Nigerian Checkpoint: The Pacification of Area Boy

Not far from the Mainland Hotel in Lagos, Nigeria, while I was working on getting to the bottom of the magical penis theft question, my taxi was stopped by some “police.” Not the kind who get cats out of trees and help old ladies across the street. Here’s what happened:

That afternoon, I got a taxi and headed back to my hotel. Traffic was heavy, and it took a long time for us to get off Lagos Island, but the driver finally headed over the bridge and we reached the mainland.

After we crossed the bridge, we came to an area full of buses and flanked by a cadre of machine gun-toting police standing around. They waved our car over to the side. A big man with no uniform and a deadly-cold look on his face stuck his head in my window: an Area Boy, working with the police.

“Where were you walking?” he asked. Apparently, he’d seen me several days before when I’d walked past this place on my way into town.

“What do you mean?” I asked

“I saw you walking here, this way.” He pointed the down the street from where we’d come.

“Just around.”

“Where’s your passport.”

“I don’t have it.” I lied.

“Don’t have it? Okay. Out of the car.”

I got out of the car. People were staring. The police watched with interest.

“What’s in your bag,” he asked.

“Nothing,” I lied again. I had all my papers, some books and $200 I had just changed to Naira. There was no way I was going to open my bag for him.

“Let me see.”

“No,” I said. “Look, I can just walk back to my hotel.” I pointed down the road to where I could see the building

He stepped in front of me and pulled a gun out of his belt.

“Get in the car.”

He went back to talk to with the other Area Boys. While he was gone I reached in and shoved the money to the very bottom of the bag. Just then a policeman in a bulletproof vest came over.

“What’s in your bag?”

“Nothing,” I opened it and showed him. “Just books.

The policeman left, but I could see the Area Boy coming back. The taxi driver turned to me. “Just give him some little money.”

I pulled out 500 Naira.

“No! No! Not 500! Just 200.”

I put the N500 back and the driver quickly handed me N200. The Area Boy stuck his head back in my window.

“Let me see in your bag.”

This time I showed him the papers and books.

“Why didn’t you show me before?”

“I was just nervous,” I said,

I handed him the N200. He took it, and looked around suspiciously, as if no one knew what he was doing. Then stepped back from the car and waved us on.

“Now,” the driver said, turning to me. “Give me that 500.”


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