We drove into the remote police station in rural Mbano before 9AM, having left Owerri an hour or so earlier. It was a solitary building, and the compound was even unfenced. And there, by the corner of the building, tyres deflated, windshields covered in dust, was the car – my car.
We quickly alighted from the car in which we came and impulsively began –all three of us– to walk briskly toward my distrained car. Two policemen, each clutching a rifle, suddenly emerged from where they had been sitting, unnoticed by us, under the shade of the big mango tree almost at the centre of the compound. “Who goes there?”, the fair complexioned, muscular one screamed, his rifle now pointing at us. “One more step, I will just blast your heads.”
It was Nwachi, in whose car we came, that first regained composure among the three of us, and started to explain to the irate policemen: “This barrister here”, he began, pointing at me, “was attacked by armed robbers five days ago in Owerri. Three of your officers came to my car shop at Wetheral Road yesterday to ask me whether I knew the owner of the car, and whether he was still alive. That’s why I brought him here immediately he came in from Lagos.” As Nwachi spoke, I kept nodding, pointing at my demobilized car by the side of their building.
The two policemen, still implacable, had now returned their rifles to a less offensive position, pointing downwards beside their legs. “Is that why you should begin to waka straight to where we park exhibit? E mean say una no see us here?”, the other one queried. I offered apologies, explaining that we hadn’t seen them initially. Thus mollified, they became friendlier, and even smiled. “Barrister, you and your people should go straight to the counter and ask for Inspector Edward. He is the one in charge of the case. Remember oo, na we dey look after your car.”
I spotted and recognized him seated right there on the floor beside the wooden counter in the station’s front office. His legs were in chains, and he still wore the same big Yoruba ceremonial dress he had worn that horrible evening. There were two armed policemen standing guard and watching him as he ate a meal of rice obviously brought for him by the old woman who sat on a bench very close by, clutching a water flask. On that bench too sat a man who kept reassuring the old woman that everything will be alright once the DPO returned and he explained everything to him. “My son is not a robber”, the old woman repeated, amid sobs. “I know, Mama”, the man responded. “Robbery is not in our lineage.”
“Yes, gentlemen, can we help you?”, the two front desk officers asked in unison. “Yes Sir”, I thundered back. I was now berserk and quaking. I was screaming as i pointed at the rice – eating young man sitting on the floor: “Officer, officer, true to God, that’s the leader of the armed robbers who shot at me and dispossessed me of my car five days ago. That’s him. He is still wearing the same cloth he wore the evening he and his gang attacked me.” I rushed out of the front office and grabbed a big stone with which to attack the robber, but my friends and the two policemen at the gate raced towards me and restrained me, urging me to be calm. My tumult had now drawn the attention of the policemen in the inner offices, and they had rushed out to know what was going on.
The startled robber and his mother, along with the other man, had also risen and were now standing by the counter to try to make sense of what was going on! As he stood there, fair complexioned and dishevelled, but still ruggedly handsome, the robbers’ way, and in the same embroidered Yoruba Danshiki he had worn on that horrible night, there was no mistaking who he was.
The year was 1993, and the June 12 election which Abiola had won had just been annulled by the President Babangida. Across the country, the air was filled with dread and foreboding, especially in Lagos where I was living since being called to the bar in 1990. In parts of the Southwest, drums of war were sounding, and riots had even broken out. In Aba, my father, troubled that I might be caught up in the maelstrom that was soon to ensue, warned me to pack a few of my belongings and return at once to the relative safety of the East.
My trip to Owerri was therefore in consequence of my father’s admonition. I gathered my best clothes and shoes in the trunk of my less than one month old gleaming BMW 335i sports car, and in the company of my cousin, Paul, left Lagos before the break of dawn, and headed for the East, with stops in Benin and Asaba.
Immediately after Onitsha, the heavens opened up, and it began to rain torrentially. I tried to engage the wiper, but found to my dismay that it had failed. This development considerably impaired visibility, and slowed down our journey. But just before arriving Owerri, the rain suddenly stopped, and the skies brightened up again.
I drove straight to a BMW car dealership at Wetheral Road, Owerri, and bought the engine of the wiper. It was a fairly well organised dealership, and when I paid, I was issued a receipt. I was a new wig then, and still intoxicated with my new status of “Barrister.” So, when the cashier asked me my name, I had proudly prefixed it with “Barrister”, and the receipt was issued bearing that prefix. Getting into the car, I had put the receipt in the pouch of the driver’s door before driving off to the mechanic to install the new wiper engine.
But the auto mechanic at Orji, a suburb of Owerri, found that the new wiper engine did not match. We returned the engine wiper to the BMW dealership and asked for a refund. That was when Nwachi, the Managing Director emerged from an inner office and promised to get us the right wiper engine the following day.
My cousin and I therefore decided to pass the night in Owerri, since it was already past 6PM. We returned to Orji, and checked into a hotel and freshened up. We then decided to see my friend, Doctor Ebere, who lived nearby. He it was that took us to a sweltering pub not too far from our hotel. We were now in a jolly mood, glasses wound down, music blaring loud from our car, and drawing attention as we made our way slowly to the pub.
Our drinks had just been served when four young men walked into the crowded pub. One of them particularly caught my attention. He was fair – complexioned, good looking, and wearing a loose blue Danshiki – an oddity in Owerri. Strangely, he was looking in our direction. One by one, three of the four young men walked to our table, each of them lighting a cigarette with my lighter which I kept, along with my car key and a pack of cigarettes, on our table. Each greeted us as they did so, and briskly walked back to the door of the pub where the Danshiki wearing one still stood. I was still watching them keenly, as they conferred briefly.
Then suddenly, eyes now blazing, the four of them made straight for our table, with the one in Danshiki leading the charge. “Gentlemen, we are for you”, the one in Danshiki hollered, pointing at me, and instantly unveiling a rifle from the bowel of his Danshiki. Another one pulled a revolver. “Now, everybody, lie face down”, the one in Danshiki thundered, and to show that he meant business, he cocked the rifle and shot at my yet unopened bottle of Odeku, shattering it instantly. I began to bleed on right hand, a shard from the shattered beer bottle having given me a deep cut, as everyone in the pub sprawled on the floor.
We had been blaring some Fuji tunes since driving out of our hotel for revelry – just to drive home the point that we were Lagosians, and therefore superior to the Owerri crowd. And now, as the fleeing robbers started my beloved BMW and revved up its engine, the car stereo came to life. From where I lay face down on the cold floor of the dinghy pub, frozen with dread, I could hear Abbass Obesere as he crooned on my car’s speakers: “Angelina, ma bailo, pam pa, parara, parara rarara, pam pam pa…”
The echoes of that Fuji hit song were still trailing as my car disappeared into the bowels of the dark Owerri night, driven by the robbers! In the car’s trunk were almost all the money I had in the world, and my prized clothes and shoes. For I had planned an extended stay in the East, since no one knew when the simmering political crisis was to abate!
TO BE CONTINUED