Wetin You Carry! A Therapeutic Metaphor?

by Charles Sogbesan

Stop flouting my orders! A bold headline ascribed to the former Inspector General of Police (Mike Okiro) in one of Nigeria’s new dailies. The “Punch” newspaper (January 24th) to be exact. Catchy as it was, it made for a congenial peruse. So what exactly was the stink about?
Apparently the “custodian caliph” of the Nigerian Police force had just about had it with
“Orders being flouted”, subordinate inattention, un circulated circulars. Orders were being disobeyed. IG Okiro was angry. Or so it seemed.

Subordinates had plausibly been writing unnecessary petitions to extort money from Nigerians.
Despite Oga’s “warning”, senior police officers still continued the habit of covering the number plates of their vehicles. Area “commanders were not conducting quarterly inspection tours and were (hence) not sending him “quarterly reports. Case files were being abandoned. Policemen were writing petitions and directing such petitions to themselves with the sole aim of extorting money
(Indirectly from the government).N502 million was the amount the “NPF” had paid in damages. N502 million!

Another daily reported the exasperation of “Oga” regarding the dismantling of illegal Police checkpoints. “I have told you people times without number to stop these unnecessary practice”
“Stop these illegal checkpoints”

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what qualifies for a policy statement in the year 2009!
This is policy action: Nigeria version
In the FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, the head of the Nigeria police force was getting frustrated about the lack of cohesion within his rank and file. The Oga “Patapata” was having difficulty getting his “message” across to his rank and file.

In the year when the US of A was sending another probe to the moon, to find out more about the presence of water in the 5th largest satellite in the Solar system.
In the year that the Peoples Republic of China was celebrating the 60 years of a “successful” grand experiment.
In the year that the “Most powerful Nation” in the world inaugurated the son of Africa to lead them.
In the year that a tiny South American country sentenced one of its former leaders to 25 years in prison for ordering killings and kidnappings by security forces (A anomaly in a “3rd world).
Powerful people usually get away with murder.

This is what we have.
Wetin you carry is a metaphor. It is the shame of a continent. A nation of 155 million people.
An unfulfilled promise. Totally inept, uninteresting, visionless, violent and lacking character.
Equally depressing, because she will be 50 years old next year (2010)

An act, as mundane as driving around the city of Port Harcourt, Lagos or Abuja or Kano will question your subtle nuances. Don’t worry this is not 1885.
Visit some of the police stations and you’ll get equally bedeviled to a catatonic state.
This cant be 2009. All the constant police sirens, the incessant “Police escort” aggressive driving. Operation Yaki, operation move away, operation commot for road.

When you start questioning, this is when things get very challenging.
I happen to belong to an eclectic group. So, I like to flatter myself.
I love to explore, I like to encounter cultures. I am also a lover of motorcycles and photography.
I AM A BIKER (not the commercial type, though I have nothing but sympathy for them)

Africa!, for me presents the greatest potential for exploration and the most challenging because of the effects of colonial “carve up”. One minute you have to speak English to your fellow African, the next minute, it will be worse than the “Tower of Babel”, because your fellow African can only communicate in Spanish or for the most part French. Worse still, traveling within your own Africa can be 10 times perilous than say a travel from France to Norway or a Trans European travel, which I have humbly done.

Regardless, because of our DNA, we ride, explore, take in the cultures. We ride regardless and as of yesterday we are still riding. Don’t be too surprised, that in additional to encountering “weird Europeans” in beat up Land rovers traveling across Africa; you’ll encounter Africans exploring Africa.

However, because of the perils of African travel, sometimes we are just content within national boundaries. Whenever the opportunity arises, I for one get on my motorcycle and I ride. I ride, like some of my iconoclastic (not of the religious type) colleagues in Nigeria. Sometimes I ride alone, sometimes I ride in groups. “Power Bike” is the affable you’ll hear from curious Nigerians when you encounter them.
We do it for different reasons; some do it to get away from the rigors of work. Some do it to get away from the monotony of Monday to Friday. Some do it to pretend they are not in “Africa” for its let downs and disappointments. Most do it just for the love of it.

