Ways to Die in Lagos: Part I
One of the surest ways to die in Lagos is pretty simple; be an average-looking young lady within the age range of 23 to 30, put on an Afro wig and look like you could never hurt a fly. Most importantly, carry a Swiss Army Knife. Yes, you heard me, carry a compartmentalized household tool that can be used for various purposes (except killing). A typical Swiss Army Knife can hold up to 12 different tools including a short blade (definitely not for killing except you’re Ted Bundy), a nail file, corkscrew, screwdriver, bottle opener, scissors and other harmless objects that make the life of an enthusiastic craftswoman a little bit easier.
I’m sure you’re wondering why this writer is going through the pain of explaining what a Swiss Army Knife is and what does it have to do with living in one of the busiest cities in Nigeria and dying? This unusual paradox was my situation on that fairly sunny afternoon in July on my way back from a brief trip to see a friend.
I have many interests as a person and some may label me as a mix of all things sweet and bitter, soft and hard, old and young; this was my reality, it was all me. While I could gaze lovingly at the sharpness of a stainless steel blade, I equally would crave the feel of fine linen or silk on my face. I enjoyed the view of the Atlantic ocean waves crashing on the shores as much as I fantasized about learning to shoot at a gun range. It was the clashing of my interests that pulled me into one of the most memorable and arguably traumatic experiences of my life. It was my need for simple tools to appease my handy, crafty nature that led me to meet our first daunting character; America.
America was the personification of the average policeman who had the looks of a regular customer for bleaching skin care products. He had a rugged facial structure which suggested a lifetime of hardship. His eyes, were like that of a predator seeking his next prey. He bore the consciousness of a man who had seen the worst of Lagos, of life and wanted to see the good parts by any means necessary.
He held his rifle over his shoulder as he waved down my ride by the Y-junction at midday. I’ve heard stories of young men and women who had suffered this fate with the Nigerian police. I thought I would be safe from all of it, given my naive and soft demeanour. Not me! I presumed I could never be a target for such ruthless, unlawful perpetuation of ‘justice’ by the Nigerian Police. In the words of a true Nigerian, ‘e clear me for eye’ as America scanned my driver and me with incriminating eyes hoping to earn his daily bread. As a lamb led to the slaughter, I presented myself on a silver platter to be bullied by law enforcement officers who couldn’t recite the national pledge.
America demanded that my car door be flung open so he could proceed to conduct an unwarranted search of the car and my personal belongings. In what seemed like a flash, I remembered the Swiss Knife that was perpetually in that purse. It never occurred to me to take it out of that bag because I barely went out. I was who you could call a homebody; anything that would make me experience the harsh weather conditions, menacing traffic or the uncouth speech of agitated Lagosians was out of the works for me. At that moment, I expected the worst but hoped for the best. This seemingly dutiful police officer rummaged through my brown cross bag, revealing my essentials; a small chiffon Leopard print scarf my mother had given me nine years ago, a draft for an unpublished story, my Nivea Lipbalm, the single key to the apartment I cohabited with my sister and of course, the murderous weapon I carried. Trepidation coursed through every part of my body as he uttered those words, “What are you doing with knife, you’re one of those people who stab Uber guys abi?” He asked this rhetoric question with a hint of illiteracy, seeping through his unjustified allegations. His time had come, he had scored a win for the day and was going to milk the most out of this fresh youngin who was ignorant of the ways of the streets. “Come down” he said, with the faux authority his uniform and rifle awarded him. I was scared beyond reason. I tried to reason with him, to explain that the object was not for any of the devious acts he mentioned. All my explanations fell on deaf ears as America began his over-rehearsed routine of overstating the crimes of innocents. It was like clockwork. He ushered me to the patrol car that was parked nearby and detained me like a criminal.
Everything was happening so fast that I didn’t have the nerve to hold back my emotions. I burst into tears, still trying to make this overzealous officer understand that the only use the Swiss Knife had served was cutting rope, acrylic painting paper, filing my naturally flourishing nails and screwing in bolts. America hailed his superior to affirm his deductions and a dark-skinned potbellied officer strolled lazily towards my rather wet and sanitarily unappealing make-shift cell.
I could not deduce his alias so we will go with Congo, given his deeply melanated skin tone. Congo affirmed America’s allegations that I was a wild and unstable girl who for no reason would stab an Uber driver. He spoke as one who had had a prior encounter with me, with such surety that I had proven to him beyond all reasonable doubt that I was a raving lunatic who took pleasure in spilling blood. My fate was sealed, I was a criminal for possessing such dangerous weapons and as such would be escorted to be further detained in the well-known Ikoyi Prison. I didn’t know what a prison looked like and I wasn’t eager to find out but here I was, granted the exclusive opportunity to spend quality time in the detainment facility, Oh happy day!