Sunday, 10 April 2016

Easy Motion Tourist: The Nigerian Police in Crime Fiction

A murder is reported. You are a policeman. You arrive on the scene, you and half a dozen other armed officers. Indeed there is a body. But there are no witnesses. The corpse is bloated and festering on the pavement of a bridge. It has been there for a while, cooking under the relentless African sun. Lorries, vans, trailers, and motorcycles speed past, only slowing down slightly due to the parked police van. Meters ahead and behind on the pavement, as far as the odour of putrefaction is carried, pedestrians cross the dangerously impatient traffic to get to the other side, and there they carry on. Nobody stops. They see the body, they place their palms over their noses, but they don’t stop. It is not anything new for them and it is not their problem.

Your colleagues are taking pictures with their mobile phones. You go in for a closer look. What makes this one interesting enough to share with phone contacts?

The discoloured corpse is female. Naked, as such dumped bodies tend to be. Perhaps it was clothed when it was first dumped on the bridge. Perhaps the road people; beggars, hawkers, thieves, stripped it of clothes and shoes it no longer needed. The body appears intact. Eyes: check. Breasts: check. Incisions: none. Strange. But maybe the tongue. Maybe that’s all they took. You lean in for an even closer look. You're holding your breath but the offensive odour still registers. The mouth does not look disturbed. You can’t be sure if the purplish dark brown of the lips is blood or just decay. Lipstick? You won't know for sure until  you look inside the mouth. A fly rises quickly to your face. You swat but it lands on your cheek.

You turn from the body and walk away as you scrub the spot on your cheek with your handkerchief. You spit on the cloth and scrub again. You fold it inside out, spit, and scrub again, then you throw it far from you, over the side of the bridge and into the lagoon. You’re done.

Maybe they took her tongue; maybe they didn’t. But it's not your problem. It’s no one's problem. In fact, you’re only there because a caller to a morning radio show complained of a body on the bridge. He called on his mobile from his car on his way to work. Phoning and driving. An offence. The self-righteous show host then called the chief of the local police station. On air! Then your boss, the chief, had no choice but to promise, on air, to send her boys to investigate. But everyone knows that no one investigates a naked, butchered body dumped on the road. Or bridge. Well, maybe this one is different. Maybe they didn’t even take the tongue. Maybe it was a hit and run. A hit and run that may or may not have been witnessed. Witnesses who, if identified, might mention the make and colour of a car. Maybe even the registration number.

You had suggested, when your boss got off the phone from the radio show presenter and after she finished questioning the intelligence of the minister of police whose decision it was to publish the mobile phone numbers of all police officers above a certain rank, that the matter be passed on to the environmental agency. ‘It is their job, after all’. And thus you secured your ride in the police van that carried you to the scene because, as your boss, who had just been spoken down to by a common radio presenter, reminded you, in case you had forgotten, ‘It is the job of the police to investigate all crimes.’ Not just crimes with a known suspect and reliable witnesses. Not just crimes where the motive is clear and arrests are guaranteed. Not just ‘open and close’ cases. All crimes.

As you walk further away from the naked corpse, spitting because you can now taste the odour, paranoid over the spot on your cheek where the fly had landed, you fantasise about collecting fingerprints post mortem, combing the body for alien DNA, running the prints and DNA through a database, finding a match and a suspect. Doing your job. But it's all fantasy because there is no national database to query. There is no lab to process the body. There is no lab to process gathered materials and isolate DNA. Your investigation is over - you have seen the body. You will now call the environmental agency and they will arrive at their own convenience to remove the body destined for an unmarked grave or the cadaver market.

There will be no investigation. The victim is unknown. The murderer is unknown. And in this case, with no apparent body parts missing, the motive is unknown. Perhaps the coroner would determine a cause of death. Perhaps not. Perhaps the shaven head means something, perhaps not. Perhaps they now use hair as well. But why kill a person just for their hair?

They are people who deal in human body parts for rituals. Wealth magic. Power magic. Protection magic. And you are a Nigerian policeman. Underpaid, under-trained, under-equipped. And I am a writer. A Nigerian author. My genre is crime fiction. Between you and them, do you see my problem? How do I write a recognisable police procedural? My debut novel does just that, and truthfully too, as a subplot to a far more macabre plot: the illicit trade in human body parts.

More information about Leye Adenle and his writing can be found on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter @LeyeAdenle and find him on Facebook.

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