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City of Banjul
Saturday, October 16, 2021

The traffic police officer

It was on Sunday morning, whilst I was riding on my red motorbike on the lonely road to kiang Tendaba, from a distance, I saw a red conic shape reflector in the middle of the road. Something told me that there was a nearby police checkpoint. So, I reduced the acceleration of the four-cylinder engine and pushed the hydraulic disc brake which gradually reduced my velocity.

From my helmet, I could see a traffic police officer looking at me steadily. He frowned as if it was the 19th day of Ramadan. The English grammar he scolded me, told me two things: that he either gradually graduated from Lamin Kerewan Community Development Preparatory Technical Junior and Senior Secondary School or a dropout from Nusrat Senior, obviously NOT from St Peter’s the school of legends.

He instructed me with a gesture to pull over. I did just that without a second thought. As I parked near the road waiting for him to come, I was thinking about what I have done wrong. He walked majestically towards me. I could hear the sound of his shoes that friction and ricochet with the dark basaltic road. Well, his uniform wasn’t neat as I expected, but also remembering the carbon monoxides emitted from different rickety of vehicles on the road, I can’t blame him. His eyes told me that he might be in his late fifties, accentuated with grey moustaches. Those moustaches of his reminded me of one of my favourite Indian film characters called Makambo. He was somewhat chubby with a dusty black shoe that has not been polished for some time. Well, I would describe him to be effortlessly handsome using African standards.

‘Your papers,’ he said. I had to cease the vibrating motion of the diesel engine and quickly disengaged the gears. I took my bag, pulled its zip, and fumbled my hand inside and brought out an A4 size envelope where I kept my motorbike documents and handed it to him. When he pushed his hand in the brown envelope, he picked my new ECOWAS biometric Identity Card (ID). I stared at him surprisingly.

When he gazed at my ID for some time and later realized that he was reading the content upside down, he later turned the card again for the second viewing. Then he shouted ‘What! Come come come, you mean you have been riding this motorbike since the nineteen-eighties (the 1980s), you never change this license’? That was a bolt from the blue. From that statement of his, I knew that I was in a hot vicious soup of misery, but the viscosity of this soup depends on my neutralizer. ‘Sir this is my ID card, not my license,’ I intervened. The beast in him boasted out and shouted ‘Keep quite so why do you have to give me this one to waste my time’? ‘Sir, my documents are inside the envelope, let me help you please.’

I was getting frustrated because my time was wasting. I had to finally park my bike and take off my helmet.

Initially, I didn’t intend to remove my helmet and spectacle, because he might take advantage of my baby face and harass me with his donkey years of experiences in the police force. Now we were looking at each other eyeball to eyeball.

‘Ndoke, show me your particulars’ he said with a serious face. I angrily took my bag, which was equivalent to an Engineering moving workshop. I usually carry everything that I needed to do my works, including a digital multi-meter, tomb tester, plier, flat and Torx screwdrivers, etc. It’s always as heavy as the coffin carrying a chubby ‘Kiangka’ corpse.

Searching for tiny documents in my bag gives me a headache. While I was lifting and placing items in and out of the bag, he shouted ‘boy do you have license and insurance, and have you paid your road tax for 2019’? ‘Let me show you, sir, I have all my papers’ I argued.

‘You, look you said with your okra mouth that you have your documents five minutes ago and you cannot show me a single one of them. You have to do something or you go and park over there’ he pointed at a big tree, where I saw another police officer sitting on the wooden bench. I was thinking who amongst them the boss was, or should I go and plead with the guy under the tree? Something in me told me ‘Sulayman the two of them are like Peter and Paul, don’t waste your carbon and precious saliva’

I finally gave up because I couldn’t see my documents to save me from the desperate officer. ‘I think I left them at home. I am at fault, sir No man is infallible, but temper justices with mercy, because to err is human and to forgive is divine’ I pleaded.

Little did I know that my subservience or servility could have made me more susceptible to the corrupted jaws of this officer. He took a deep breath and held his waist with both hands like a referee about to give Messi a red card “So you know that you are at fault and you were pretending to be innocent.”

 Well, I have given him the carpentry chisel to chisel my head to any size of polygon.

“It’s a crime to waste an officer’s time. Do you know how many vehicles just escaped me without hammering them just because of you? Now without wasting my time ‘kukai’ (Do something) or ‘Eya-Maama’ (shake yourself) he concluded.”

In a nutshell, he told me what he wanted but not in so many words. I knew he wanted me to give him money with the local jargon. I pretended as if I didn’t understand and asked him ‘please can you come again?’

