Wasiu Afolabi perched on the hard-worn seat of the minibus as it rattled and rumbled through the night on its way from Lagos to Ilorin. In the dim light around him, he could see that most of the other passengers were either dozing or fast asleep, completely impervious the the jerking motions of the bus. Not him, though – he was still flushed with relief and gratitude to God that his mission to Lagos had been successful.
He thought back to the events of a few weeks ago, at the start of the new school term. This was the final term of his final year at school, when he was due to take the final year exams that would determine whether he would go on to university. Unlike many of his fellow students, he was enthusiastically looking forward to the exams; not only had he been preparing for this occasion for months, but he was also naturally very bright. Yes, everything seemed to be pointing to a superlative academic performance from him…
…except for the small matter of his school fees.
Year after year without fail, his mother always seemed to be able to conjure up the needed amount – sometimes with just hours to spare. Unfortunately, this year she was unable to work her magic – the struggle of having to provide for him and his two brothers on her meagre income as a trader proved too much this time. Without his school fees paid, he would not be allowed to take the exams by the school. No exams, no result – and no superlative academic performance.
Wasiu was desperate. He asked various people he knew, but he ran into various brick walls. Eventually, his mother mentioned one Chief Olowoparija, a distant relative in Lagos who might be able to help, but she was hesitant to ask him, because of a family quarrel a long time ago. Wasiu was indignant; how could she put her pride ahead of his educational progress? He immediately pressed her for the information, which she gave him on the condition that he would himself do all the talking and pleading; she would have nothing to do with him.
Wasiu shook his head on recalling the encounter with the chief. He now understood why his mother was reluctant to resume contact. Simply put, he was the most arrogant and obnoxious person that Wasiu had met in a long time. The moment he realised who Wasiu’s mother was, Chief Olowoparija proceeded to subject him to a severe and humiliating interrogation. At various points during the session, he would decide that he was not going to give Wasiu the money, only to change his mind a second later and proclaim “maybe I will give you one last chance, because I am a generous man”. The humiliation would then continue. Only the realisation that this man was his last chance of getting his school fees stopped Wasiu from cursing the man outright and storming out of his house.
Finally, after Wasiu had reached the end of his tether and looked ready to crack under the psychological torture, Chief Olowoparija announced finally that he would lend – not give – Wasiu the money, because “I worked hard for this money, and I have no intention of encouraging spendthrift and wasteful behaviour by dashing it out free of charge”. Wasiu made a show of profuse thanks, took the money as soon as it was offered and dashed out of the house before the chief could change his mind.
The bus juddered again and shook Wasiu out of his reverie. He sat forward and looked out of the window into the darkness as it rushed by. He wished he had been able to get away earlier, but his gruelling experience had completely disoriented him. So he had ended up losing his way back, and he was only able to get the motor park after eleven o’clock. It didn’t matter, he thought – he should hopefully be home in a few hours.
Suddenly, there was the sound of shouting and gunshots and the bus shuddered to a sudden stop, throwing everyone forward in disarray. Amidst the ensuing uproar, Wasiu’s heart froze with terror; he prayed that these weren’t armed robbers. Soon enough, he heard the sound of banging against the side of the bus, and a harsh voice ordering everyone out of the bus. As everyone disembarked, Wasiu could make out a group of five or six men standing round the bus. He saw that they were dressed mostly in T-shirts and jeans, armed with assault rifles, and his heart sank.
One of the men shouted out, “Eghosa, shine your torch this way – let us have more light.”
“Yes o, Alaye.” A powerful beam of light instantly illuminated the area, and Wasiu could see Alaye – a stocky, muscular man who seemed to be the leader – pointing this way and that, issuing orders.
“Oya, everybody, co-operate. First bring out all the money you have on you right now.”
The passengers began to shuffle and murmur in low frightened tones. After a few moments of waiting impatiently, Alaye raised the butt of his rifle and savagely clubbed the nearest passenger, a middle aged portly man. The man shrieked in pain and slumped to the floor. On seeing this, the passengers hurriedly rifled through their pockets and brought out whatever money they had.
“Aha, that’s better! I said co-operate, and you were just standing there like mumu people. Ninja, oya collect all the money from these people.”
The tall, dark-skinned Ninja stepped forward and with the efficiency of a bus conductor, he quickly took all the money that the passengers had brought out. Then he handed it back to Alaye who looked at the wad of notes as though it was toilet paper that had been used to wipe someone’s behind. Then he turned to face the passengers, his bloodshot eyes blazing fury.
