A police officer celebrated for his patience and professionalism has shared his life story.
The Assistant Superintendent of Police, Sunday Erhabor, went viral recently for his professional conduct and restrain when assaulted by a traffic offender, Victor Ebhomenyen, in the Oniru area of Lagos State.
In this interview with Punch’s KAYODE OYERO, the 53-year-old celebrated policeman speaks on how he survived the #EndSARS protests in October 2020 and his many encounters with irate members of the public.
How old are you?
I was born on November 28, 1967. I am 53 years old. I am from Orhionmwon Local Government Area in Edo State.
Are you married?
Yes, but I lost my wife, Mary, in 2009. She died of cancer at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. We were married for about nine years before she died. We have three kids. It has been God that has been helping me take care of the children.
Have you remarried?
Yes, I remarried three years ago. I had to wait for the children to grow up so that I won’t have any problem with any woman.
When did you join the Nigeria Police Force?
I joined the Force on June 1, 1992; I have about five years to retirement. God has been keeping me on the job.
What motivated you to join the Force in 1992?
Actually, I was searching for job in 1992. I had gained admission into UNIBEN (University of Benin) but there was no sponsor, so, after my first semester I had to leave. I started looking for a job. I then met a friend who advised that we should join the police. We had tried but there was no help from anyone. One day I was walking along Ikeja and I saw some people gather at the Police College. I went inside the premises and as I was moving down, a man asked me, ‘Where are you going?’ I told him I wanted to join the police. He then said, ‘You are walking gallantly. They will take you; it is people like you that they want.’ So, I got inside and filled the forms and wrote the examination. I was told that I passed and asked to come for physical training. That was how I joined the police as a constable. My salary was around N400 then – it was during the (late) MKO Abiola crisis.
Can you recall some of your worst days on the job since you joined the police in 1992?
I can’t recall everything but there have been many such days. One happened while I was in Festac. We were on a skeletal stop-and-search duty along Okota road. I stopped a car, with a woman and her husband sitting in the front seats. Then the woman came down and yelled, ‘Why are you stopping us?’ Then the next thing was that she slapped me on the face. I kept quiet and walked to the man and asked him, ‘Are you the husband to this woman?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I then said, ‘The way this woman slapped me, I will want her to also slap you that same way if actually you are a man.’ That was just one of those encounters. I have been faced with a lot of humiliating situations, but I have always kept my calm and didn’t unleash my might against such people. As a public servant, one is bound to encounter different situations particularly when you are on the field.
What have been the comments from your colleagues about your attitude?
I have received so many comments from my colleagues. They say I am too patient. But I do tell them that age is already telling on me and I have no reason to be angry when I have children like the everyday person I encounter on the job. So, I treat everyone like my child or my younger siblings.
Coming to the incident of Saturday, April 17, 2021; what came to your mind when the traffic offender harassed you, despite that you were armed with an AK-47 rifle slung on your shoulder?
I was in the car when I blocked the guy. He even flashed me to get out of the way. I asked him, ‘Sir, do you know you are on ‘one way’?’ He replied and said, ‘And then? Is that why you are blocking me?’ I knew from that moment that he was going to foment trouble. My boys came down from our vehicle but I told them to withdraw immediately because something was wrong with the man. The next thing was that the man opened the door furiously and pushed me to get out of his way. He was saying, ‘Have you forgotten #EndSARS?’ And I was surprised. So, I told my boys to video the man. I also told them that nobody should touch the man because something was wrong with him and he shouldn’t allow him die in our hands.
Have you ever shot anybody before?
God forbid, I have never shot anyone before.
Are you sure that you have never shot anyone since you joined the Force in 1992?
Yes, I have never. Whatever you do to somebody, somebody must do to you. In fact, I hate those sessions that require shooting. Shooting people is not a good omen. Every day, before any operation, I do pray to God that He won’t allow me to encounter a situation that would warrant me to shoot.
What do you do with your gun?
It is to protect myself.
But how come you didn’t use your rifle to protect yourself when you were harassed?
It was not a criminal issue, it was a civil issue. I can’t resort to the use of my gun just because somebody slapped me. If I did, in the end, my punishment would be worse than that of the person that slapped or harassed me.
What was your encounter during the #EndSARS protests last October?
I encountered a lot of the protesters but I put off my uniform. I was with my rifle all through the protests but the protesters were human beings like me, so the best thing was to withdraw tactically. People might say it was cowardly or disgraceful for a policeman to run away from protesters but my withdrawal was not out of fear; rather, for me, it was the measure that the situation warranted. In fact, at a point during the #EndSARS protests, I stayed in the office for three days without going home.
How many departments have you worked in your 29 years in service?
I have worked mostly in general duties (department); and operations and surveillance. I have also worked in the traffic control and other departments.
Do you smoke, take alcohol or hard drugs?
No, I don’t smoke, I don’t take alcohol or hard drugs too but I do take wine occasionally at social functions. The drugs I take are painkillers and multivitamins because the job is stressful. I do advise my colleagues who take alcohol to desist from it, especially while on duty, but many of them avoid me after the advice.
Do you mean you don’t take alcohol at all?
Well, I used to take a bit of alcohol before my wife died in 2009 but she made a statement on her sickbed at the hospital. She spoke in our Benin dialect. She said, ‘Baba Patience, don’t drink o!’ I will never forget that statement. I do shed tears anytime I remember her last words.
You met with the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Monday in his Alausa office. What were the details of the meeting?
I met with the governor on Monday and he commended me and appreciated my gentleness and professionalism. He gave me an award and we had a handshake and took a group photograph with other Force men. The pictures mean a lot to me and my children.
What is your message to your colleagues out there using their guns to harass Nigerians?
I will tell them that with what has happened and the glory and honour that I am receiving, they should try and be patient, no matter the level of provocation and whatever must have happened provided it does not involve loss of any life. In fact, P in police stands for ‘politeness’, O is for ‘obedience’, L is for ‘loyalty’, I is ‘integrity’, C is ‘courage’ while the E is for ‘endurance’. So, a policeman must possess these attributes and virtues.