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One Night of Slaps & Torture in the Hands of the Nigerian Police: the Story of a Journalist

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By Femi Owolabi

Lagos. Friday 30th November, 2015.

It has been a busy day. I read through the previous night, preparing for an 8am exam. I am looking forward to hitting my bed tonight and making up for the lost sleep. My phone beeps. It is Chidinma, a friend who works in Ikeja.

“I am about to leave the office,” Chidinma says. “So, what time should I start coming to the club?”

I have totally forgotten. Last week, while we chatted, I told her I was heading to the club. Two things lately take me to nightclubs in Lagos. Since I engaged myself in the business of cultural journalism and scholarship, I have been, for the purpose of a detailed research work with a focus on the social life cum club culture of Lagosians, moving round nightclubs every other Friday night. Secondly, I have been battling with an unending agony, since I returned from the North-East in August. It has stayed since that 25th day of August when I, narrowly, escaped a bomb blast in Damaturu where the casualties were; four women, one of them, pregnant. A part of me died with those women, I won’t stop telling my friends. So I visit the clubs to seek solace in a place where the agony is always subdued, when sitting over a chilled glass of OrijinBitters at one corner, watching the varieties of feminine silhouettes shaking their waists. “I will take you along next week,” I had told Chidinma in the chat.

“Talk now!” My phone beeps again after a long while when a response is not forthcoming from me.

It is 8:35pm. Give me your house address, let me come and pick you, I reply Chidinma, and I, reluctantly, walk to the hanger for a change of cloth.

Baba Jamo, my cab-man is always a phone call away. I hop in and we pick Chidinma at the gate of her house and we zoom to Rapongi nightclub in Festac where a brotherly friend, Puffy is waiting.

11pm. Rowdy, the club hall. Chidinma is shy. But, she is excited. Earlier, she had asked me to tell her what she should wear. Bum-shot of course, I teased, and she starts to laugh. “I wear that only inside my house o,” she says. Unknown to Chidinma, I am already, for my research work, taking note of her as a rare exception. The girls in the club are always in micro-mini skirts, bum-shots, and tops that bear their breasts in full display. This one sitting by me is in a jean trouser and a round-neck long-sleeve t-shirt. Almost all the girls have a stick of cigarette in one corner of their mouth and glasses of beer and spirits are within their reach.

Malt, please, Chidinma says, putting a hand on my shoulder, when I beckon a bartender to place an order.

Soon, Puffy, who is sitting across, comes over to drag Chidinma to the dance floor. She would, reluctantly, let him.

1am. I begin to feel pain on my right foot. While rushing for my exam in the morning, I had dashed the foot against a wooden stool. The pain has been recurring. I bring my arm around Chidinma who is now floating in the fun with Puffy, and I whisper into her ear; I’ll be right back, wanna check my foot outside.

I stoop, somewhere close to the entrance, and I un-lace my boot to, first, free the foot. I rub the toes and I swing the leg. When done, I stoop, again, to lace the boot, and then, an unfriendly hand lands a massive slap on my back, and then, grabs me by band-waist of my jean trouser and that of my boxers, and then, drags me along.

“Who are you, what do you…”
Multiple slaps land on my face that I am unable to finish the sentence. He drags me on, a few meters to where about three blue Volkswagen Faragon are parked, and he flings me in. About thirty of us are sandwiched inside the eighteen-seater bus. Things are not clear to me. Please, what have I done?! I scream, raising my head, and again, multiple slaps, this time more thunderous, land on my face.

My glasses, please, the man on whose laps I sit, cry out. We are sitting by the window, and a hand comes in through the window to slap me, taking me for the man who is crying for his glasses. Wiping my teary eyes, I turn at the man, who is now rubbing my back, telling me he is sorry. One of his eyes is bad, the man. The eye is permanently closed. It fell off while they were dragging me here, he tells me.

“Get this man his glasses, his eyes are bad!” I scream, raising my head out, through the window. Expectedly, the slaps, blows come in the way of my face.

Minutes later, as we all mutter inside the bus, a tear-gas canister is released inside the bus and these gunmen, all in black t-shirt bearing the crest of the Nigerian Police Force with Raiders written across their chest, surround the bus, with their guns aimed at us.

I am coughing. Almost all of us are. The door has been locked. I bring my head out of the window, but the head is returned with a blow. Bring this head out again, and I will shoot you, the gunman says, as he closes the window.

I am horrified. One of my phones has been seized. I am still hiding the other, and with every caution, I manage to send a text message to Chidinma, and drop an update about this random pick up by the policemen on my Facebook wall.

Let’s move them! A man who appears as their superior, shouts, and the three buses zoom out.

Please, let me get my car keys, please let me tell my friends inside, please, please, I hear everyone begging the other gunmen who are assigned to guard our bus.

We are being driven off, and I wipe my eyes again and again, to see clearly what was printed on the back of the one driving us; Department of Criminal Investigation, Panti.

