Monday. 4:30AM. Lagos.
Still an ungodly hour by your standards but you’ve got to work. The office doesn’t resume till 9AM but for you to have any hope of beating the traffic, you have to hit the road before 5:30AM or the gridlock on Third Mainland Bridge would ensure you get to work late. It’s a wonder how that route eats up at least three hours of productivity all in the name of transit. But this is what happens when there are only two routes to the Island from the Mainland.
You don’t own a car, so your best bet is public transportation – cabs charge a mean fee in Lagos. At Berger, the bus park doesn’t really come to life till 6AM so you make your way up to the expressway to catch a bus heading your route – the freelance types that pick up passengers along the road to avoid the levies collected at motor parks and major bus stops.
You’re in luck, a bus comes to a halt and the conductor calls for passengers going to Obalende/CMS on the Island. So you hop in. You happen to be the only one to join the others in the bus; fellow commuters at the bus stop were apparently not going your route. There were six other people in the bus, so you expect that more passengers would join in due time.
Five minutes in, the two men seated in the back grab you just as the conductor slides the door shut. You’re puzzled; it takes a few more seconds for the indignation to rise within you. What sort of rubbish is this! This is the thought that crosses your mind, and just as you open your mouth to voice it and wrestle yourself free, the man in front brings out an AK-47 assault rifle and shoves it in your face.
“If you misbehave, you’re dead!”
You’ve only heard stories but now you recognise what it really is that you’re in for – as an unwitting passenger smack in the middle of a six-man gang of robbers.
You don enter one-chance.
This is what they’re called, robbers masquerading as commercial bus drivers, picking up unsuspecting passengers on the road and dispossessing them on the go.
The men seated beside you remove your knapsack and order you to lie down on the floor of the bus. You hesitate; someone smacks you behind the head and you swiftly lie face-down – the one with the rifle following every move, like a lion surveying his preferred wildebeest amongst an unaware grazing herd. They start searching you; in no time, the wallet in your back pocket and your phones find a new home in their hands. They’re not done; one of them ransacks your wallet and takes out the debit cards in it, one for Guarantee Trust Bank and the remaining two for Access Bank.
You hear them whisper among themselves.
“Which one get money?”
“Be like say na the GT card.”
“No, e fit no be am. Na two Access cards dey here. Na the bank wey he dey use pass be that.”
“Okay make we ask am how much money dey there.”
“He no go lie?”
“Lie wetin, where gun dey? This one no wan die naa, na fine boy. He go talk true.”
You can hear them, so there’s a sliver of hope, if only you would take a risk. Depending on how this goes, you could end up dead or alive. But you decide to roll the dice anyway.
“Wetin be your PIN?”
You give them all the information they need on the three cards and they don’t say anything else. Soon the bus stops and they tell you to get up and look outside the window. It’s still dark but you can make out the illuminated logo of a bank about five metres away. These guys aren’t playing and they still have time on their side. You realise they won’t let you go till they get every penny out of your bank accounts. This is money you worked so hard for and some guys are just going to take it all away within minutes while you watch and smile in the hope that they wouldn’t kill you when they’re done.
They ask again, “Wetin be your PIN?”
You repeat the same thing you said earlier and wait for them to take the bait.
“How much dey GT account?”
You had way more in your GT account than in the other bank but hearing them suggest that you use Access Bank more gave you the opening you’re exploiting now.
“How much dey Access Bank?”
“Oya, you,” a guy you now regard as the leader says to one of the men, “carry the cards go the ATM machine. Test both PINs; if na lie, flash us once. If na true, flash us twice and then comot the money for Access make we dey go. Day go soon break.”
After about a minute, the man at the ATM flashes twice and then withdraws all the money in your Access Bank account. You don’t get alerts from your Access bank, but you expect to hear the agonising beep from your phone as they clear out your GT account. If that happens, you’ll probably be killed for trying to con them. But you don’t hear anything. It’s possible they’ve turned off both your phones, so they might still kill you.
Struggling hard to control your bladder while contemplating the thought of impending death, you wait for the guy using your cards to return. After about five minutes, the door opens and he hops in. The leader collects the money, counts and announces N48, 000.
“How far? Na everything be this? Money no dey the GT?” he asked.
“I try check am but the network no even good and machine don seize the card,” the errand robber replied.
“Ha! You fuck up,” the leader said irritably, slapping the wad of notes in his right hand against his left palm, “but time no dey again. So nothing wey we fit do. I no think say this guy fit lie on top how much dey there sha. Make we dey go.”
You sigh inaudibly; all is well with your GT account.
But all isn’t well.
They begin to interview you, the way a prospective father-in-law would, when your fiancée brings you home for the first time.
“Wetin be your name?”
“Wetin your papa dey do?”
“He don retire.”
“Your mama nko?”
“She dey manage one small canteen for computer village.”
“Where you dey work?”
This was where it dawned on you that giving them full information might put you or the ones you love in more danger. You don’t know what it was but there’s no way they could mean well quizzing you with the barrel of an assault rifle smiling down at you like your late grandfather’s toothless mouth. It’s a good thing you’ve scaled through with a few lies so far. Like someone smelling a bit of luck on his side at a Vegas casino, you decide to keep playing the odds.
“I be receptionist for one hotel for Ikoyi. Na morning shift I dey today.”
Their reaction tells you you’re spot on.
“No be this type we dey find,” they whisper among themselves.
At this point, you wonder if it would have been the same outcome if you had told them that your mother owns a thriving restaurant in Ikeja and you’re the team leader at a major digital marketing firm.
Probably not; you would most likely be kept as a hostage for a ransom.
They drive for a few more minutes. The day is beginning to get brighter but the gun pointed at you is enough to remind that keeping your position on the floor of the bus isn’t such a bad idea. Soon, the bus slows down and they give you N500 to find your way back while urging you to stay out of trouble.
Ignoring the irony, you nod eagerly, willing to do anything at this point just to be out of the bus.
On your way home, you stop at a police station to file a complaint and get a signed report for your office. The Divisional Police Officer is asleep, they say. You would have to part with N5, 000 for them to even wake him up to append his signature.
“Officer, I just got robbed. Where you want make I see five grand give you?”
“Oga, no waste my time. You no want make we help you again? Abi this money reach the amount wey dem tiff? This report na for your office people! So answer me quick make I wake DPO.”
At this point, the officer’s demand seems like the lesser evil. You had called your girlfriend at a call centre to transfer some money to your account after the incident, so you tell the officer to wait while you go to the nearest GTB branch to make a withdrawal over the counter. In the end, you get your report and head off to work just to let them know what happened. You also seize the opportunity to call your family with the office phone and reach your closest friends online.
Your mother is half-crying on the phone, half-rejoicing as you told her your ordeal. Her reaction is not surprising – which is why you’re calling her after everyone else, because you know it would be the longest conversation. Her enemies have tried to attack her again; how would she have felt if her first and only son had been murdered or kidnapped by robbers? Left to her, you were better off resigning and coming home where no harm would befall you.
That’s silly, shit happens. So you try to calm her down while smiling at her hysteria on the other end of the phone – the first upward curve to hit your lips today.
Tomorrow you’ll hit the road – perhaps a bit later in the day, so you can board from the motor park. But you know it will only be a while before you try to beat the traffic by standing at the exact spot, hoping there wouldn’t be a repeat because you will include the scenario as part of the satanic situations to bind and cast every morning. You remind yourself that these things happen and ‘something must kill a man’ eventually. Lagos is one big game of chess and in the end, everyone’s taking chances.
Written by Deoye