by Utukwa Bemshima Benedict
The day was 30th June, 2014. I had left the house about 6:30pm with my young friend Teryila tagging along. Quite recently, we had discovered Mama Nkechi, a food joint three streets from where we lived and had formed an evening ritual of going there to eat. We often argued that it was difficult to eat at Mama Nkechi’s place and not return the next day.
So, every evening, by 6:30pm, Teryila and I would leave the house and stroll to Mama Nkechi’s place where we would eat rice, beans, salad and beef. The place was a typical ‘mama put’ with a low wooden table surrounded with wooden benches.
As time progressed, visiting Mama Nkechi’s joint was no longer about the food but also the entertainment. She also operated a drinking joint beside the food joint where she sold cigarettes, beer, wine and spirits. The wine and spirits were often measured in small cups and sold to the young men for as low as 20 and 50 naira.
Most of the young men in that area usually gathered around Mama Nkechi’s joint every evening to eat, drink and make merry. To Teryila and I, mama Nkechi rapidly became a place to while away the evening among funny and carefree youth. We often sat quiet and apart from the young men laughing secretly at their jokes and antics, and with time they came to respect us as harmless visitors who enjoyed their show. Whenever the clock struck 8:30 pm, we would rise silently and take our leave after paying our bills.
This ritual continued for over a month. We often avoided the main road and chose the shorter route through dusty inner streets and backyards on our way home.
One night, we left mama Nkechi’s place by 8:30pm as usual, and because the Power Holding Company had seized the light, I told Teryila we would follow the main road since the inner streets would be too dark to walk.
We hit the main road and started our short walk home. Just when we were about to enter the street where we lived, a Toyota Hilux van suddenly stopped in front of us and three men jumped out. We were so taken aback we stopped. Immediately, the three men dressed in police uniforms surrounded us. Two held long rifles.
“Who are you?” one shouted in a brusque voice.
“Where are you coming from?” Yet another barked.
I calmly told them we had gone to eat and we were already close to home.
All we heard was “Get in.”
Teryila tried to protest but I told him to calm down and get into the back of the Police Hilux van. The van was already brimming with other citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Sitting beside us on the floor of the van was a middle aged man who kept saying, “I am a staff of the State Government! I didn’t do anything wrong, I just went to see my elder brother at the hotel!”
After ranting for some time and trying to proclaim to me his innocence, taking time to explain to me in detail why he was arrested, he pulled out his phone and called someone whom he narrated the same tale to. He kept protesting and proclaiming his innocence until we got to the station.
They took us to the police B’ Division and ordered us all to get behind the thick concrete counter. Meanwhile, while we had been riding to the police station in the back of the Hilux, I had put a call through to my uncle who was a highly placed individual in the State. The network had been really bad and I wasn’t even sure if he heard me properly. I just reeled out the story of what was transpiring and where I thought they were taking us.
When we got to the station I met different people. Standing in a corner behind the counter was a young girl who couldn’t have been more than eighteen years old. She was dressed in a white tank top and a blue mini-skirt and was busy chewing noisily at a chewing gum. An elderly man who claimed he was her father stood on the other side of the counter admonishing her for leaving the house. She stood stubbornly, hands akimbo, and was looking away from the elderly man.
One of the police officers asked the man, “Oga, you sure say na your daughter be this?” Then without waiting for a reply he said, “I no sure. If na your daughter she no go the disrespect you like this.” After much prodding however, the young girl said she had left the house to get recharge card when she was picked up by the police. She was asked to produce the card; she said she had dropped it when the police had picked her up.
Meanwhile by my side, Teryila was busy fuming and ranting about his aunt who was a police officer whom he had called.
On the other end, a group of young boys with sagging slim jeans and boots were herded into a corner. From their looks it was obvious they had started partying early and were heading somewhere else to complete it when they had been apprehended.
They took all our belongings; belts, phones, cash and any other thing we had on us, leaving us with only our clothes.
Shortly afterwards, Teryila’s father arrived with his uncle and begged for our release but to no avail.
The verdict was simple; we were going to pass the night at the station and the next morning, everyone would be bailed with three thousand naira. No amount of begging was going to change the verdict. Some of the parents who came were told to go home and come back the next morning.
Suddenly, I heard someone call out, “Atakwa! Atakwa!” At first I didn’t budge, my name was ‘Utukwa’ not ‘Atakwa’. But after sometime, when no one else got up, I figured it was probably me.
“Yes,” I said, rising up from where I was sitting.
“You are free to go,” the police man said.
“Oh really?” I got up and held Teryila by the hand. “Time to go,” I said.
Everyone turned and looked at us perplexed. I suppose they were wondering which string I had pulled.
The police officer stopped us and said he had only been told one person could leave. I explained to him that I had been with Teryila when we were picked and there was no way I was leaving him behind. He looked at me, then at his colleagues as if seeking for clarification. They pretended to be seriously writing in their old exercise book and ignored him.
“I will have to call the DPO then,” he finally said and brought out his phone. After pressing the keys on the phone, he looked up and said he didn’t have airtime. He asked if I had any money I could advance him so he could buy. I shook my head and said no.
He looked at me a little irritated, then stormed out of the station. After a little while he came back. Glanced from left to right like he was looking for someone then motioned for me and Teryila to leave.
We got up and went to the counter to collect our belongings. One of the officers sitting by the counter started grumbling about how we make work difficult for them because we think we know powerful people.
They handed us our belongings and let us through the wooden barrier through to the other side of the counter.
As we were about to walk out, the police officers asked, “Oga, anything for us?”
I turned and looked at them as I stepped through the door and said, “Next time wey una catch me, I go give una something.”
We left the premises as the place erupted in laughter.
Later my uncle would tell me they said they had been on a raid. For the life of me I have not been able to comprehend what a ‘Police raid’ means.
This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.
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