Although I pulled my vehicle out of the hole, I could not drive it into the hotel compound as my eyes suddenly went shut. I could not open them anymore. I gave the key to Demola and talked him through driving an automatic gear vehicle. I was led to my room where I laid in bed trying but failing to sleep for the rest of the night. Try this at home when you get a chance. Blindfold yourself for 24 hours and try to do the things you normally do – like use the bathroom, take a shower, walk around the room, walk up and down the stairs, get water from the refrigerator, shave, watch the television and get dressed. Try doing those things unassisted and you will have a new-found respect for the blind and a new-found appreciation for your eyes. I really thought I was going to lose my sight. I had worn glasses since 1972. But in April 2006, I underwent laser surgery here in Germany to correct my myopia (shortsightedness). The surgery was very successful as my vision became better than 20-20 and I no longer had to wear glasses. But my eyes were still tender, not fully healed and definitely should not have been subjected to such abuse. I thought I would go blind.
During the robbery, I was surprised to see that I was not afraid at all. I guess my job has conditioned me to be like this. In the course of doing my job I routinely find myself in more extremely dangerous situations. I was not scared of the armed robbers. But I was angry. I was very angry that I stayed in that hotel unarmed. I pictured the late Bola Ige, a whole attorney general of Nigeria who was killed in his bedroom by assassins. I was not afraid of dying. I am not afraid of death. If I did, I would be in a different line of work today. But I do not want to die like a wimp, with my hands in the air while some hoodlum pumps hot lead into my chest just because he wants something belonging to me. It is an unfair way to go. I want to die fighting, taking along with me to meet the Almighty some (if not all) of my attackers.
So, when my eyes healed and I returned to Ibadan, I went to see the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of my residential area and narrated my ordeal to him. I told him that I wanted a gun and a license to own it. I wanted to stay within the law. He showed me the kinds of guns for which the police commissioner could issue a license. I was astounded. The police commissioner could only authorize a “pump action” rifle, which is nothing more than a glorified hunting rifle – what Americans call shotgun. They take seven to eight cartridges (rounds) which are loaded individually, and require a “pumping” of the charger each time you want to fire a round (for the manual), and before you fire any round (for the semi-automatic). If you expend your seven or eight rounds (bullets, in layman’s language), or you have a jam in the barrel and your attackers are still coming at you, you are in trouble. The weapon is about 4 feet long, difficult to conceal and difficult to aim because the rounds come out in a blasting with their pellets spreading to cover more areas than a single bullet could. No wonder it is a hunting rifle. It gives hunters better opportunities to kill their animals.
The weapon that I wanted was a handgun, a pistol, something that is easily concealable, easy and quick to re-load (a magazine usually contains about 20 rounds and you can drop an empty magazine and re-load a full one in 1/10th of a second) – the kind that some of my attackers held to my face. But the DPO explained to me that only the president, on the advice of the Inspector-General of Police signed off on those. Only dignitaries, envoys, retired army generals and senior police officers were allowed those. I did not believe him. I checked with another senior police officer friend. The answer was the same. If true, how then did those armed robbers get the weapons that they had? I am not naïve. I know the probable answers to that question. It is either they stole them, or bought them at the black market, or smuggled them into the country, or rented them from people licensed to own them. I am sure that President Obasanjo did not issue a gun license to those people who robbed me of even my cologne.
I thought hard and deep. Should I remain a law-abiding citizen by signing for a shotgun that can not protect me, and which license and gun cost about N220, 000, or should I do the RIGHT thing by buying a 9mm handgun at the black market for N20, 000, no license, but guaranteed to give me a fighting chance should armed robbers come at me in the future? I re-lived the robbery in my head over and over. What if I had stayed in the hotel with my wife and daughters? What if the robbers had raped my wife or daughters in my presence? What if I had been killed? We have just lost Godwin Agbroko, a former colleague of mine (in my active journalism days at The Guardian) and Chairman ThisDay Editorial Board, to suspected armed robbers. I remembered the gun debates in the US. The criminals have more sophisticated weapons than the law-abiding citizens and law-enforcement officers. I tried to understand that no responsible government could arm its entire citizenry.
However, when a society lacks rudimentary law-enforcement equipment – like enough motivated police officers, enough bullet-resistant vests, enough functioning patrol vehicles, enough fuel for those vehicles, at least one automatic rifle per police officer on duty, at least one radio (walkie-talkie) per officer on duty and basic finger-printing and reading equipment – all citizens able to operate a gun should get one for self-defense. If you are unable to secure a license for the kind that you want, do what you have to do. It is now my belief that it is easier to face an “illegal possession of firearms” charge than be the one freezing at the mortuary while your grief-stricken family, beset by your violent loss, strains to bury you. So, before I left Nigeria on January 15, I made sure that I was ready for the next armed robbery attack. It will probably cost me my life, but I will not be so humiliated ever again.
I have heard stories of people who traveled home from overseas, got attacked by armed robbers, returned overseas and refused to go back to Nigeria ever again, as if there were no worse violent crimes in the US or Europe. I can not imagine life without Nigeria. On New Year day, a handful of my friends -old friends from secondary school days – and I got together in my compound to enjoy a sumptuous feast of bush meat on a hot grill, with unadulterated, refrigerated palm wine that was supplied on New Year eve. What is the point of working very hard in Europe, America, Canada (or whatever boondocks in which you are slaving) if you can not savor moments like that?
I will always love Nigeria.