My adventurous nature brought me to Abuja a few years back. Riding in a group, we arrived at night, in what was one of my good experiences about the beauty of Africa had a good rest and promptly very early the next morning I decided to go for a good ride all by my lonesome. Camera in tow, the possibilities were exciting.
The rock, the mosque, the church, the boat house, the “central bank” Asokoro.

Especially I had, not been in this confusing city in years. Low and behold, I found myself in what seemed at the time to be a perfect picturesque area. I parked my bike and started snapping away at the various buildings, landscape and activity.
Within what seemed like a minute, out came about 7 plain clothes men.
They grabbed my camera, grabbed the strap from my neck and wanted to wrestle me to the ground. In hindsight, my ignorance actually saved my life.

Thinking I was being robbed, I fought and started swinging my arms (fist clenched) like a maniac, I was able to get away, got on my bike and sped off. In what I found out later were the men of Nigeria’s SSS (State security Service). They had never seen a reaction like that, especially for a “lone ranger” stupid civilian (taking pictures in front of the “SSS” building)

I got to the hotel and told my “friends” that I had just been robbed.
One (A Northern Extract) who was quite familiar with Abuja asked me to describe where I was robbed. I described and he started to laugh. I mentioned his tribal affiliation as this would later have an interesting significance in this interesting part of my encounter.
This was quite an unexpected reaction considering what had just happened. 5 minutes of a lowered blood pressure later, he said,
Charlie! that was the SSS building. On the other side is the “House of (Representatives) Parliament.

I had not been fighting off armed robbers, I had be fighting (Trying to get away from) the men of the SSS.

All these unnecessary stress for taking pictures?
Having been reassured that I was “Bike Jacked” I asked a fellow rider (Yoruba) together with some of the other riders to go with me and collect my camera. The Yoruba “Friend” declined out of fear, apathy, till today I still question.

My northern fellow rider decided it was not a big deal.
We all did not need to go to the SSS (Office) building; we did not need to make a scene.
He (and another of his friend) would just go with me. Still thinki

ng I was in a twilight Zone, we went to the SSS building together. A journey of about 6 minutes from our hotel seemed to take the whole bit of 1 hour.

Surprised, they let us in. An encounter that I will summarize to prevent from the goal of this piece. We went through what seemed a never ending labyrinth of “signing in” metal detectors, confusing staircases and finally ending up being interrogated by numerous security agents. At some point, I was the only person allowed into one of the final destinations.

In the process, of some of the interrogations, the competency of the men of the Nigerian Security
Service, I would question over and over and over again. I promptly told them, first if I did anything wrong, it was that I was in scuffle with security officers. If anything, I thought they were armed robbers. For that alone I apologized.

Oga, how can we know you?
Why are you taking picture in this sensitive area?
Who are you?
I thought of be cheeky, as the questions were baffling and equally nugatory

Since when has taking the picture of a rock been a security risk? I asked myself
Since when has taking the picture of a parliament building been a security risk?
Since when has taking the picture of a park being a security risk?
Since when has taking the picture of a scenic highway being a security risk?

Of course, I said this loudly, lips sealed. The last thing I wanted to do was piss off the “SSS”.
I was just taking pictures; I am with a group of Nigerians together with a few “Oyinbos’.
The mention of “Oyinbo (Foreign whites)”It was like opening a Pandora’s Box. You must be a spy!
That was the best compliment anyone had paid me in years. Me a OO7?
Ian Fleming, are you listening?
Again I said this loudly, with my lips sealed.
I surely did not make this trip to take a widely available picture (Internet and Google earth)

Oga you have American bike, who send you?
They asked for permission (Nice) to look through my camera, I consented.
The various beautiful Landscape pictures of Ile Ife, Ilesha, Akure, Owo, Lokoja and Jos refuse to confuse them.
You mean you people just ride for no reason?

This was going to be a tough one.
What were this “White “people doing in my camera.
Again, I didn’t think I had to exclude “Expatriates” from my camera lenses.
Again, I refuse to say what I was thinking

Will you take picture of the house of congress in America? He asked
Again, an inner laughter, but I answered yes,
Thousands do it every year.
As a matter of fact, tourism is a big income earner for the US of A
Will you take the picture of the White house?
I was getting exasperated by the sheer audacity of the questions, but I answered anyway

Finally, a gentleman who I will later find out was from the South-South (Niger Delta) came in, an eloquent, tall and amiable agent, he seemed. A seemed like a bigger OGA.
His appearance betrayed his accent, for he was in full northern babanriga with a cap to match, as if a decoy from his real self.
A few going back and forth, he realized the mistake his men had made, especially having gone out of the interrogation room to confirm my story with Aminu (Not his real name), my friend.

