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Questions Lagos police command needs to answer on boys remanded for playing ludo

By Taiwo Adebulu Dear readers, I’m but a storyteller. Please, allow me tell you a short story. Let me digress a little bit just to…

By Taiwo Adebulu

Dear readers,

I’m but a storyteller. Please, allow me tell you a short story. Let me digress a little bit just to give you some background information. As Martin Luther King, the American fiery cleric and human rights activist, rightly said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

On July 5, 2022, the rain was sizzling quietly when a young female police officer jumped in front of my car opposite the aviation plaza, just beside LASUTH. I hurriedly slammed my leg on the brake pedal. The new tyres screeched and the car stopped right in from of the traffic officer. “Oga, park, park, you flouted the traffic,” she screamed. Her colleagues jumped into my car while I was explaining to them that the light was green as of the time I moved, but it turned yellow when she jumped in front of my car while the traffic was slow. She wouldn’t hear any of that. Kamikaze policewoman.

The officers drove my car to the nearby Area F command and handed me over to their traffic chief, a chubby, fair-skinned, elderly woman with Saudi-gold-plaited tooth. I explained to her what the issue was, but she insisted I paid N10,000 before she’d release my car. I called colleagues and I was directed to Benjamin Hundeyin, the command spokesperson, whom they said was a quiet, young and professional officer. I trekked to the command headquarters, a stone’s throw from Area F, and lodged a complaint with Hundeyin. He was aghast when I explained the matter and I told him to confirm with the officers. He sent me back to Alhaja, the Area F traffic madam. I gave her the phone and when she spoke with Hundeyin, she returned my car keys with an apology.

On February 23, a few weeks back, my car developed a mechanical problem. One of the radiator fans blew up and the second one seized. With the help of some passersby, I pushed it away from the road. A few minutes later, some police officers came and towed my vehicle, despite my appeal, to their office under the new overhead bridge at Ikeja Along. They insisted I have to pay N50,000 for towing the car within a 10 minute distance. That moment, I could have called Hundeyin again to bail me out. But how many times would I call the police command media man over police misconduct? I was tired and I just wanted to get my car out before night set in. Still, I parted with N30,000. The officers smiled. Good day, good market. They handed my car over to a standby mechanic who also hiked his price. I paid. Car fixed. I left.

Now, let’s get back to the main story. On February 29, just a few days ago, my car developed the same problem that the mechanic working with the police had billed me a fortune for. I left home very early to visit a mechanic workshop that a friend had highly recommended to me in Aboru area of Alimosho LGA. I got there exactly 8am and waited for the mechanics to come. First come, first served. I had come a long way to get my car fixed and return to work, but I never knew it was going to be a long day.

A few minutes after 11am, some police officers in mufti drove a yellow commercial bus towards the workshop, and began to chase some young boys. The whole neighborhood went into a frenzy. They succeeded in catching about three of them. The police alleged they were playing ludo and gambling. A few hours to that incident, one of the boys had approached me with the ludo, asking if I could play with him to keep myself busy while my car was undergoing cosmetic surgery. But the mechanic warned me not to attempt it because he was a pro. I dodged him with the excuse that I was actually doing some official work on my computer tab.

More residents trooped to the scene, asking the officers why they wanted to take the boys away. The officers said they were gambling, the boys said they were only playing ludo. The resident insisted that the boys couldn’t go with the officers because they were not identifiable in mufti and they came in yellow commercial buses.

At this moment, I approached one of the officers and asked him which station they came from. He said they were from Area P in Alagbado. I told him the boys were playing ludo, according to what I had seen, and that’s not a criminal offence, but an indoor game as the residents rightly protested. But he insisted they were gambling. This was all captured on video. Right in my presence, the officer called the Area P office and told his colleagues that they were under attack. Everyone thought it was a joke, so they waited. One mistake they ended up regretting.

In a few minutes, about 15 police officers invaded the neighborhood in three yellow commercial buses. They went haywire. One held a cutlass and began to chase residents. He hit a young lady who was making a video on her buttocks with the cutlass. One broke an empty bottle of beer on the head of the mechanic working on my vehicle. The second mechanic was beaten to a pulp and the back of his head bled. While most of the residents ran for their lives, some were not that lucky. Two officers grabbed my trousers and dragged me towards the yellow bus where they had kept the residents they randomly picked. They said I must go with them too. I told them I was a journalist and was there to repair my car. That fell on deaf ears.

One of the officers I had spoken with earlier identified me and told his colleagues that I was indeed a journalist. I confirmed that and they let me go. Eight residents were carted away and detained by the police. On Friday morning, when I returned to the neighborhood for updates, four of the residents had been released after they allegedly parted with N80,000. The rest, including the mechanic, were taken to a magistrate court in Ejigbo. They were remanded in Kirikiri.

Now, what I found really interesting was the statement issued by Hundeyin on the matter. He said the boys were arrested for “gambling, unlawful assembly and possession of hard drugs”. Ludicrous! I understand that Hundeyin is into public relations, but such PR stunt was an attempt to rewrite the narrative to justify an illegal raid and assault on the residents. The fact that I witnessed the incident of that day and reported it doesn’t change what I have seen. As a journalist and investigative editor, I’ll speak the truth and uphold it.

I respect Hundeyin as a young professional, but that press release was laced with half-truth. After the police PPRO sent me the press statement, I replied him that he had been misled. The Area P police officers had fed him with fat lies. There are some questions the command needs to answer before defending its officers who went berserk on harmless citizens

(1) Immediately the officers swooped on the suspects and picked them up while playing ludo, where did they get the “substances suspected to be hard drugs”? The officers alleged they were gambling. The videos of the incident was an argument between the police and residents whether playing ludo amounts to gambling. Right from the beginning, the police officers started making videos of the incident, while residents did theirs. Do they have items suspected to be hard drugs in their videos? That’s nothing but a new development that I find totally unbelievable and heart-wrenching.

(2) Why didn’t the command admit in its press release that its officers were on mufti and drove in yellow buses to effect an arrest which is against the directive of the Nigeria Police Force?

(3) One of the videos of the event that was published showed residents lamenting how they were assaulted by police officers with machetes. Who would have waited to video armed police officers who freely wielded bottles and machetes against civilians? Why is the police not addressing the human rights abuse of its officers in this particular incident? Typical police brutality!

The police have alleged “social media blackmail”, but that is not enough to change the narrative. The fact that the police released me on the spot because I identified myself as a journalist doesn’t mean I won’t tell the story of an incident I witnessed and almost became a victim. The police can wield its power and pervert justice on voiceless citizens. But it’s the 21st century and a digital world. You can’t manipulate the truth, even if you end up destroying the lives of those young men.

Adebulu, a multi award-winning journalist, is the features and investigations editor at TheCable.

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