I solemnly, sincerely, and truthfully affirm and declare that I will bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic… I will use my best endeavour for the preservation of peace and apprehension of offenders against the peace.
I told you that if snakes were to lose their dreadfulness, women would use them to bind their hair. I also told you that when the hand stops giving, the mouth stops creaking, and the intestines start growling.
It is thirteen Septembers ago. You stood straight, your head filled with patriotism, your belly swelled by the euphoria of the rusted AK-47 that dangled menacingly on the shaft of your leg; your eyes streamed with tears of dream-come-true. As you walked, you walked energetically as if the earth’s equator was tethered on your legs, as if you dragged what you called the endemic corruption in the police force along with you. Your newly sewn black khaki police uniform dazzled infamously in the eyes of Nigerians, just like mine — defeated by the allied forces of age and sun. There was no distinction between you and me. We were policemen, more notorious than reputable. But no, you were different, you thought. You refused to understand that police-is-your-friend is just a mere gimmicky aphorism. The police were enemies of the people, hence, friends to the enemies of the people. It was a perennial evil that has become tacitly conventional.
I remember my voice thundered so loud into your mulish ears as I tried to acquaint you with the core tasks of policing in this part of the world, but you resented it. You gobbled the specious speeches of the superior officers for patriotism. You mistook their kleptomaniac, blubbery hands fattened by daily bribes from helpless Nigerians, which embraced yours in a spurious hospitality, for statesmanship.
Your death arouses a feeling in me — happy that you have learnt a lesson, a lesson that corruption is tacitly conventional here. But sad that you did not live to apply your newly learnt lesson.
At the judge’s pronouncement of your sentence, after five years’ incarceration without trial, after those whom you called your friends, the masses could not protest against your unjust incarceration, because you were a policeman. No sane Nigerian would doubt your culpability. All police officers were corrupt, were criminals — this was what the masses thought, and the Police Force had given them enough proof to think so. They never knew you were different; they were oblivious of your innocence.
I saw your sweating face on the television. Face teeming with perspiration laced by bleakness. Popped veins dotted your emaciated face graphically. An unwanted patriot. My heart heaved irritably when you were forced into the black maria, your hands cuffed, your body drowned thanklessly by the unfitting jail dress. The jail dress was unfitting on you, not for anything but because you were innocent, you were framed, you were hunted by those you hunted. I knew everything, the plans of the enemies cum superior police officers in disguise.
The day you led a team of detectives to the residence of a supreme court judge in whose house you found outrageous amount of money in foreign currencies, was the day you convinced them to plan of your end. You remember you were promised double promotion, you were promised houses in choice places — in Nigeria, Europe, you were offered the position of the chairman of the anti-graft agency; if only you would end your investigation, if only you would end the case, destroy the evidence, tell the press that you raided the residence of the supreme court judge in an error. But you wouldn’t accept those mouth-watering offers, once-in-a-lifetime offers. You forgot that bribe-giving citizens amounted to bribe-collecting police officers. You spoke to the pressmen verbosely, gingerly, patriotically: the corrupt public officials and public servants are not above the law. It’s our duty and responsibility to bring such corrupt officials to book. The suspect will be prosecuted in line with the constitution of the federal republic, your voice ranted.
These offers came when your wife was lying listlessly in the general hospital, lamed by kidney failure. The doctor told you that kidney transplant was needed urgently to save her life. She needed to be flown abroad for kidney transplant, she needed the specialist hands of the Indian doctors. But you knew that your peanuts for salary hardly fed your family, hardly paid the school fees of your two sons. These offers came when your wife held your hand tightly, quaking in the hospital bed from the fangs of kidney failure and more from your unbending zealotry for patriotism. You watched your wife die of thirst while you swam in an ocean.
Three days after her death, you were arrested. When I visited you at the Kiriki Prison, I reminded you of my statement the day you took your police-oath: were snakes to lose their dreadfulness, women would use them to bind their hair.
One of the men in your team had confessed to leasing his gun to a gang of robbers. This was in line with bringing you down. He indicted you in his confession. In the court, you saw it, he testified against you. He spoke convincingly before the court that you sold your bullets to this gang. He told the court before your very eyes that severally, you gave a tip-off of your operation to these robbers. The leader of the gang also testified that on several occasions, you had sold bullets to him and had leased your gun to him for robbery operations.
But you know what? Neither the junior officer who testified against you nor the leader of the gang was jailed. Two months after your sentence, they were flown abroad. Maybe, granted a presidential pardon or released from the prison by the supreme court judge who later became the nation’s chief judge.
The news of your mysterious death one year into your twelve-year imprisonment drains me.
Chukwu Sunday Abel (Sunabel) is a Lagos-born journalist, an on-air personality and a satirist. He is the 2020 winner of Creators of Justice Literary Award for short stories.