Navigating Nigeria: My Encounter With the Police Left Me With PTSD

October 20, 2022

On October 20, 2020, Nigerian security forces shot unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos to crush the EndSARS protests demanding an end to police brutality. Two years after the unfortunate incident, Nigerians are still wondering if the sacrifices made by hundreds of youths paid off. 

Citizen spoke to Hassan*, a copywriter, who shared his experience navigating a post-EndSARS Nigeria and what has changed about policing since that ugly October night.

Tell us about your experience

Where do I start? On Independence Day last year — that’s the irony of it all — I was coming back from working at a Jameson Connects show. While on the Carter Bridge, I noticed some cars stopped in front of my Bolt ride and I didn’t know why.

We soon found out it was the police. The next thing, they asked to search me.

What happened next? 

They put me inside their bus to take me to the station and also had time to stop other cars. I saw them rough-handle two girls. One of the police guys cocked his gun at them and said “I’ll shoot you and nothing will happen.”

What? Even after #EndSARS happened?

Yeah. We were on the road for about 45 minutes and this was around 11 p.m. I think we were like 20 people or so in detention, many of us were coming from the same event. They drove us to Alagbon Police Station in Ikoyi and then they took us to one corner in the back and made us take off our shoes, our belts — the usual things. They didn’t tell us what they were going to do with us. We were trying to plead our case but they weren’t responding.

They just kept intimidating us, saying, “All of you EndSARS people abi?” They left us after about an hour, maybe to get more people to detain. I had no plans to spend the night in that station so after some time I tried talking to one officer who seemed the least violent among them. They were always trying to do this “good cop, bad cop” thing. 

Recounting the experience makes me laugh.

Na wa. What happened next?

He collected my phone and asked me to open it. He asked me to open my bank app. I was like, “Las las, it’s extortion. Oya now.” 

I showed him that I had like ₦‎30k. He laughed and said that’s nothing, that I had to pay ₦‎300k. I was like, “For what?” I tried to reason with him but he just told me to call my family. My mum had travelled and my dad was sleeping, there’s no way I would wake him up. 

He later said ₦‎200k, but we negotiated down to ₦‎150k and then ₦‎100k. That’s how much they agreed to rob me for that day. I had to move money from my Cowrywise account. The annoying thing was that I was about to start my leave from work and planned to go to Abuja. It was the ₦‎100k for the flight that I used to bail myself out that day.

Sorry. Was that where it ended?

No. They didn’t give me my shoes; just slippers and my bank card. I wanted to do a transfer because (with that) I could easily trace the transaction. But they said no, they don’t do transfers. 

About four or five heavily armed men carried only me in their van and drove to an ATM and parked not too far from it. They told me to get down, withdraw the money and come back to them.

I was like, “These guys can do anything to me o.” A bunch of things were going through my head. It was around 2 a.m. now and nobody knew where I was. I was just supposed to go to a work event and return home.

I withdrew the money from the ATM and gave it to them. Then, they drove me back. I thought that would be it o, let me be going to my house, I’ve paid my bribe. But nah. Apparently, one of them had my phone and had gone out on another trip, so I had to wait for him to get back. He didn’t come back for another hour or so. 

Mad!

I remember that while I was waiting in that station, the police were performing the “good cop, bad cop” routine on the girls they were harassing earlier. One of them just broke down crying. I felt so bad for her but I couldn’t say anything because I was in the same situation. I wanted to empathise with her but I was just lost for words.

While I was still waiting for my phone, I heard the officers gisting. They had this phrase they were chanting heavily that I won’t forget, “We go collect”. That is, every one of us would be extorted one way or another. And then I knew that the intimidation and extortion was actually a thing for them.

Another thing I noticed was that one of the officers was talking about his dreams and plans to leave the country. He kept saying that if he got a ticket to Canada, he’d drop the police uniform immediately and go.

Around 4 a.m., the officer with my phone got back and  they told me that I could go. Go where? I had to remind them that this was the pandemic period and ride-hailing apps stopped working from 12 a.m. I was stuck. But as God would have it, there was another guy who was arrested for no reason. He was an Uber driver so they told him to drop me at my house and return to the station.

The guy was lamenting to me while his wife kept calling him in the car — it was a weird situation. I still had to pay his transport fare after being robbed by the police. He didn’t even drop me at my house but 20 minutes away. I had to walk the remaining distance alone, in the middle of the night. That’s how I got home that night. 

That’s scary

Apparently, I was the only one of my co-workers that was released that night.The rest of them spent the night in a cell and had to pay ₦150k each. I was lucky to have “gotten away”, because I’m fragile and have health conditions.

Do you remember where you were on October 20, 2020? 

I was home on October 20, 2020. I had been in the protests the previous days but I decided to stay home that day due to the unrest that had been happening. That day was a lot. I felt everything — a whole lot of emotions. I eventually had to get off social media because I was starting to spiral. Shout out to my friends that saw the signs. They decided to call me and keep me occupied for hours just to calm me down.

Two years on, would you say anything has changed? What impact would you say EndSARS has had on Nigeria?

Absolutely nothing has changed. I still get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) whenever I pass by a police checkpoint because eight out of 10 times they will stop my car and ask me to come down for no reason other than I have dreads. Two years later, we still don’t have police reform and there’s still no hope. 

 *Name changed to protect their identity.

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