A Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED), commonly known as a car bomb, is an improvised explosive device placed inside a car or other vehicle and then detonated. It is commonly used as a weapon of assassination, terrorism or guerrilla warfare, to kill the occupants of the vehicle, people near the blast site, or to damage buildings or other property. Car bombs act as their own delivery mechanisms and can carry a relatively large amount of explosives without attracting suspicion; in larger vehicles and trucks, weights of up to 1000 pounds (450 kg) have been used. Car bombs are activated in a variety of ways; including opening the vehicle’s doors, starting the engine, depressing the accelerator or brake pedals or simply lighting a fuse or setting a timing device.] The gasoline in the vehicle’s fuel tanks makes the explosion of the bomb more powerful.- Wikipedia
The room was obviously some sort of Command Center; there were several banks of computer screens hooked up to various communications equipment. None of them were manned. Well it was an ungodly hour. Balaraba Hamdala, who had seen many kinds, made a mental note that the center was state of the art. Hamdala noticed one of the doors leading from the room open and stood at ram rod attention when her principal entered the dimly lit room. The principal was at once civilian and again the highest ranking military officer in the country.
“At ease, Colonel.” His voice was a stentorian baritone. Of course she had heard it countless times over the media, but never live.
The principal made no move to offer Hamdala a seat and he remained standing himself, his brow furrowed as if he had given deep thought to what he was about to say and yet he wanted to convey a world of meaning and passion in as few words as possible. Hamdala had a feeling the principal was racing against a stopwatch.
“You have heard of the killings of Sami, Odukoba and Goka.” it was not a question; it was a simple statement of fact.
“In my world, they were not honorable men. But they were… citizens of this country who did not deserve to die such deaths.” Long pregnant pause. “I will not pretend to fully understand what you do……but I am told you are the best at what you do, so…..your mission is simple. Find these killers whoever they are, find them and neutralize them. All resources you will require will be provided. Your clearance once you emerge from this room is Delta, second only to me. You will report only to myself.” His eyes were dangerously narrow. “The import of your assignment transcends religion, our fickle definitions of race or tribe and politics. I want those killers and I want them yesterday. You will have access to me every moment of the day, whether I am in the country or not. Is that understood?”
It seemed incongruous to reply but she did.
“That will be all.”
Hamdala saluted smartly, turned on a heel and was about to leave when his voice stopped her.
“Colonel, give them hell…..”
It was housed in a non descript two storey building in one of the busiest streets in Kaduna, Ali Akilu Road, a case of hiding out in the open. A small signboard identified the building as the Special Operations Study Unit, Nigerian Army. The Peugeot 406 with official green government license plates, navigated the barricades put up by the regular Army grunts and brought the lone occupant of the back seat to the frontage, armed with a thin, very thin manila envelope.
She noted the sloppy way the sergeant-at-arms saluted her, awed at her red neck status but also leering at her bust and hips in the tight fitting regular service uniform. She smiled wickedly in her mind, after all it had been her idea to take in a couple of inches at the hem and the hips. Somehow it made her powerful and feminine, but most of all it allowed her to analyze most of her contemporaries, who were men. It forced them to make conclusions that were always invariably wrong. She returned the salute perfunctorily, and navigated her way purposefully, through a metal detector, up a flight of stairs and soon entered an unmarked door. It was evident; she was familiar with the layout of the building. Yet it was the first time she had ever visited.
With a tired mental shrug, she knocked, didn’t wait for an answer then opened the door. It was a classic secretary’s office, cluttered with a computer, photocopier, shredder and the like. She smiled again inside. Hassan was also a formidable chess player. She waded through the room and pushed back at the inner door.
Hassan Bature, the most unconventional soldier she had ever met. He was seated in a classic leather CEO chair, dressed casually in a wife beater and jeans; his feet which were sockless were resting on some paperwork on his executively appointed mahogany desk. He was also smoking what appeared to be London Menthols, ash flickering off the burnt part as a huge industrial fan behind him rotated. Bature was small, wiry and handsome, but with dark almost pupil-less eyes that told you this guy was your worst nightmare. His hair was cropped close, silver tinged at the temples. And he had a beard. He crushed the cigarette in an ornate ash tray.
