I consider myself to be a call girl, but not a prostitute - ZAHIA DEHAR

After he assumed office in 2012, Mohammed Abubakar, Nigeria's Inspector-General of Police directed all police checkpoints on the nation's highways to be dismantled. Before Abubakar's tenure, annoying checkpoints that functioned as ATMs dotted every hundred yards of Nigerian roads, greatly harassing and inconveniencing road users. Fierce policemen manning these toll units at inter-state expressways greatly check-mated travel progress. A typical four hour trip from Lagos to my Delta State homestead became six-eight hours of torture depending on the class and newness of the vehicle, the mode and mood of the policemen, the driver's bargaining ability and the clemency of the weather. Almost always, your “particulars” enlisted you no particular exemption from harassment except you have “something for the boys.” During my visit home early 2011, these sadists in police, customs and immigration uniforms manned some 60 extortion booths of dry wood, fallen trees, disused tyres, drums, fires and other indecencies that constituted road blocks between Lagos and Delta states. Their specialty was to choose the worst portions of our diseased roads to set up road blocks. Navigating the bad roads and checkpoints greatly taxed the skill and patience of road users.

Often angry, envious northerners with little or no education, the police men manning check points in southern Nigeria before the era of IG Abubakar were an occupation force. Unable or unwilling to read drivers' and vehicle documents, they arrogantly and openly imposed thousands of naira as fines on their hapless and helpless prey. These coarse, unlettered uniformed belligerents intimidated and humiliated travellers to many agonies. Men were beaten in front of their families. Women were openly assaulted and cases of sexual molestation of women and girls were not unknown. Children who watched all these indecencies grew numb with terror. They are documented cases of active cooperation between these uniformed bullies and armed robbers. Many of the girls and women hawking consumables at check point locations were either pregnant or carrying babies, another road block set up by these policemen against their destinies! Some policemen at these road blocks routinely help themselves to whatever wares took their fancy. When this correspondent went to his Delta homestead in January 2013, not one time was his journey waylaid by policemen. The return trip also didn't suffer any hiccup. He therefore celebrated IG Abubakar and President Goodluck Jonathan, his Oga at the Top! But during my travels to and through Delta State last month, the police had returned to their time honoured status quo. Alas, stress free travel is too good to be true in Nigeria!

This correspondent took his journey from Lagos to Delta State on April 16, 2013 and witnessed the return of the police road warriors. The shameless ingloriousness associated with their unlawful revenue collection was on display at different debasement and extortion points across Ogun, Ondo, Edo and Delta states. Just after Ogbere, Ogun State, a man and his family were brutalised for driving aToyota Sienna with tinted glass. His explanations that his SUV glass was of a lighter tint met a tinted response. When he read from the Motor Vehicles {Prohibition of Tinted Glass} Act, Cap M21 Laws of the Federation to prove that his car tint was clear and transparent, that it did not in any way “render obscure or invisible persons or objects inside the car,”the colour of the policemen grew darker. I approached the senior officer and objected to the wholesale harassment of this traveller. Discovering that I function as a journalist, the Inspector released a blast: “Do you know that four senior journalists of the Leadership newspaper were detained for 'unfavourable' news item in its April 2, 2013 edition? If you write any nonsense about the policemen on this expressway, I will have you arrested and detained!” Simultaneously, another officer was gazing intently at some medical products on the back seat of the Toyota Sienna. “Can this product give me a rocky, jumbo-size, sexual organ,” he asked this correspondent intently. Bewildered, I told him the car and the product weren't mine, that I know no medication for enhancing longer and harder erections. When I pointed to the senior officer the irony of his erotic junior colleague seeing a supposed organ enlargement medication through the “illegal, very dark tinted glass of the SUV,” he fumed dismissively:“Shege Mr too know, comot for my front now!”

At various check points, some female hawkers told this correspondent that they were forced into sexual slavery as the consideration for selling at check points! When I warned them to desist from the dangers of risky sexual behaviours: multiple partners, commercial and unprotected sex, STDs and HIV/AIDS infection, many looked away with pain in their eyes. Downcast, a few advanced reasons for their vulnerability: Poverty, widowhood, divorce, lack of parental care, illiteracy, domestic violence, unemployment and need to provide for their families. “Dis market wey I dey sell beta pass ashawo work,” one sultry girl defended. My attempt to educate the policemen of the risks inherent with unbridled sex with hawkers met with severe scolding: “Mr man, body nobi wood, you hear? You see our wife for here? Na help we dey help ds poor girls! Busy body, wetin concern you sef for ds mata? Waka pass my face!”

