By Abdi Hassan:
When you see your colleague being shaved, dub your head with water so the Swahili saying goes. If this adage is anything to go by, then I have not done myself any favor to prepare for the horror I suffered in the hands of Eastleigh’s rogue police officers.
While cases of police extortion and harassment are rampant in the Estate, I never contemplated falling a victim as I thought the boys in blue will only target one segment of those living in Eastleigh – the refugees. It however dawned on me when my day finally came that those I thought vulnerable stood a better chance of surviving than those I thought were untouchable due to their citizenship status.
I was heading to Kilimanjaro lodge in Eastleigh on Thursday night to pick my auntie who was leaving for Mandera. Buses plying the Nairobi – Mandera route leave at around 12am.
Since a group of youth calling themselves ‘superpower’ terrorize people in the vast estates of Eastleigh by attacking them with knives and robbing them of their valuables, it is risky to walk around during the night especially when you are carrying valuables or hand bags. So I decided to pick my auntie from the lodge where she was putting up and drop her at the booking office of E-coach bus.
On my way, I met a group of police officers in a civilian vehicle (a Toyota Probox KBV 605 C). They strategically parked their car near equity bank’s Eastleigh branch and anybody on sight was ‘arrested’. Since I am a law abiding citizen, I saw no problem walking in their direction. Unfortunately, as I passed by, one of them grabbed my hand saying I was walking late in the night and that I was under arrest.
I confronted him and informed him of my mission as well as the fact that there was no curfew in place and that I was free to move around not forgetting that it was 30 minutes past eleven. It was then that I found myself in hot soup with the officer saying I was not the one to determine when I was to move around. I would later learn that police officers in Eastleigh were not to be engaged in any conversation by those ‘arrested’ unless you were negotiating a release.
As I was arguing my case, a light skinned man approached us and as he walked past their vehicle, he too was grabbed and told the same thing – unatembea wakati mbaya. He produced his passport (he was a Yemeni national) with a valid visa but the officers arrested him too.
We both pleaded with them but this fell on deaf ears. Since resisting arrest is a crime, we followed their orders. But even then, I questioned why they were arresting people using a private car and they kicked the sense out of me with a bold – “it is none of your business”. When I realized being a good citizen will hurt me and the officers were not ready to listen to my ‘nonsense’ I decided to abide by their instructions.
The Toyota Probox was full to the brim and together with the Yemeni, we were bundled into the booth of the Probox – A dreaded model by Toyota that is attributed to all sorts of misdemeanor in Kenya. As the car snaked its way in the estate, the officers negotiated with their captives and released them at a fee. As they dropped those who paid, replacements were picked from the streets.
Those with proper identification documents were accused of loitering in the wee hours of the night, but those with no documents and could purchase their freedom were released along the route after parting with one thousand Kenya shillings. I came to find out this was a fixed prices and those who failed to raise were kept in the car.
After making several rounds from one end of the busy Eastleigh estate to the other, the Yemeni, I and a few others who ‘could not’ buy their freedom were dropped at Eastleigh police post opposite Pumwani maternity hospital nearly an hour later.
For me, I could afford to pay for my release but I was not willing to, simply because, I wanted to witness for myself what many undergo on daily basis. I heard stories of police misbehavior on more than one occasion but I wanted to see inside the frying pan today in a bid to acquaint myself with the whole process and see what charges I would face or how much money I will part with in the end to secure my freedom.
More shock awaited me at the police post. When I was booked in, it was not done in the official occurrence book but rather on a piece of paper. It then dawned on me that it was either I had no case to answer or the officers were open to negotiations so that I could be released without raising eyebrows that a ‘criminal’ was here and cannot be accounted for come day break.
I tried to argue my innocence but the officers remained adamant. They will hear nothing to the sort of ‘I am innocent’ reminding me of a famous joke that did rounds sometimes back on how police treated their subjects. “No one is innocent, you can be charged with looking at the opposite sex or even looking at government buildings suspiciously” an officer is heard saying in the joke.
So when it came to payment, the officers insisted on cash. There were however some people who paid with Mpesa. But even then, the officers gave out the number of a civilian to whom the money was sent, he would then withdraw the cash and bring the money to the officers after a few collections were done. I eavesdropped as they gave out the number and I have it in my phone book.
Observing the transaction cycle, I realized business was done in three parts. In the first part, officers will arrest and release people in the streets. They will not account for collections from this phase, which I believe will only be shared among those on the ground.
In the second phase, those presented at the station but booked in the white sheet instead of the official OB will be presented to the senior officers and those at the station for accountability purposes of the night’s activities come day break.
In the third category, those booked in the official OB after they fail to raise any fees will go in to the official government records, charged with unfounded offenses such as loitering and released in the morning.
As I walked out of the station at dawn after being released without facing any charges, I came to realize that regardless of the much publicized ‘report any police harassment’, the officers modus operandi was still intact and that residents of Eastleigh were at the mercy of both criminal elements and greedy police officers out to mint some coins by labeling the innocent with all sort of tags while criminal element rule the estate with an iron feast.
The writer is a concerned resident of Eastleigh. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.