The Police Is Your Friend

Kachi A. Ozumba

Nduka was determined not to leave the Ikeja police station without his police report. He waited at the counter, his gaze fixed on a poster on the opposite wall. Although he had seen the poster many times before, it never failed to arrest his attention. It was a picture of a policeman smiling broadly and benignly, and radiating the caption beneath it: THE POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND.

A policeman emerged from the door behind the counter. His black uniform bore the two red stripes of a corporal. "Good morning sir, can I help you?" He asked, leaning on the grimy wooden counter.

"Yes, I'm Pastor Nduka Obi and I'll like to see Sergeant Bello."

"Oh I'm sorry, the sergeant is not around at the moment. Is there anyway I can be of help?"

For a mere corporal his English was flawless, his tone polite, his manners polished. Although this was his third time at the station that week, Nduka could not help being reminded that the corporal before him was not a semi-illiterate as was so often the case in the years past. A government policy a few years back had pegged the minimum qualification for recruitment into the Police Force at a National Diploma. This was to help stem corruption and make the Force friendlier.

"Yes. He's the one handling my case. I lost my passport two weeks ago and I need a police report to obtain a new one, which I will need for my trip to the US in a month's time. The report has already been written since my first visit. All that has been holding it is the DPO's stamp. I need it to apply for my visa, and I'm already running late."

"You say the report has been written since your first visit, how come you have not collected it since then?"

"On the first visit I was told the DPO was not around, on the second I was told he needed time to study the document, on the third I was told the document had been signed and only the stamping by the DPO remained, and they were looking for both the DPO and the stamp. Please corporal, I hope I won't leave here today without it."

The corporal smiled. It was a tight-lipped smile and the pastor felt there was something incongruous about it. He could not tell whether it was born of sympathy or mockery.

"I really apologize for the delay so far. But you know how life is—nothing is predictable. Anything can crop up at any time to cause a delay. But if you're determined then your determination will move mountains and you'll get your report today." The corporal smiled again, glad to show the pastor that he knew something of the Bible.

"Of course I'm determined to get it today. I've been determined to get it since the first day," the pastor answered, irritation seeping into his voice.

"Okay, I'll see the DPO about it right away. Won't you like to send your regards?"

"I don't even know him," Nduka said. "Well, tell him a law-abiding citizen sends his regards."

The corporal hesitated, stared long at Nduka, then turned and disappeared through the door.

Seconds later he reappeared shaking his head. "The DPO is yet to reach your file. He has so many files to attend to, those of people who came before you. We operate on a first come first served basis, so please exercise some patience."

A red curtain fell over the pastor's eyes, making them bloodshot. His voice rose an octave higher: "What . . . what nonsense is this? Do I have to pass through the eye of a needle just to collect a common police report? You people are . . ." He caught himself back from swearing. Be angry but do not sin, he cautioned himself, quoting from the Bible.

The corporal must have taken pity on him. "But sir, why are you making things so difficult for yourself. Have you not got the message since: All that stands between you and your report is just an express service mobilization fee of a mere two hundred naira?"

"What exactly are you saying?" Nduka's eyes had narrowed into slits. "Are you suggesting that I give a bribe in order to collect my police report? I'm sure you can read this." He pointed to a poster on the wall to his right. It bore the bold caption:


"Of course I can," replied the policeman. "I hope you have also read that one." He gestured at a poster behind the pastor. This one had an even bolder caption:


"I'm not asking for a bribe," the policeman said, "but that you help us to help you."

"I want to see your DPO right away," Nduka said. His anger had given way to a zealous determination to fight corruption.

"Sir, I'll advise you to stick with me. Just pay the two hundred-naira mobilization fee and you'll get your report. The higher you go, the higher the amount that will be demanded of you."

"Will you take me to your DPO or do you want me to find way there?"

"Well, if that's your wish…"

The corporal led Nduka into a dim hallway that contained several doors. He tapped on the last door, the one with the sign saying, DIVISIONAL POLICE OFFICER (DPO), then ushered Nduka in.

It was a small cluttered office. The DPO sat behind an enormous desk strewn with files and papers. There was a miniature of the national flag between two plaques on the table, one with the name: Owonikoko J.A., BA. MSc., the other with what was perhaps the man's personal motto: Heaven helps those who know how to help themselves.

The DPO lifted his face, frowning with irritation.

