Mike woke up that particular Saturday morning feeling like he was carrying the weight of his country’s (Nigeria) problems on his shoulders. He had only five days to his planned book presentation, the invitation cards were yet to go out and other logistical arrangements hadn’t yet been completed. He had arrived Abuja from Lagos the previous night with the last Virgin Nigeria flight and planned to use the weekend to conclude some of the arrangements.
Exhausted and his body needing more sleep, Mike managed to drag himself up from the bed and made his way to the bathroom. The mirror confirmed to him what he had been saying to himself all along; he was gradually turning into a wreck. His eyes looked worn and tired and his face didn’t have the boyish spark anymore. Mike knew that he needed to slow down; he hadn’t had any proper holidays in a long while. Although his teaching job in the United Kingdom where he lives allows him regular holiday breaks when the students are away, he never ever gets round to actually relaxing and enjoying such breaks. Like some other Africans, Mike considers himself very much still as a team member of the rat race, work, work, work, hustle, and hustle. He often wonders if he would ever get out of the race.
A little later, Mike’s phone rang; it was Nze Sunny Ogbu, his friend of several years on the line. He had picked Mike up from the airport the previous night.
“Nna, how we go waka today?” Sunny asked
“Ehm, Ehm”. Mike stuttered, he didn’t know where to start, his brain refused to function that particular minute.
“Sunny, please let me call you back in a few minutes when I get out of the bathroom”.
Shortly after, Mike’s host in Abuja, Okechi Precious Osuala, the General Manager of Chelsea Hotel Abuja tapped on the door. He was about leaving for work and was just checking up on Mike.
Mike thanked God for sending friends like Sunny and Okechi his way. They have been friends since their university days at Uyo. On graduation Sunny went to live abroad but has since relocated back to Abuja –Nigeria. Okechi choose to ride the storm in Nigeria and has now made good. Ever since, both have been trying to convince Mike to consider relocating back to Nigeria but Mike was still undecided.
Later in the day, Sunny picked Mike up in his 2005 model Toyota Camry; he had recently bought the car as a surprise present for his wife, Helen, who would be arriving from the UK the next day. Sunny planned to surprise her at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja when she arrives. He had already arranged for a decorator to wrap the car in ribbons at the airport. Sunny hasn’t seen his wife for months and was quite excited at being reunited with her and their daughter Chiazokam.
As Sunny and Mike toured Abuja that Saturday giving out the invites and tying up all other logistics arrangement, little did they know that the rest of the night would turn into a nightmare for them and shake the very foundations of their faith.
By the time they were done, it was already past 6 pm but they still had one more call to make. Next, they visited the proposed chairman of the book presentation, Chief George Moghalu at his home. They arrived to meet Retired General Lawrence Onoja in his company and spent the next two hours discussing Nigerian affairs and Mike’s proposed book presentation.
A little after 8 pm, Sunny and Mike left Chief Moghalu’s residence, they wanted to drop off Mohammed Adams, Mike’s friend who works at the federal ministry of information and who has been with them all day helping out with the planning.
Sunny drove into the wide open unsecured FCDA Quarters in Wuse 11 where Mohammed lives at about 8.30 pm. As they drove through the untarred small stretch of road towards Mohammed’s flat, they failed to notice the white Golf car trailing behind them. The night was still busy, people were going about their business and Abuja was supposed to be a safe town compared to the more volatile Lagos and Port Harcourt towns.
Finally Sunny stopped the car in front of Mohammed’s flat; in that split second all hell broke loose. Five heavily armed men surrounded the vehicle, with their guns pointed at Sunny, Mike and Mohammed, they barked out others simultaneously.
“Put your hands up and come down from the vehicle immediately”
“Don’t shout; don’t try anything funny or you will be dead men”
Quietly Sunny, Mike and Mohammed obeyed the gun men’s orders. The trio have since imbibed the popular Nigerian saying – never argue with the man with the gun.
Mike and Mohammed were commandeered to the back seat eventually, one of the gun men took possession of the vehicle and positioned himself in the drivers’ seat; another dispossessed Sunny of his mobile phones and cash. Sunny had an additional 60,000 Naira in the glove compartment, money he had taken from his office earlier in the day for household use that weekend. Two other gun men wedged Mike and Mohammed in at the back seat with their guns pointed to their sides.
“Keep your heads down and don’t say a word”, the gun man to Mike’s right shouted in unadulterated English. Mike doubted the theory which says that robbers were uneducated social miscreants; the gun men who now held them hostage were wide off that description. In the day, the gun men could pass for corporate executives, though Mike could not really see their faces, but their voices betrayed their youthfulness.
Mike wondered who the real victims of the incident were; himself, Sunny and Mohammed or the gun men and Nigeria’s other Generation Yahoo, whose concept of enterprise have now been reconditioned by the social realities around them: unemployment, fading dreams, government apathy to problems facing the youth and institutional corruption. Mike decided to derail his thoughts to concentrate on the matter at hand. If he lived, he would continue with the philosophising another day.
Suddenly, the gun man who now had control of the vehicle manoeuvred the car and faced the exit; his driving dexterity showed that he must have been taught tactical driving skills at the Lawrence Anini and Monday Osunbor Driving Academy. He bellowed to the other gun man to get in quickly and they sped off leaving a hale of dust behind them, while the get away car followed behind. The operation had lasted less than 60 seconds just like Nicolas Cage’s Gone in Sixty Seconds.
Benumbed by shock and surprise, Sunny managed to raise alarm inside the estate but the residents preferred to mind their own business, they locked their doors even more securely. Sunny was worried at the fate of Mike and Mohammed whom the gun men had abducted, he feared for their lives, especially for Mike whom he and Okechi Precious Osuala had convinced to bring his book presentation to Abuja. He managed to contact a few friends in Abuja and they raised a search party immediately.
