As my son and I drove out of the Eko Hotel venue of penultimate weekend’s All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA), we had projected to reach home in another 20 or 25 minutes. It was well past midnight and the road was expected to be free of heavy traffic.
But just before we hit the Third Mainland Bridge, the front tyre of my car developed a fault. It began to sound like it had burst and torn into shreds, literally slapping the surface of the road as I looked out for the nearest lay-by.
Let me state here that, although I’ve been driving since the late 1980s, I have always been hopeless with maintenance tips, including such ‘little’ things as changing a bad tyre. I guess that’s why God gave us professional drivers, vulcanizers and sundry mechanics.
So, you can imagine my calamity (and apprehension) as I brought the car to a stop, without the faintest idea of what to do. Under normal circumstances, I would abandon the car there, catch a taxi and head home. If the car is still there by the time my driver gets to the place later in the day, we’d thank God. But there was no taxi anywhere in sight.
But God had my back. For He soon sent his ‘angels’. Although they were clothed in black, they weren’t angels of death.
I had barely pulled up to the side of the road when a Rapid Response Squad (RRS) team pulled up on the opposite side of the road. The leader of the team and three of his men jumped over the median to meet me. Until they arrived, I had no clue of what was wrong with the tyre, which, surprisingly, was not flat and all ripped up – as I had suspected. It also made none of those telltale hissing sounds of a possible puncture and leakage.
I watched as the policemen cautiously accessed the situation. One of them told me to turn the steering wheel to give him a better view of the tyre, and voila! There was a swelling right in the middle of the tyre. It is the telltale sign of an expired tyre. Yes, the tyre, which I had bought a few weeks earlier, with 2015 boldly engraved on it as date of manufacture, had actually expired. If I were not in the habit of occasionally rolling down my windows to listen to the sound of my car, that tyre would have probably burst while I was on top speed. Some of the thankless miracles God daily lavishes on us! But that’s story for another day.
Suffice it to say, however, that three days after I replaced the tyre, I opened the boot to discover that the swelling miraculously disappeared, making the bad tyre look as good as new. In fact, I could almost sell it off to any unsuspecting buyer as a ‘brand new’ tokunbo tyre.
Back to my angels in police uniform.
The team leader told my son and I to step back, as he put his men to work. In less than 15 minutes, they had correctly diagnosed the problem, removed and replaced the faulty tyre, and I was happy and set to drive off again.
But before I pulled out, I discovered that the leader of the RRS team, Mr. Shehu Isuwo, and I had more than one thing in common. We’re both Kwara boys. He is not only from Ilorin, where I had both my secondary and HSC education, his entire family is still in Bacita, where I not only had my primary school, but also have a family home to this day. By the time we introduced ourselves, it turned out we both lived on the same long Ahman Pategi Road. I knew his family and he knew mine, but we never really met, because the Nigerian system has run down the sugar company that was the live wire of our community and forced all of us out to strange lands in search of bread and butter.
What that meant was, if he had chosen to harm (instead of help) me at that ungodly hour, he probably would have escaped the laws of the land but both his people and my people at Bacita would mourn together over the tragedy that befell another Bacita boy. Talk about throwing a stone into the market!
But Isuwo is not the only angel in police uniform I have encountered, especially in my travails of the last three years.
Sometime in September, while I was attending the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Guild of Editors in Port Harcourt, my wife called from Lagos. She had lost a tyre to a shrapnel some miscreants had thrown onto the road. It was well after 9pm and she was on her way to an all-night event in Badagry. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. As she spoke, I could pick up the guttural chatter of street boys in the background. I instantly became agitated and began making frantic calls.
None of my calls had yielded any result when three different teams of Mr. Tunji Disu’s SARS (on different patrols) happened on the scene. Again, angels in black!
They soon discovered that the new spare tyre in her car had not even been mounted on the rim, let alone pumped. One team kept watch over her and the car while another team went to fix both the bad tyre and the spare one in a nearby village.
And when they came back, they declined every gift my wife offered them. To cap it all, they even volunteered to escort her to the venue of her programme.
That is why I feel a personal pain when the World Internal Security and Police Index says we have the worst police force on earth. That is why I feel bad when the entire police force, especially the SARS, is demonised because of the actions of a few bad eggs among them. I thought it is said that one bad apple does not spoil the whole bunch? If some SARS officers in Rivers State, for instance, are implicated in robbery and kidnapping, is that why we must now condemn the entire SARS concept? Must we throw away the baby with the bath water? Sure, we can do with some reorganisation but I’m just not comfortable with the emerging narrative about SARS.
Yes, I’ve also had a handful of unpleasant experiences with the police. Yes, I have kinsmen and friends who have fallen victims of police stop-and-search (better known as ‘stop-and-snatch’). I have also heard of innocent Nigerians killed by policemen, who cleverly plant guns and charms on the bodies, to make it look like they were robbers killed in a shootout with policemen. I know one is instantly a walking corpse if policemen find you with a sizeable amount of cash on a lonely road. Yes, I know of policemen and criminals’ dalliance. Yes, I know of policemen confiscating commercial motorcycles from their owner/riders and converting same to their own personal use. But, in all, I’m quicker to blame our system than the overused and underpaid police officers and men. I also know that everything that is wrong with our police can also be found in the military, paramilitary and other security agencies.
Virtually everyone baying for the blood of SARS today has one or two police officer friends we can vouch for – in terms of professionalism and integrity. How come we’re now willing to look the other way and sacrifice all these men because of the transgression of a few bad men? For while some policemen are allowing themselves to be used by Abuja to run an ‘opposition’ governor out of his state, there are other officers of the same police force who are ready to die protecting that same governor. The problem is with our politicians, not our policemen. The problem is with our system, not the men in black. For, as soon as the system begins to run properly, the police will fall in line.
•IT IS WELL WITH NIGERIA