It was the day of the big election – the Presidential one – and all the markets and roads were deserted – unusually, people had forgone the use of vehicles, both private and commercial, to go to their allocated polling stations to cast their votes.
The three recharge card seller boys were dancing shoki in the middle of an almost deserted Third Mainland Bridge. In the absence of vehicles – owner driven and commercial – to hawk their wares to there was very little to do, other than play.
They were carefree, savouring the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being on the empty bridge. Come Monday morning and it’ll be choc-a-bloc with cars, buses and other motorized wheeled traffic stuck in go-slow. Or, depending in which direction you’re headed, it could be race track for the speeding traffic. Dancing shoki in the middle of the road, then, would be suicidal and anybody considering it would have a head that’s seriously not correct.
So when the tanker came thundering, seemingly out of nowhere, in front of the Unilag leg of the bridge and ploughed into the dancing trio they didn’t know what hit them. One minute it wasn’t there and the next it was bearing down on top of them. Without enough time to duck, dive or flee the mighty vehicle smashed into them, extinguishing their lives with the alacrity of one stepping on a cockroach. That quick, that simple.
Virtually unscathed, the tanker rolled on for another kilometre or two before crashing into the concrete balustrade. Inside the vehicles cabin, the driver was found, motionless and lifeless, splayed over the steering wheel. He had, apparently, suffered a heart attack at the wheel. An autopsy report would later suggest he suffered a massive heart attack caused by the constant consumption of a controversial pain relief remedy called “PainGo”.
Chief Adeyemi did not like lawyers. To him, they were leaches who would suck you dry like a mosquito would. Every drop of blood they want, every last naira they can squeeze out of you. And right now he faced one right across his desk.
Under normal circumstances he would bribe his way out of trouble. This is Nigeria, money talks. But not this time. He had been taken to the court by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control ,NAFDAC, accused of importing and selling counterfeit drugs. His company was the sole importer of a drug called ‘PainGo’ which had allegedly claimed the lives of more than a hundred people, nationwide. The case had generated a lot of media attention and the Chief knew he couldn’t buy his way out of this one.
But first the prosecution had to prove he was guilty.
The elections were over and with no politicians to prey on , lawyers were becoming hungry and desperate. He had been able to enlist the services of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, for the price of a regular ambulance-chasing Lagos lawyer.
Outside on the street a Jumia delivery driver was fighting with an okada rider. A crowd had gathered around the two street fighters, jeering. A lizard had somehow scaled the wall and was on the window sill looking at him, impetuously, bobbing its head up and down. If he lost this case it would cost him billions of naira in fines and lost stock. There was also the probability of a prison sentence. He shuddered at the thought. A man of his calibre in Kirikiri maximum prison? God forbid bad thing!
He needed a miracle and the Messiah, clad in a designer suit, sitting opposite him, was going to deliver him.
“ To be quite honest Chief…”, began Lawyer Sanusi,”…I don’t see a problem.its going to be tricky but I can get you off”.
“ How much?”, asked Chief Adeyemi, impatiently. Lawyers and their big talk. At the end of the day it all came down to money hard cash!
“ It’ll cost you fifty thousand..”.
“ Fifty thousand?”, Chief couldn’t believe his luck. How cheap! Fifty thousand naira!
The lawyer opposite him smiled. He hadn’t been allowed to finish his sentence.
“ Chief..”, he began in his American laced accent,”…I mean it’ll cost you fifty thousand American dollars..”
The smile on Chiefs lips quickly dissipated ,”…fifty thousand dollars?”.
The lawyer opposite him nodded.
On the day of his trial Chief Adeyemi was chauffeured to the High Court in his silver Bentley, the one with the special registration of LAB 5049. It was his lucky car out of a fleet of more than ten similar luxury vehicles. He wanted to turn up in style, even though in the back of his mind he knew he could well be leaving later in a Black Maria, if his lawyer failed him.
The prosecutor was very good. He was able to prove , to the court, that Chief Adeyemi , being the sole importer of the drug, was liable for the deaths caused by the usage of the medicine and therefore was guilty as charged.
Chief sat impassively with is legal team. Despite the assurances from his lawyer things were not looking hopeful. He could still envisage that overcrowded cell in Kirikiri.
Then the tables were turned.
His lawyer stood up and addressed the court.
“ Yes..”, began Lawyer Sanusi, “…his client was the sole importer for ‘PainGo’ for Nigeria. There was no doubt about it and there was adequate documentation to support that.
“ But Chief Adeyemi was a businessman who ordered the drugs in good faith and documentation from the country of origin proved they were not counterfeit and posed no health risk if recommended dosage was not exceeded..”.
Sanusi paused for a few minutes to gauge the reaction from the court to his line of defence.
The court room was quiet. Both the prosecutor and judge were making notes.
He smiled. He knew the drugs were counterfeits. He also knew the documents he had shown the court were falsified. But nobody could prove otherwise. The supplying pharmaceutical firm in India would confirm everything, too, as stipulated. He continued :
“ It’s a well-known fact that in Nigeria today there are criminal gangs that produce fake counterfeits of well known brands from watches to pirated DVDs. Who is to say that the ‘PainGo’ killing people is not a fake made by these criminals?”.
He had a point. There was no way the court or NAFDAC could prove the drugs killing people was the same batch imported by Chief Adeyemi. It could have come from anywhere.
With a captive audience Sanusi did something very extraordinary. From the inside pocket of his jacket he produced a pack of ‘PainGo’, slipped out two of the pills, popped them into his mouth and washed them down with a swig from a bottle of water.
“ Your honour..”, he said , putting the bottle of water down,”… I take ‘PainGo’ all the time. It’s perfectly safe as long as the maximum dosage is not exceeded”.
He was lying. He knew very well the drug wasn’t safe. He also knew that if you didn’t take more than two tablets in twenty-four hour hours there would be no side effects like vomiting or anything that could lead to heart failure and death.
Faced with the overwhelming facts and the defendant’s lawyers demonstration the judge had no choice but to dismiss the case. The Chief, however, was fined a paltry sum for not correctly printing health warnings on the packets pointing out maximum dosage.
It was a jubilant Chief that went home that day. Not only had he won the case he had saved his business and billions of naira and kept himself out of prison.
He felt very smug about himself. He had just made an absolute fortune selling counterfeit drugs and got away with it. But he felt no remorse for the people who had died because of his greed. Like he had told his lawyer, earlier, “…that is their wahala, man go chop, business is business!”.
The house girl was in a state of panic when she opened the door for him. His wife was still at work and won’t be back for some time and she was minding the house.
He asked her what was the matter and she pointed to a girl lying on sofa, writhing in pain.
“ She no well..”, explained the house girl, “…so I give her medicine”.
Chief dropped his briefcase and dashed to the side of the young girl convulsing on the sofa. She had a temperature and her breathing was shallow.
“ What did you give her?”, bellowed the Chief, panic creeping into his voice.
The house girl pointed to the pack of ‘PainGo’ on the table.
“ I give her two tablets but e no work so I give am another two..”