They looked over each other for several moments. His eyes sweeping across her geography, from head to toe. His eyes did not linger at her breasts straining through the uniform. He saw a well toned muscled woman, slightly ugly, if not for her full mouth, who wore no jewelry, but two white gold ear studs and carrying an interesting manila envelope.
“You look good Hamdala, you didn’t want to come back?” his voice was surprisingly effeminate.
“I didn’t want you to have all the fun sir.” She remained standing, her eyes done with him, assessing the room.
Abruptly, he swept his feet off the desk and stood up.
“You can dispense with that counter terrorism, direct action bullshit, you’re among friends Colonel. Welcome home.”
She exhaled sharply, the beginnings of a smile tugging at the corner of her lips.
“Thank you General.”
He walked around the table and up to her, and around her.
“What’s with the ‘whore’ mode you’re affecting?”
This time she smiled.
“Kai Hassan ba ka daina iskanccin nan ba har yanzu?”
“Hmm still, have no respect for your elders. It’s good to see you. Please sit.”
She did, cagily, as he assumed the position she had met him, but he was smiling too. She placed the slim manila file on the table before him. He eyed it warily almost like a coiled lioness just about to pounce.
“What brings you out to NEXUS?” his voice was business like. He did not like being told what to do. And for a powerful man who had built the Nigerian X Unit of Security, which meant counter-terrorism, reconnaissance and direct action missions, from scratch, that was deliberately making enemies she did not need.
“Research sir.” her voice matched his, dripping ice. His eyes were still on the file.
“May I?” he asked. She nodded and he laid a wiry hand on it. She noticed he wasn’t wearing a wedding band again and this time she snorted. His eyes returned to her face as he drew the file to himself.
“She didn’t know how to cook…..!” he said dismissively, then opening the file, he removed a single sheet of stationery. He read through the letter in seconds and his eyes came to dwell at the green scripted signature adorning the bottom. “Na waoh, from Number One himself!” He whistled and leaned back into his chair.
“I got my orders, but this is deep, really deep shit. Do you know what you’re getting into Balaraba?” his voice had acquired an almost fatherly edge.
She stood up abruptly, almost knocking her chair back. Too abruptly, he noticed.
“Can I meet with the team now Sir?”
“With all pleasure “ he said with no hesitation.
“So what do we know about this shadowy group, Vigilante or Esquardo da Morte.” She asked the four gentlemen seated on the U shaped conference table. She had read their dossiers. Kayode ‘Ajekpako’ Williams, Ordnance. If Bature was wiry, Ajekpako was almost anemic. Bulama Shehu, quiet efficient, Michael ‘Bomboy’ Collins, boisterous, over the top, and Michael Owvian, nerdy with the glasses to prove it.
“Esquardo da Morte is an secret armed terrorist and paramilitary squad that has conducted extrajudicial killings, assassinations, and forced disappearances of persons as part of a terror campaign. These killings are often conducted in ways meant to justify the illegitimacy of the group. Public opinion of the group has ranged from celebration to quiet adulation.” Ovwian said in a cultured voice that was accented with the unique accent of his native Warri.
“That is the official position. You do not have an opinion? She asked him directly. He was dressed like all of the others in smart casuals but Ovwian wore a baseball hat backwards. He looked pained at her question but glanced over at Collins before he spoke again. She made a mental note of the look.
“With all due respect, whoever those guys are, they are among the best anywhere in the world. My guess is Nigerian ex military, Israeli or French trained, highly motivated, perhaps not by money, funded by very deep pockets.” He paused.
“I was told you four are the best we have”
“You paid attention during psychology classes Ma.”
“I guess I should say Thank you. I am impressed at your own skills. Ovwian, what do you really have?”
The guy looked at Collins again and there was an almost imperceptible nod, and he now looked at her.
“Yes, we were able to recover the sim card from the detonator under the Bugatti Veyron, we reconstructed it and hacked into MTN database. There was a call made from the SIM about three hours before the blast.”
“Can I see it?”
He handed her a pen scribbled number. Immediately, she entered into it her phone and dialed the number. It rang just once and a deep stentorian baritone answered. “Yes?” It was the voice of her principal!