Makongeni police officers are the worst people to encounter in regards to how they handle civilians. A normal Friday had begun with the usual wait to catch a matatu to town. The Eastlands side of Nairobi is usually engulfed with a buzz of traffic.
My 8-hour ordeal after being arrested on Friday by police officers - Pulse Live Journalist narrates
The law doesn't protect the common mwananchi
On this day, well. I didn’t have to wait for long as I got an Embassava matatu that just required one person. As I quickly took my seat, I looked for my safety belt and realized the person sitting next to me, a granny who was fast asleep, had fastened it. “Where is the seatbelt to this seat?” I asked the conductor. “Unataka change ama ni mshipi utatafuta? (Do you want your change or you want to look for the belt?” he asked.
Resorting not to argue, I sat quietly through the trip that was about to take a whole different twist. We approached the Makongeni bus stop when suddenly the vehicle was pulled to the side and two police officers got in.
“Kijana hujafunga mshipi, shuka, (Young man, you don’t have your seat belt on. Out now!” beckoned one of the officers. Knowing the situation, I defended myself that the seat had one belt which was used by the old lady.
“Hakuna mshipi, (There is no seat belt),” I stated while requesting him to come and check. The officer, who was bulky, probably from all the bribes he had been collecting in his years of service to satisfy himself, checked and told the conductor that him and the driver would be arrested and the car towed to the station.
“Pole Kijana but gari haiezi enda station juu ya kiti moja (Young man, the car won’t be impounded due to one seat),” remarked the conductor. Before I could process what he had just said, he grabbed the seatbelt from the lady and placed it on the seat. Shocked, I tried to plead with the police man but I was already being whisked out of the matatu by the policeman and into a waiting police van.
The matatu managed to somehow speed off leaving the conductor and I in the hands of the two officers. As they negotiated a bribe, I gave it a final try to explain the situation but instead the officer looked at me and shouted, “Wewe nimekushika juu ya kuongea mbaya (You have been arrested due to being rude),” Defeated, I now had no other option but to inform my boss that I would be late to work.
Fight the police and walk free
The crackdown continued with more people being arrested and put into the police car. A particular gentleman, who looked so scared, tried to escape by jumping onto the road but was pulled back by the bulky officer and the two were entangled in a short fight. The small commotion, left people shocked because instead of this passenger being arrested, he was let go.
Once the van was full, 12 people crammed into the vehicle, it left for Makongeni police station. We got there and were led inside the premises to await our fate, which was to pay the instant minor traffic offences fine. As we stood there, half the lot was let go on the basis that some had pleaded their case well while others had made phone calls to people within the police force while some were bailed out after giving a small bribe to police officers.
We gave out our names and were taken to the cells immediately. I knew the law stated that traffic offenders are not supposed to be held in a cell if they have not been given a chance to plead their case but unfortunately, this lot had no regards for the law. They did as they pleased. One of the female officers at the station was so rude.
“You should know people. I only talk to people who have connections. The rest of you can stay there and enjoy the smell that comes with being locked in,” expressed the female officer.
At around 9am, after being held there for 2 hours, we were transferred to the Makadara Law Courts to have our case heard. At this point, I had tried all means possible of getting out of this situation but nothing was forthcoming. I opted to call my friend, to come bail me out and luckily he agreed. With that, I had hope that I would not stay there longer than I already had. “Here your cases will be done by 10, and you will be free to go,” echoed one of the officers at the court area.
From one cell into another
If the turn of events earlier was not enough, we were instead dumped into another cell that had close to eighty people inside, rather than being taken to the court room. At this point I could not believe that I had moved from one to another, with the latest one having people you would never wish to meet especially in the dark.
Inside the facility, it was full to capacity. One could barely breathe . The worst bit came when the officers kept on adding people to the room and beating up people as a sign of intimidation. There was one guy that was beaten to the point that he literally passed out but instead of being attended to, he was put in handcuffs.
The clock had struck noon and this is the moment I started to panic. Traffic offence cases are usually scheduled to start at 11 and till that time no communication had been made by the ruthless authorities. The stench from the toilet had gone from bad to worse. The choking effect had gripped the room and it became a concern when a section of the group there opted to light up cigarettes to ease their own tension.
Half past noon is when I heaved a sigh of relief as we were presented before the judge and our charges read to us. We were given two options, to either plead guilty and pay the fine or to remain in the cells for ten days and have a case in court to prove one’s innocence. As a united unit on the wrong day, we accepted our crime and opted to pay what was required by the law.
Cell conditions gets worse
The court got adjourned and again we were taken back to the stinky, overcrowded room meant to be cells because there was no one to collect the money. I called my friend who had stuck by me through the entire day, and informed him that I would be out of the place in no time. I had persevered six hours of the dreadful condition but my body could not stand it anymore. I had begun feeling light headed and nauseated to the point I would have fainted if it wasn’t for the timely recall by the court to have us pay our fines.
The ordeal had finally come to an end. I was only seconds away from getting my freedom when we were stopped by a police officer who had out of nowhere, picked on one person and hit him with a hardened stick.
“Wewe unachezea nani. Ulikataa mashtaka alafu unakuja hapa! (Who are you joking with. You pleaded not guilty and you are here paying your fine!)” expressed the officer who had tormented us throughout the day.
Some people broke into laughter while the lot of us were shocked at the brutality being meted out on the individual. The attacked civilian, was actually innocent of the claims made by the rogue officer but to the law enforcer, it was a sick, twisted form of enjoyment for him.
Once I handed the receipt, I was granted my freedom back and the smell of fresh air that greeted me on the way out was more like escaping death in another form. Stories have been told of the brutality within the small like dungeons and on that day, the tales came to life.
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