Like most things you do, you are not sure why exactly you did it. You are adept at working your way backward, making sense of an impulsive move. You know this reconstruction business: how to add rhyme and reason to what an honest person might call mere foolishness.
It was not reading all week about Bobby Sands who killed himself while fighting the British that made you suddenly animated when Emeka, the policeman on duty at the junction not far from your house asked why you were moving around at an ungodly hour and called you a suspect. It was - your five minutes of honest self-searching now confirms to you - mere foolishness.
Reading the story of the motorcyclist who was shot dead by a Nigerian policeman, you realize how close you were to having hot lead from Emeka’s rifle lodged in your chest, and ruining your favorite bright blue t-shirt. And it was the time of night when any story would have seemed plausible. Drug Dealer Trying To Escape Smart Men Of The Nigerian Police or Armed Robber Killed In A Shootout With Brave Men Of The Nigerian Police. Emeka might have even gotten a commendation for his quick thinking as eager Abuja journalists would be feeding t their cameras on your corpse. Thinking back, you are not sure your friends would have had the courage to fight for you- you would not even judge them if they doubted your innocence in the matter.
Retelling the story to the first person who asked, your reconstruction skills added reason to your actions: You refused to be insulted by a policeman on duty. It was important to stand your ground in the face of insulting suggestions by Emeka that you might have been a criminal because according to him, “only criminals move around at this time of the night.” That was why you told him not to speak to you in that manner, and why he further threatened your liberty and life.
You are on your way home, late at night again a few days after that police incident. Your cab driver is stopped by another set of policemen in the same area on the outskirts of the city. One of them is visibly drunk. He asks both of you to get down from the vehicle. He rummages through trash in the back seat. He asks for vehicle particulars. He squints as he traces the writing on the papers with his index finger. The way he tries to mouth the words confirms to you he either has sight challenges or is barely literate. It takes him almost 20 minutes to look through the papers. Everything in your body tells you to say something, ask him why he is deliberately delaying you, playing games. But this man is not as sober as Emeka was. For once, you do not say what you think, what you feel. Eventually another policeman who has just finished peeing in a gutter nearby lights a cigarette and drags the driver away to advice him.
“You see this our Oga. Na very wicked man. If e carry you go station this night, na suffer you go suffer. How much you get?”
You cannot remember using so much energy to restrain yourself. You watch as the policeman finally makes a demand for
cab driver is obstinate. Even though he has no valid driver’s licence because
according to him, his new one was being processed, he said flatly to the
policeman that he could not give him N500.
“You dey try prove stubbornness abi?”
“How I go try to prove stubbornness? I no fit give you 500.”
You stop grinding your teeth and you lose your frown. You are proud of this cab driver who would rather go to the station than give these policemen a bribe of
N500. In the end the Policemen see another
car coming and they throw his papers at him and let him go. You are both quiet as
you continue your journey home. Two men foolish enough to defy the police at an
hour when any shooting can be made to look legal. You want to tell this cab
driver that you are proud of him. Instead you smile. He can feel it, how proud
you are. It is not something you can explain. You just know he can feel it.
You can say now that meeting an armed policeman at night in Nigeria should be treated like meeting an armed robber. Comply first, complain later. Anything else is foolishness.