‘Wait, are you a student’? He said. ‘I am a journalist, and an anti-corruption activist and I anchor a weekly programme at a radio station called FMB Radio 98.0 FM every Thursday from 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm on corruption in civil services’ he opened his eyes at me and said ‘oh so you are the so-called journalists in the New Gambia confusing everybody with unfounded stories and fake news uhum? So, where were you? And why are you so particular about corruption, a young boy like you? Let me tell you something in case you don’t know. Since you were not born; people were born in corruption, they grew in corruption, they are struggling and making money in corruption and most importantly they are happy in corruption. So just drop ‘Attaya Song’ (cost of Chinese green tea) and leave or we go to the station,” he stressed.

All of a sudden, he frowned like a politician who just lost an election, while steadily observing an incoming truck. He blew his whistle and shouted ‘SILO BULA !!’ (leave the road) with a gesture that depicts a Chinese Taekwondo instructor. He was referring to a blue rickety of a truck with vibrating chassis. That was the beginning of another roadside drama.

The truck kept shivering like a Swedish grandmother during winter solstice as it slowly pullover just near me. It finally gave out some mechanical perfume through its exhaust system. It was loaded to the vomiting point, with Gmelina logs. He swiftly moved towards the Truck.

I heard the truck driver jokingly called his name “DARBOE…DARBOE…” He responded ‘look Kaanan-Yab! you said that you will come back yesterday, what happened?” From that moment I knew that he had unfinished business with the driver. “Belie- Walie-Talie, Darboe I had a flat tyre in Kafuta village; that’s why you didn’t see me. And my foolish apprentices borrowed someone with my hydraulic Jack,” he replied. I could notice that his statement didn’t impress his apprentices judging from the way he squeezed his mouth while seated on top of the logs.

‘So Nyadi-lem (so how is it?)? Asked officer Darboe as he glanced through the transparent glass of the truck to see the concentration of his colleague sitting under the tree. The Driver gently gave him some documents. As he was viewing the papers, he smartly removed a D25 note and wrapped it tightly in his hand. For the first time, I saw him smiled.

Well, I didn’t need a weatherman to tell me where the wind was blowing neither did, I need to be a student of Quantum physics to grasp that interaction, which was happening at my very before. What irked and irritated me was knowing the price of the so-called strict officer. On the whole, he was just an ordinary officer who could be zipped permanently with D25; with all his biscuit threats, he projected at me.

 When he gazed at me while technically collecting the money, he knew that I saw him. Then he automatically changed his mood.

When the driver ignited his spark ignition engine, I knew that the deal was done.

 I had to return to my pleading mood since I was also a victim. While he was approaching me something interesting happened.

As he was coming towards me, his D25 note fell and was carried by the breeze. He rushed to grab it but unfortunately, the money kept rolling with the wind. The way the officer ran after the D25 note kept me laughing. He finally grabbed the ‘jogging money’ and pushed it in his other pocket which I believed was secured.

As I stood meditating when will this country get rid of corruption or mitigate this scourge? I thought of the poor SALARY structure of the civil service. The high dependency ratio and unemployment of the youth. At that moment, I was thinking of a panacea to this menace that is eating our social fabric. I had to narrow down and limit my thoughts on the Police force, if I don’t want my chicken brain to detonate, trying to think of other sectors.

I know some police officers who are very hardworking and diligent. A glaring example is Officer Camara (a traffic officer at Yundum Primary school junction). Each time I passed him on the road, this ‘Poliso’ always hit ‘Saluto’ for me. The way he directs the traffic with gestures of dexterity and enthusiasm, made me feel that there is hope for this country. His uniform is always as neat as expected. His white gloves and shinning green sleeveless vest kept reflecting on the road. His attitude towards the job makes me feel like joining the POLICE FORCE!

Unlike his compatriot, one ‘DARBOE kundanko’ of an officer who I believed might be the President-elect of Corrupt Officers’ Association.

Officer Darboe peeved me with biscuit threats because I didn’t dance to the tunes of corruption. He even had the impetus to remind me that ‘there was corruption before I was born’. Well, I respected him not because he was officer DARBOE, but because of the dignified police uniform, he wore.

For I know he will not have that audacity to talk, if the two of us were put in a soundproof hall just for five minutes, someone obviously will speak Latin. Even in a battlefield of Spartans and gladiators, he dares not pick my gauntlet when I throw it in the fortified arena. Besides, I wished not to appear on the front page of The Gazette with the caption “A civilian manhandled a traffic Officer”

Perhaps, Officer Darboe was taking my kindness as a weakness. But I must remind him that the pungency of the pepper is not determined by its size. And a more powerful warrior embraces patient and time. He of all people should know that the venom of a viper cannot do anything to the shell of a tortoise. At that instance, I felt like to borrow a Lion’s Heart and deal with him fearlessly, and wait for the outcome. ‘Look Ndokai, now what do you say? you have been here for like 10 minutes. If you don’t have anything for the Officers to appreciate their job let’s go to the police station. And you will be charged accordingly for riding without a licence, road tax and insurance’ he said.

