It was my first year at Uni. My friend, Penelope (obviously not her real name because which Nigerian parents name their child Penelope? ‘Penelope’ is currently married with a kid so it felt right to change her name) and I had decided to go see a movie with our current beaus, Mohammed and Rotimi. They weren’t exactly beaus at the time, but they were ‘on our case’ and they had cars so we thought, “why not”? It was either a Tuesday or Thursday night; for some reason my memory tells me that the day of the week started with a ‘T’.
We caught the very last showing of whatever movie it was, and on our way back to school (University of Lagos) from the Silverbird Galleria in Victoria Island, Rotimi’s car packed up right on 3rd mainland bridge. I was beyond myself. Like my man Job in the Bible, the thing I feared most had happened to me. Everyone knew that if you were out beyond midnight, it was best to stay on whatever side of the divide you were; mainland or island. Crossing the 3rd mainland bridge (the longest goddam bridge in West Africa) at that time meant you were ready to face whatever you saw. I wasn’t ready, I really wasn’t. I’d been in Mohammed’s car, while Penelope had been in Rotimi’s, and they’been ahead of us. Mohammed and I saw their car slow down and eventually stop on the side of the road, so we parked as well. After a few minutes of troubleshooting with no luck, we decided that our best bet was to get off the bridge. Penelope would move to our car, and we would sort of use the car to push Rotimi’s off the bridge, with Rotimi steering. The bumpers would be worse off but we just needed to get off that bridge. So that’s what we did. Obviously we were moving at snail speed and I spent the entire time fluctuating between reciting the bits of Psalm 91 I could remember, and thinking up reasons to give my mother from my grave about why I’d been on the road at that time.
After what seemed like forever, I opened my eyes and we were descending the bridge. Oh glory. Little did I know we had escaped one hell only to arrive at the doorstep of another; the Nigerian Police Force. Normally, when they flag you down at that time, everyone knows that you don’t really stop; you slow down just enough for them to lower their guns, “on you inner light” so they see your face, maybe honk in appreciation of their hardwork, and then drive right on through while checking your rear-view mirror, praying you don’t meet the image of a gun being cocked. That’s the SOP for running into police check points at night. However, on this rather unfortunate night, because of our car situation, there was no driving past anything. Of course they flagged us down. Of course we stopped; we didn’t have a choice.
Mohammed was pretty suave, and apparently loaded, so I figured he’d just part with some cash and we’d be on our way. We were close to school and I just wanted to be in my bed. But these cops were different; they wanted to see our IDs. Mohammed and Rotimi, being older and used to police wahala had theirs. Penelope and I? We were first year students and had not been given school IDs yet.
‘Ah! You don’t know that it’s illegal in Lagos state to be going around without ID? Iron lady come and tell them.”
I don’t remember what the first officer looked like, but Iron Lady looked everything like I expected her to; think Nollywood’s portrayal of the female police officer? Yup, that was her, right down to the stocky stature, close cropped hair, thick calves and unwavering frown. Still, Penelope and I hoped that perhaps as a fellow woman, she would bestow some motherly kindness on us.
“Please ma, we’re new students at Unilag, we haven’t been given our IDs yet.”
“Students? Then what are you doing out at this time?!”
“We went to see a movie’”
“A what?! Instead of you to be reading your books! Is that what your parents sent you to school to do?! To watch film? You will follow us to the station today.”
Me I was irritated because I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t just collect Mohammed’s money and let us be on our way. My white peep-toe 4-inch heels had become super uncomfortable (yes it was about the time cinemas were still a big deal and we used to dress up to go. Stop calculating my age *smirk*). Is it weird that I remember everything I wore that day? The skinny jeans with the long white top that had shredded short sleeves?
Penelope was visibly scared and that was adding to my irritation.
“Ah no oh madam, we can resolve this here now.” Mohammed was back to trying to charm us out of the situation.
“No way; we’re all going to the station. Don’t you know that it’s a law in Lagos that any girl found outside after midnight without an ID card is a prostitute?”
At that point Mohammed decided his charms weren’t working on Iron Lady and decided to switch back to the initial cop who stopped us. I don’t remember where Rotimi was. I mean I’m sure he was probably speaking to one of the cops (there were about 4 of them) but my mind probably blocked him out- as he was the cause of our problems- save for the one time that night when I became really afraid. But we’ll get there.
So there we were, Iron Lady giving us dark, condescending ‘children of nowadays’ stares, while Mohammed was negotiating a price with the male officers, when the most unbelievable thing happens- another set of cops roll in. These ones however were definitely bigger and badder than the first set. Like, they had body armour and all that jazz and by this time Penelope was snivelling uncontrollably. Even I was shaken a little bit at the sight of them. There was a very brief altercation with the first set of officers- something about turfs and jurisdictions- and before we all knew what was going on, set 1 obviously being the weaker party drove off, leaving us and a few of their other victims at the mercy of set 2. These ones didn’t smile; weren’t entertaining any stories. They loaded us up in the danfo they’d arrived in and we headed to the station.
And just like that- I was in a dark smelly van alongside some questionable characters, about to be locked up.
…and as with any true Nigerian tale, watch out for part two.