I have seen men of the Nigerian police force in their most unprofessional acts; extorting motorists, forcing bail fee, harassing and brutalizing harmless Nigerians. I have seen them all and reported about them multiple times but none of these happened with their full knowledge of who I am—a journalist.
This changed in Abuja when a police officer at Lugbe Police Station asked me for money to buy a new complaint book for the station, despite having introduced myself as a journalist. I had just been robbed of over two-million-naira worth of office equipment and personal belongings, yet I could not suppress the shock from the affront, sheer lack of empathy and plain extortion by Dennis Akpanke, a police officer at Life Camp Police State.
On Tuesday, July 1, at about 8:30 pm, I was robbed on my way from Lokoja, capital of Kogi State, to Abuja. The thief emerged from the bush that flagged the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport road and took the advantage of road bumps that slowed down the car. He reached his hand through the window, attempted to snatch my phone but when he realized he couldn't, his eyes caught a camera bag I had on my laps. He took the bag and ran back into the bush. The bag had my office camera, a set of microphone and transmitter, headset, my purse had my ATM and ID cards - and some money.
The attack happened so fast. Before the driver could get out of the car, the thief—a dark, average height man— disappeared into the thick forest. I was helpless. However, few meters from the scene, we—the driver and I—saw some policemen with their police patrol van stationed under a bridge, just a few minutes drive away from the scene of the robbery.
Still shaken from the experience, I narrated what had happened to the security officers who should have been the help I desperately needed at the time. The two policemen were unbothered. They could care less if a robbery had just happened where they ought to have been ‘policing’. One of them threw his hands in the air and declared there was absolutely nothing he could do to help.
“You mean, you cannot help us,” distraught I asked the officer and in the affirmative they replied. “Everywhere is dark. Sorry, there is nothing we can do."
I proceeded to Life Camp Police Station to make a formal complaint. Again, I was greeted with derision from the officers who were at the counter. A female officer who was at the counter mockingly told the driver and me to leave as they had taken too many complaints already and are tired.
“I will send anybody that comes for complaints back this night. It is already too late,” she said, making light of the situation.
Police Asks for money to buy a new complaint book
A few minutes later, Dennis Akpanke brought out a rough A4 paper that had been printed on, flipped it to the plain side to take my complaint. The nonchalance, the lack of professionalism and utter disgrace kept my mouth agape. When I finally found my words, I asked if he was going to take my complaint in the paper he had just drawn a margin on.
Akpanke was unmovable. He simply said if I was uncomfortable with that I should give him money to buy a new booklet. “If you wouldn’t mind, give me money to buy another book,” he said.
It was about past 9 pm at this time, the thief was long gone and the police had given no hope that my property could ever be recovered.
Seeing that the police were not ready to make any attempt at the recovery of the items that were snatched, I began to cry. I was not going to write a complaint into a trashed sheet of paper and go back to Lagos without any effort to see if I could find my properties. Another policeman, suspected to be a more senior officer, came out to know what was happening. I explained to help that I had been robbed and I need to the police to help me recover my item.
After being yelled at for being “dramatic” that I just got robbed of a camera that has all the material I had travelled from Lagos to Lokoja to shoot, he called three officers to escort me back to the scene.
And there, I witnessed another phase of police’s inefficiency.
Argument over jurisdiction
At the scene, rather than make any search in the bush where the thief had run into, the three policemen began an argument with other officers who had now stationed at the exact spot of robbery, point for patrol.
They came along with no source of illumination which meant they never planned to make any search. They kept on arguing about how the government has failed to light up the road in spite of the high rate of robbery on the road.
I had thought we were going for a search. So, when I saw none of that was going to happen, I asked why they had brought me back to the scene just to chat away and argue about all the faults about the road.
Angered by my outburst, the most senior officer half-heartedly asked the other two officers to go into the bush for a search. Of course, the thief would not be lurking around, waiting to be fished out but even if he was, this set of officers would not have caught him. They had no torch and they had spent over 15 minutes at the spot, arguing about jurisdiction.
The two police officers borrowed a torch from the men on patrol and went in to a search. It was a ridiculous attempt, yet the first attempt towards recovering my properties. However, I was not surprised when they resurfaced two minutes later just to continue the argument on jurisdiction.
“This is the end of our point there,” one of the police officers said. “Are you the IG that you’re sharing space,” the officer from Life Camp Police Station said.
It was about 11 pm, I was exhausted and had lost every hope of ever getting back my office camera and the content on it. I followed them back to Life Camp Police Station, only to be told to go back to Lugbe Police Station—where they claimed to have jurisdiction over the spot where my things were snatched.
I had called a friend and colleague from another media platform. He drove me down to Lugbe police station and advised that I let the driver, who had been following me around since 8:30 pm that the robbery happened, go since it was too late.
Officers refuse to issues extract because I'm “too junior” to her
At Lugbe Police Station, another officer took my complaint all over again before taking me to another female officer where I would formally make a statement. All these while, I had not been given a statement form.
The female officer was far asleep. She took about 15 minutes to stand from the table she had padded up as a bed, took off the multiple layers of clothes she worn before attending to me. I was too tired at this point. When she asked what had happened, my friend explained to her.
The woman, who took over 20 minutes before she even acknowledged us became angry. She was furious that I didn’t respond to her lackluster question. She began to yell, asking if it was her fault that I got robbed.
In fact, all the police officer who attended to my at Lugbe police station thought that were doing me a favour. After all, the thief who snatched my bag did not wear a police uniform, one of the officers said. Another one asked that I redirect my frustration elsewhere, “we no be the one wey rob you and police no be witch wey go help you find your thing” another one said.
She eventually gave me a statement form to fill after a bout of yelling. One of the senior officers even asked that I apologize. Why did I not answer and it had to be my friend who responded, he quipped.
I filled the statement form and hand it over to her. When I asked for an extract, she declined. “This is my turn to use my power,” she said. “When I was talking to you, you could not answer. I have your type at home. I am not going to give you an excerpt and I won't come to the office tomorrow.”
I listened to her rumble and yell. My phone that could record discreetly had ran out of battery at this point. I put on my audio recorder and begged to record her screams and yell. My friend begged her, she insisted she would not issue an extract.
At about past 12 pm, I had been drained and weakened by the shenanigans of the police. She said she would not issue any extract and all my friend’s begging was not persuading her. She had also said she would not come to the office the next day even though I had told her I would be heading back to Lagos. I told my friend to stop begging her and let us leave. We left—drained and disappointed.
On Thursday, two days after the incident, I pleaded with my friend to go back to the station to ask for the extract, thinking she would have gotten over her unjust anger. My friend returned to the station to ask for the extract, and again he declined.