Nigerian Police and the Art of Harrassment

Two days ago I was randomly pulled over by the cops for possibly breaking the law (believe me, it wasn’t half as dramatic as what you enjoy on American crime shows). Anyway, I was totally caught off-guard. I mean, these particular policemen weren’t at this invisible checkpoint yesterday…and the day before…and the day before that…and oh yeah I remember…THE WHOLE OF LAST MONTH! SO WHERE THE HELL DID THEY SPRING OUT FROM ALL OF A SUDDEN? ‘Ah, no big deal! Jollof must be a law-abiding citizen’ I hear you say? Well, I sorta broke the law but I can explain…

As one of the policemen beckoned me to the side, I did a quick mental scan of everything that I should have in my car: Driver’s licence – check!; Vehicle Licence – check! Motor Insurance – check!; Driver with a confident smile on his face – check! Like clockwork, the policeman asked for the first three items in the same order. However my jaw dropped when he asked for a fourth document – a Motor Road Worthiness Certificate…WTF???!!! How come all the other police checkpoints I experienced in the past did not ask for this alien document? Wasn’t my car in good driving condition all these years?

To my annoyance the policeman proceeded to open my passenger door (but to HIS annoyance the door was locked). I asked him why he wanted to get into my car and he claimed he had to take me to the police station to register for the certificate – yeah right. I knew the routine. Once you get there your car is impounded and then they force you to pay some outrageous bill or else you forfeit your car. That was option 1 and I wasn’t falling for it. I told him (with as little sarcasm as possible) that I was old enough to go register for the document myself and didn’t need a chaperone. I would’ve just driven off but he still had my Driver’s licence in his pocket. It was now time to play the Waiting game.

I turned off my engine and waited 15 minutes as the policeman resumed his harassment duties with unsuspecting motorists. One of his allies, a policewoman, walked up to me and asked what the problem was (as if she didn’t know). I told her my story and she just told me to talk to the policeman again. I didn’t have much choice if I planned on getting my Driver’s licence back. I called him to my window to reason with him, to which he unleashed an unsettling grin and gave me option 2 – a little something for his pocket, if you know what I mean. ‘Well, there goes my puppy-dog-eyes plan’, I thought. I was about to be hustled for my own Driver’s licence by a law enforcer. I wasn’t going to comply. Instead of giving him diddly-squat I gave him the cold shoulder – must have worked because a minute later HE complied.

As I drove off into the sunset I concluded that Nigerian policemen were mostly beggars in uniforms, using their status to intimidate rather than protect. I do hope that I’ll have never need to call for their help in future…because they’ll probably ask for ‘a little something for their pocket’ before they do! Shame.