Not having to make the phone call to the typical Nigerian “Big Man”, was relief for me.
A complete waste of 6 hours. I was lucky. Maybe because of my sheer innocence and ignorance,
I still will not know till today. I probably would still have gone to the same location, gotten off my bike, but would have asked: Gentlemen, shey u na no mind make I take picsoo (picture) for this side. An acquiesce to their reverent existence.

We were let go, not before deleting some of my precious pictures (which they considered “security risk”. I shook hands with some of the agents at the entrance as we departed. At which 1 question ran though ran through my head. You people don’t want to be the enemy of the west. All it takes is a person with high level security clearance in a bunker somewhere in Virginia pressing a button. That’s all it takes, a button. Laser guidance will do the rest.

Naturally, lots of questions kept flashing through my mind. I will leave those questions for intelligence of my readers.

Stop flouting my orders! Was the best policy statement an inspector general of police could come up with?
In 2009, with illegal road blocks, exploitation of commercial drivers, exploitation of market traders, derelict 80 year old police stations. That’s pretty much it. Stop flouting my orders!
Disconcerting police living conditions, reckless driving by police escorts, inadequate and inferior ammunition. Squalid police residential barracks, Yep that’s it. We are trying awa (our) best.
We need more budget. With Kenny Martins walking free, retired IG,s owning shopping malls, this argument is had to defend.

A while back, I made a left turn to proceed past Marina to the Mainland in Lagos (On my Bike naturally). I can get to business meetings in half the time change my clothes, hand my suit to my assistant and be home 3 hours before my driver (A ‘safety” must have in Nigeria).
As I made the left turn , out of no where came a MOPOL, mobile policeman, with both pants (Police khaki trouser) rolled up to his knees, as if to mimic present day Hip-hop rappers.
What distinguished him from a rapper was the lack of bling and the presence of Flip flops on his feet together with a Kalashnikov (not sure) loosely strapped on his back.

Apparently, I had made an “illegal” entry to “restricted zone”. He grabbed the keys to my motorcycle, turned the engine off and simply walked away. At this time, I had no idea what I had done wrong. Furious was an understatement. I parked without the aid of a running engine and walked aggressively towards him. There were about 6 of them sitting down in what I found out was the central bank.

What exactly did you take my key; I shouted at him, he was shocked. The nerve of this bloody civilian he must have thought.
Oga, you no know say Okada (Chinese commercial motorcycles) no they come this side?
There were a thousand things I could say to him, like,
Where is the sign that says no left turn?
Where is the sign that says no motorcycles?
Where is the sign that says no commercial motorcycles?
Where is the sign that says restricted zone?

Clairvoyance being some of my weakest points made my fate almost sealed in this society of unspoken laws, unspoken rules and arbitrary implementations of justice.

With a little street wise, decent conversation and steely demeanor, I got my keys back, no egunje
(Bribe) given. Sometimes, I wonder if my luck will run out. If someday I will throw decorum out of the window and protest an injustice. Sometimes I wonder.

A few years ago I was robbed of my Lap-top at a hotel and promptly went to the police station to
“Lodge a complaint”. Naturally, the hotel workers were my first suspects, as I am very guarded in my conversations and irregular in my movements.

The first words out of the police superintendent on duty was and I quote “Oga you will see us ohh”
I the “victim” was about to be victimized again. What made the theft nettlesome was the fact that I had a project that I had been working on for 9 months (to help in the economic development of my state). Such is the irony in a society with such potential and consistent failures

After witnessing what I would consider torture of the suspects, I had a conversation with my conscience and begged the officers to let them go. I ended having sympathy for my potential perpetrators.

The travails o

f average Nigerians in the hands of over zealous policemen are well documented.

Equally sad, depressingly wry because we are Africans, is what happens when policemen have encounters with soldiers or sailors. Civility, order, safety continues to elude us.
Add a dose of mismanagement, apathy and my favorite African word (Corruption).

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