“Sir, so what should I do now. I know am at fault.” I pleaded guilty. “Just give me anything from your heart and disappear.” He stressed.  As a smart ‘Localo’ I asked him again. ‘So, sir will I be given a receipt at the end of the day’. He shouted “Look! even the Inspector General of the Gambia police will not give you a receipt for such. You want to play with me. Acha, let’s go to the Station.” “Acha let’s go,” I said. He shouted to his colleague on the other side of the road to inform him that he is going to the station.

“Can you start your motorbike let’s move now, he quickly said as he was trying to climb the back seat of the bike. I interjected ‘No sir, you have to provide transport since you want to take me to the station. I don’t have fuel to go to the Station and my engine block, oil, spark plugs, carburetor, radiator, and injectors will all depreciate’. “Ok now give me all your keys” he angrily said. ‘No sir, I can’t give you my keys it’s not your mandate. That was the beginning of the unforgettable war.

He first released his grammatical missile at me and said ‘look I will deal you by myself’, well I can’t tell what he meant. Maybe he wants to deal with, me or himself. Whatever his intention was, all I knew was, no grammatical weapon fashioned against me shall prosper, but back to the sender. With all the bunches of words he uttered, I heard bloody fool, bloody civilian, idiot, as you were, bullshit, nonsense, rubbish, and who are you. The more he speaks with anger, the more he assassinates the English language. Trading words with him was the last thing on my mind. All I wanted was to let the law take its course. I would rather prefer to pay fines to the government than a corrupt officer.

I saw his colleague coming toward us, I calmed myself. Well, that one spoke to me like someone well breastfed by his mother. He enquired from me, then I explained the situation from its genesis.  Then he said ‘if you are sure that you truly have a license, insurance, and road tax, I will give you a Memo then you will leave your ID card or passport with us, then come with your documents tomorrow or in two days to confirm’.  Immediately he rendered that solution, I reflected on the words of one of my mentor who always tells me ‘people who know the job are always humble, creative, solution-oriented and good listeners, but the opposite is usually lousy, whimsical, they much ado about nothing, build mountains out of mud hill and every morning they bring a new gossip to work’.

I humbly requested to know his name, he said ‘I am officer Gomez’. I said ‘wow nice to meet you, sir’. That surname of his reminded me of the schooldays debate with my friends Moses Mendy and Wilson Gomez. Their motion was on the honesty and handwork of the Manjagoes. I always debunk their theories and even fabricated a story, that our primary school headmaster was one Mr. Gomez who usually steals our school fees and foodstuff including ‘Combeefos’ meant for the students.

Whilst he was gently discussing with me, officer Darboe was busy chasing vehicles and blowing his whistle like a referee. Officer Gomez reassured me ‘don’t worry when Darboe is free, I will discuss it with him ok, just hang around’. Officer Gomez’s attitude wasn’t akin to his comrade. What he proofs to me was a true statesman who is worth emulating. He has unknowingly revivified my confidence in the police force, unlike his colleague acting like a vampire; shocking the economic vitality of people all in the name of being an officer. Someday, nemesis shall surely catch up with him.

    I wasn’t expecting officer Darboe to release me so easily after all the brouhaha and hullabaloo. Constable Gomez received a call and stroll around to talk, I sat on their wooden bench waiting for officer Darboe while he was shouting on other drivers. 

Officer Darboe spent many years on that checkpoint because I could remember him since I started using that road. I couldn’t tell why he is never moved to the police station or even promoted to a higher rank. Something spoke to me ‘his Station Officer (S.O) must have a good reason for his never-changing deployment in the noisy and dusty traffic; because if his presence is as good as his absence in the office, he should be in traffic. Else he might just be a piece of MATTER in the office, having weight and occupying space. Nothing more.’

