At the beginning of 2017, 22-year-old Ibrahim Abdulhameed was driving past Lekki toll gates – an on-ramp of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway – near a tollbooth. A system error caused him to speed up and hit another vehicle.
A policeman stationed at the tollbooth pulled over Abdulhameed and detained him. This was not unusual; he was arrested over and over again by the Lagos State toll inspectors for speeding, and mostly for failure to pay, which he did not have the money to do.
But after a while, Abdulhameed started to complain that the toll was kicking his stomach and that he could no longer stand. As a result, he collapsed.
At first, the officer thought that Abdulhameed had lost consciousness and was lying in a pool of blood, said Abdulhameed’s mother, Hajiya Yeye Abubakar. The officer tried to revive him but Abdulhameed was already dead.
“My first thought was ‘What have I done? What have I done to earn such a fate?’” Abdulhameed told the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation after he was buried.
Within days, a woman on duty told the inspector how the boy was taken by the police and that he had died. The inspector was shocked and made a report, which the ministry forwarded to the police for investigation.
But the inspector was unwilling to accept responsibility. His lawyer denied all responsibility and threatened to sue the commissioner and the ministry for defamation.
“You have all the reasons to sue us for defamation of character,” the lawyer said in a letter. “We will be filing a criminal case against you for reckless driving, and we will use Section 233 of the Penal Code to prosecute you.”
At first, there was no word from the state of what happened to Abdulhameed after he died.
The 24-hour tollgate at Lekki is one of the most ridiculous and poorly managed in the country. Families of thousands of innocent travelers — and also construction workers and commuters used to the rickety old civil works projects of the colonial era — are once again forced to carry their dead to the mortuary, watch their dead bodies burn in the open, watch as a group of officials run for their lives in search of endangered lives.
“We’ve been here for a while and no official has told us what happened,” said Emma Asuquo, one of the members of an association of people who transport commuters through the toll gates. “What does the police do when a man dies? What will happen to the police when people die in their custody? That is what I’m trying to find out. I cannot allow this to go without paying attention. My son is dead. He died in my arms. Where is the justice in that?”
And the toll stations have a history of violence. In a series of interviews conducted by both an investigative reporter and a human rights activist in 2014, evidence of police brutality, bribes and corruption came to light.
At one toll gate, a human rights activist accused an official of chasing a woman to her car with a gunshot wound to the hip, while trying to force her to cough up cash and form part of an escrow account.
“It was clear that the man was intent on to beating up the driver, but sadly the driver was no match for the angry official,” the activist told a reporter.