We are there, I say to myself when the buses slow down at a police station my eyes aren’t clear to see the division it is. And suddenly, the buses start to move faster.

We are driven through many rough roads and, eventually, arrive at the Adekunle Police Station, in Yaba.

We are asked to raise our hands as we descend from the bus. We are then, asked to pull off our cloth and take our seats, in a linear order, on the ground. Pulling off my socks, my phone, the one I have been hiding, falls off, and as one the men rushes to pick it, he uses the barrel of his gun to hit my chest. We, immediately, appear as criminals being paraded, as the policemen, feeling excited, take turns to snap us with their phones. One of them comes with a pen and paper, and asks each one his name. When he gets to me, I look into his eyes and I wouldn’t say anything.

Your name, idiot! He booms, slapping me, twice. I lower my head, and then, another policeman from behind starts to slap me on the back of my neck. I can’t hold the pains, and I broke into tears.

We are called one after the other, into a circle– illuminated with their torchlight– where your body is checked, and you answer questions should you have any mark on your body.

Na bullet wound be this o! The policeman screams, when checking the body of a man who begs that he’s not a criminal but a barber in Festac. For a few minutes, this barber is being beaten by more than ten policemen. He is crawling back to his seat, when I am called for my body to be checked. I say a silent prayer as I rise, that the long mark on my back is not seen. When I was a kid, playing with peers, I fell into a gutter and something tore my flesh. The mark is easily taken for a machete wound.

We are ordered to move one after the other, into one large room where we meet about a hundred shirt-less boys sitting sitting cross-legged on the bare floor. The policeman stationed at the entrance of this room, lands a heavy slap on the back of our neck as each enters. Did it ring? The excited policeman would ask, and if you hesitate in responding with yes sir, he lands you another.

I can barely get a space to sit. My legs ache terribly. And because I have been hydrating, I am always drinking water, but I do not know how to ask for the sachet water languishing at the feet of one of the policemen. One boy begs for a permission to go urinate and he his denied. With a slap.

Go down! A policeman heading my direction, screams. No space here! I scream, too. And about three others join him and for five minutes, it is a beating galore. The beating stops when they have successfully beaten me into a space, under a table, where I have to fold the aching legs.

I am observing how happy these policemen are, how they make mockery of everyone. “Stupid people, una get money to dey go club go drink go carry woman abi?” one them says, with a hiss. A pot-bellied man– who should be in his late thirties– caged with me under the table, shakes his head. I can’t find my wedding ring again, he tells me. I am a Federal Government worker, he says. My family is out of the country and I thought I should come club this Friday. When did it become a crime to club again? He asks, casting his gaze at me, expecting an answer. I can’t find my necklace, too, I tell him. Oh, it must have broken off from your neck that time when those guys were slapping and hitting you, he says, giving me a consoling pat on my back. You shouldn’t have argued with them at all, they will just kill you, he says.

A policeman comes to sit over us. I stretch out from under the table and reach for his hand. Please, sir, I am not a criminal, I say to him. He looks down at me, and he smiles. So, you think everybody here is a criminal and you are the only one innocent? He says, freeing his hand off mine.

Tired, and weak. I withdraw into my space, and soon, while sitting, as there is not enough space to stretch and lie, my head starts to hit the leg of the table. I am dozing off, until we hear a call again, that we should form a queue. We are going to be transferred into another room. I could see the room from afar, dark. And from inside, I hear the wails of young men. My heart beats, uncontrollably, faster.

I come out of the queue and run to meet a man whom I hear them call Oga. I am a journalist, sir, I tell him, with a shivering voice. We work together with you people, the Law Enforcement Agencies, please help me, sir, I tell him, looking into his eyeballs.

Identify yourself, he says. Everything has been seized by your men, I tell him. But, sir, you can check my phone, I have already drafted an email I’m sending to my editor, about how your men picked me up and…

Hey! Bring this man’s cloth, he’s a journalist, Oga calls out to the policemen who are standing by.

I collect my cloth, and they bring a sack of phones and they tell me to pick mine.

Isiaka, Oga calls one of his men that is behind him. Go and drop this man, journalist, in Festac, he tells him.

But, find them money for fuel o, Oga says, flashing a smile. Yes, sir, I say, smiling, too.

I am escorted outside, and walking behind Oga and Isiaka, I hear Oga telling Isiaka to bring the money, and Isiaka brings out lots of squeezed N1, 000 notes from his back pocket.

Oya, your own, Isiaka says, turning at me, with a open palm. I bring out the N5, 000 I’m having on me, and pulling out N1, 000, Isiaka grabs my hands, and grabs all the money.

As the police bus takes me back, three other men released alongside me stop by the ATM to withdraw the ‘balance’ for Isiaka’s Oga.

While Isiaka and I wait inside the bus for these men, I check on my wristwatch; 4:01am, and I bring out my phones; 26 missed calls. Chidinma.

Femi Owolabi