From the very moment she stepped into my office, I smelt trouble. I couldn’t place the origin of my perception though. What she had to offer was too difficult to refuse, not when my account was in critical mode and my bills were piling up like the groundnut pyramid. Her assignment seemed short and simple: she wanted a lawyer who would simply go into the station and confirm that her fiancé was alive and well. She showed me his pictures and further informed me that their wedding was in a couple of weeks. She looked sedately distraught, you know, the kind of agitation that people with money allowed themselves to feel. Her fiancé’s name was Mr. Tony, she said; a businessman who’d been arrested a few days back. She hadn’t known where he was taken to until she made some calls and got to know, after a week, that he’d been placed in the station in Alagbon. All her efforts to see him had proven abortive. She claimed to have gotten my number on good recommendation. I questioned her, tried to get more pertinent information from her, but she’d begun to cry, and her grief proved to be a sufficient impediment to further query from me.
As a lawyer, I’d had dealings with lots of police stations. Alagbon was however one station I’d never conquered. It remained a fortress that kept humbling me whenever I attacked it. Representing my clients in any dealings with the uniforms there had never been an easy ordeal for me.
It was already late in the evening, and my latest client promised to transfer my fee into my account the next day. Then she proceeded to give me a retainer of fifty thousand naira. I barely restrained the smile that threatened my professionalism before the woman.
The next day was Thursday, and I was scheduled to be at the Igbosere Library. I decided to make a brief stopover at Alagbon to check on my detained client. I stepped into the station with the confidence of David, anticipating my knockout of the Goliath that was Alagbon. It helped that I was also expecting another hefty increment in my account balance sometime in the day. For better or for worse, this Goliath was going down!
“Good morning,” I greeted the inspector at the counter.
I was about to follow my greeting up with a question, when the inspector noticed the presence of someone and immediately straightened.
“Shun sah!” he bellowed, while saluting the person who’d just entered the room.
I turned to face the uniformed policeman. He looked vaguely familiar and I was sorting through my mental Rolodex to place him, when he smiled at me and said, “Barrister Okoji! Kaimutumina! You have forgotten me so soon?”
Immediately I heard his voice, recognition clicked. This was Mustapha, the DPO of Bariga Police Station – at least he was when he saved my life from a mob in the near Aluu experience I suffered once upon a time. (Check Episode 2 for details). I beamed at him as he walked over and gave me a pat on my shoulder. He had added weight and looked older.
After acknowledging the junior officers at the counter, he led me to his office. As we got settled inside, he told me about how he’d gotten transferred and promoted to an ACP, and put in charge of a new crack ‘IG squad’ to investigate high profile cases. Life sure looked like it had been good to him. We soon went on a voyage of different political issues, bantering and laughing as we disagreed and agreed on a variety of issues.
Some minutes into our causerie, a sergeant admitted himself into the office and began giving a report about how a man they had in their custody, who had been poisoned the night before, had regained consciousness. The sergeant was awaiting further instructions from his boss.
“Arrest any bagger that comes to visit him henceforth,” the ACP instructed. “Make sure nobody gets close to him from outside, not even if the person is the AIG. You hear me?”
The sergeant nodded his understanding and exited the room.
“Kai, Okoji,” Mustapha returned his attention to me, “this job is becoming crazier and crazier by the day. I don’t trust my men anymore.” He proceeded to regale me with the narrative of a case he was currently investigating and how a suspect in his custody had been poisoned in an apparent act by the perpetrators to sabotage his case. He was so close to apprehending the culprits and the suspect was the key; if he failed, his twenty-three years of active service would be suffer for it. He seemed so stressed by his worry over the case, and I wondered silently if that was the reason he looked so weathered.
However, as he talked, he mentioned some things that piqued my full interest. I began posing some questions to him, and his answers made me realize with some alarm that the case he was talking about was related to the client on whose behalf I’d come to the station for. My assertion was further validated when Mustapha began sifting through some pictures for my benefit, and I recognized Mr. Tony as the suspect he said was in his custody.
As a lawyer, it is a professional hazard for me to be suspicious, and the realization began to dawn on me that perhaps I was a pawn sent on a mission to confirm the success – or failure – of a deed. I was being used by a crime ring that didn’t want the truth to be ferreted out by the police investigating them.
