Horns blared from yellow rickety buses. Drivers and bus conductors screamed their respective destinations in low guttural voices. Agberos fought, drank alcohol from sachets or jumped on and off moving buses. One woman roasted plantains. Another sold groundnuts, and another sold alcoholic drinks. Commuters seemingly unmoved by the circus around them simply stood by, waiting for buses. It was a typical day at Sabo bus stop in the Yaba area of Lagos, Nigeria.
Then, the ringmaster of this show stepped out of a shaded duty post, baton in hand. Long unapologetic strides and a sky blue shirt tucked neatly into black trousers, complete with a black beret and a pair of smart black boots painted a picture of total confidence and control. I have always wondered how women coped in such obviously male dominated occupations. Our ringmaster was doing much more than coping; she was in charge.
It wasn’t long before an erring bus driver caused her to spring into action. Her baton struck the side of his vehicle as she screamed obscenities at him. The frown on her face gradually morphed into a huge smile as the bus driver sang her praises to placate the officer yelling at him. She backed down, but not before issuing a stern warning. Passing such scenes frequently, I often wondered about the daily experiences of women like her. How did they handle such relentlessly unruly motorists? Did they ever face sexual harassment? How did they manage spending everyday outside in this crazy Lagos heat? My friend and I decided to approach her and find out.
She introduced herself as Woman Sergeant Iyabo Ademulegun. She is married with four kids but her husband isn’t based in Lagos. She lives with two of her children in the barracks, while the older two are away in the university. She was full of life, never resisting the urge to smile. She certainly wasn’t a stereotypical police officer, many of whom seem to believe smiling is an offence punishable by death. Her bubbly countenance didn’t fit with my perception of law enforcement officials and I wondered how she ever got involved in that line of work.
“I was once in the judiciary and I worked there as a clerical officer before I left to join the Force.”
She explained that she began her career at the judiciary, but was retrenched. Her experience working for the Government facilitated her change of career and move to Lagos.
“When I was retrenched, I had to find a way to survive so I carried my credentials from Ondo state, came to Lagos, wrote an exam and got the job.”
She joined the Nigerian Police Force on the 1st May 2002 and enlisted in the General Duty department. As a result, her role involves various tasks, including manning the counter at the local police station, processing charges and, of course, controlling traffic. From the way she talked about her different roles, it was clear that this woman loved her job. I really hoped she was getting paid well. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t the case.
“In this kind of job, it is your interest that matters because the money is nothing. Money for rent in the barracks is removed even before I get the salary, and the one that gets to me is nothing at all.”
With her husband out of town, taking care of four children and various financial responsibilities is a masterful juggling act.
“The money is too small, everybody knows that. So I belong to a cooperative and I’ve been able to use money from there to pay school fees and other bills. I also have a clothing business where I sell this kind of clothes you are wearing just to make ends meet.”
So, though her passion was obvious, the job certainly wasn’t perfect. In addition to the financial pressures that come with a low-paying job, Sgt Ademulegun explained that being a police woman also has its unique drawbacks.
“As a police officer, people will like to move close to you. They know that if they misbehave or commit any offence, the police officer will back them up. There are so many of them, both young and old. They will come up to you and toast you not because they have any interest but because they want to use you. You have to use your number six to determine who is real or not.”
Many of these admirers may not have been “real” in Sgt Ademulegun’s opinion, but they were certainly direct.
“They will just come to me and say, ‘Madam I like you, give me your number’.”
Unwanted fans are not the only downside of the job. More serious consequences, often arising from senior officials abusing their power, sadly affect many junior officers like Sgt Ademulegun.
“Before I moved into the barracks, I was coming from my house in Agbado to work. Rain fell heavily one day and that made me late to my post. By the time I got there, the DPO was controlling traffic and I wasn’t allowed to explain. I was thrown into jail for two days. I was so upset and I almost quit but I knew I had no place to work and that was my only source of income so I had to stay.”
So, she stayed. After spending almost a decade and a half in such a demanding role, I was curious about the daily frustrations she experienced. It’s no news that Lagos heat is unforgiving. The scorching sun not only drains one of energy, it can have negative effects on the skin, such as hyper-pigmentation and even skin cancer. Sgt Ademulegun was not bothered by this in the slightest. It was almost as if, once she resolved to persevere through the larger shortcomings of her job, the daily inconveniences posed no challenge.
“I don’t really have a problem with the sun because we work in shifts. Like today, I’m on morning duty and will be closing by 12. Sometimes I can be in the afternoon shift or evening shift. It really depends. When I’m on afternoon duty, I get home, simply wash my face with a mild bar soap and sleep. Your skin comes back to normal if you rest well.”
How about working in a male dominated environment day in, day out? Are sexual harassment and gender inequality regular occurrences in the course of her work? Again, her response was to simply get on with work and stay positive.
“When you are working in the public you face so many characters. You have to be able to comport yourself and stay in your lane. Just do your job to the best of your ability.”
In fact, being a woman in a predominantly male profession comes with its perks, according to Sgt Ademulegun.
“There is no side-lining here at all. In fact, we women get more benefits and better treatment than the men. There is no woman in the Special Duty department where they handle rifles and are sent to the field in case there is a riot. A male sergeant that is in the Special Duty department will earn the same salary as me, and I don’t carry a rifle.”
There is no doubt that, though it is far from ideal, Sgt Ademulegun loves her job. She however doesn’t intend to do police work forever.
“My first child is in Ado Ekiti University, my second is in Owo Poly, third child is writing WAEC and last is in JSS1. I will quit when at least two or three of my children are graduates and are earning money. I will then focus on my business.”
Until then, she is making the most out of her role and having the time of her life. I asked what her favourite part of the job was, and her answer was instant.
“My uniform. When I put on my uniform, I look so smart, gallant, and I get a lot of respect.”
She smiled as she said this, striking a pose while straightening her uniform mockingly to drive home her point. There was definitely no shortage of self esteem here. That was what struck me about Sgt Ademulegun. She could rock the swag of a red carpet on the side of a road. Her daily routine might be tiring, stressful and even dangerous, but she was taking it all in her stride with huge doses of confidence and an even bigger smile. And she was kicking ass.
People Like Us is an exclusive column created by TNC to document the lives of everyday Nigerians.
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