By Damola Awoyokun
As the United States deadline to pull out its troops from Iraq approaches, I give myself grounds to recall my efforts to bring forward that date. As the sun woke up on that Thursday, March 21, 2003 announcing the darkness that has enveloped Iraq and beyond, spruced up in an aso oke agbada over jeans, and dog-eared cap, I commenced a protest march from Maryland in lagos to meet the representatives of Bushmen in Nigeria taking conspicuous parts of the expressway with the hope that from my demonstration somebody gets infected and inspired somewhere. Detailed on my posters as I set out to join and to give an African dimension to the global anti-war flow were: 'BUSHmen are weapon of mass destruction'. 'Those who kill by the sword will die by the sword', 'Tony Blaring Noise: it is a foolish fly that follows the corpse to the grave', 'It is Iraq today it could be Niger-Delta tomorrow'. 'Disarm BUSHmen now'. Someone nearly die; someone just die. Police dey come army dey come…
After over an hour walk, I boarded a commercial vehicle at Yaba going to Obalende. There, I planted on my head an Oru, a dirty white clay pot. Oru, in my part of Africa, functions also as a crucible for supplications, divine or metaphysical. And my only supplication that inspired prima facie my demonstration was PEACE, symbolized in the palm trees stuffed inside the pot. So the solo procession moved through Dodan barracks to Keffi Road to Awolowo Road then to Falomo Bridge. Eyes popped out from passing vehicles at an early morning wonder. Some cared to read the captions. Some ran away from my path. Others just ridiculed me outrightly. Sense of global solidarity and spirit of protest have truly diminished in the Nigerian consciousness. We fear to fight for freedom; we fear to fight for liberty; we fear to fight for justice; we fear to fight for happiness. We always get reason to fear: we no wan die…
I linked Ozumba Madibwe Road through the Falomo Bridge and set out for Walter Carrington Crescent that housed the American and British Embassies. As I moved deeper into the crescent, true opposition came. "Hey you. What you…where you dey waka?" Time dey go. Time no wait for nobody O. Police go dey come, army go dey come with confusion with style like this: hmmmm…… "You no dey hear word?" The owner of the voice, a hulking brute of an armed police officer, materialized before me like a heavenly apparition annoyed with the world.
"You don craze," Said this apparition. "You wan spoil my job.” "oya go back" , roared another Mopol.
Go back? Cheaply like that? No way. I sat down in rebelliousness; only to be kicked, gun-jabbed and dragged on the road. My posters were torn from me and with his gun, scattered my pot, my supplication into a thousand pieces. Suddenly I glee at an idea. So I walked out of their crescent hoping to pursue this new plan B: the back gate. Later the officers had a better idea. They ran after me to arrest me as their early morning trophy. In the struggle that followed my agbada burst along its seams, leaving itself in the hands of the armed cops. Towards Ozumba Road I dashed precisely in front of a bullion convoy. The officer left his gun with his colleague in pursuance of me. With one hand he grabbed my T-Shirt and with the other hand he attempted drawing me by the waist of my trousers but with my rudimentary Taekwando knack, I deflected his arm constantly. A policeman and a female traffic warden intervened after seeing the mammoth traffic freeze we set off.>
"For what? I am not following him. Where is he taking me? Because of ordinary peaceful campaign." After the warden's plea, my tormentor, Norbert Ogwe, touted loudly on his ID tag, accepted to let go his grab on the condition of my cooperation. He obliged and I slipped away. This worked him more into a deaf fury. He called for his gun, cocked it, aimed it at me, ordered and I followed him.
Everything going on within me was also pure fury and Fela's 'Sorrow, Tears and Blood' with which I had the previous night infatuated myself by listening to it repeatedly at a phenomenal rate. Effortlessly therefore, it played in my head. My people self dey fear too much. We fear for the thing we no see. We fear for the air around us. We fear to fight for freedom. We fear to fight for liberty. We fear to fight for justice. We fear to fight for happiness. We always get reason to fear...Time dey go. Time no wait for nobody O. Police go dey come, army go dey come with confusion with style like this: hmmmm......
I remained detained for 50 minutes by the American consulate security jeep. Brutalized severely, I remained unbowed, uncowed, indeed resolute and more defiant. Intermittently, I ferociously bounce up, told them about the moral demands of freedom of expression, of protest, about how globally the real coalition of the willing are protesting without being assaulted. They only showed me that they understood by thrashing me more with the gun butt while other embassy guards/driver jeered at me. It was when their 'base' was being informed about developments that I realized that I was being designated as 'a suspect'. One of the security attaché also branded me 'a secret cultist.' Their long awaited commander arrived from the american consualte with four other armed Mopols looking terrible.
"So this is the suspect". "Suspect of what?" I challenged.
"Who sent you?"
"Conscience", I paused.
"You are a student abi? How much did they pay you, tell me? When are others coming?"
Pa-pan-pan-ran-papa. Barrage of questions to which I responded with indifferent silence. My seized posters kept in the boot of their jeep were exhibited. I was hurled into their jeep and together with the rascally commander and the four officers, we headed straight for the consulate. We always have reason to fear: we no wan die; we no wan wound; we need visa; we need green card; mama dey for house. An American shout came in from the walkie-talkie warning that I must not be conveyed in the consulate's vehicle. It was too late. On arrival, I sat-in-state, refusing to alight. "Se bi na you say you wan go embassy why you no wan come down again?" I no wan quench; I wan enjoy. I no wan go. An American with a toothbrush moustache, who I understood was the Internal Security Officer (ISO) came and examined 'the suspect', he muttered inaudibles that sounded likes pieces of broken calabash being swept down a long staircase. The troop forced me down and descended heavily on me. I fought back and turned to the runaway American shouting: "where did you order them to take me, white one? To kill me?" I abused him well and launched violent torrents of vituperative criticisms on Bush and his supporters and proteges.
Here is a country which preen itself about being civilized, whose arrogantly defended constitution has a special category, First Amendment, articulating their belief in and defence of fundamental rights and freedoms. To national of other countries, their behaviour is like a magnetic field whose line of force points away from freedom at the north to despotism at the south pole. On the part of the Nigerian Police 'Force', there is not the slightest evidence that the darkest abyss of Decree 2 and Abacha police mentality lies behind us. So I began to rain iron curses on them moreover because of evident unconscionable servility. An American ordering Nigerian police around to brutalize a fellow non-violent Nigerian in Nigeria? Oh goodness!!! The Mopol commander in particular was like a black shoe in which the white one lived like a foot.
Seven fully armed Mopols led me to where I guessed would be the notorious Bonny camp. Numerous were the woe accounts of OPC members, supposed armed robbers, those who military citizens alleged bashed their vehicles or other alleged misdemeanours being summarily executed. I prepared my mind for the nightmare scenario, the twlight of my life. Yet I was hopeful that my home address that I surreptitiously wrote on a piece of paper and dropped while I was being kidnapped would be seen and somebody will alert the world. So policeman go slap your face you no go talk? Army man go whip your yansh you go dey look like donkey. Rhodesia dem dem own, our leaders dey yab for nothing. South Africa dey do dem o-w-n O! When we reached the pedestrian gate that was previously my Plan B route, it became clear that I would be freed. "War dey Iraq you dey suffer yoursef here", in a drunken spree therefore, my escorts gave me a thorough valedictory beating. I was really really barbarically dehumanised. I survived getting up; one heavy jackboot finally kicked me away in the arse.
Everybody run run run, everybody scatter, scatter."My friend", two of the officers ran up to me, one began to sermonize, "sorry sir, we have to obey them, we too are not happy with the situation and… are you a Muslim?" My head shook no. "we shall win one day…." Before he finished I limped away. Then I truly felt all the inflicted atrocities, the bruises all over me, my swollen shoulders, the lacerations, my now hunched back, the shreds I still put on as clothes, worse still, this recent sleazy sermon that could only serve to rub salt and pepper to my bruises and agony. Anguish that has befallen humanity, how multitudes of innocent Iraqis are suffering and dying due to global tyrants who put oil economics and market forces before human lives. Iraq has become the portrait of American ugliness. But there are many things beautiful about America. How are Iraqis to believe this? Aa-ha! 7 minutes later... Police don go away, army don disappear, dem leave sorrows tears and blood; dem regular trademark. That is why…….