“What is this nonsense? Do you think I am an idiot – that I don’t know you are hiding money from me??”
The passengers shrank back in terror.
“OK, I am going to show you that I mean business. I want everybody here to bring out twenty thousand naira quick quick! Anyone who fails to produce the money will be dealt with on the spot!”
There was silence, punctuated by the sound of a car’s horn in the distance. Wasiu by this time was shaking so much with fright that he didn’t even notice that he had wet himself. Then one of the passengers, a thin elderly woman, began to stammer. “O-oga, ma binu, abeg, please, I-I don’t have up to that m-money… e-even the little I have is f-for my little daughter…”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Alaye levelled his rifle at the woman and shot her point blank in the thigh, and she collapsed to the ground. A stifled cry of horror arose from the other passengers, but it was cut short as he turned to face them with another fierce glare.
“Does anyone want to continue wasting our time? Abi you don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘co-operate’? For the last time – shake bodi!”
The sound of a car’s horn could be heard again, this time more insistent.
Alaye made a gesture of annoyance. “Leke, Chancer, go and deal with that idiot who is sounding his horn.”
Two of the men peeled themselves of from the group and headed off in the direction of the sound, and he turned back to the passengers, scanning the faces in the group. He settled on one, a young man with a chubby face in a dark jacket. “Oya, you – where is your twenty thousand?”
A few shots rang out, followed by the sound of breaking glass and groans of pain.
The man stammered out “I-It’s in my suitcase in the bus. L-let me go and bring it.” Alaye responded with a grunt, indicating his assent.
As the man burrowed into the interior of the bus, Alaye stood tapping his rifle impatiently. Wasiu hoped that the the man would get the money quickly before the robbers’ leader decided to make an example of more of them. Then suddenly, he heard a faint “phut, phut”, followed the sound of bullets thudding into glass and metal, and the area was plunged into darkness.
Alaye shouted out in confusion. “What- who is that? Eghosa, shine your torch, now!”
“Someone don’ shoot am”, a shaken Eghosa replied.
Alaye cursed, and fumbled for a torchlight of his own. Just as he brought it out, he heard another “phut” and he felt it blasted away from his hand. A few more “phuts” followed, then yells of pain from Eghosa and Ninja, then silence.
Agitated, Alaye raised his rifle and let off a burst of gunfire in where he thought the shooting was coming from, sending the passengers scrambling to the ground in fear. “Oya, show your face! Show your face now! I will shoot everyone here! I will-”
His tirade was cut off with a couple of “phuts” that sent him crashing to the ground, screaming in pain.
“Not so big mouthed now, eh?” a mocking deep voice sounded from the shadows.
A powerful beam of light was switched on, and now Wasiu could see a tall, well built man dressed from head to toe in black. He was holding a torch; a rifle with a silencer was slung round his shoulder and a pair of strange looking glasses were dangling from his neck. On the ground, he could see Alaye bleeding from his arm and leg, his groans of pain much more muted now.
The man surveyed the scene with disgust. Then he whipped out his phone and dialled a number. After a while, there was a tinny voice at the other end as someone picked up.
“Ekumeku here. Chief, you better send some of your boys to come and clear up some mess on this road.”
The tinny voice sounded very animated at the other end in response. Ekumeku laughed in response, and said “Who knows? Maybe one of them is even one of your people. Anyway, there are a whole load of passengers stranded here. Your boys can ask them for more details when they get here. Tell them to hurry – it looks like their oga is almost about to expire.” He prodded the torso of Alaye in contempt with his patent leather shoe as he spoke. Ekumeku chatted on the phone for a while, then he said “OK o, we’ll talk some other time. Say hello to Clara for me,” and hung up. Then he turned to face the astonished passengers.
“A detachment of policemen will be on their way soon to pick you up and take statements. Left to me, I would be on my way – but unfortunately, those idiots did more damage to my car than I thought they would. So it looks like I’m stuck here with you for a while,” he finished, shrugging in irritation.
Wasiu waved his hand to draw Ekumeku’s attention. “Sir, there is a woman here who has been shot – can you help?”
Ekumeku responded curtly. “Don’t they teach you first aid in school these days? Must I do everything?” Seeing the look of hurt and helplessness on Wasiu’s face, he softened a bit and added, “OK, I’ll see what I can do.”
He then turned back to face Alaye, who was still whimpering softly on the ground. “Honestly, I don’t understand you robbers. I sounded my horn twice, and you wouldn’t move. Don’t you understand the meaning of the word ‘co-operate’?”