On Sunday, June 14, 2020, at about 4pm, a stern looking Inspector Taofeek Alabi of the Aguda police station, jumped in front of my car as I pulled into Sanya street in Ijesha, Surulere, and ordered me to pull over.
Once I did, Alabi, a young police officer in his late 30s with an athletic build to boot, asked about everything.
First, he asked about my driver’s license, then asked me to produce the car particulars and then asked me to open the trunk.
Not satisfied, he asked for my identity card even after I explained to him that I was a journalist on press duty.
Unsatisfied, he slapped me with the offence of driving on a one way street, even though the road I had just branched off–the Oshodi-Apapa expressway– has since been normalised as a two-way expressway because of an ongoing construction work on all lanes and articulated trucks obstructing traffic towards the Mile 2 and Tin Can ends.
And then Insp Alabi ordered a junior officer to jump into my car. They were taking me to the station for “driving one-way.”
“Drive this motor. You, take him to the station!” he barked! “I will join you soon.”
I obeyed, driving myself to the slaughter with a stern-looking police officer breathing down my neck.
I was worried he could infect me with coronavirus as he had his face mask hanging from his chin throughout the drive to Aguda police station. So I pulled my mask even closer to cover my mouth and nostrils.
On Brown street in Aguda, I parked the car and told my captor that I needed to make an urgent phone call.
He was having none of it. I disobeyed him anyway and put a phone call across to someone in the governor’s office to relay my predicament, while detailing how I had been kidnapped by police officers.
This governor’s aide asked me to hand the phone to the officer sitting angrily beside me. He refused to be spoken to.
Minutes later, Insp Alabi pulled over in front of us. He was riding in another car he had just booked with all kinds of offences. He alighted from this car and walked briskly to mine.
“What are you still doing here?”
“I am on the phone with someone from the governor’s office and he wants to speak with you,” I said.
“I am not speaking to anybody. Move this car to the station,” Alabi barked again brusquely.
I hung up and obeyed. You don’t want to be arguing with a man with the gun on a lonely Lagos street.
Once at the Aguda police station, Insp Alabi reluctantly agreed to speak to this official in the office of the governor and repeated “my offence” of driving on a one way street, even though this was a blatant lie.
As I sat glumly at the Aguda police station, Insp Alabi extorted money from other motorists; money he would go on to share with other officers sitting idly with guns on an old bench.
They were going to be eating good tonight, I thought to myself.
Occasionally, he would walk toward me and taunt me. “Press abi! You sabi people for governor office. That person wey you call dey come to help you? You people go on the internet and write all kinds of rubbish about us. You write lies. You think you are exposed and educated? I will show you today!”
He was furious because I insisted I had done nothing wrong.
Two hours later, with my Sunday afternoon now ruined, Insp Alabi asked me to park the car in a cramped lot and hand over the keys, “since you no wan drop.”
At this point, I knew I had lost. So I retrieved a wad of Naira notes from the glove compartment of the car and handed the crumpled mass to my aggressor.
“I no dey collect one thousand Naira,” he said. “Add something. See, I go settle other officers wey dey siddon there. Those my Ogas, I go give them N500 each.” He was smiling now.
We were becoming friends.
So, I made it two thousand Naira. “My guy!” he chanted into the still Surulere air.
And then we became friends. Inspector Alabi would go on to tell me about how Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) issue daily financial targets to police officers stationed at roadblocks.
“Yesterday, I couldn’t come to the station because I didn’t meet my target,” he confessed. “Today, business has been better. Once a car comes to this station, the DPO is aware and we have to collect money. That’s why I couldn’t let you go without collecting some money.
“I have to make returns to the DPO. As soon as you come to the station, you have to drop, whether you be governor pikin or not. As far say you don enter this place, you mustu drop,” he said, laughing heartily now as I drove him to his extortion point in Sanya to continue with the business of fleecing other motorists.
The police checkpoint in Sanya is a new one. It never used to be there. As Nigeria imposed lockdowns and curfews to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus however, the checkpoint on that stretch of road that links Ijesha to Aguda and to the rest of Surulere, became inevitable.
Weeks after the coronavirus-induced restrictions were lifted by state and federal governments, the Sanya checkpoint has remained.
“We dey see money here well well. You know say e near express. So, e sure for us,” he offered.
He also told the story of how police officers are pressured by their bosses to extort, how they are given substandard weapons to battle criminality and how he decides not to carry a gun on certain days just so he won’t be tempted to open fire on innocent members of the public in anger.
He doesn’t like the job he is doing, he said. “But how man for do?” He sounded pained and remorseful now; and handed me N500 from the N2,000 I had given him at the station. “You be my guy. You are a young man and I always have pity for young men like you because I know as e dey go.”
We became friends on the drive back as he promised he would call me much later to just talk. He did. At 9:30pm.
However, Inspector Alabi hasn’t called since the night of Sunday, June 14. And I am writing this to remind him that new friends should do better and at least, keep their word.