I was in a bus in Lagos when a traffic warden leaned through the window and whipped the driver.
This act split the passengers in the bus into two groups: those who thought the bus driver deserved it and those who felt the policeman was wrong.
But I had watched the whole thing unfold, and in the moment before the traffic warden flogged the driver, I had seen the look on his face.
He had waved the bus on, and the driver didn’t budge.
Then he shouted, “MOVE!” and the bus driver glanced over and ignored him.
He looked down at his uniform and was reminded he was a policeman. He touched his phone through the thin fabric of his trousers, and did the mental calculation to see if he had enough credit for a phone call. He realised that even if he did, it could take up to an hour for the police backup to arrive. His shoulders sagged.
His face went through a few expressions; from helpless, past sadness and bottomed out at despair. Then he raised his hand and flogged the driver. Thwack!
A few months ago on one of the call-in radio programmes, the discussion topic was whether the police should be empowered to cane traffic offenders.
The host of the show, as he took calls, mentioned that this had been tried in a Middle Eastern country with remarkable success.
Many of the callers were amused by the idea. Some were appalled, “Why would police be beating us, like we are children?” But no one was able to suggest a way to handle traffic offenses without underlying infrastructure like a national identification number or a proper police database.
I was in stalled traffic in Abuja, and we watched a car drive the wrong way on a one way road.
A policeman flagged the car down as it approached him. The car wasn’t going to stop, so he jumped in front of it and spread his hands out like he was trying to corner a cat.
The car stopped inches from the policeman’s legs. He sat on the bonnet of the car and gestured at the driver to come out of the car.
The driver’s eyes darted around looking for witnesses. The car started to accelerate. The policeman rolled unto his stomach and held on, his fingers scrabbling at the windshield wipers.
The driver flicked the steering wheel left then right, the policeman’s legs slid across the front of the car one way and then the other before he was thrown off.
All of us howled with laughter as the car drove away.
Then we went silent, the air was heavy with remorse, and someone said, “See our country,” as the policeman rolled off the road into a ditch.