Of all the lawyering I have to do, my least favourite “beat” is the police station. Every once or twice a year however, there’s either a distress call from someone whose relative needs bailing or there’s a need to follow up on some matter or the other for someone who’s commissioned an investigation. Neither is a more pleasurable visitation than the other because, as far as the police are concerned, you’re there to negotiate an extraction, be it of a suspect or documentation. Note I said negotiate and not demand, because it’s not law – it’s all a transaction. Bail isn’t free and neither is getting the police to properly do what they ought – investigate and solve crime.
My first post-call visit to a police station was with the Director of Public Prosecutions in Calabar, during my NYSC year. The smell was rancid and there were half-naked men, begging with all the energy that was left in them, that we buy them bread from the girl walking past, hawking. We didn’t (how does the head of prosecutions buy food for suspects while on an official visit?) and it seems one of them broke into tears. I have either carried that rancid stench with me in my head over the years, or all police stations have that combined smell of putrefying bodily waste and grey matter.
Another time, an idiot driving a long vehicle swerved in front of me without warning and took off my entire front bumper. The whole world, including the police at the scene, knew he was liable but he refused to accept (not being the owner of the truck), so we ended up going to the police station. Apart from having to pay a N5,000 “VIO Fee” (there was no inspection) to “bail’ my car, I was shaken by another incident that occurred while I was writing my statement. A man was brought in in cuffs and told to sit beside me on the bench. Apparently, someone had a stabbed a trader and run into this man’s shop and, somehow, he’d allegedly helped the stabber escape. About 10 minutes after he arrived, still sitting beside me, word reached the station that the stabbed trader had died before reaching the hospital. “You’re in big, big trouble, this man,” the arresting officer said and then dealt him that vicious Police/Soldier/MOPOL slap we’ve all heard about. I swear an air tsunami blew from the man’s face to mine, causing my face to sting.
This past week, I was at a SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad)office, to follow up on an arrest for theft and the ensuing investigation. There were lots of men walking about with automatic weapons and guns always make me edgy. More than this, I was being given the runaround because I was trying to negotiate my way out of a 10% recovery fee. But shhhh! no one in authority is to know about this . And if you believe our President, quoting an Adolphus Hitler, corruption only exists because we don’t stop talking about it.
While waiting, one police officer, who also finds time to farm, began to complain about the lack of real government support for farming. He ridiculed last year’s telephone intervention, as well as this year’s fertiliser reforms. “They’ve taken our names, for over 5 weeks now, no fertiliser. But I’m sure they’ve used our names to process the money.” Then he segues into how he used to be on patrol at the ports, guarding the fertiliser silos. “They take over 70% to the North”, he alleged, “but it doesn’t even stay there…it crosses the border into Niger and Chad!” Those evil Niger and Chad borders again.
Another officer walked in and complained that the place smelled “like a bloody hospital.” I reckon he was from another division. “Oh, there are robbery suspects next door”, he was informed, “and they have bullet wounds. They get treatment while in custody.” I squirmed a little more.
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