A young man (he’s a university student in his early twenties so we’ll call him that) was sent by his Mum to withdraw some money from the ATM and then get some things for her from the market before coming back home. He leaves the house at about 10am.
The following takes place in and around the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and Nasarawa State on Monday October 23, 2017.
Said young man decides to run a couple of personal errands after withdrawing the money but before going to the market. He decides to ask for directions as he’s unfamiliar with that particular part of town. He goes along as he’s being directed. Yes, Nigerians can be helpful like that. Every person he asks gives him further directions till he gets quite close to where he wants to go.
At the last moment though, he’s not sure whether to go left or right (you could say he was at a crossroad). He spots a vehicle parked by the side of the road, about three men standing around it. He doesn’t pay much attention to what they are wearing or what they are doing. He just sees that they’re talking and laughing around. He doesn’t notice their guns.
He walks up to them, greets them politely and in his usual manner asks whether he needs to go left or right to get to his destination. That was all he had to say to unleash the beast.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye but in that moment felt like an eternity, he was grabbed, rough-handled and shoved into the vehicle. They use their guns to push and hit him. His head was roughly pushed down so he wasn’t able to see his surroundings.
The other men get in and he was driven around in what he could only imagine was random circles. Finally, the vehicle came to a stop and his head was dragged up. He finally takes note of the men and realise that they are all dressed in black with SARS inscribed across their chests.
SARS stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad. It is the arm of the Nigeria Police that handles robbery cases and is supposed to prevent robberies.
Now, they are all shouting at him, accusing him of being a robber. They roughly empty his pocket where they find, the ATM card, cash and his university ID card. They go on to accuse him of stealing the ATM card and the money. He explains that the card belongs to his mother and he even brings their attention to his ID card which carries the same surname as the ATM card. It seems so obvious at this moment, so straight-forward. He has an identity card, the name matches that on the ATM, he’s a genuine university student, he was asking for directions during the day. It wasn’t even noon yet.
He begins to beg and explain why he was out, where he was coming from and where he was going. He begs and begs and proceeds to talk with them like sensible people. He points out the obvious things like his ID card. They don’t like his ‘audacity’ and accuse him of being rude. They proceed to hit him across the face several times, asking him if they look like his mate.
At this point, they have his money, ATM card and ID card. They begin to hail down hawkers and squander his money on snacks, drinks and the sort. All this while, the young man has his head down in an awkward and hurtful position.
Now, he’s really begging and pleading, saying he’s innocent. He’s begging to be allowed to call his family, to let them know where he is. He is repeatedly asked to shut up. They tell him they will take him to their cell and he will be locked up. He’s refused any privileges as the men continue to spend his money, making jokes among themselves and totally ignoring him as he tries to maintain the clumsy position his body has been bent into.
At this moment, he’s naturally scared, totally unsure of what might happen next. He begins to wonder; is this how people disappear and are never found? Is this how a person’s body might be found mutilated and abandoned after days of being missing? Will he rot in an unknown cell without the knowledge of his family and friends? What about his university education? How will his family cope with never knowing what happened? How can he ever prove his innocence to this men that seem not to care?
A young man sent on an errand for his mother, decides to get a few things done while he’s out. He lives in a free country. There is supposed to be freedom of movement. We are supposedly a free people. We gained independence 57 years ago.
Then why do we still live in bondage? A bondage created by the very people with the responsibility to protect and serve.
Let’s throw around possibilities for a moment.
Suppose this young man had been sent by a struggling mother to withdraw all the money she had left so she could feed her children and possibly have enough left to send them to a ‘free’ public school and maybe have enough left to send her son on his way to manage in the University.
Suppose that money was meant for her sick child who was currently lying helpless and unattended to in a hospital where all the Doctors were scheduled to go on strike in a few hours? Suppose that money was the difference between life and death for that child?
It is now about 19.30. Pitch dark outside. Young man can’t see this as his head is still down. He’s been moaning unintelligent things, silently praying to God. He tries to believe this can’t be the end. It just can’t be. He continues to moan and in his distress, turns to his mother tongue. Pleading his innocence and crying to God.
One of the SARS ‘officers’ hears him and goes to him. They are of the same ethnic group and speak the same language. This man assures the young man he’ll help him since they are ‘brothers’. He goes to speak with his colleagues and after a while they come to him and inform him that he can go. After he quietly asks, they hand back the ATM card and his ID card.
His voice barely audible, he asks if some of his money could be given back to him. He’s not exactly sure where he is and he’s going to need some money to get home. They refuse to give him any money.
He begins to walk away, thankful for his freedom and thinking of how to cross over this new hurdle. Just how will he get back home? It’s dark and even if he didn’t know it before, with his new experience, he doesn’t want to spend the night outside; it is totally unsafe.
The officer who initiated his release comes up behind him and slips him some money. He later finds out that it’s a fraction of the money they collected from him. He’s glad he has been released. His day has been wasted. He wasn’t able to achieve anything he set out to do. And the money he withdrew for a certain purpose has been wasted stupidly. His body hurt terribly and now he has to find his way home.
Meanwhile, at his home, it’s now about 19.30. His family has been worriedly waiting for him. His phone was stolen during a night armed robbery attack at his residence in school a while ago so they can’t reach him.
At this point, their minds have conjured up endless horrible possibilities. As a last resort to a helpless situation, his family decide to take the case to the local police station. They are told that a report can only be accepted after 24hours of disappearance. Their phone numbers are collected just in case. They are told to drop their numbers at all the police stations in the district. After which, they should go to all the hospitals in the district to check their mortuary lists. That is procedure they say.
His family begin this horrible, gruelling process. Moving from station to station with the ever-present possibility of receiving bad news, they continue this for about an hour before they are informed by the others at home that he has arrived. Shaken, tired, hungry and looking totally defeated.
The irony of the situation. Seeking help from the perpetrators themselves. The irony of an anti-robbery squad being the robbers themselves. Using the arms legally supplied to them to fight robbers to commit crimes.
Some may call it corruption, lawlessness, impunity, abuse of power and office…
Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a reality. It’s a horrible and unjustifiable reality.
Where is the justice? How do we get justice? In any other country, it might be clearly outlined. Procedures might be followed and justice might actually be served.
But we live in a country where real justice is as elusive as an incorrupt police officer. Here is a country where fighting for justice would entail hoping you get a fair hearing before a fair judge. Hoping your case gets heard and cleared in your life time. Hoping you don’t fall into the category of the suppressed and unheard.
As unfair and depressing as it is, reality is that fighting for justice is a privilege and getting justice is a whole other ball game.
That’s why we need voices. We need to make noise and insist on being heard. It’s gone on far enough, the status quo needs to change. We need to get our country back.
We hear the stories on the news, from our neighbours, from our friends. Girls being picked up randomly and violently. Accused of being prostitutes. Guys being picked up equally randomly and violently. Accused of being robbers. Treated as ‘guilty until proven guilty’.
SARS is especially infamous for such activities. They are armed and allowed to be anonymous. They are allowed to go about without name tags and covered faces as they perpetrate injustice and violence to innocent people.
The story of this young man is not fiction. It’s not made up. He is a university student.
He could be your friend, your brother, your son. He could be and he has possibly been.
He could be from a destitute, uneducated, struggling family. He could be and he has been.
This time, he is my family and I have decided to speak up and out. Where is justice?
©Oreoluwa Matemilola 2017 All Rights Reserved