Years after the Endsars movement, the promised change has yet to be seen, as ordinary Nigerians have been harassed and, in some cases, killed, not for committing a crime, but because they dress or look a certain way. It’s disheartening to realise that committing a crime isn’t the only way to be labelled a criminal. Leaving the house to buy kerosene in today’s Nigeria can land you in jail.

Nicholas had left his house a few minutes past seven to buy kerosene from a village market close by to prepare a meal to eat. “I was going, and people were speaking to me in Hausa. I don’t hear Hausa, so all I could do was look at them and nod” he kept going, not knowing they warned him not to go further because he would be picked. Before he could cross to the market, when someone told him what was happening, trying to go back, he was stopped by Vigilantees ordering them to get into a van. Even the person who warned him did not escape this random stop-and-pick. He tried to ask what the problem was, and the next thing he could remember was being flung into the bus.

Who Are These Vigilantes 

The Vigilante is a grassroots-based community association whose primary goal is to secure lives and property and provide any services the community may require for its development and disaster prevention. The Nigerian Vigilante Group began in villages, wards, Local Governments, and State Groups before merging at the Federal level for more effective planning and execution of activities to secure lives and property. 

It has been advised not to argue with police or vigilantes when being harassed if you want to avoid harm or pay less. The question is, why is that acceptable? Why have we accepted it as the norm? Most people will say to survive, which is correct because if you stand up for yourself or try to assert your rights, these people will become agitated, and the situation will spiral out of control. So why do people who can’t control their emotions allowed to join the police or vigilante groups?

Another hell for Nicholas was inside the bus that took them to the station. Someone on the bus was so severely beaten that he puked on himself, and someone who tries to explain that he is a Nigerian army soldier was beaten and now sits with a broken leg. 

The Police Is Your Friend 

I wish I could say that statement with a hundred per cent certainty that it’s right. However, this remains a serious issue that needs to be addressed. According to a NOIpolls survey, most Nigerians do not believe the police are their friend, among the people asked. 

For Nicholas, the police are not his friend either. Another experience he wished he had never had was at the police station. He was crammed into a room full of strangers. They were asked not to pass the counter, but when you have a large crowd of people, most of whom have no idea why they are being arrested, you will get people who will not cooperate with you. It was a bit of a drag until one of the cops pulled out a knife and threatened to stab whoever passed the counter.

Only some police officers are excellent or unprofessional. Connecting with the people whose safety they are ensuring is critical and should be taken seriously.

Bail Is Free 

No one should be detained solely based on suspicion but rather on the order of a competent court prosecuting them for a heinous crime. Mr Abiodun Alabi, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police in 2022, released a statement stating that giving and receiving money at the police station to secure bail for a suspect is also bribery, which is punishable as a corrupt act. He said that bail is not required and that anyone who pays for bail will be prosecuted. While the commissioner’s warning is commendable, it is insufficient to end the deep racketeering surrounding bail grants in police stations, mainly initiated and sustained by police officers.

Bail depends on which unscrupulous officer chooses to harass you and how many of you were picked; in Nicholas’s case, it was five thousand Naira. Bail is said to be free, so why not stand up for your rights? When the person who had gotten Nicholas out arrived at the police station around 9 p.m., it looked like a mini market at night, with containers nearly full of people. He inquired about whom he should meet and was directed to a male officer, who asked whether Nicholas was one of the suspects they were looking for—how would he know? He was referred to a female officer in charge of the people there, who gave him a list to look through for Nicholas’s name, but he wasn’t on it. There was no precise count of those who had been picked up (arrested). She further asked who he had come to bail, indicating that the bail was five thousand Naira. (I thought bail was free.) 

After being released, Nicholas was asked to be barbered by a stand-by barber, and he was given the option of a pair of scissors for 500 Naira or a clipper for 1000 naira. He ended up using an unsterile clipper and sharing it with anyone who would suffer the same fate—no wonder the police are not his friends. 

Nigerians deserve better treatment. Actual majors must be put in place to checkmate unscrupulous officers. Nigerians should be encouraged to report harassment cases without fear of retaliation. The blurred line between being a civilian and a criminal must be removed, and people should be able to leave their homes at any time to buy kerosene without fear of being harassed. The police can be your friend.

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  • Chimaobi
    Posted May 18, 2023 at 5:32 pm 0Likes

    Very articulated pray for more heights 🙏

  • Plangnan
    Posted May 29, 2023 at 4:04 pm 0Likes

    Good choice of words and captivating piece…. Hoping to read many more from you.

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