THE POLICE IS NOT YOUR FRIEND, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE GAY

THE POLICE IS NOT YOUR FRIEND, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE GAY

When you read this story, you will want to say many things about what I should or should not have done. You will recognise my startling naivete and be vexed by my behaviour in a circumstance of police harassment. And you would be right. In the weeks after this incident, I questioned myself and listened to people, friends, who have pointed out all the ways I could have stopped myself from being such a victim of the Nigerian Police.

My story begins on a September day that I will now never forget. September 13. A day before that, I’d hooked up with a guy, and during the sex, the condom broke. I was apprehensive about this, and because I hadn’t been tested for HIV this year, I endeavored to do something about my situation. After asking around for an LGBT-friendly clinic where I could get tested, I got the recommendation of a clinic right here in Lekki.

So, on that day, I went to the clinic. Got tested and my results came out negative. I was instructed to come back again in a few months’ time, but in the meantime, they gave me PEP medication to take, to extra-ensure my safety from HIV contraction. The doctor talked to me about condom usage and the generous application of lubricant to ensure the incident of the condom breaking doesn’t happen again. At the end of my appointment, I left the clinic with my PEP medication, some condoms and lubes.

I ordered a Taxify and was soon on my way home.

The trip was barely five minutes along (we were coming up on Lekki-Epe Expressway), when what turned out to be a police van pulled up before us, with the men inside tumbling out and ordering the driver to stop. These men were not in uniform, but wore very well the aggressive authority one has come to associate with the police.

I’d never before been harassed by the police, so this sudden intrusion threw me into a state of anxiety, as they – about four of them – instructed the driver to come out and open the boot for a search. Believing that they must think this was a private car, I stepped out and told them that it was a commercial vehicle, a Taxify, and that I was a passenger not the owner.

These men then took one look at me – at my elegant dressing, at the rings adorning my finger, at the iPhone in my hand – and they zeroed in on me.

They asked me who I was. I told them my profession, that I’m a designer. They asked where I was coming from. I told them I hadn’t been feeling well, and was on my way home from the hospital. They asked for my phone, which I calmly handed over. My first mistake.

At this point, they had started talking about how I can say I’m a designer and be looking this flashy and own an iPhone. That I must be a yahoo boy. I protested, saying that I am who I said I was.

They said I should end my Taxify trip and follow them to their car. Again, I obeyed. My second mistake. I ended the trip and got into their vehicle with them. All I was thinking was that if I cooperated with them, if I showed what an agreeable person I was, they would let me go.

While in the van, they were still making noise about me being a yahoo boy, noise which was reinforced when the one going through the media gallery of my phone came upon a screenshot I took of a 3-million naira transaction I did for my elder brother. They pounced on that as proof of my internet criminality, that I was going to have to pay them 1 million naira to get out of this. I told them to look at the screenshot well, that they would see that the name on it isn’t the name they’d see on my ID card, that the transaction belongs to my brother, not me.

At this time, the van had started moving, and we were now driving away from Lekki toward Victoria Island. I still believed I could sway these guys into letting me go if I behaved myself.

Having gone through my media gallery and not finding anything out of the ordinary, the policeman with my phone turned his attention to my WhatsApp. When I saw what he typed in the search bar on WhatsApp, I began to panic. This guy had typed to search “role”, “top” and “bottom”. They were now moving their “investigation” from yahoo boy to homosexuality.

Feeling desperate because I knew what those search words would produce, I began to beg in earnest, offering to give them 20k to let me go. My third mistake. (At this point, I’m just going to stop pointing out my mistakes. I made many of them, as you will no doubt catch as you read on.) This seemed to validate my “guilt”. We were officially negotiating the terms of my release when one of them responded that I should pay them 50k. I said I didn’t have that and maintained that I could give them 20 if they’d just let me go at once. They doubled down on 50.

