Reporting from Nigeria: Emeka Nweze
The attacks of the group known as Boko Haram have escalated dramatically. In this seemingly endless cacophony of pain, confusion, bitterness and fear, the response of most major institutions in the country has been to intensify and extend security at its headquarters. Now, most major institutions in Nigeria have their headquarters in Abuja. As I live and work in Abuja, I am therefore in a unique position to observe with the utmost dispassion what a couple of billions’ worth of “security intensification” actually amounts to.
The tight schedules most of my readers sport is the primary incentive for the succinctness of my entries. In that spirit, I’m keeping my expose on the so called “security intensification” to just three items. They are:
- The state of the art flexible mirror for spotting incendiary devices.
- The “open the trunk of your car” foolproof system.
- The “ open your bag/briefcase/purse and “inspect” the contents method.
The first system is a personal (yet dispassionately so) favorite. Here’s how it is supposed to work. Upon arriving at the entrance gate, the driver of the vehicle stops, turns off his engine and waits patiently. As he sits with his hands clearly visible on the steering wheel, one of the highly trained, experienced security officers carefully pulls out a flexible mirror and inspects the mirror for smudges. If satisfied that the device will perform its function efficiently, he will then peruse every inch of the vehicle’s underside. He has absolutely no qualms about backtracking. The driver’s time and his or her social status do not outweigh the importance of security to this most diligent officer. When the search is over, the entrance gate is opened. That is what is supposed to happen.
What actually happens is that upon arriving at the entrance gate the driver of the vehicle slows down and honks impatiently. As he continues to murder any clear, intelligent thoughts this or that passerby may have been having at the time, an untrained, inexperienced, security officer strolls beside the still moving vehicle with the flexible mirror in one hand. His ability to inspect the mirror for smudges is hampered by the fact that he is other hand is carrying a cell phone that is glued to his ear as he continues with the phone-call his duties dare not interrupt. Due to aforementioned cell phone, he is regrettably unable to cock his head to examine the mirror and thus, the image of the vehicle’s underside. Any beeps or ticking are lost in the sound of the blaring horn. Blinking red lights go undetected. The car is waved in.
The “open the trunk of your car” foolproof system is also practiced in some residential districts. I actually have a story about how a colleague got into an empty cab only to have two armed men come out from the trunk steal all his money, and throw him out of the moving vehicle. In the spirit of brevity, let’s table that for a future entry. Here is how the “open the trunk of your car” foolproof system is supposed to work. The car comes to a complete stop. The guard examines the backseat carefully before asking the driver to open the drunk of his or her car. Upon thorough examination he signals his partner who opens the gate. That is what is supposed to happen. What actually goes down is that the vehicle comes to a partial stop. That is to say, it is still moving, but you know what? We live in the age of Einstein’s relativity. ALL MOTION IS RELATIVE. The guard pops the trunk open and without so much as a quick glance, signals his partner to open the gate. In one instance, I simply said: hey! What’s up! I hope Sunday (the equivalent would be John in the West) is ok? And the guard seemed to understand perfectly because he waved me in without opening the trunk.
The “ open your bag/briefcase/purse and “inspect” the contents method is quite popular at banks. Here is how it is supposed to work. The person in question opens his or her bag. The guard examines the contents carefully. If satisfied with his or her investigation, the person is dismissed. That is what is supposed to happen. What actually happens is that the guard tells the person his or her bag is to be inspected. The person screams ethnic discrimination. A melodramatic conflict involving fists and in the case of females, hair-pulling and ancestor summoning ensues.
So that’s a microcosm the country’s security intensification program.