The name of the security officer who had found the murder victim was Halima, and the first impression Raliyat had of her was she had poor personal hygiene. Her dress was rumpled and unwashed, the pashmina around her neck was browner than it was black, and she had a very distinct musk, strong as black coffee and fragrant as rotten eggs.
Halima’s face was puffy from crying. She was still badly shaken and blubbered through questions. She was no use to them, Raliyat decided.
“Je gida ka yi wanka,” Inspector Raliyat said. Go home and have a bath.
“What now?” Sergeant Bamshak asked her after Halima trudged away.
They were behind the sturdy yellow building that housed Gamzaki stores, and from there Raliyat watched birds fly low over the lake that went around the law school compound like a horseshoe. Across the lake was a windmill, and it looked like a postcard, picturesque. The serenity was, in some way, terrible, because it was a smokescreen; a smokescreen under which Inspector Raliyat had to look and find answers.
“We’ll go to the lecture hall now. They have a tea break by twelve-thirty.”
“It’s not even eleven-thirty yet,” Sergeant Bamshak said. “Aren’t we supposed to question the Assistant-Porter for C Block first?”
“We’ll question him by during the tea-break. But first, we go and sit in that lecture hall.”
“What’s the point, Ma? We can speak to the Assistant-Porter now and speak with any students who might have known Mr. Edom after their lectures or during their tea-break?”
“I think it’s important to breach their sanctum and establish our presence,” Inspector Raliyat said. “I want to impress on them the gravity of what happened here last night. I don’t believe they quite understand a man was brutally murdered. The school is shielding them and they have no business doing that.”
“OK, we establish our presence and fix their moral compass… What then?”
“We watch.” Inspector Raliyat started towards the lecture hall, a sturdy building painted an orangey shade of cream, which looked like it had been a warehouse once, and then an Episcopal church with too many windows fitted in to mask its history. The building was situated behind the school’s library, overlooking an empty Olympic-size swimming-pool with algae and healthy toads on the west, and a basket-ball court on the east.
The lecture hall was a tad too warm, despite the air-conditioners. A sea of white and black, hundreds of indistinguishable faces that turned to stare at her as she stepped in front of the classroom. Raliyat sucked in her breath and made her way towards the back of the class, Sergeant Bamshak close at her heels.
At the front of the hall was a carpeted elevation with a lectern and, to a side of it, a long table behind which three lecturers sat, beneath a flat-screen television that was more ornamental that functional. A fourth lecturer stood on the lectern.
“Now I need someone to tell me,” he was saying, “if on the backdrop of sections one-seven-four and two-one-one, the Attorney General of the Federation can exercise the powers of the Attorney General of a state, and vice-versa?”
Hands shot up at the front of the class while it seemed to Inspector Raliyat as she progressed to the back that the students were slinking lower in their seats with every row she passed.
“Hey, you two walking down there,” Raliyat heard the lecturer’s voice boom from the mounted speakers but paid no mind to it, assuming he was a referring to a student.
“I think he’s referring to us,” Bamshak muttered behind her.
Inspector Raliyat turned to face the lecturer.
Me? She mouthed.
“Yes, you. Come forward the both of you.”
It just then dawned on Raliyat that, in their navy-blue suits and white shirts, both she and Bamshak looked like law students.
Inspector Raliyat walked up to the front of the class, stood on the elevation and introduced herself. “I’m Inspector Raliyat from the Police Command, Daka Tsalle. I’m the IPO assigned to investigate the homicide which took place here yesterday. And now that I’m here I’d like to address the students briefly, if you don’t mind.” She took the microphone from the lecturer before he had time to respond and turned to the class. “Good day students, I am Inspector Raliyat Muhammed, and this is Sergeant Bamshak. We are both with the Police Command, Daka Tsalle, and we’ve been assigned to investigate the murder of one of your porters, Mr. Edom, whom I’ve been made to understand a lot of you were very friendly with. If you have information that might help in our investigation, please, don’t hesitate to approach Sergeant Bamshak and I. We would really appreciate your cooperation. Thank you.”
Raliyat handed the mic back, descended the elevation and took slow, deliberate steps to the back of the class, trailed by murmurs and whispers.
“What’s all the noise about?” the lecturer demanded. “Quiet down!” He kept repeating the words till the chattering subsided.
Raliyat commandeered a pair of white plastic chairs for herself and Sergeant Bamshak and they listened as the lecturer continued his droning. For Bamshak, the tea break couldn’t come quickly enough. His eyes became heavy after a few minutes, but Inspector Raliyat seemed to be paying rapt attention. He didn’t realise he was staring until she turned and their eyes met. He tore his eyes quickly away, hot in the face.
The lecturers filed out at 12:45 P.M. The students had ten minutes to refresh themselves before returning to class.
The lecturers were hardly out of the class when a young man stepped up to the lectern and took the microphone. “My dear fellow students,” he began, undeterred by how the students left the hall in droves and appeared not to pay him any mind, “I would like us all to thank the lady and gentleman of justice, you know, who have been sent here by the state government, you know, to bring the perpetrator of the dastardly act that took place on campus, which we all know about, to book.”
