The Diobu Policeman And His Bruised Ego
Yesterday, Monday, I was moving to the office for a half-day work. The other half was meant to be spent doing a few demands in the Vineyard. I had arrived Port Harcourt late Saturday night after a few days of assignment in Abuja. So, that Monday was critical to me.
It meant to determine the rest work days in the week. One major appointment I was to meet up with was a meeting The Stock Exchange in Port Harcourt. Aside the meeting, my mind was on the stories to be done for The Neighbourhood Newspaper and the latest, The Neighbourhood TV, our online live streaming channel. While in Abuja, I kept pace with what was aired, especially, “ Good morning Africa !”
So, we hit the road driving down to Ikwerre Road, Port Harcourt’s equivalent of Flint Street in London. During my last academic visit to UK, I was on that popular Street that hosts that nation’s major media voices.
Leaving home and not driving offered relief. I could deploy my brain to some mental run-around. We went through our familiar route which normally includes stop-over at the vendor’s to buy newspapers. Just at the Education Bus Stop, we run into this bunch of police personnel. They called themselves Mobile Court. I interpret them to be a bundle of judicial and police kotima (colonial court bailiffs) who wielded big batons in the name of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. On Port Harcourt Streets, they often occupy points for vantage extortion. I found their job nuisance and colonial. The charges they slammed on ‘offending’ motorists in January 2014 remain the same charges on their charge sheets in June 2015. They arrest the same persons, charge the same persons, penalise the same persons. What they claimed to have checked in January of 2013 and found a driver culpable would be the same offence in 2015 if they arrested the same driver.
So, as we descended the slope on the Road, one frosty-looking guy among them flagged the vehicle in which I was on board down. “Your particulars and drivers licence” came off his lips almost simultaneously, and before the man behind the steering could bring them out, the police added, “Oga, come down and see your offences”. He quickly pointed to a portion on the car.
The driver alighted while I remained glued to the seat but keenly interested in the drama. Later, I politely approached him for a mutual conversation. He disdainfully repulsed my approach and rather would take over my seat beside the driver. I refused that and rather advised him to find a space on the back seat. It was a reluctant choice for him but what option had he? To him, that was a bruise that must be retaliated. For me, it was simply insisting on the right thing in a humble manner. That officer of the law had no right to displace me. Merely looking him, my mother's last child was years ahead of his age.
Actually, a front light on the car had cracks and for the policeman, it offered a goldmine. Not willing to listen to me, he quickly commandeered the vehicle to the venue of the mobile court. At his order, the driver made a cautious head to the location of their mobile court within the Divisional headquarters of the Mile 1 Police Division. There is no doubt that the police and judicial workers connive in this illegitimate business where the Law is fronted but cheated.
When we arrived, the policeman directed where the car should be parked. That was done. Rather than walk down with the driver to the mobile court, he ordered him to follow him to another block of building for “a friendly discussion”. At that moment, I alighted and insisted he must take the driver to the mobile court. “Oga, I have no business with you. You're not the one to decide whether I should take the driver to the court or not”. Then he turned to the driver, “Oga, should I take you to the court?” I answered, “Yes!” At that point he walked away with the vehicle documents clutched in his hands as though he was walking to the altar with a beloved spouse.
At that point the driver turned to me, “Sir, let me discuss with him”. So, I allowed him.
As they both moved to the “hideout” block for the “friendly discussion”, I told the policeman that I was going to meet the Magistrate so that the driver would be charged immediately. He pretended he did not hear. I knew why. The driver had headed to the block. In the policeman’s mind, the thought of how much he was going to extort the pocket of the driver no doubt, had occupied him. Much as he was determined to play the ugly cop, which truly he was, so was I determined to confront that charade of justice. I was determined to demand from the Magistrate an official government receipt for whatever fine they might impose on the driver. Rather than let that corruption-ridden, 21st century slave trader of a policeman extort that driver, I preferred the cash went into the coffer of the Rivers State Government, but it must be receipted.
When I what could pass as the foyer of the block hosting the so-called mobile court, I saw the earliest sign of what would be the woeful defeat of that policeman who had shouted, “We(police) hate journalists! They hate us and we hate them. They don't write any good thing about us(police)”.
The Magistrate presiding the matters was a man, who when he first returned to Nigeria after his Law studies in UK, had some relationship with me as a journalist. He quickly beckoned on me, inquired why I was there. I told him the reason, according to the policeman. He asked whether it’s my car that was impounded to which my response was “No!”
He immediately sent for the clerk of the court, ordered him to release the particulars to the driver. I expressed my gratitude and we drove off as the policeman watched. I saw emergency contours all over his face.
On our way out, the driver told me the policeman had demanded the sum of N5,000 for which he’d offered N1,000. I then summed up the reason for the contours on the man’s face. He must be rueing the loss of that N1,000, a bill enough for the day's lunch. I was glad he lost both the cash and his honour.
So, today, as we headed to the office, en route the normal course, the same policemen, including that same fellow, were at the same spot taking-in “offending” drivers. As we approached, that policeman saw me and turned the other way. I sought to greet him but he shifted farther away. I giggled because I saw on his face the marks of the previous day's humiliation. I wanted to salute and to tell him, “Journalists are your(police) friends!” But his bruised pride was still weeping. We quickly drove past them as we(I and driver) shared the previous day’s episode with moderate giggles.