So you are on assignment in Lagos and you have heard all
those horror stories about Nigerian police, but you’ve always managed to get by
without them noticing. Maybe you are worried about maintaining that status quo,
or you want to know how to handle the situation if you ever have to deal with
Nigerian law enforcement. It is at this point that similar articles to this
would branch off at a tangent and begin admonishing you about how Nigerian cops
are just friendly and misunderstood. This article however, will do no such
thing, because let’s face it – Nigerian cops are just awful. Anyone who has had
reason for any extended contact with them will tell you that they are genuinely
dreadful. So how do you keep their eyes off you or handle their unwanted
attention should it come?

Drive a nondescript

Never mind Nigerian cops, Nigerian robbers should be your primary
motivation for moving incognitio. Try as much as possible to avoid travelling
in a vehicle that identifies you or what you are doing in Nigeria. Of course,
if you have a police escort assigned to you, then your equation is different.
If not, and you are just a regular Joe or Janet in Lagos, ditch the official
vehicle and use an Uber. Apart from being comfortable and nondescript, Ubers
also give you the wonderful advantage of unpredictability, allowing you to
wonder far and wide without worrying about being tailed or monitored. The bad
cops in Lagos are often drawn to vehicles perceived to be “rich people’s cars”
(generally newish SUVs and large sedans), so don’t use Uber Select either.

Don’t attract undue

If you are visibly foreign, i.e. white skinned, you are
immediately noticeable in the world’s largest Black city. While no one will
give you grief for being different, and in fact you will probably get a lot of
needless special treatment and genuflection, there is also no need to feed the
impression that you are a wealthy Oyibo with a bag of dollars at home. Don’t
wear any flamboyant jewelry to regular destinations, take note of local
dressing norms, don’t raise your voice unnecessarily, and especially don’t talk about money or display your cash or cards
when in public. The perception is that all Oyibowho
come to Lagos work for Mobil and earn $9,000 a month tax free. Even if this is
true in your case, or perhaps especially if
this is true, you really do not want to feed that perception. Always keep it

If you have a friend
or guide that is a local, let them do the talking

In the unfortunate event
that you become involved with the cops, try as much as possible to let any
trusted local friend or associate of yours do the talking. Nigerian cops have
this famous routine they trot out when dealing with foreigners, where they
spend up to 10 minutes earnestly talking ‘at’ the increasingly frustrated Oyibo until he/she gets frustrated and
asks them what they really want. Having a Nigerian at hand to deflect that
conversation, or at least shorten it to the famous, “Anything for the boys?”  is
a very useful device.

Never threaten them 

You may be coming from a country where police and law enforcement operate with
a very strict set of rules and codes of conduct. Flouting these rules can lead
to serious consequences for the law enforcement you are familiar with. This is not the case with Nigerian law
enforcement who are in many respects, a law unto themselves in perpetuity. No
matter how irritated you may feel, or how egregious their accusation against you
is (claiming you ran a red light while the light is clearly still green is a
favourite of theirs), or how many phone calls you can make right now to put
them in trouble, try to avoid directly threatening them – it simply won’t work.
In fact, it will likely have the opposite effect and push them to abuse their
power even further. Whatever the situation, appear to listen attentively, speak
gently and carefully, and never make them feel like they have bagged a rich or
powerful Oyibo. That is exactly what
you do not want.

Pick your battles

At the end of the day, you get to go home to your comfy serviced apartment or
hotel room in Lagos, and eventually back home to wherever you come from. An
unpleasant encounter with law enforcement need not be the defining event of
your time in Lagos. There is just so much to do, so much to see, and so many
people to meet in this city to waste time and effort getting into a kerfuffle
with the police of LASTMA, or VIO, or FRSC, or any of the other numerous
agencies duplicating each other’s functions with meritorious busywork. Try to
remember the life that you have, and compare it to that of whoever may be
getting on your nerves, and try to see the bigger picture.
Do these five things, and your time in Lagos will be fun.
Not even an obtuse cop will be able to spoil it.

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