The curtains were slowly falling on the 2nd year of my call to the bar when it dawned on me that I had never handled a police case. So when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands.
A neighbour had come on a Saturday afternoon to complain that his brother was being detained by the police (for guess what ridiculous offence? Nah! Ain’t telling ya! Read further down for the full gist) and needed a lawyer to get him out as the police was demanding for N15, 000. 00 ($84.01) for his bail. I had made my plans for the day and going to the police station was not part of it. I was about to apologise for my inability to help, when he told me he was directed by the lawyer in the next compound to meet me as the lawyer was out of Lagos on a business trip.
That was the trap. The lawyer was a senior colleague I had a cordial relationship with and I believed he was trying to see if I could pull off bailing a client from the police station knowing I worked in an ivy league firm that handled no criminal cases. I was not going to flunk the challenge so I made a few calls to the “street lawyers” for a short rap on dealing with the police.
The only time I ever went to the Police Station was before my call to the bar. I was interning with a law firm and had been given the task of following up on a petition submitted to the office of the Commissioner and had done a good job in getting the case assigned to an IPO. However, the experience was hellish.
The state police command (in one of the states in the southeast) was the dirtiest and filthiest I had ever been to. I wondered how any sane man could function properly in such an environment. To make matters worse, the roads leading into the state command had been barricaded with sand bags with snipers taking positions for God knows what. Surprisingly, I was allowed to move unhindered inside virtually all restricted areas within the police command without any questions as to my mission. Got me thinking that my dashing black suit was my passport to that privilege (winks).
When the case was finally assigned to an IPO, he gave me a long list of demands. He demanded for a vehicle with a driver to aid their movement, roger for their superiors to give quick authorisations to the making of any arrests, roger for the boys and other ridiculous demands. How that case ended would be story for another day.
In 30 minutes I was before the Orile Police Station. I was really nervous and needed a shot of whiskey to steady my nerves. My “street lawyer” friends had told me that my presence would only reduce the amount demanded as bail to about N5, 000. 00 ($28) as bail is never free even with a lawyer involved.
After taking a deep breath and counting from 1-3, I made my way into the gate with my entourage. At the front desk, I was directed to the IPO’s office. I passed through a corridor filled with people and came face with the IPO. As soon as I introduced myself as the lawyer to the detained person he asked me if I had the N15, 000. 00 ($84. 01).
I was livid. “How dare you demand for a bribe from me?” I fumed, “did you not hear me introduce myself as his lawyer?” Mistake no. 1, never lose your cool in the police station especially with junior officers. The home turf rule works with policemen too. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by a dozen junior officers and a shouting match ensued. Guess my boyish looks gave them the impression I could be intimidated. Well, never judge a book by its cover.
At this point, let me tell you what led my client into the police net. The previous day, my client had on his way home with his girlfriend passed a bar and was accosted by the owners of the bar who had accused him of drinking 2 bottles of beer the previous year without paying the bill of N400. 00 ($2. 24). Infuriated by the embarrassment, my client had after a shouting match, gone to make a complaint at the Police Station and got the two people arrested with his connections for only God knows what.
At the station, the officers who carried out the arrest had listened to both sides and had asked my client to forget the case since it was very trivial but my client wanted to as they say in Nigerian parlance, “make case with them”. So he insisted that the officers who were his friends detain the owners of the bar. The IPO had even offered to settle the alleged N400. 00 bill but my client was adamant and insisted on the Police dancing to his tunes at any cost.
Shocked by his intransigence and of course seeing a good business opportunity, the police officers slammed him with the famous charge of “conduct likely to cause breach of peace” and threw him and the other two persons he instigated their arrest into the cell. They would only be released if they paid a sum of N15, 000. 00 each, for “wasting their stationeries and time on a flimsy matter”. In fact one of the officers amongst the group that surrounded me had remarked that “he (referring to my client) is our friend, we know him and want to show him the law is not a respecter of any person” (Naija Police! Are you kidding me).
In the melee, I remembered what my “street lawyer” guide had told me. “If the junior officers become too difficult, go to the DPO or any other senior officer, they are usually lawyers and would be of better help”. But I was too angry to even contemplate going to any senior officer, I wanted to deal with the IPO for his fearless demand (abi order) for a bribe. I had noted his name and service number for a likely petition to the Police Service Commission (PSC). Mistake no. 2. No junior police officer does anything without a senior officer authorising same.
I made my way to the DPO’s office but unfortunately was told he was not around and would return to the station in the evening. I was contemplating my next line of action when we were informed that all civilians should leave the police station for an hour as the officers were about to have their lectures. So we left to return later in the evening.
As Nollywood flicks will say, “this is just the beginning”. You will see the end in part two. So watch out for part two. Please subscribe for our weekly newsletter by clicking here.
December 1, 2014