As the gun men sped through the streets of Abuja, Mike tried to engage them in a discussion; he had noticed that three of the robbers were of the Igbo tribe as they spoke Igbo amongst themselves though tinged in coded slangs. Mike tried to play the ethnic sentiment card and pleaded with the gun men in Igbo language to let them go, he told them that he had a little over two thousand pounds in his laptop bag which was inside the vehicle and some thousands of naira. He also told them that he had his Compaq laptop, Fuji digital camera, Olympus digital voice recorder inside the bag as well which they could sell for cash. Mike falsely assumed that he was making progress, he was getting round to negotiating with his captors on how to retrieve some of the files in his laptop and memory stick including his 3 years PhD research work and book manuscripts. Mike didn’t finish making his life saving speech when he felt a heavy blow to his head. The gun man seating in the front passenger’s seat had cracked open his head with the butt of his gun.
“We told you to shut up, I’m from Kaduna, I will shoot you now, I don’t care about you”, he retorted.
Mike felt a momentary blinding flash, in his bended seating position he was able to feel his head, his sticky fingers told him that blood was gushing out. In an instant his whole face was drenched in his blood, likewise his clothes. Suddenly he felt a sharp jab to his neck; it was the gun man to his right this time.
“This man, stop staining me with your blood”, he told Mike in a very harsh tone. Mike wanted to tell him that he couldn’t help it but he dared not utter a word anymore. Mike searched his mind for options but all he could think of was to ask God to forgive his sins and to receive his soul. Mike was certain that they were going to be executed.
As the gun men drove on, Mike noticed that their tone of voice became harsher; they seemed to be irked by something. Mike heard them mention the words police checkpoints severally; perhaps they were planning their manoeuvre in case they were confronted by the police. Mike prayed that they don’t run into any police checkpoints, he knew quite well that the robbers will not stop for the police and that this may lead to a police chase or exchange of gun fire. Should that occur, he didn’t want to imagine the outcome, not only could they be caught in the crossfire but the police may even round him and Mohammed up alongside the robbers and treat them as part of the gang.
After about 45 minutes of driving, Mike felt the car slow down, he noticed that the car had veered off the road and was now driving through a rough terrain. Suddenly the car stopped and the gun men commandeered Mike and Mohammed to come down. As they alighted from the car, Mike staggered and managed to steady himself by the car. He was beginning to feel faint from the loss of blood, his head was almost exploding and pain racked his whole body.
The entire forest where they found themselves was enveloped in darkness, Mike continued to pray silently. He wasn’t even praying for God to deliver them, rather he was asking God to accept their souls for he considered himself and Mohammed as dead men walking.
When one of the robbers remarked in menacing tone that, “Now the main business begins”, Mike thought that they were now going to be prepared and offered as ritual sacrifices. Tales of such practices are constantly reported in the Nigerian media especially in the Abuja area where hordes of corpses have been discovered recently with the vital organs taken out for ritual purposes.
Mike’s fear was confirmed when he and Mohammed were ordered to take off their clothes, they obeyed and stripped themselves off. They were led into a small clearing inside the forest with guns pointed at them. The shame of nakedness disappeared into the dark Saturday night.
They were ordered to lie face down and the gun men securely tied their hands to their backs, they also bound their feet and walked around them still speaking in coded slangs. One of the gun men told the others, “Let’s finish them off now”.
As Mike waited for the bullet or the machete cut, he thought about his wife, his family and his friends. He wondered why his Maker had decided that his star would dim so early and so shamefully. Mike continued to wait and prayed that the gun men should spare him the agony of waiting and do what they had to do. He wasn’t concerned anymore with the various insects feasting on his exposed body; he stilled his mind and continued to wait.
Suddenly there was quiet, Mike heard a car ignition turn on, followed by a second. The sounds were the sweetest melody he had ever heard in his life. Something told him that his abductors were about leaving. Mike heard the cars rev and drive off, but he still wasn’t sure if they left any guard behind. Mike felt that heaven had provided him and Mohammed with a window of opportunity. He lay still for a while and listened for human noise, but the million sounds of the forest inhabitants made any discernment impossible.
Mike decided to brave it; he exerted every strength left in him as he tried to wriggle out of his hand cuffs. After several attempts and bruises, he managed to secure his hands free. He then untied his feet and helped Mohammed out of his own shackles.
Naked, bruised, shaken and dying, Mike and Mohamed ran out of the forest to the motorway in search of help. None came. Mike thought he knew why, they were naked, and so he decided to go back to the spot where they had escaped from. Mohammed cautioned against it but Mike knew that the bigger risk was in standing naked on the motorway. He scurried for their clothes and found them strewn all over, partly torn and soaked in blood. They put them on but still no car would stop for two bruised and dirty looking men standing by the motorway outside Abuja city gate that late on a Saturday evening.
Help comes from unexpected places. Eche, one of the search party hastily raised by Sunny suddenly appeared. His remit was to cover the airport axis and to inform on – duty police road patrols of the incident. Eche picked Mohammed and Mike up, as Mike settled into Eche’s Toyota Starlet car, he passed out.
This is a true story. All the names in the story are real except Mike. Mike went on to have his book (The Long Harmattan Season) presentation as planned. The Nigerian Police have still not recovered Sunny’s Toyota Camry car and Mike’s valuables. The Mike in the story is me, the author. A deep appreciation to friends, family and associates who have strengthened me through words of encouragement, prayers and material gifts. I am overwhelmed. My friends at nigeriavillagesquare, you guys are awesome.