Getting Your Ass Kicked in Lagos - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Getting Your Ass Kicked in Lagos

All vehicles ground to a halt. Mobile police, the full-on psychopath unit of the Nigerian police, were conducting a car-to-car search.

Getting Your Ass Kicked in Lagos

By Robert Clyne


Because there can be an upside to getting your ass kicked.

By Robert Clyne

It was not a good time to have an accident. 

I was in Lagos, and I needed to be in Ibadan before nightfall, when armed robbers inevitably took over the roads. I was on one of the most dangerous highways in one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

My car had been hit by two men who then began arguing with my driver about how much they should pay for the damages. Being notoriously bad-tempered, I decided to stay out of it. After an hour of argument, though, I decided maybe my tendencies were what was required.

“Pay the money,” I ordered.

“Well, we will see what we can do, but, you know, it won’t be easy,” one of the men said, followed by a smirk.

“I am gonna count to three and if I don’t see money, whatever happens to you, you brought it on yourself.” 

I reluctantly got out of the car and was dragged to the police station, where they took my passport. While beating me.

More smirking.

“One, two …” The smirk widened, so I didn’t bother with “three.” I lit him up with my Taser. Only one barb hit him, so he wasn’t immobilized. But he definitely had some dance moves I had never seen before. His friend came at me. I reloaded the Taser and asked him if he wanted to dance too.

Then I walked up to their car and yanked out their radio. 

“You get it back when I get paid,” I told them.

Radio in hand, my driver and I made our way through the traffic. The normal cacophony of shouting and horns was suddenly silenced by the sound of 7.62s.

Kah, kah, kah, kah, kah!

All vehicles ground to a halt. Mobile police, the full-on psychopath unit of the Nigerian police, were conducting a car-to-car search. I, in a very vague way, was wondering who they were looking for. That poor son of a bitch, whoever he was.

A rusty AK-47 barrel banged me in the temple.

“Get out!”

It turned out the two men I had lit up told the police I had stolen their radio. And that I had used a weapon to do so. Armed robbery in Nigeria is a kill-on-sight offense. And those mobile police holding the AK-47 to my head were the ones who did 90 percent of the killing. They also allegedly worked for the big oil companies, which meant they were 100 percent going to try to prove they were worth their bribe money by fucking me up.

Unless … “No, I cannot get out,” I told them. “There is water there, dirty water, and I will soil my shoes, and they are very expensive.”

I got what I had hoped for: blank stares.

The police were about to put a hole in my dome and I was worried about my shoes. Well, not really, but I had to get the one holding the AK-47 to let up on his trigger finger. I had to convince him that I was not of the social class he could murder with impunity.

“Driver, move forward slowly,” I ordered. I reluctantly got out of the car and was dragged to the police station, where they took my passport. While beating me. I made what Mike Tyson would describe as “womanly noises.” Fortunately, only I knew just how how terrified I was. 

My panic-induced narcolepsy slowed everything down. Which meant I heard myself screaming. In slow motion.

The U.S. Consulate later decided to get involved. And then, later still, decided to get uninvolved because I am “a Black American who has just been arrested for armed robbery.”


The author pre-beating.

Which made me wonder about the white imagination. The truth is I was a Yale Ph.D. candidate trying to finish my field research, but in the white mind, I bought an airline ticket to Nigeria to steal car radios. There’s no arguing with that kind of thinking.

The police would return my passport for $1,000. I offered them $10. My father called a congressman friend, who called the U.S. Embassy. The embassy refused to obtain my passport or to procure me a new one because I was a “fugitive” awaiting trial. The congressman told the consulate officer that if I didn’t have a passport by the following day she would be on an airplane back to the United States. I got my passport.

I also got my car back thanks to a well-negotiated bribe. Two days later, I finally reached where I had been heading in the first place: Ibadan. 

I was still wearing the same khakis I had on when I was beaten. When I put them on that morning, I hadn’t been bleeding and the khakis weren’t bloody.  

I felt like a complete tool, but it became clear when I settled in that my crew viewed things quite differently. I had had my ass kicked and nearly been killed, but through it all I held my own. There was a respectful look in my friends’ eyes. 

Now, when one of them is doing something too slowly and I jokingly say, “I am going to count to three … ,” the room clears. I guess I won’t have any more problems with anyone. For six months. At least six months.

Which leads me to one conclusion: Sometimes it pays to get your ass kicked.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories