I had an interesting experience in the hands of the Nigerian police a few days ago which left me a bit rattled to say the least, and very reflective.
I have actually been thinking and getting inspiration on a few things to write concerning this era of change that we are currently in when this incident came up, and of course the whole thing has given me serious food for thought about change and change agents.
I had a brush with a shop assistant at a pharmacy shop over some change. I bought some medication and she told me to come back the next day after she did not have the change to give me, and I agreed. Upon getting there the next day, she told me to come back again for the change after a few rude words. Losing my temper and thinking I would teach her a thing or two about customer service, I took some of their drugs and told them that I will come back when they have my change. After about 15 minutes, my conscience got the better of me and I returned them. As I was driving off, the lady held on to my side mirror of my moving car, and I had to swerve to stop the car.
She fell on the road, and thankfully she was OK, but as the usual Nigerian way, there was quite a mob gathered. We then went to a nearby hospital after escaping from the mob to ensure that everything was OK, and by the time we were rounding up, a policewoman appeared from nowhere and insisted that I was being ''arrested'' and taken to the police station. Apparently, some men purporting to be ''eye witnesses'' had gone to the police to have me arrested. I followed her, after ascertaining her identity.
Upon getting to the station, within 10 minutes I was detained. I was asked to tell '‘my side of the story’', but it seemed as if the deal had been signed, sealed and delivered. The head of office said they had called him to inform him of the incident before my arrival, so there was no need for a hearing.
I had never been behind bars before, even to visit someone, and it was a shocking experience for me: the process and the outcome. I was the only woman, and I met about seven young men, all in the prime of their youth. A number of them like me found themselves there because someone had paid for the police to put them behind bars.
As I stood waiting for what would happen next, I could not but listen to the boys share stories about how they got here. One or two were arrested lawfully, but the majority said they were lured in or coerced in for crimes they did not commit. They were also not given access to legal counsel. I was denied access to a lawyer and there was pressure to 'settle the matter' by paying them off.
I was eventually released after a few hours as the perpetrators ''dropped charges’' but there was still the constant pressure to ''settle the matter'' which by the grace of God we did not succumb. I am still in shock and totally confused with the whole process and what I was being charged for.
This has made me reflect on the things I experienced over the past few hours I was in police custody:
1.Corruption: From practice to culture: Corruption is not an issue just for our leaders; it has become a culture among our people: from passersby, to the 'eye witnesses' to the law enforcement agents. It's easy to point fingers at the government, but corruption is something we all have to deal with everyday: from the man on the streets to the man in the office, from the pulpit to the pews, young and old. Unfortunately it has eaten so much into our society that it is gradually becoming a culture. This is a dangerous trend.
2. True Justice: A nation built on righteousness and justice, especially to the voiceless will thrive: We have a situation where people pay money to have you arrested over crimes you know nothing about, or just to settle personal scores. What about those that do not have the money? What about those that do not have access to the ‘big wigs’ in the society? Who speaks for them? A number of the boys said that 'if only they had money' or 'knew someone in the Senate’ or a ‘big man’ they would not be there: is this true? Does this means that I can commit hideous crimes as long as I know a decision maker or can pay them off?
3: Agents of Change? The lady that purportedly charged me is in her mid 20s. I realized that the young men in the prison cells too are in their mid 20s to mid 30s. These young people know no better way than the way of corruption and nepotism to get what they want. Unfortunately, it is being fueled by those that are supposed to protect them and hand over good values and ethics to them. The era they are born into seems to give them no other alternative than that way. In a few years, hoping the older ones will give them the chance, they will be running the nations affairs in different sectors. For us to entrust the nation into the hands of these people, there has to be a re- orientation of our value system. It will not be an easy task, and it will not take four years.
4. There are prisoners on both sides of the prison bars: The atmosphere on the prison cells was of despondency and for some, quiet resignation. Some of the boys would sing choruses, encourage themselves or just nap. Ironically this was unlike on the other side of the prison bar where the law enforcement agents were: noisy and tense. This was quite interesting as it shows that we are all prisoners of some sorts: prisoner to greed, pride, anger, internal and external fears, name it. A lot of our prisons are mental and emotional rather than physical. The only difference is that the prison bars can be seen while for the majority, it is invisible. Some of us are prisoners of our successes and wealth.
Corruption is everybody’s cross: from what I saw in a few hours, I am not sure if we would act differently from the leaders we are accusing, or putting our hopes upon.
Do your part: The recent elections demonstrated a very powerful message: Nigerians can collectively achieve what they will to do. My prayer is that we use the same passion and resolve to fight corruption and consider the greater good in our daily decision making.
While it is easy to hail and celebrate our political and religious leaders, and even blindly follow some of them it is more important is to help them to make their job of leadership easier: If we fight corruption as individuals the institutional challenges will be easier to tackle
Don’t have unrealistic expectations of our leaders: past and current: We cannot expect them to complete in four years what took decades to build. Some of these solutions to the problems of corruption will not come to fruition until years later. We have to learn to be patient, yet persistent. I believe they will work to achieve to get quick gains and tackle long term issues.
On that note:
I pledge to Nigeria my country;
To be faithful, loyal and honest;
To serve Nigeria with all my strength;
To defend her unity;
And uphold her honor and glory;
So help me God.
I hope you do too.