling this? Well…time and again, the Inspector General of Police would issue a statement telling the nation how these road blocks are banned and to be dismantled wherever they crop up. The most recent statement was issued by Acting Inspector of Police, Suleiman Abba, on September 21, 2018. Yet, every day, new checkpoints crop up at different parts of the country and the towns that make up the states. These police checkpoints are not hidden either, which makes me believe that the directives to dismantle them are just hogwash for the press. I am also of the opinion that the police officers at these check points have to share their bounties with their superiors, who also need to share with theirs and so forth until it gets to the Inspector General of police. If not, why would a directive given since 2012 and repeatedly said to be in place be so openly flouted by the lowest rank of the police? This theory was further cemented in my head when Fisayo Soyombo, an investigative reporter, wrote about the blatant corruption of police men at the 86 checkpoints he passed through when he drove from Abuja to Lagos in a ‘stolen car’. The fact that he caught policemen on video and audio did not translate to anything being done to the policemen. It was business as usual. In saner countries, the Inspector General of police would have resigned from office with the magnitude of the scandal that that entire thing was. But in Nigeria, it was business as usual.

So if the Inspector of police is not doing anything to mitigate this problem, how do we then hope to solve them?

I may seem like an idealistic monkey but I think we can solve this problem by ensuring that corrupt, bribe-seeking police officers are arrested and prosecuted as dictated by the constitution of this nation. Maybe – just maybe – if we make a few examples by punishing errant police officers, the message will seep through that this blatant nonsense has to stop. But then again, I know it wouldn’t happen. Not now anyway. The corruption in the police force is too deeply entrenched for any significant difference to happen now. However, color me idealistic but I think it will happen soon. We, and I mean you and I, just need to continue to demand for better structures for our governance systems and accountability for public office holders. We must demand things are done properly, no matter the cost.

Until that happens however, as citizen, we must have all the proper documents for our vehicles and know our rights. That is how to get away from the police. When you aren’t defaulting in any way, you stand the chance of keeping your money when dealing with them. If however, you have no documents, then proceed to get them now. You cannot be a part of the rot that is our system and expect to remain unaffected. It doesn’t work that way.

Got a horrible experience with the police because of ₦50? Share your story with us.

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