THE POLICE CELL: A tale of my first visit

“I know the police cause you trouble. They cause trouble everywhere. But when you die and go to heaven, you find no policeman there” – Woody Guthrie

“When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe” – Mary Frances Berry

 

Let the title of this article not deceive anyone. My first visit! It wasn’t an excursion neither was it a social visit to the police station. I sleep 4 sanko, walahi! And I swear, it was my only visit there. Not twice. Not thrice. Just once!

It’s nothing to be proud of. But honestly, back then, I felt like a rapper thrown into jail. The hood loved me. More street guys paid respects to me. I walked around the area with a swagger. I got free booze because I didn’t snitch on people at the station. I also got free akara balls from Mama Chikezie after I was released.

It was the 10th day of January, 2003. It was a Friday. I had just showed up from the village after the Xmas holidays. The nation felt good. I felt good. Everyone in the area felt good too, except Chikwe whose car was vandalized a couple of weeks earlier. Okpolo had just won 30 grand at the polling house and planned to purchase a new motorcycle. Ebere recently gave birth to a bouncing baby girl. One could literally term my hood the ‘Feel Good Boulevard’. Everyone felt good, I reiterate.

In the evening, I decided I needed a new haircut. But I was dead broke. Broke already in the New Year? Of course na. Money wey I waste for Xmas, no be small o. So I got 100 bucks from my neighbor and promised to pay back in a week.

Walking to the barber’s shop, I never envisioned the evil that would befall me. If I knew, I would have stayed back to watch the FA Cup match going on at a viewing center nearby. But I needed this new haircut so I had to go. Upon arriving at the barber’s, I hailed guys around the place. Now this particular shop was notorious for having a gambling spot in front of it, owned and run by the barber himself. People usually gather around the large billiard table, staking cash, jewelry and any item that could be staked. Surprisingly on this particular day, I discovered that there were only a handful of men surrounding the table. Somewhere not too far away, people gathered around in a circle, shooting dice. I went close by and beheld my neighbor, Izu. “O boi, how far? Na here e dey happen now?”, I inquired. “Baruu the king, how far? Na here e dey happen, my brother. Na here o”, Izu replied. “Why una run comot from David snooker table na?”, I asked. “O boi, this dice game dey easier o. This one na quick cash. Just throw dice for ground, u don make moni be dat. Nobody wan stay for two hours dey play snooker. At the end, na only small money u go make. Na one sharp guy start this one o. I hear say David sef don dey vex say men no dey show again for him snooker table. But nobody send am. Him don make many money. Make him go rest joor”, Izu explained.

I thought briefly about what he said. There was a little bit of frankness in what he just said. I stared at the 100bucks I came with. As usual, impious thoughts took over me. They say when the gods want to kill a king, they first make him mad. I finally decided to shoot dice with my 100bucks at stake. E no matter, I thought to myself. After all, if I lose the 100bucks, nothing spoil! I go still cut my hair later. Now, that’s the devil at work.

I shot the double dice. Lo and behold, I got a 6 and a 5. Men hailed me. Five other guys shot the double dice when their respective turns reached. I got the highest combination. Gracious Lord, I just made me an extra 500bucks. Izu was very happy. He encouraged me to try a second time, this time increasing my stake. Izu is surely the devil’s vessel, I thought.

Alright, I decided to try a second time. My stake was 200bucks. Lo and behold, for the second time, I chop all man money. Kai, this one better pass snooker joor.  I tried a third time. But this time around, I staked 500bucks and lost it. “Baruu, try again and get back your lost bounty”, said the devil to me. I hearkened to his voice, that ancient serpent.

As we waited patiently for the fourth person to shoot the double dice, men started running helter skelter. It was as if a demon was unleashed amongst us. I felt two hands grab me from behind. At that moment, I saw some plain-clothed men running after my co-gamblers. “Ekelebe atu o down, ekelebe o”, shouted young men scurrying to safety. I was unfortunate to be backing the main road, so I didn’t see them coming. Two more cops joined my captor. “We don catch their leader”, one exclaimed. They mistook me for the owner of the joint because I was huge and bigger than everyone. Or so I thought. They captured four of us and bundled us into the bus waiting by the roadside. They kept me in the front seat with a policeman beside me. He had a gun. The journey to that dreaded city began; the journey to the police station. Okoro’s son was sobbing softly at the back. I felt pity for him; his dad was a retired technician. I wondered how he would be able to raise the bail money. I stared out of the window and wondered what went wrong. How could the cops raid this new joint? I had the answer. Someone had snitched. David was the rat!