A bear with the stripes of a corporal in an ill-fitting uniform headed the inquisition that halted us on the outskirts of Ore. While he questioned us, he chewed kolanut, smoked and stealthily helped himself to an aphrodisiac in a nearby bamboo booth. My warning that nicotine, a toxic substance reaches his brain within 10 seconds of inhalation solicited a foolish grin. Told that tobacco is the second major cause of death globally according to the UN, he mocked that he had smoked for 20 years and was still alive! Warned that smokers stand a 50 per cent chance of dying in midlife by tobacco, he replied: “Fela chop gbana {Marijuana} well well and e no kilam. Too much book don make you foolish!” Informed that abuse of ethanol, a lethal product and herbs of indeterminable composition in unknown dosage could give him kidney damage in the short term and liver damage on the long term, he was aghast. “Ubanka, Nnyamili! {Your father, Igbo man}. Shege, Nnyamili {Down with you, Igbo man}! Shut up your stupid mouth now! I no want hear yeye talk for your mouth again,” he frothed icily. Before we parted ways, the corporal agreed that the indulgences cost him a bundle, but rationalised that “man must wack, man must enjoy himself afta hard work. I no go kill myself!” Educated to seek out non-poisonous avenues of enjoyment, he quipped: “I no want hear foolish suggestion from you. Paraga [locally made gin} dey help me enjoy with this grils wey dey sell market. Kai, I no want see your sabi sabi face again or I go tell Inspector for you.”

Many of the policemen are also victims of our dysfunctional state - poverty, job loss, illiteracy, hunger, deprivation and unemployment - which forced them to enlist into the force. Surviving on Nigerian roads is a living nightmare for many. Sadly, Nigeria Police corruption has been “one long emergency,”to paraphrase rocker Bruce Springsteen. Today, one can safely say that corruption is the nom de guerre of the Nigeria police. To its officers and men {women inclusive}, corruption seems to have become a Doctrine of Necessity. Everyone enlisting in the Nigeria Police, it seems, is an enrolled member of the club of corruption, even before birth! While police corruption can never claim a patina of exclusivity in Nigeria, it's special because of its law enforcement preserve. Mercenary police extortion on our roads have become a weightier moral inadequacy than armed robbery. To our policemen, corruption is a river to be diverted to their pockets. This brings me to a Human Rights Watch {HRW} report which revealed that the Nigeria Police made over N20 billion {US$125 million} as bribe between January 2009 and January 2010. According to their investigation, the South East grossed N9.35 billion, the South West hauled in N4 billion, the South-South generated N4 billion, the North Central took in N2 billion, the North East realized a miserly N500 million while the North West brought in a paltry N500 million. Northern arch-irredentists like Dr Junaid Mohammed and Chief Waku who parade fraudulent, unproven 70% population superiority against the South should urgently make up this gross difference for the Nigeria Police! If the South could generate N16 billion, the North ought to haul in N40 billion! Therefore, these northern elemental blueblood should credit the “police equipment” fund with N36 billion to cover the shortfall in earnings for the January 2009 – January 2010 “financial year” only! One understands why this “police equipment” is reasonably too tempting to be left behind which is perhaps why Mr Kingsley Omire, the recently retired Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police on his attainment of the mandatory 60 years of age, still stayed put to handle “some special duties” that allowed him to remain in-charge of this “police equipment.” This correspondent is not puzzled that his Oga at the Top {IG Mohammed Abubakar} left Mr Omire to continue with some “administrative duties” in Bayelsa State Police Command. Retirement will subject Mr Omire to unacceptable institutional revenue shortfall! Boko Haram nihilists bombing, terrorising and destabilising the North also share some of the blame for the “low revenue” the police treasury realized as bribe from the North in the period under review by the HRWreport. President Goodluck Jonathan's declaration of emergency rule in three northern states and amnesty to the Islamic insurgents will happily bring better financial returns to the 18 commissioners of police in the North and Police headquarters, Abuja!

Series of unending air and land disasters in Nigeria has made travelling in our nation a Holocaust. Nigerians are at the mercy of bad roads, rickety articulated trucks trudging our highways day and night, descript passengers vehicles, over speeding drugged and drunk drivers, ill-maintained aircrafts owned and operated by rogue companies and Nigeria's lax regulatory and enforcement climate. The most recent large scale national air tragedy happened on June 3, 2012 when a Dana Air plane crash consumed 153 lives at Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos. One consequence of these disasters is the enthronement of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as Nigeria's chief mourner. Though far more people die in road accidents, mum is permanently the word from the presidency! And William Shakespeare, the playwright extraordinary from England knows why: “When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the deaths of princes.” The poor have no business with air travel in Nigeria. Chikena! Gridlock, roadblocks, accidents, murder, violence, armed robbery, kidnapping, ritual killing, carjacking and banditry are the lot of many people found on our nation's road. Sylvester Iruh, a retired army Brigadier General was killed in July 2012 by suspected Fulani herdsmen near the Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. He had stopped to change a flat tyre and his life was flattened. Forty pupils of Holy Rosary College in the eastern city of Enugu were attacked by armed robbers in Oke Ado, Ogun State in April 2012. The unfortunate girls were traumatised, dehumanised, robbed and raped, save one teary teenager whose menstrual period came on while the terror was going on.