The story quickly changed when the phone investigator came upon the “incriminating evidence” of my homosexuality in the form of some of my chats, some of them sexual, and including the ones where I was asking about an HIV clinic. He hollered that I’m even a faggot, and passed my phone around for the others to see. It was at this point that they finally looked into the nylon they confiscated from me. The nylon I’d been with, which had my PEP medication, condoms and lubes. They saw its content and their energy heightened. One of them started slapping me repeatedly, as they heaped accusations and verbal abuse on me. “So, you be homo sef… See condoms and lube wey you dey carry, so na man house you dey come from, come dey lie say you dey come from hospital… Faggot like you… You have all these condoms because you are going around bursting man nyash, eh… We go show you today…”

My desperate explanations that I was truly coming from a hospital where I’d gone to get tested for HIV fell on deaf ears. I even tried to tell them about PEP, pointing at the drug as proof of where I’d been. Still nothing. Instead they turned that around to say that I was HIV positive, threatening that they would pass my pictures to instablog9ja and my reputation would be ruined. I couldn’t believe what was happening, that these men were being this callous. They were shouting over my explanations, while that particular one kept intermittently hitting me.

Soon, we were driving up to the FCID in Alagbon. They pulled me out of the van and one of them hissed at me to “act normal”. Again, I cooperated, still believing that I could “good boy” my way out of this. Flanking me, they led me toward a building. At this time, I was desperately begging them, agreeing to pay the 50k they’d earlier asked for. But they responded that my luck had run out.

They marched me straight to the office of someone I figured was their boss and told him about my arrest. The man said he was on his way out and that he would deal with my case when he returns. They took me to a counter which was manned by a policewoman. She took one look at me and began making some empathetic sounds about how I looked too fine to be in trouble, asking her colleagues what I did. They gleefully announced my “crime” to her – that I’m a homo. The woman made a sound of displeasure, but her expression was still kind when she turned to me to say things like “But how can a fine boy like you be doing that kind of thing? It’s not good.”

The men produced writing materials and barked at me to write a statement. I was so flustered that I didn’t know what to write. They began dictating to me what to write and I complied. I was so petrified that I even struggled to write some of the words; at some point, I did not know how to spell “is”.

They were also screenshotting my chats, and even then, I still held on to the desperate hope that this would not escalate any further. That somehow, they would still soon let me go. When I got some alone time with the policewoman, I begged her to intercede on my behalf. She tried. She went over to the men to beg them to take what I was offering and let me go. But they refused.

The day was waning, and they booked me to be remanded in cell. I begged and begged. Asked to be given the chance to call someone, anyone, at least to know what was happening. They refused.

And just like that, I was shut in behind bars. It was like a nightmare. I couldn’t believe the twist of horror that my life had taken. Just this afternoon, my most pressing problem was to know if I was HIV positive. Now, I was locked up in a cell like a common criminal.

Fortunately for me, my cell mates were kindly toward me once they saw from my countenance that I was an ajebo. I didn’t belong there and they knew this. Some of them said consoling words to me, advising me on what to do the next day to ensure I wouldn’t spend another night in jail.

I couldn’t even sleep that night. I was tortured by my anguish over how I came to be in this situation and thoughts of how this situation could possibly escalate to something worse. I thought about the stories that had made past headlines of boys arrested at parties and dragged to court to be tried over their perceived homosexuality. This couldn’t be my lot! It just couldn’t!

The next day was Saturday. Someone in my cell pointed out a policeman who he said was nice, that I could ask to use his phone to call my people. I approached the man, and he let me have his phone. I called my dad who stays in a different state, told him I’d been arrested and that I needed someone to come speak for me at the station. He in turn called my elder brother, who lives overseas. My brother then called back on the policeman’s number to hear from me what was going on. I told him the same thing I told my dad, and he said he would send someone over to the station.

Around 3 PM, my cousin who lives on the Mainland and a couple of my brother’s friends arrived at the station. They met with two of the officers that arrested me, and the negotiations for my release was soon underway. The policemen were very loud about how I was a homosexual, and I just wanted to die as they brandished the screenshots they took of my WhatsApp chats, showing them to my cousin and brother’s friends. They set my bail money at 500k, but the guys on my side bargained hard until they landed on 300k.

All this was by no means a swift process. The entire thing dragged on all afternoon till nighttime. After they settled on 300k, this was communicated to my brother, who then sent the money across. However, when the policemen saw how fast the money was produced, they changed their mind, insisted that the bail money was now 400k. We couldn’t tell my brother this; I had about 100k in one of my accounts and gave my cousin my ATM card to go get it. I was just not going to spend another night in this place.

