“ENRAGED by his failure to appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs to defend his Ministry's 2009 budget proposal, the panel yesterday threatened to order the arrest of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ojo Maduekwe, and compel him to do so”
Thank God it’s a Committee of the House of Representatives contemplating an arrest this time. Often, it’s worse. The other day, the headlines screamed that Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola “personally arrested” a yahoo yahoo boy who had gone to play a fast one on him. Before that, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos state had “personally arrested” some miscreant somewhere in Lagos. The list of Nigerians having fellow Nigerians arrested by the police can be dizzying: husbands order their wives arrested; concubines have Chief’s or Alhaji’s other girlfriends arrested; if Madam, the legitimate wife at home, grumbles too much about her husband’s nocturnal outings, the girlfriend responsible for her misery could threaten to have her arrested for being greedy and unwilling to share her man; Danfo drivers order their conductors arrested; Molue drivers order okada operators arrested; Okada operators have pedestrians arrested; pedestrians have other pedestrians arrested; area boys order trespassers arrested; Lagos landlords? Don’t even go there! They feel obliged to invite the police to terrorize their tenants and threaten them with arrest in a routine power show to let everyone know who the boss is.
And, of course, any Nigerian who falls into that nebulous category of “big man” – often an empty barrel, he has stolen considerable government money, bought a few chieftaincy titles, goes about blaring siren illegally in Lagos and Abuja, has a string of Personal Assistants carrying his cell phones and briefcase, has been awarded a national honour by the president, and is referred to in newspapers as a “stakeholder” or “party chieftain” – can have any Nigerian arrested and locked up for weeks without charge. God help you if he is one of those corrupt ex-this, ex-that who stroll to Aso Rock for breakfast with the President!
And that’s just an abridged list of the class of Nigerians routinely ordering arrests all over the country. Let’s not even go into the things that could get you arrested. Let’s just check out who else is arresting people daily apart from the police: basically, anyone in uniform. And there are plenty of uniforms in Nigeria. Soldiers, Air force, and Naval officers often storm out of their barracks to arrest “bloody civilians”. Often, they arrest police men who get in the way! All kinds of uniformed extra-constitutional Task Forces set up by states and local governments are permanently arresting people. If you are coming to Nigeria from Benin Republic via the Seme border and you make it to Lagos, it means you’ve narrowly escaped being arrested by any, all, or a combination of the following uniformed personnel: customs, police, army, NDLEA, Road Safety, NAFDAC, SON, all mounting intimidating road blocks a few miles apart – and making sure you understand that they can arrest you. In fact, I am surprised that uniformed Mama Cass cooks aren’t arresting people yet in Nigeria.
After corruption and pentecostalism, the arrest-industry is easily Nigeria’s third most successful sector. The procedure is easy: be the first to arrive at the police station; make sure you’re loaded with cash; look and sound very important; while insisting you need officers to come with you and arrest somebody, make sure your three cell phones ring intermittently; as you speak to your caller, start and end each sentence with: “yes your Excellency, yes Sir. I’m at the police station, your Excellency. Sure I can meet you at the state house as soon as I’m done your Excellency. Will you send the convoy to pick me?” If you don’t look like the type that could receive a call from a governor, make it a senator, a commissioner, an Emir, or a senior military officer, etc. If you are a woman, make sure the policemen hear you talking to your husband on the other end, an army Colonel. Make sure you apologize to the police men when you’re through with your phone call: “sorry o, officer, his Excellency too dey worry me. Phone call every time. Now, as I was saying, can I have some of your men? I need to deal ruthlessly with that yeye man/woman with immediate effect”. Whatever you do, make sure the last call you receive is from your Personal Assistant. Upbraid him noisily for failing to come to work that day, thus making you have to go personally to the police station. If you follow these instructions, you will leave the police station with any number of officers you desire and you will successfully harass you target(s), fellow citizens. No questions asked.
I’ve always argued that Nigeria presents social scientists with the unique research situation of the citizen-as-state. Every Nigerian is a state. The UN needs to recognize all 140 million of us and grant each Nigerian a seat at the General Assembly to conduct his or her affairs as an independent state. In fact, I’m thinking seriously of opening my own Embassy in Ottawa once I am able to persuade the Canadian government that I am a state. As a Nigerian, you provide your own water, your own electricity, your own roads, your own medical resources, your own schools, your own security, and, above all, you have powers of arrest. What else do states do?