- Bamidele Johnson
Osita Nwajah, currently the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s communications unit, calls me “The Man” up till today. Once in a while, Niran Adedokun also inserts The Man into our conversations. The name originated from a robbery experience Goodluck Ilajufi Ebelo and I had in May 2000, during which two lives were lost.
It was at a time that Egbesu, which I believe is a powerful deity among the Ijaw, was prominent in conversations around the burgeoning unrest in the Niger Delta region. Ebelo, an Ijaw, was always bigging up Egbesu like it was a WMD. He also had the habit of bragging that he’d never wear glasses like me, as Ijaw people, by nature, have good eyesight. He has been wearing glasses for about eight years now. Boast busted.
The Egbesu one went first. The boast busters were the robbers, who attacked us that day. We were both single and had a habit of spending the night in each other’s place, playing Scrabble all night. I lived alone, while he, his younger brother and Fidelis Soriwei aka Shitta Owoyangere lived together. We were driven home that evening by our editor, Gbenga Alaketu. A bit of this story will remain undisclosed, so as not to heat up the polity.
We got to my own place, which was about seven minutes’ walk from his, at about 7.30pm. When we got out of the car, I saw three men sitting in the house opposite mine. No reason to fear, as the street was still busy with people returning from work and wherever. Immediately our editor drove off, we went inside and on the way in, met the wife of the man who lived in the flat below mine. We greeted her and she said she was going to buy Golden Morn for her toddler. She left the gate unlocked.
I brought out my key and as I was about to open the door to the stairwell, with Ebelo in tow, I heard a whispered but firm order. “Don’t move,” said a man wearing a cap. He had two other men for company and we saw that they were holding some objects, which we could not immediately make out because it was dark. What they had were sawn-off guns. Ebelo, a taller and heftier person because of his elephantine food appetite, was grabbed by his trousers. I opened the stairwell door and led them upstairs. My mouthy friend fretted and opened his mouth to say: “Please, we’re journalists.” He got a vicious slap and mechie onu immediately.
Upstairs, the robbers demanded money and jewelry. I said that I was the one living in the flat and had only money. “Wey the money,” their leader barked. I led them to the room where I kept N14, 000 with which I planned to buy a Tokunbo fridge at Lawanson the next day. The money was in N200 notes and was quite bulky. Ebelo was lying down like a lizard. They took the money and then developed an idea that they could get dollars from me like I was Aboki FX. I said I didn’t have dollars.
The guy barked again and I remembered that I had 13, 000 Cedis I brought back from my trip to Accra two months earlier. I brought it out and they flashed a light at it. I believe (not sure) that they took it for dollars because the notes looked foreign. Owners of bad heads.
Still, they wanted more and ordered me to move to the next room in the flat. One took my glasses, which he later dropped, and my wristwatch. They rifled through the next room, took a few things, including my much-loved shoehorn. “O ya, go to the next room,” he bawled at me again. I told them there was nothing in the third room but books, newspapers and magazines. “Open,” he shouted. I complied. It was a room I hardly used and was a roaches’ paradise.
They kicked my friend inside and locked the door. I thought they were ready to leave. Baba is lie. While Ebelo had cockroaches crawling merrily over him (he later said he was castrated by fear that any movement in an attempt to swat them away could re-invite the robbers to the room), I was told to take them to the landlord’s apartment. He didn’t live with us, I told them.
They demanded to be taken to the flats of other tenants and warned that I was dead meat if I raised an alarm. Alarm kwa? Downstairs, I asked which of the flats they wanted to visit first. They pointed to the one on the right. I knocked on the door and called my neighbour. “Mister B,” I said. “Who’s that,” he replied. The scoundrels hid from view in case he peeped from the window.
He did not. He opened the door. They charged at him like a bull does a matador. Unprovoked slaps announced their mission, which he acknowledged via “sorry sir”. They asked him and the wife for money, which they said they did not have. The man had not worked for about six months. The wife, a teacher, started begging. I was flat on the floor, as instructed. Both maintained that they had no money.
The leader told my neighbour and I to stand up. We both got up and kept our heads down to avoid being accused of wanting to look at their faces. “Se ore e ni The Man yi?” asked their leader. I did not understand the question because of the definite article accompanying “man”. I had never heard it said that way before. I would later realise it was a fuji argot used by fujitives. He shouted the question again and my slow-processing brain got the message. What he asked was if my neighbour was my friend and to which I replied with a nod. “A ma pa The Man yi; a ma fi The Man yi la e loju,” he said. In plain language, he said they were going to kill Mr. B and I would feel intense grief if it happened.
I turned to Mr. B, telling him that he should give them whatever he had. He maintained that he had nothing. “Come,” their leader ordered him. He led Mr. B away from the sitting room. I froze, expecting a gunshot. But in less than two minutes, they both returned to where we were and the leader’s mood had become sunnier. We did not know why until much later.
They told us to get up and asked for cold water. I tried to keep them onside, saying we could only provide water at room temperature, as power supply in the area was poor. “Bring it,” he bellowed. Mr. B’s wife, who had a baby not long before, rushed to bring a basin of water. They took turns to drink without the cup offered.
The youngest of them, aged about 16, then told me to come near him. I did. He said they were going to kill me. I said nothing. He repeated it two more times and I thought he could shoot. I drew, very subtly, the attention of the leader to his threats. “Bros,” I said, “na me you meet upstairs.” He said he knew. “I cooperate with you,” I said. He replied that he knew. “Dis man say he go kill me,” I said, pointing to the chap. He slapped the guy and I believe that it was what saved me.
They later announced that were leaving for the house opposite mine, but warned that they were going to leave one of them called OC Mopol at the door just in case we developed ideas. We were told to go into Mr. B’s guest bathroom. I was the first to get in and immediately went flat, minded not to give them a big target in case they decided to shoot through the door. Others got in and they locked the door.
Inside, Mr B told us that they took N35,000 he planned to spend on car repairs from him. That was what put their leader in a good mood when he came out. My neighbour, a fairly rubbish guy, then said the robbers had gone and we should break the door because he was feeling hot. I told him not to try it. It was a Thursday and I added that if it meant spending the weekend in the bathroom, I was ready. He laughed and said he was going to break the door. His petrified wife said in a muffled yell: “Bayo, ma so mi d’opo (don’t make a widow of me).”
Just after, the first shot rang out in the next house. We all froze. Another shot followed and then continuous blasts from more than a gun. This was at about 9pm. There were shouts of “Ole” from the next house, an indication that they were leaving. They probably told them in the other house that ours had been attacked because shortly after they left, the landlord started shouting Mr. B’s name and we responded that we had been locked inside.
They came to let us out and discovered that the key had been taken away. The door was broken with a pestle. I took people upstairs to get Ebelo out and the door also had to be broken. Immediately he got out, he fled for his house barefooted like a Cele man.
The next day, he came back for the pair of nubuck shoes he wore. I went to see people in the next house where two persons were shot dead. One was a fresh graduate of The Polytechnic, Ibadan. They were said to have been shot by the youngest of the robbers.
I left the house for about four months, during which flashbacks almost scrambled my mind. Took about a year to heal from it.