Even with the advent of beautiful chubby female officers that took over the entire traffic command from Kartong to Koina, officer Darboe remained stuck in the traffic acting like the alpha and omega on the road. Well if one didn’t know him, he might be tempted to think that he is either a Chief Superintendent or Deputy Commissioner of the Gambia police force. With the interactions I had with him, my instincts told me that he is either a Chief Inspector or an Assistant Superintendent judging from his age and probably his length of service. If he earns his promotions only through longevity, then his length of service might be stretched around two decades. Assuming after he left the training school and directly becomes a Constable (with no rank), he must serve for over two years before assuming the next rank which is First Class Constable, then to Corporal, Sergeant, Sub-Inspector, Inspector, Chief Inspector, and Assistant Superintendent. However, I wasn’t expecting him on higher ranks like Deputy Superintendent, Superintendent, Chief Superintendent, or Deputy Commissioner. Even if Officer Darboe was offered with ranks meant for Einstein’s and Newton in the police force, he dares not shoulder it; for instance, Commissioner, Assistant Inspector General (AIG), Deputy Inspector General or Inspector General. Well, I might even upgrade him in my imaginations if he wasn’t demoted which led to his current plight.

For me, all the bunch of words he rained on me, what irked and irritated me was ‘bloody civilian’. Initially, it didn’t pain me, however, when I processed this so-called phrase of his, I became furious. Simply because I see myself as a functional citizen in my country who is not only contributing his part toward the socio-economic advancement but as well serving in very many capacities with the utmost tenacity. I refused to be defined because I envisage being the architect of my destiny and master of my fate.

  I said to myself ‘ Well, it’s the bloody civilians that pay your bloody salaries, which enables you to put bloody dishes on your bloody tables. If our income taxes were not deducted to pay you, you couldn’t have married your beautiful better half or probably be emboldened to secure your very many concubines, side-chicks as some called it.’  Come to think of it, if civilians are taken out of the social equation, the lives of police officers will be like the story of Solomon Grundy who was born on Monday, christened on Tuesday, Married on Wednesday, Took ill on Thursday, Grew worse on Friday, Died on Saturday, Buried on Sunday, and God said ‘you know what’  this is the end of Solomon. I couldn’t blame him much since this jargon of intimidation was engraved in their minds from the training school.  

Still waiting on the roadside, I saw officer Darboe put his hand many times in his pocket after submitting vehicle documents to drivers.  I remembered the statement of one of my friend Jasong, he once told me that, the more protruded a police officers’ stomach, the more corrupt he is. Then I glanced at Darboe from afar examining the front elevation of his belly. Again, I reflected on Jasong’s perception of police officers. He said to me that there are different types of corrupt police officers. According to him, there are Corrupt officers (CO), Completely Corrupt Officers, and Corrupt Completely officers. The first type does begging (like anything for the officers?), the second does corruption (for instance taking bribes to close cases) and the final one does embezzlement of police fund itself and swindle citizens by extorting money from them 

I noticed something on the road. officer Darboe was selective on the vehicles he asked to pull over. It’s usually commercial vehicles, some private vehicles, and trucks. All trucks that I saw stopped briefly to exchange words and papers (God knows the rest). I could vividly recall a tinted-glass Prado vehicle without a number plate that approached the checkpoint. In my mind, I was like ‘this plateless vehicle is going to fall on the fishing net of Darboe’. To my astonishment, Officer Darbor pulled myself together like an Agama lizard, raised his right hand proportional to his head that resembles ‘kasu-kulo’ (cashew nut), and made a big salute and shouted ‘Sir!’. Well, probably a fool like myself couldn’t distinguish chaffs from grains, cast iron from wrought iron, a capacitor from a resistor, a radiator from a carburetor, an alternator from a generator but Darboe does. Something told me ‘maybe it’s his Oga pata-patas who are not bloody civilians like myself and the rest of mankind. I still agreed that all vehicles in my country are equal but some vehicles are more equal than others. Indeed those that walk through the corridors of power seem to acquire what I  called ‘traffic diplomatic immunity’. What an irony. If we all pay our taxes like citizens, we should be treated as equals because what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander.  

As the tinted-glassed Prado vehicle passed me, I tried to peep to see who was inside, but I end up seeing a peek of my handsome face. Officer Darboe nearly worship that vehicle. It doesn’t make sense to me, to let a vehicle pass without checking its content, perhaps it might be carrying something illegal. Something told me ‘Saul, think of how miserable your life will be before getting out of this roadside quagmire’.

I wanted to finally give the officer Darboe something to be free from his shackle. I pushed my hand in my pocket to evaluate my ‘Current Corona Economy’, I knew that I had D1000 on me, all in D200 note. Giving him D200 is a no go area since I knew his price. Big trucks with logs gave him D25 and I saw someone who bribed him D10.  Therefore, even if I were the minister for Havens and Earth or Africa Budget Director, I will not ‘over-bribe’ him. If vehicle drivers gave him D25, how much should a mere motorbike rider give, if we have to apply ‘principles of Bribery’ or looking at it from perceptive of value for money?. I then decided what to do finally………..

To be continue

Sulaymam Yourhigness Jammeh, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, MSc Roads and Transportation Engineering

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