While my cousin was away to get the money, one of the policemen who arrested me came to where I was and began mouthing off with his ignorance. Talking about how all gays have HIV and how it was our punishment for doing what we do. He talked about how my case was similar to one they handled a while ago – of a cultist they arrested who turned out to be gay as well, and how his family also found out about this at the police station. He said this with some sort of pleasure, like he was thrilled that their job description included outing homosexual people to their families. I sat there, ignoring him, silently wanting him to just go away.

Finally, we were done and left the station. The policemen returned all my things to me, including my PEP medication. However, the condoms and lubes were missing. My cousin dropped me off at my place. I felt at once grateful for the familiar surrounding of my house and alien because of the contamination of my period in a police cell. I was traumatized and suicidal, and I went to bed that night battling depression. I just wanted to sleep and never wake up.

The next day, Sunday, was spent on the phone with my family members. My brother was furious. Kept on ranting about how I’d disgraced him and our family, how he’d always suspected me of being gay and now I had to make it known in such a public way, how I should be ashamed of myself, and how I could have the nerve to roll around with faggots in a country like Nigeria where homosexuality was frowned upon.

My mother, on the other hand, was more sensitive to my fragile state of mind. She was consoling and grateful to God for ensuring my safety.

My cousin also called to encourage me to not let my ordeal get to me. He said he didn’t believe what the police said about me being gay, that they were after all notorious for manufacturing evidence and could have very well fabricated those screenshots they showed them at the station.

My cousin also wanted me to give him back the sum of 10k, which he said he borrowed from his wife the previous day to settle something at the police station on my behalf. I didn’t question his claim and had just about that amount in my other account. I transferred it to him.

By the end of that day however, I felt marginally better than I did the previous night. But I was still in a bad place.

On Monday, my cousin called again, telling me to come online on WhatsApp. Because of the incident, I’d logged off and deactivated all social media platforms of mine, even deleted my pictures on Instagram. So, I reinstalled WhatsApp and logged on. My cousin showed me a message that was supposedly sent to him by the police. (He had served as my guarantor at the station, and so, had had to supply his phone number to the police.) The message asked him to come back to the station with 40 thousand naira as a fee for the destruction of all the evidence the police had against me. My cousin then asked me to send him the money so he could get going, that he didn’t want any trouble with the police.

I was irritated by this. Wasn’t he the one who himself emptied my bank account to pay for my bail? The 10k I sent him the previous day was basically all I had on me. Where did he think I’d get 40k from? And why on earth would the police demand for this extra money for such a silly task as deleting the screenshots they had?

I told my cousin that I would have to call my brother and try to get the money from him. But my brother had questions. Suspicions directed at my cousin. He said he would have to verify his claims first. So, he called one of those friends who he’d sent to the station; this friend apparently had a police friend. And through this police friend, word must have gotten to the station where I was arrested, because they called me to confront me over the lie they heard my guarantor was telling about them. I told the person who called that I only knew what my cousin told me.

In fact, this whole mess that is this story did not let up simply because I was released from the police station. Long story short, the police called my cousin to harass him for lying. They also believed I was in on the lie and threatened to come to my place (whose address they had from my statement) and take me in again. My brother had to pay some more money to mollify them. My brother was also pissed at my cousin, and I felt betrayed by him for trying to profit off of my situation. I started doubting the 10k he got from me, realizing that he’d probably lied about that too. But he remained steadfast in his denial, maintaining that he didn’t fabricate the WhatsApp message.

Anyway, it’s been a couple of months since then, and the road to my mental and psychological healing has been a long one. It didn’t help that my brother often lashed out with his homophobia, and that when I narrated the ordeal to my friends, they made a case for all the ways I could have prevented myself from going through it. All the ways I let myself be intimidated by the police, when I could have had more strength of will.

“You willingly got into their van even before they had anything on you,” said a friend. “You should never do that! What if they were kidnappers? They weren’t wearing any uniform. How could you do that?”

I read the post about the model who was arrested simply because the police believed all models are gay, and the memories of that period in my life came rushing back. The police is NOT your friend, especially when you’re gay. It was a tough lesson to learn, but learn it I have.

Written by Bola

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