Diran and Taju: The Police Is (NOT) Your Friend – Dami Ajayi

As the #EndSars protests sweep through Nigeria, Dami Ajayi recounts a story of an encounter between a friend, Diran Aina and a crazed police officer whose maniacal actions on a quiet April evening in 2015 left a young man dead and a few others pockmarked with bullet holes. It is a sobering reminder of why Nigeria is in turmoil and why police reforms are an urgent imperative.

It could have been a typical day in the life of a place, a day of commerce and trade, of catcalls and loud music, of revving engines and night-piercing laughter, but it was not. Not for Diran Aina or his three friends whose fate would be altered by the events of the day in question, 29 April, 2015.

It could have a typical Wednesday. For a married working man like Diran, it presumably began with the morning devotion of a good Christian family. Bathing the kids and getting them ready for school. A light breakfast preceded a dash to work to perform subservience, either genuine or contrived, to his superiors till the end of the day’s work.

For Diran, work stopped (because work actually never ends) that day at 8pm. His phone was full of missed calls, text messages and prompt alerts. It was his friend’s birthday and, as expected, a few drinks needed to be quaffed.

Fast forward one hour later; Diran and his three friends (including the birthday boy) were in an open roof bar in Surulere, having the kind of conversations honest and tired men have away from their family. Perhaps they were discussing women or wine or politics, Diran does not quite remember but he remembers the events that happened shortly after 9pm.

There was a screech from a SUV. Diran heard the gasp and mumblings of people around the bar of less than twenty people. They seemed to have been saying, “Taju, Taju”. There was pandemonium. Tables and chairs fell as people scrambled out of the place into presumed safety.

The SUV, which seemed to have been parked, lurched forward again and there was yet another screech. Diran and his friends were still sitting but they were not quite drinking any more. Ears cocked, eyes fixed on the SUV—they could not understand what was happening—but in retrospect, they wish they had let their legs speak.

Diran said they did not run because, “We were not thieves, just gentlemen refreshing ourselves with a drink”. However, he admits they were dressed rather oddly. “We were wearing our white round-neck shirts except the celebrant. It was very hot evening and we had taken our long-sleeved shirts off.”

A burly and unremarkably dressed man stormed out of the SUV and approached them. Diran, a short and wiry man, stood to receive the man. He greeted this visibly angry and agitated man. Diran is not sure if he smelt a whiff of alcohol on his breath when the man, presumably Taju, returned his greetings with expletives.

Taju, a police officer at the Area C command, rushed back to his car and returned with an AKA-47 gun. He pointed, shot at Diran and then the gun jammed, allowing Diran ample time to dart away into the shroud of darkness.

Taju or Thanatos shot again and again and again, aiming differently. Diran’s friend, including the birthday boy, were all on the floor: gentlemen playing lizards with the ground on which they would rather be walking on, the ground which would be opened up for them if this Taju should aim and shoot at them with murderous intent.

Taju, having emptied his rounds, grunted and left. Of course, there were casualties. A teenager who worked as help at the bar was shot at close range and would die from the injuries. One of Diran’s friends was shot in the thigh. Diran had been shot in his shoulder as well. The birthday boy was spared, perhaps some kind of cosmic gift.

There was a distant wail of patrolling police vehicles perhaps securing the perimeter although none stopped to arrest anyone at the bar. In the aftermath of this man-made disaster, Diran and his friends had to find their way to the hospital.

Thankfully, that night, Taju had gone around hospitals in Surulere ordering them to treat gunshot wounds without police reports. Perhaps it was remorse or just his modus operandi. This was not the first time he had shot at innocent people and this was not to be his last.

One of Taju’s relative would later tell Diran that Taju had been mentally ill in the past and was treated with herbal concoctions. Another relative told him that Taju was into drugs, although did not specify the exact kind. Regardless, one thing was clear to everyone: Taju was the police and not anyone’s friend.

There was no arraignment, no police disciplinary panels or investigations that Diran knew of. It was probably entered into their diary as a police procedural: the regular cop hero story where Taju was the good sheriff whose town was threatened by violence and, using the same violence, took it back.

Diran did not press charges because he was only happy to have survived the ordeal, to return to his wife and children alive. To him, every other thing was immaterial.

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