The story you are about to read is not a fiction. The protagonist is not a character in a novella with the setting in Lagos. Akpan is not the figment of my imagination. This piece is not a story made up to reinforce the brutality of the police in Nigeria, especially those renegade police officers of the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences Unit.
Akpan is the symbol of the ordinary, powerless Nigerian who continues to be subjected to the inhuman and degrading treatment our police are notorious for. That the Nigeria Police commits extrajudicial killings and murders is an established fact. The story you are about to read just confirms what has been documented in various reports of human rights violations by the police.
Last week, I wrote about the painful death of the young Nigerian mother, Ruth Chime, who died at child birth to illustrate how our country’s health care system kills her citizens. This week, I will relate how the typical Nigeria police officer and the police institution he represents have become a danger to the ordinary citizens of this country. But do not get me wrong. There are good police officers. The Nigeria Police Force also has in its fold gentlemen except that the bad eggs seem to have outnumbered the few good ones.
These perception and illegal activities of the bad eggs in the police force are what is making the world paint the entire police as a group of renegades not different from criminals. It is not even by coincidence that Nigerians like to refer to our security agents, especially the police, as “criminals in uniform”.
Now, let me introduce Daniel Akpan and his travails in the hands of the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences Unit to you. I spoke to Akpan and his sister in Lagos the other day. Like every young Nigerian, Akpan had finished his West African Senior School Certificate Examination a year ago. After his examination, he had looked forward to joining his elder sister in Lagos. His sister, Esther Akpan, works as an office assistant in a private firm. Every month end, she repatriates some money to their village to take care of their siblings and aged parents.
Akpan, like all young people, was elated to join his sister in Lagos. They both managed the one-roomed apartment in the Ikeja area of Lagos. Arriving in December, Esther had found a job for her brother in a restaurant where he worked as a waiter. He also worked hard knowing it was the only chance he had to escape the grinding poverty and joblessness many of his friends are currently experiencing in the village.
He hated the thought of returning to the village. He just could not afford to return to the life he left behind. Lagos offers more opportunities, he could reckon. For the first time, he was earning a salary he could only dream of in his village. Life was looking good and promising. Soon, he would save enough money to sit for the university entrance examination. But that was not to be. Officers of the Lagos Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences Unit stopped his dream midstream. For now, Akpan’s dream has been put on hold.
One night, as he was returning from work, he ran into a chaotic scene in a street in Ikeja where the men of the task force were arresting people indiscriminately. Akpan did not even know the terrain very well. He was just getting used to Lagos. The police officers with their black pick-up van were on an illegal duty. They were conducting a raid and collecting bribes from those who could afford to bail themselves out of the situation at the moment.
Akpan innocently walked into their ambush. He was arrested amid feeble protestations and hurled into the back of the van and handcuffed like a criminal. He was just some months old in Lagos, a boy just out of secondary school. He was 16 years. He cried and begged the police officers. He told them he was just a new comer to Lagos. He said he was not an armed robber. He was an innocent boy coming from work. Akpan was scared. He thought he was going to die. He knew he could end up dead.
The police could tell the world he was an escapee armed robber and shot him. Many have died like that when the police parade them as suspects and shoot them because they were under pressure to deliver the real suspects. But that Friday night, on August 26, Akpan was driven round a few stops where other arrests were made and taken to a mass centre in Ikeja. The young boy, who left his village with the hope of “making it in Lagos”, had suddenly become a “suspect” in a detention centre.
He was asked to pay N5,000 that night. He managed to call his sister from another suspect’s phone. She came but could not gain access. An officer had also allegedly tried to extract sexual favour from her so he could help get her brother out. The next day, the task force took them to Kirikiri Prisons. It was during this time that I met Akpan’s sister who narrated the act of inhumanity of the Lagos task force towards her brother.
They hid their names and some wore polo t-shirts with no name tags except the “Police” boldly printed on them. The fourth day, the task force arrived at the prison and transferred them to the Agege High Court where they were put on hurried trial for various trumped-up charges of loitering, constituting a nuisance and other ridiculous charges. Esther told me she spent a sizable sum of money to get her brother off the hook.
She emptied her savings to save her brother. Akpan was said to have beaten, harassed and stripped naked and given the treatment not even a hardened criminal could endure just because he was returning home from work. He was so traumatised that he could not eat for days. In just a few months in Lagos, he had been made to see the bitter side of living in the city. The sister told me how he had nightmares of his nights in Kirikiri. As she spoke, I just imagined myself in the same situation. I had remembered coming to Lagos too at that age as a starry-eyed teenager looking for admission in the university.
Some days ago, Akpan left Lagos for his home state. He sees Lagos as one big massive prison now. He has returned to his parents and vowed never to return. As I listened to Esther, I was pained that Akpan could not identify the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences Unit officer who beat him up and almost blinded him. What happened that night was gross violations and man’s inhumanity to man. I also recall that shortly after the raid, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode wrote to the Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Fatai Owoseni, asking for the redeployment of the officers of the state’s task force.
The request came in the wake of that Friday’s raids in different parts of Lagos by officers of the task force, leading to rough treatment and arrests of innocent citizens. According to Ambode, “preliminary investigation showed that the unauthorised raid was carried out with the knowledge of the Second in Command to the Chairman of the Taskforce, SP Taiwo Adeoluwa, without the approval of the Chairman, SP. Saheed Olayinka Egbeyemi.”
To assuage the hurt of the likes of Akpan, the officers should not just be redeployed but must be brought to book. This will go a long way in making Lagos safe for Nigerians like Daniel Akpan.