"Good day DPO," Nduka began. "I have a problem."

"You have your problems, I have my problems, everyone has his problems," the DPO replied. He returned his gaze to the files before him.

The not-so-subtle message was not lost on Nduka: How can you persuade me to abandon my problems and help you with yours. Blood raced through his veins and his lips trembled. He was almost screaming when he replied, "Well, my problem now is that if I do not walk out of this station today with my police report, the evils of this station shall be all over tomorrow's papers."

The DPO looked up sharply. He ran an appraising eye over the new generation pastor, taking in his Piaget wristwatch and Gucci shoes, the expensive cut of his suit. A huge smile replaced his frown.

Once again, Nduka could feel something incongruous in the smile. It was indulgent—as if the man could see through his bluff. But there was still something else hidden away in its wide expanse, something he could not place his finger on.

The DPO waved Nduka to a seat and said, "Please calm down and sit down," while the corporal eased himself out of the office, shutting the door quietly behind him.

"You are?" The DPO asked.

"Pastor Nduka of the Mighty Faith Ministries."

"Oh, that's the one located along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, isn't it?"

The pastor nodded.

"Hmmmnh! So you people are the one building that gigantic church ehn? Great. How can I help you?"

Nduka took a deep breath. "For over two weeks now," he said, "I've been trying to collect a simple police report with which I may apply for the replacement of my missing passport. You see, I have to be in the United States next month. I need the report urgently so that I can obtain a new passport and apply for a visa. Now your corporal is telling me I have to give a bribe before I can collect it."

The DPO sprang from his seat and was quickly by the door. "Corporal, Corporal," he bellowed.

The corporal appeared promptly.

"Did you ask this our righteous gentleman for a bribe?" the DPO asked.

"Bribe?" the corporal asked in shock. "No sir. I only asked him for the usual express service mobilization fee of two hundred naira sir."

"Two hundred naira?" The DPO barked. "Since when did mobilization fee become two hundred naira? It's five hundred. Something must be wrong with you. Are you sure you were not planning to pocket the money?"

"No sir. I would have sent it to the coffers of the station and had it duly receipted."

"Okay, you can go now. I'll see you about it later."

Nduka had watched the whole exchange with a sinking heart.

"You see," began the DPO as he came round to his seat, smiling benignly, "We have to collect such fees when someone wants us to jump the usual process and give him what amounts to an express service. It's our policy and you will find the same everywhere, even in the presidency. Such fees help us in running the Station. You know as well as I do that in this country one cannot rely entirely on the government."

"My report has already been delayed for over a week and you're still talking of express service . . . " The pastor was losing his crusader's fervor.

"You would appreciate the express nature of the service if you knew the enormous amount of reports and complaints we receive daily. Some have waited months, indeed years, to collect a common police report. We try our best, but we can only do so much . . . " he broke off, spreading his hands in a gesture of helplessness.

"And you're asking for what you call a mobilization fee, which you know as well as I do is only a euphemism for a bribe."

"Bribe? No." The DPO shook his head looking hurt. "How can you say that? Even the good Lord demands some mobilization fee for the work he does for us. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but my pastor says it is written in the scriptures that the Lord demands one-tenth of our earnings. What the scriptures call tithes and what you collect, un-taxed, as offertory in your churches."

The pastor opened his mouth but no sound came out.

"It's really no different here," the DPO concluded.

Nduka felt suddenly tired. He glanced at his watch. He felt like running out of the station. The atmosphere was beginning to choke him.

"You have to understand that we cannot be partial in the way we apply our policy here," the DPO began again in his droning voice. "So, just release the funds and I'll personally see to it that you get your report immediately."

Slowly, Nduka reached into his trouser pocket and retrieved a five hundred naira note. Lord please forgive me if I'm committing a sin, he prayed in his mind.

But you're only giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, another voice whispered to him. Nduka was about to banish it as the voice of Satan, but he hesitated. He filed it away in one of the drawers of his mind. He would examine the idea later, as there might be some truth in it.

He handed the money to the officer across the table.

Kachi A. Ozumba

Kachi A. Ozumba was born in Nigeria in 1972. He holds a university degree in philosophy from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and is currently pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leeds, UK. He is the author of the travel memoir: Through the Eyes of an African: Impressions of the Danish Society and the Folk High Schools. He is also one of the founders of the Nigerian Amateur Writers' Network (NAW-Net).