A Port Harcourt based uncle of this correspondent stridently lamented that travelling on our dangerous roads had given him high blood pressure. As I tried to tell him that healing from fear is possible, my unrelenting elder re-told me what I knew that happened in Okogbe, a rustic town that serves as the headquarters of Ahoada West Local Government in Rivers State in July 2012. The agrarian town was lit up after a petrol tanker fell into a ditch while trying to avoid a Toyota Corolla at a very bad portion of road. As its precious contents gushed out, many poor villagers swarmed the tanker with jerry cans, ignoring the tanker driver's warning to desist from the act. Wisely, the driver fled the impending Holocaust. Half an hour later, a deafening explosion destabilised the unfortunate, impoverished community. According to Rivers State Health Commissioner Dr Sampson Parker, over 200 people died in the inferno, some burnt beyond recognition. In his words, “this is the worst single disaster that has happened in Nigeria. The corpses I counted at the scene alone were 200 and they have not finished counting. It is cremation. The corpses were burnt to ashes. So, how many can you count?” Just this April 5, 2013, two road accidents obliterated the lives of about 100 Nigerians. At Ugbogui, Edo State, along the Benin-Shagamu Expressway, a Dangote Industries heavy duty trailer filled with cement had a burst tyre and the driver lost control. It then rammed into a petrol tanker which exploded and engulfed an Enugu bound luxury bus. The second disaster occurred on the Onitsha-Owerri Expressway, in Ihiala, Anambra State as another articulated truck pulverized two Rivers State owned commercial mini-buses and a Honda saloon car.Worn out and sub-standard tyres, unreadable no caution signs, bad brakes, weak vehicle lights, smoking exhaust pipes, untrained Nigerians behind car wheels, sleep derived, blood shot eyes, marijuana saturated, alcohol infused drivers and lack of medical emergency and rescue services take the lives of thousands of Nigerians yearly. Unsurprisingly, the FRSC's grizzly “dashboard records for the months of 2012”reads: 4,260 deaths, 20,752 injured! But analysts believe that the figures are more than reported because many accidents eat up souls not recorded in travel companies manifests and some don't even issue tickets to passengers.

In his classic book, Essays on the Principle of Population published in 1798, English economist Thomas Malthus foresaw this tragedy. 'The vices of mankind,' he wailed, 'are active and able ministers of depopulation, but should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemic, pestilence and plagues advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands.' The only failure recorded by the great economist was his non-inclusion of road and air travel in Nigeria as “active and able ministers of depopulation.” After air mishaps, road transport operators become the beneficiaries of Nigerian travellers traumatised by the sight and memory of burnt and missing air victims. With just about one effective operator in today's aviation sector, Nigeria's air travellers literally pass through the needle's eye especially during festive occasions and public holidays like Easter, Christmas and Eid el Fitri. Wealthy Nigerians are forced to forget the grizzly memory of air disasters to make their journeys with any airline available while the masses take to the roads, to the eager pleasure of “wetin you carry” police men on our expressways.

IG Abubakar has sown new uniforms for his officers and men, but in the wisdom of Sam Nujoma, Namibia's ex-president: "A hyena remains a hyena no matter the clothes it wears." The Abami Eda {Abnormal one} and Afro beat godfather Fela Anikulapo Kuti was definite that “uniform na cloth, na tailor dey sow am.” Also, IG Abubakar may need to pick the brains of Ludwig von Mises, an Austrian economist of the early 20th century to know that reforming our police needs more a mere change of clothing. Von Mises reasoned that “it may sometimes be expedient for a man to heat the store with his furniture. But he should not delude himself by believing that he has discovered a wonderful new method of heating his premises.” The unwieldy styles, patterns, shades and textures of the new police uniforms project an organisation with divided leadership, loyalties, objectives, procurement policies and command structure. It might be needful for IG Abubakar to re-cast his officers and men in a new branding PR offensive, “but he should not delude himself by believing that he has discovered a wonderful new method of” evolving a uniform, holistic, all-inclusive approach to market his force to Nigerians as an accountable, democratic, egalitarian organisation. For now, the Nigeria Police remains a hyena in law enforcement garb, a predator masquerading as a protective agent. In truth, many Nigerians see our police only as a pseudo-crime prevention organisation.

Historian, freelance journalist and writer, Pastor JOSEPH EMEKA ANUMBOR is the author of THE INTERCOURSE OF TROUBLED THOUGHTS, a critically acclaimed discourse on homosexuality published by Author House Inc., Indiana, USA.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Emeka Anumbor