At the station, we were taken to the interrogation room and kept separately. An officer was assigned to each of us to take down our statements. I saw Ekene at the other end telling the officer he didn’t do anything. He refused to sign the statement the cops had already prepared. He said what they wrote down there wasn’t what he did and as such, won’t sign the document. I saw the officer bring out an object tied around his waist. It was a whip. And with it, he gave Ekene the lashing of his life. No one told him to sign the document quickly. I turned around and stared at the officer assigned to me. He had a wry smile on his lips. He gave me a pen. I didn’t hesitate to sign the document after I saw he had a whip tied around his waist also.

Afterwards, we were made to remove our clothes and belongings. We only had our shorts and briefs on. Before then, I saw my fellow ‘prisoners’ exchanging money. Ekene gave the guy with an afro 5obucks. He had 120 naira left. Okoro’s son begged him to give him 20bucks and he obliged. Immediately, we were taken to the cells.

There were two cells; a big one and a smaller one. There were around 9 or 10 inmates in the big one. They were screaming and banging their fists against the iron bars, asking for ‘fresh meat’. Wisely, I withdrew to the back. The first two guys – Okoro’s son and the guy with an afro – were pushed into the big cell. There was no room to exchange pleasantries. Hot slaps landed on their faces, followed by severe beatings. I made a sign of the cross. But I didn’t know what would befall me in the smaller cell.

We were calmly shoved into the small cell. It smelled of urine and weed mixed together. On the walls were scribbled different words and a picture of Fela was on the east end of the room with the words “Kalakuta Republik” written on top of the picture. There were five guys in the room plus an elderly man who lay on the floor. He had grey unkempt beards and wore a red cardigan. Ekene wasted no time; he quickly brought out the 100bucks he had and handed it over to the chairman. “Na 100 naira u bring come for us? U hear say na begger dem full cell? Boys, make una begin am”, the chairman shouted. I had to stand and watch in horror as the other four beat up Ekene. After a couple of minutes, it was my turn. Immediately, I sensed an overwhelming power overtake me. It was like the spirit came over me. I quickly fell on my knees and with arms stretched out wide, I pleaded with the chairman that I had no money on me. I told him I was an innocent guy who sold recharge cards when the cops picked me up. My pleas fell on deaf ears as I had to go through a thorough body search, followed by candle wax poured on my bare back and an extra few minutes of beating and battering before they left me alone. I promised heaven and earth. I told them I would make sure I got some cash from my relatives (when they come to bail me) and hand it over to them. Eventually, kalakuta republik became calm again.

We all struck up a friendship. Each inmate told tales of their struggles. They all were normal hustlers. One inmate had a weed farm and sold the product to support his parents, five siblings and a grandmother. He wondered why his 90year old granny was still alive while he lost one sibling a year ago. “I swear, that women na witch wey dey suck children blood”, he said. We all laughed at the silly joke. All the while, the old man lay on the floor, motionless. The chairman assured us he wasn’t dead. We all smoked some joint together. We all felt like victims of the system; victims of police brutality.

At about 11pm, I heard an officer call my name. I stood up abruptly. He came towards our cell with a bunch of keys and opened the cell door. “Your people don show. Comot make you dey waka”, he exclaimed. I felt relieved. “Hey you, remember our agreement o. Just bring my dough”, the chairman said. Evil man, I thought to myself. I thought he had slept off. This guy head strong o. After two wraps of kpoli the guy eye still clear. I promised him I would be back with the cash once I reached the counter. I left the cage and walked towards our lawyer, mother and elder brother. They were standing at the other end of the counter. Mumsie gave me a stern look. I didn’t care. I didn’t give a phuck. All that mattered was that I was finally out.

These days, whenever I am in an unholy place or an unholy situation, I am always on the lookout for cops; those evil beings and harbingers of doom for young men seeking whom to devour. They won’t catch me again, I’ve sworn. The snare of the fowler shall not behold me again. Na so!

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