I suddenly saw myself in a position to do one good turn for the man who’d saved me from getting lynched by a mob. I proceeded to reveal to the ACP about the assignment that had brought me to his station and about my meeting with the mysterious rich woman. The policeman was stunned at my revelations.
Soon thereafter, I left the station. As I walked out of the premises, my phone began ringing. It was the mysterious woman. She directed me to meet her in a black Highlander parked down the road. I spotted the car and started toward it. As I approached, her head came out of the driver’s window and she gestured for me to come on. I got to the car and opened the passenger’s side door. I slid into the car and was a little startled when I noticed the presence of three men in the backseat. The three of them were wearing sunglasses and looked tense.
“Madam, good day,” I said, trying to steady my heartbeat and focus on my new assignment as a double agent. “I still haven’t seen the alert as we agreed yesterday.”
“You don work finish wey you dey ask for money? Abi your own different?” one of the men snapped. “Abeg give us situation report jaré.”
I ignored him and repeated my question to the woman.
“But you heard what my associate said,” she returned in a coolly arrogant tone. “Won’t you attend to his query first?”
I had to resist the urge to slap the arrogance from her face. “Well madam,” I said stiffly, “I couldn’t see your fiancé. I was told to wait because their wing was carrying out their mandatory sanitation exercise–”
The same annoying man interrupted me with a sharply uttered, “You dey sure wetin you dey talk so? Abi you just dey form paparazzi?”
Officially pissed now, I snapped, “Since you doubt me” – I flicked an impatient look at my watch – “you can join me when I’m going back to see him. I’m sure they must be through by now in fact.”
“No ooo!” the man hollered. “Follow you for wetin now? I be lawyer? Person no go ask you simple question again? Abegi!”
Beside me, the woman executed a nasty hiss and reached forward to turn on the ignition. As the engine hummed to life, she said to me, “D-Law, your brief has not been perfected yet. When you are allowed to see him and confirm his condition, you can then call me for your balance. Now, please get out of the car.”
The insolence in her words slapped some heat into my face. Oh lady, you are going down! I swore silently.
As I opened the door to step out, two men materialized to my side and roughly shoved me back into the car, while a third yanked the door on the driver’s side open and snatched the steering wheel from the woman who had angrily started protesting the intrusion.
“You are all under arrest!” one of the men barked in a complete police voice.
“For what?” I asked angrily. “I am a law –”
One of the men who’d shoved me into the car smacked me across the face, snuffing out the rest of my protestation. Before long, the five of us were manhandled out of the car and marched into police custody. We were bundled into a cell and locked up. While we were being stripped, an officer read out our offences of aiding and abetting to commit civil disobedience, illegal possession of fire arms (my client’s male associates had been armed), unauthorized use of tinted vehicle windows etc.
I could not believe what was happening as I sat in the gloom of the cell. A few minutes ago, I’d been a lawyer on the right side of the law. Now, I was behind bars and getting treated like a criminal simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The woman was soon taken out for interrogation. When she returned, I began barking some of my own questions at her. I wanted to know her role in this messy situation, why her associates had firearms in their possession and wraps of marijuana concealed in the car’s compartment. She maintained a sullent silence as I barraged her with my outrage.
“So madam, your briefing me was for ulterior purposes, eh?” I railed. “You have being lying to me all along? See the mess you have put me in! You have soiled my reputation.”
She didn’t even deign me with a response.
Just then, a sergeant came to fetch me from the cell.
Finally! I thought. It was time to find Mustapha and clear this mess.
I was soon ushered into the ACP’s office. He stood to meet me with a hug and an apologetic pat on the back. “Barrister the barrister,” he hailed with a grin, “I knew I could count on you. We had to take that procedure in apprehending those crooks so as to ensure nothing would be traced back to you, and so you would look like the innocent that you are, and have your safety assured, in case word gets back to your client’s people.”
“Ah,” was all I could say.
Eventually, my things were returned to me. I got dressed, retrieved my files and began to leave the office. Then I stopped and turned to face Mustapha. “Mai gida,” I said, “we are even kwo?”
“Toh maitumina,” he replied, “we are even.”
Written by B. O. Okoji