Students grumbled and hissed.
“I would like us all to salute Inspector Muhammed and Sergeant Bamshak here in our midst, and to give them our full support. Please give them a round of applause.”
There was silence.
“What’s his name?” Raliyat asked the lady sitting next to her who was in the middle of re-touching her make-up.
“That’s Melvin, the PRO for the SRC.”
“Students’ Representative Council.”
Bamshak looked to Raliyat and she nodded. “That,” she said, motioning to the front of the class where Melvin was speaking to another student and gesticulating aggressively, “is our next stop.”
“And the Assistant-Porter?”
“He can wait.”
One word came to mind with Melvin: greasy. He had a voice like he’d swallowed gauze and acted like he’d be more at home in a motor-park than in his suit. Bamshak took an instant dislike to him.
“Mr. Edom was a really nice man,” Melvin was saying. “So nice, you know. He was too good to be true. He’ll be really missed.”
“Were you close to him?” Raliyat asked.
“Yes,” Melvin replied. “We hold our SRC meetings at the C-Block porter’s lodge, so yes, we were a bit close. It’s so nice of you people to be on the lookout for perpetrator of this crime on school premises,” Melvin added. “You are true patriots.” He spoke with a faux accent, which, with his voice, sounded like fingernails on a blackboard.
“We’re only doing our jobs,” Raliyat said tightly and shot Bamshak a look that said: Can you believe this?
Raliyat found the fawning irritating. She had no privileges to dole, but this Melvin character was still like a dog on an LSG diet. She could only imagine how he’d be around people he could milk for some advantage.
“Do you know of anyone who might have had a bone to pick with Mr. Edom? Someone he had a quarrel with, or someone who seemed to dislike him…? You say you two were a bit close, did Mr Edom mention anything to you we might find useful?”
“Mr. Edom was really nice,” Melvin repeated for the billionth time and Sergeant Bamshak grunted in exasperation. It would have been nice to punch Melvin in his insect face.
“Look, this is a waste of precious time,” Bamshak said. “This boy doesn’t know anything. We could be speaking to more useful people—”
“I know something!” Melvin countered.
“Yes. That Mr. Edom was really nice. We know that already,” Bamshak snapped.
“No, not that. I know something else.” There was something desperate in Melvin’s voice. This was a young man who courted attention and would do or say anything for an audience.
“What is it you know?” Raliyat asked.
“Nothing. He has nothing to say—”
“I think I remember someone who Mr. Edom got into an argument with. It might be nothing, but every little thing helps, right?”
“Yes, every little thing helps.” Raliyat forced a smile. “Now, who is this person?”
“To be clear, it’s not like I’m pointing fingers or anything, you know. It’s impossible that he would have —but like you said, everything helps.”
“Who, Mr Melvin?”
“Dr. Yesufu,” Melvin said, looking from Inspector Raliyat to Bamshak as though the name should trigger a mental domino-effect.
“Dr. Yesufu,” he repeated. “He teaches Property Law.”
“Do you know what their argument was about?”
Melvin looked disappointed. He’d probably not gotten the reaction he expected.
“I don’t, but they sounded really angry. They were fighting over something Mr. Edom did to someone else. They kept referring to a ‘her’ —or it could have been a ‘he’, I’m not quite sure—”
“Where did this argument take place?” Her eagerness was palpable and Melvin, sensing this, became more confident.
“The drinking joint at Tiga. I went out to ease myself, and I saw them arguing next to Dr. Yesufu’s SUV.”
Melvin was more likely eavesdropping, but he was giving them a lead and plausible cause. Whatever the nature of Dr Yesufu’s argument with Mr. Edom, a third party had been at the centre if it. Even Bamshak couldn’t feign disinterest, and this pleased Melvin who beamed from ear to ear. He had his audience enraptured.
“When did this happen?” Bamshak asked, hands on hips.
“Yesterday evening,” Melvin said.
A few hours before Mr. Edom’s body was found.
“That Melvin guy likes the spotlight a little too much,” Bamshak said. “I don’t think lying to get some attention is beneath him.”
“You really dislike him, don’t you?”
“He doesn’t make it hard. Whose telephone number did you give him?”
Raliyat chuckled at the memory of Melvin’s face as he’d asked for her telephone number. “I gave him my father’s telephone number. He likes to be needed, that Melvin, but you can’t say he hasn’t been valuable.”
Bamshak laughed. “For his sake, I hope they have good network reception in heaven.”
“Quite literally, his reward is in heaven,” Raliyat said, laughing with him.
There was a nice ring to her laughter and Bamshak noted she had nice teeth.
“Melvin’s revelation might not mean much of anything, though,” he said. “Colleagues argue all the time.”
“Except Dr. Yesufu and Mr. Edom weren’t colleagues, Bamshak. Mr. Edom was a non-academic staff, and if, for any reason, he had the effrontery to argue with a lecturer, I want to know why. Then there’s the name Yesufu.”
