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Highway Demons

I drank the dry air in the atmosphere of my ancestral town in Anambra state; we had
just buried my aunt, but I couldn’t help feeling guilty that my emotions were
elsewhere. Twelve hours since our encounter with the police officers on the highway
but the sweaty scent of the officer who drove our car to the Ugboneki police station
was still vivid.   

Over the years, Nigerian police have become a huge reason for concern among
citizens because of their reputation of detaining young people hoping to extort
thousands of naira off them.

While their unofficial motto says ‘police is your friend’ videos of policemen taking
the lives of noncompliant men and women that led to many protests have proven
otherwise.

That Wednesday afternoon we passed several check points stationed along the
highway from Lagos, and just getting pulled over three times, until we arrived at
Benin-bypass. There were five officers all wearing tattered bulletproof vests that
conveniently hid their identities.

My brother-in-law pulled the car over the corner of the road. Ahead was the billboard
to the polytechnic in that area.

“What is this?”  The tallest of the group said, as he stuck his hands in the side
compartment of the car at the driver’s seat.

“It’s my nail polish glue,” my sister answered from the passenger’s seat. As soon as
he heard this, the officer returned the nail polish back to where he picked it.

The police officer asked my brother-in-law to step out of the vehicle, he did as he was
told and followed him towards their van along with the other armed officers, thinking
it was one of those situations where they propose “something for the boys”. 

Five minutes later, Sam returned to the car infuriated with two officers escorting him
with their rifle held closely.

 “Oya pull out your phone,” the officer who had put his hands in the car to search
earlier yelled as he brought out everything he could find in the car door compartment.

 “What’s this?” he yelled.

My sister and I stepped out from the car to see what mystery illegal item he detected
in our vehicle.

“Three Igbo seeds, no be the ordinary type sef, this na Ghana Igbo,” the officer
exclaimed in pidgin while gathering his colleagues to see the marijuana seeds.

 
Highway Demons

We looked at one another perplexed as the officer declared Sam under arrest. They
used their guns to show him to their van. 

In 2009, amnesty international published a report on the extrajudicial executions and


other unlawful killings by the Nigerian police. This document explained that there are
hundreds of humans in such situations, slain for either failure to pay a bribe or due to
the use of excessive force by police during arrests.

According to amnesty international, many officers who carry out these killings claim
their victims where often robbers trying to escape custody, and because of our failed
judicial system majority of these cases close without investigation.

That moment made me realize I had forgotten what my sister looked like when she
cried. Among us four children, she had always appeared the most put together, so
seeing her cry while shoving her phone into the officers face to show them pictures of
their babies they’d left at home was new, it also turned out to be an act she hoped
would guarantee our safety.

“Don’t worry,” she mouthed when the officers weren’t looking.

Alarms went off in my head whenever the officer touched his gun as he aggressively
told Sam he was stubborn for denying the two marijuana seeds in the car belonged to
us.

The officers’ reaction when we insinuated that the alleged seeds belonged to one of
them made us realize they had caught us in a bear trap and the only way out was
cooperation.

“We took the car to the mechanic.” Became our defence as the officers whipped out a
camera phone and forced my brother-in-law to admit having marijuana in his car
while they recorded.

A while ago, I’d read satirical phrases, which included real-life quotes by police
officers shared by a user named Galactico on a popular Nigerian forum, Nairaland.
One of them read,  

If you run, you’ll only go to jail tired.”

Possibilities of my sister explaining to my niece and nephew that their dad wouldn’t
be coming home, made me sick.
Highway Demons

“Madam you no dey say anything?”

One officer asked, returning me back to reality. I hadn’t realized I was staring through
him while all of this played out.

“Una no ready,” the officer who planted the seeds said, while mockingly reminding
my sister that her tears meant nothing.

An hour passed with us still at the checkpoint, and after a long series of back and
forth, they instructed us to get into our vehicle with an armed officer in the driver seat.

“Oga please make we settle,” we pleaded while he struggled to put the vehicle in gear.

Now ready to name to name his price, he fiddled with the gear a little more before
asking us to put our phones away.  

“Do you have five hundred thousand,” he asked looking over his shoulder to Sam,
who now sat beside me at the back seat.

The fact this officer kept reminding us on the ride to the Ugboneki police station that
he was a man of God who had carried out many arrests made me even more anxious,
anxious. History has seen a lot of innocent people die in the name of God.

Whenever we made the officer an offer, he called the other policemen riding in a
black salon Lexus behind us. He spoke in the native language whenever he was on the
phone, except for the one time he put the phone on speaker so we heard the person on
the other line tell him to drive us to their headquarters.

“Official arrest” the officer said as he drove us by another checkpoint. My eyes met
with that of the officer who drilled our abductors.  In that moment, I foolishly thought
our redemption had arrived in the form of another policeman, before he waved at him
to carry on.

As our car crawled on the highway leading to the police station, my sister explained
further that we were on our way to our aunts burial, she explained to him how
important our presence was especially since our aunt never got married or had
children.

“You mean say she never do am with man?” was his response while he chuckled. 

At the station, a light-skinned officer who followed us from the checkpoint tried to
sympathize with us, but he wasn’t fooling anyone.

It wasn’t until we arrived at the station that we discovered we weren’t alone, as the
black Lexus that tailed behind us belonged to a young man who they also arrested for
possessing an illegal substance.

 
Highway Demons

My sister in a moment of desperation pulled out a hundred-dollar bill coupled with an


extra seven thousand naira and assured the officers that was all the money we had,

“Be like say una never ready, that other man don dey write statement.”  Our abductor
told us while pointing at the door leading into the building.

One last time, he and his colleagues regrouped, and finally agreed.  

An hour and thirty minutes was how long they held us between the highway and
police station. According to the officers, they only took what we were offering
because of God.  

Every second that passed during our arrest, I felt a knot tighten in my chest as my
anxiety, crept in.

During this time, I took long breaths that led to the officer tauntingly asking if I
suffered an aliment.

“I go drive you go hospital where you go pay for treatment then carry you back to
station.”

Thoughts of the open road have always scared me with no direct reason, other than
insecurity, but someone found solace in the excessive checkpoints.

In minutes my peace became my trigger.

I don’t know when next I’ll find myself on the road. My heart beat faster at the
thought of travelling back home to Lagos, as my ancestral state has no airport yet.

As we left the station, I thought of the owner of the Lexus taken into the building. I
wondered if he would be another statistic of the young men and women who
mysteriously went missing after being stopped by these demons on our highways.