Before then I, Otunba of the Lagos Night, had never – not in my seven or so years in this city – run into armed robbers. I knew, in that instant, these ones were not ‘friends’. I’m used to running into my ‘friends’ at night in Lagos.
Nigerian policemen, evil as they are, don’t haul you out of your car – without first asking for identification and ‘papers’. They don’t bark insane orders menacingly at a lone male in his car, don’t surround a lone male with AK47s pointed at him, don’t collect his car keys, don’t strip him of his watch, don’t empty his pockets in seconds. Yes, they ask you to open your boot; will ask you what the suitcase in the boot contains. But Nigerian policemen don’t ask you to get into the boot. They don’t slam the boot shut. They don’t pile into your car and drive off with you in the boot.
I know Nigerian policemen can be crazy and all. We’ll talk about that another time.
I spent the next hour in the boot of my car, unsure of my fate, unsure if these were car-snatchers, or something worse.
From my ‘cockpit’ in the boot of my car I reckoned we were headed towards Epe.
To cut a short story even shorter, we eventually ended up somewhere.
Somewhere residential, from what I could tell.
The men – some spoke Yoruba, some pidgin – had one thing on their minds. Homes.
I thought that breed of robbers had long slid into extinction.
You all remember the Nigeria of the 1980s and 90s, when gangs of armed robbers invaded homes in search of – nah, there were no mobile phones or iPads back then – they sought VCRs and TV sets and cash (pre-ATM, no doubt) and jewellery.
Pardon my naivety, but I didn’t know they were back.
My final twenty or so minutes in the boot were – as we say in these parts – gangster.
All I could hear were orders. And loud thuds and thumpings on doors, as these young men fanned out into the homes of innocent Nigerians.
And then, later, panic. Yeah, the men panicked.
They kept shouting “Amo! Amo! Amo!” I thought one of them was called ‘Amo’. I thought they needed to leave, and were frantically seeking him.
It was (and I didn’t know this until later) an Armoured Personnel Carrier, belonging to the Nigerian Police Force, that they were referring to.
Apparently, in the belligerent algebra of police-and-tief, an APC is an equation-altering variable.
And then the gunfire started.
I was still in the boot, so I didn’t know who was shooting. Or at what?
All I could tell was this was like dress rehearsals for a Lagos Festival of Bulletry, powered by people whose problem was obviously (and apologies to the Boy Scout Dictator) ‘not bullets but how to spend them’.
In that moment Lagos became Mogadishu. Or Monrovia in the early 1990s. Or Abbottabad, on a May night in 2011. Or perhaps Lagos simply became Lagos. The same Lagos where families gathered to watch public executions as Sunday afternoon entertainment in the late 1970s.
Things happened quickly from there.
The men had to flee.
Expectedly they piled into my car (I was still in the boot).
Unexpectedly they’d somehow managed to lose my key.
Without hesitation they filed out of my car, shot their way into the night.
Minutes later, when the gunshots had died down, I heard softer voices.
I fiddled with the mechanisms in my car boot.
The boot popped open.
Two men attended to me.
“You look familiar,” said one. He was an estate resident. “I know your face. You’re a journalist.”
Thank God for Twitter (?).
The other man was an escaped abductee, like me. Kidnapped in Isolo, at 9pm, held until 1am. His car, like mine, served as an ‘operational’ vehicle.
In that moment we were all bound in the fellowship of our victimhood.
The guy who recognised me had had the butt of a gun rammed into his chest minutes earlier.
One by one the estate residents filed out. In no time there must have been thirty of us standing on the road that ran through the estate.
Bound in the fellowship of our sufferings.
Trying to outdo one another with our tales.
My victimhood is bigger than yours, and other stories
We licked our wounds, swapped stories, stewed in our numbness, picked spent bullet shells as though we were harvesting grain.
At one house at the end of the road, two dogs lay bleeding, shot.
The police joined us, sober as we were.
You had to feel pity for them. Underarmed, under-protected.
I slept in the police station that night. In the morning before I was ‘released’ to go home I was shown a car, a white BMW, 3 series. Parked not far from where my car, towed from the estate, was deposited (the imbeciles had actually lost my keys, for real).
The Beemer had a single bullet hole, through the windscreen. And dried blood, on the front seats.
The driver hadn’t been as fortunate as the rest of us, the ever-expanding band of survivors.
Nineteen or so hours before my own escapade, he had run into a bullet. It stopped him, silenced him, forever.
They say he was young, he worked with an oil company.
He probably didn’t have any more reason to die than I did.
But the man died.
The divisional crime officer, a writer of poems and reader of Gandhi, had a bullet through his car as well, also from the night before. It must have whizzed past him. He survived.
A week later, my friend C would celebrate one year since his own survival. He lost his car (eventually recovered). The young man robbed alongside him, wasn’t so lucky. He was shot and killed on the spot.
The Fellowship of the Suffering.
I lost my laptop, my phones, my wallet. My car, at first, until it was abandoned, with me in the boot.
But I’m alive.
And you expect me to live in Lagos and not believe in the wondrous mercies of God.
Let the philosophers wonder about the city that leaves its citizens wholly dependent on the grace of God.
I know Fashola is trying. But let’s face it – Lagos was the city the Psalmist had in mind when he prayed about the “pestilence that stalks in darkness; the destruction that lays waste at noon.”
We live to die, to run away from a million deaths, to swap stories of unordinary fates and miraculous escapes.
I learnt a few things:
· The Nigeria Police, useless as they are, are not that useless. Given how useless they could actually be. Trust me.
· Life is not some James Bond sh-t. If it was, from my boot I’d have activated a secret console that’d have:
o Turned my inner-lights into a night-vision camera that’d have taken photos of the bandits
o Alerted the Head Offices of the SSS, EFCC, SARS, and NIA about my whereabouts, speed of travel of my car, and direction of travel
o Sealed me into an air-conditioned, bullet-proof casing within the boot
o Disabled the car, jammed the locks, and filled the cabin with methoxypropane, putting all the bandits to sleep.
· The Honda Accord Boot is impressively spacious. And it – at least in certain models – can be opened from the inside.