“What about it?”
“It’s a Muslim name. Dr. Yesufu had no business being at a drinking joint.”
“There’s nothing to say he isn’t Christian.”
“And if he’s not?”
“It would mean whatever led him to the drinking joint at Tiga, it couldn’t wait. It was either an emergency or, considering Melvin’s account, Dr Yesufu had been too angry to wait to confront Mr. Edom.”
Raliyat led the way up the stairs to the reception area of Professor Yilzum’s office.
“When was this?” Inspector Raliyat snapped, the crack in her veneer of calmness widening.
“Two days ago,” Professor Yilzum said, sitting behind his wide polished oak desk, a vision of quiet authority.
“So you mean to tell me, sir, that Dr Yesufu has been in Abuja since Saturday?”
“Yes. He’s at the law school headquarters on official business.”
“May I ask what sort of official business?”
“I’m afraid I can’t say.”
There was a short, uncomfortable pause during which Bamshak could almost hear the wheels turning in Raliyat’s head. Professor Yilzum was stonewalling and Raliyat knew it.
“May I ask why you want to see Dr. Yesufu?” Professor Yilzum asked.
“I’m afraid I can’t say,” Raliyat replied curtly.
The phone on Professor Yilzum’s desk rang then. He took a look at the caller ID on the display and announced, “It’s the Director-General calling from Abuja. I have to take this call… In private.”
“We’ll be on our way,” Inspector Raliyat said, standing. She stopped and reached for something on Professor Yilzum’s desk, a textbook: PROPERTY LAW PRACTICE IN NIGERIA (4th Edition) by Professor D.D Yilzum.
“It’s the newest edition of my book. Only just came in from the publishers.”
“I see…” Raliyat dropped the textbook back in place and gave Bamshak a pointed look. She was on to something.
“Do you think he was lying?” Bamshak asked her as soon as they left the office.
“I think so too.”
“He didn’t hesitate to tell me why the Students’ Affairs Officer is in Abuja, but he won’t say why Dr Yesufu is in Abuja. I find that suspicious.”
“Except there are two Dr Yesufus, one can’t be in Abuja and at a drinking joint in Kano at the same time. It’s either Dr Yesufu left for Abuja on Saturday, returned to Kano on Sunday, and headed back to Abuja again, or Professor Yilzum is telling a bald-faced lie. If so, why?”
“What if Dr. Yesufu wasn’t supposed to be in Abuja on Saturday? What if that’s just a story made up to throw us off the scent? What if Dr. Yesufu is still here in Bagauda?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” Bamshak said, dazzled by Raliyat’s brilliance.
“And I know just the place to start.”
A few minutes later they were at a bungalow shaped like a lower-case “n” where the law lecturers had their offices. It was really quiet in the building and both police officers went from door to door, knocking and trying one unyielding door after another.
They were halfway down the second corridor when one of the doors opened and a hijab-donning woman stepped out.
Raliyat introduced herself. “Hello, I’m Inspector Raliyat, the IPO assigned to investigate the homicide which took place on campus. Could you please point me to Dr. Yesufu’s office?”
“His office is back that way.” The woman pointed, a cloud of sadness passing over her face at their dreary business. “It’s the second door to the left on the first corridor. You passed it on your way in; though I’m afraid Dr. Yesufu isn’t on campus now.”
“Yes. He’s gone to Abuja.”
“That’s a shame.” Raliyat gave out with a sigh. “Thanks for your help.”
They turned to leave.
“I could call him and tell him to come back, if it’s really urgent that you see him today,” the woman offered.
“No, it’s fine. We’ll speak to him to when he returns from Abuja—”
“But he’s not in Abuja yet. He just left his office barely fifteen minutes ago. I don’t suppose he has gotten very far. I can call him and ask him to turn around.”
Inspector Raliyat and Bamshak exchanged a look.
“It’s fine,” Raliyat said. “We’ll see him when he returns.”
“What now?” Bamshak asked once they were outside.
“We head to the Students’ Affairs Office.”
“Professor Yilzum said the Students’ Affairs Officer is currently at the HQ in Abuja answering a query. If a lecturer from the Kano campus has official business in Abuja, she should know, don’t you think?”
“So what are we going to do at her office?”
“Get her phone number. I need to find out if Dr. Yesufu has reason to be in Abuja. Just because he tells everyone he’s leaving for Abuja doesn’t mean he actually is.”
“And Professor Yilzum? Why do think he’s trying to hide?”
“The textbook on the DDG’s desk.”
“What about it?”
“It was a property law textbook. Professor Yilzum wrote a textbook on property law and Dr. Yesufu is a property law lecturer. Don’t you see the connection? They take the same course. They work together. More than colleagues, they are likely friends. We need to find out now is what they are hiding.”
“And the Assistant-Porter?” Sergeant Bamshak asked, knowing the answer before she even said it.
“He can wait.”
Written by Chiedozie