Mr. Edom stumbled through the night, so drunk he could almost hear the eleven bottles of Star lager he’d downed swishing in his belly.
He had just been dropped off at N Hostel by a law student he’d been with to Daka Tsalle – one of the very few places in Kano where alcoholic beverage is sold – and choi, did he ruin the young man’s economy! Mr Edom pumped himself full of beer and catfish pepper-soup on the law student’s tab, comfortable in the knowledge that he had the student between forefinger and thumb for the duration of his programme in the Nigerian Law School. Mr Edom intended to milk the advantage for all it was worth.
Mr. Edom staggered toward his station at the porter’s lodge in chalet C22 of the C Hostel Blocks, dim light from his Tecno phone providing illumination for his zigzagging feet. The haunted airs of the law school compound after midnight always frightened Mr Edom, especially on starless nights such as this. The silhouettes of giant trees, the calls of nocturnal birds renting the air from high up in the branches and the flutter of wings left him with a sense of foreboding, heightened by the possibility of being bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion.
Mr Edom hardly ventured out of his room at the porter’s lodge after midnight when the school’s generator was turned off. Ironically, on this night when he had more reason to be frightened than ever before, he was drunk and unafraid.
Greedily, Mr Edom had dulled his senses with more alcohol than he could take.
He didn’t hear his would-be killer follow him.
Mark, the assistant-porter for C Block, couldn’t sleep. The damn mosquitoes wouldn’t stop wailing in his ears! The mosquitoes went into full harvesting swing as soon as the generator was turned off and the ceiling-fan stopped whirring. Mark was their blood farm.
Smack! He slapped his ears. The damn things sounded like miniature sirens, attacked in droves, and they had nine lives.
Smack! Smack! Smack! If only these useless PHCN people would bring the damn light!
The scream rent the graveyard silence, followed immediately by the alarmed calls of startled nocturnal birds taking flight.
Mark bolted upright. What was that?
Rising and going to the window, Mark watched as the dazzling beams from half a dozen high-powered torch lights cut through the darkness.
Another scream. And this time he recognised the voice. Halima, one of the school’s security officers.
Had she been stung by a scorpion? Bitten by a snake? Mark made no move to leave the room. Outside, the number of torch lights multiplied, words shouted in rapid-fire Hausa.
When the school’s generator thrummed to life, Mark knew whatever happened had to be serious. The generator was never turned on after midnight.
Shrugging on his shirt, Mark slipped out into the warm night, the fan whirring to life as he did, prayers answered.
But sleep was the farthest thing from Mark’s mind.
9:00 AM. The faded-blue Peugeot 504 spluttered to a stop at the gate of the Nigerian Law School campus in Bagauda. Sergeant Bamshak was behind the wheel while Inspector Raliyat rode shotgun. Professor Yilzum, the Deputy Director General of the Kano law school campus was expecting them, and a uniformed security man gave them directions to his office.
“I was here once as a child,” Raliyat said to Bamshak, overcome with a wave of nostalgia as they made for the DDG’s office. “Was here with my Dad for an academic conference back when this used to be a hotel resort.”
“Is it true Abacha converted the resort to a law school campus because he wanted his daughter to go to law school near home?”
“It’s not impossible,” Raliyat said circumspectly. “Ah, memories…”
The 504 pulled up in front of the administrative block. Waiting in front of the building for both police officers was Professor D.D Yilzum, the DDG of the Kano campus, standing ramrod-straight, hands planted to his sides,.
“Welcome officers,” he greeted gravely.
“I’m Inspector Raliyat and that’s Sergeant Bamshak.” Raliyat held out her hand and Professor Yilzum hesitated a moment before taking it.
“Raliyat… You’re a Muslim?”
“Yes, and you’re a Jos man…?”
“Guilty as charged.”
“I grew up in Jos, too. My father was a lecturer at the university.”
“Oh, really. I used to work at the university myself, so maybe I know him.”
“Professor Usman Muhammed. Economics Department.”
Professor Yilzum’s eyes widened. “Raliyat… You’re that Rali? Little Rali. Don’t you remember me?”
“Yes! You’ve grown so big. Last I saw you, you were a little girl.”
Raliyat hugged him. “It’s been ages.”
And the years had taken their toll. Last she had seen him, Uncle D.D was athletic and tall – or so he’d appeared to her then – but he’d piled on flesh around his midsection, had gone bald, and what hair was left was salt and peppered. His face was still boyish and warm, and his eyes were still kind. Those hadn’t changed.
“I’m sorry about your father,” Professor Yilzum said. “Please accept my condolence. And your mother? How is she?”
“She’s fine, all things considered. It’s been a tough year. Will be one year since he passed by December.”
“I’m so sorry. I should have made more effort to get in touch with you.”
“It’s fine. How long has it been? Twenty odd years, right?”
“That’s about right. So you’re with the police now… Inspector. How did that happen?”
“Long story,” Raliyat said. “If only we weren’t meeting under such dire circumstances.”
Professor Yilzum sighed.
“Who is the victim?”
“A staff here. A porter at one of our hostels – Mr Edom.”
“Has he been moved?”
“No. I thought it best to wait till the police arrived.”
“Good. Please lead us to the crime scene.”
“I hope you aren’t squeamish.”
“I have a pretty strong stomach, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Then they definitely sent the right person down.”
The body, lying face-down and spread-eagled on a bush-path, had multiple stab-wounds on the back and neck. There was dried blood everywhere, what used to be a T-shirt hanging in tatters on the dead man’s body. Inspector Raliyat could make out more than a dozen stab wounds at first glance. Perhaps there were more injuries front of his torso.
“I’d need a pair of gloves,” Inspector Raliyat said.
“You’ll get at Gamzaki store over there,” Professor Yilzum said, pointing to a yellow-painted bungalow overlooking the Lake Bagauda, which bordered the law school compound on one side.
“How long had he worked here?” Raliyat asked as soon as Sergeant Bamshak headed off to buy gloves from Gamzaki store.
“He was here before I became DDG three years ago.”
“And he answered directly to…?”
“Mrs Atete – she’s the Students’ Affairs Officer.”
“Where is she?”
“Currently in Abuja. She was summoned by the DG.”
“Is that unusual?”
“Not when the summoned staff has a query to answer, no.”
“When was the body discovered?”
“Very early this morning, shortly after midnight.”
“A security officer.”
“Was he on patrol?”
“A she, actually.”
“Oh. And no one saw anything?”
“It was lights out. The generator had been turned off.”
Raliyat squinted at the splattering of footprints on the dirt path Mr. Edom had walked for the last time only hours before. She tried to make out imprints of the grooves on the soles of Mr. Edom’s palm-slippers, but it was no use.
“This path was closed off after the body was discovered, right?”
“Not officially. I can’t say people haven’t been up and down the place trying to get a look at the body.”
Raliyat paused. “Where are the students?” she asked.
“In class,” Professor Yilzum said, and at the incredulous look on Raliyat’s face, he became defensive. “All the campuses operate in sync, and the curriculum is never interrupted except it’s absolutely necessary.”
“I’d say a murder is an absolutely necessary reason to interrupt the curriculum, but what do I know?”
Bamshak returned with two pairs of latex gloves.
“Where does this path lead?” Raliyat couldn’t keep the irritation out of her tone. A man had been killed and it was business as usual, as though his murder were an inconsequential thing. She couldn’t help but think if it’d have been the same were Mr Edom a highly-placed staff.
“To the girl’s hostel, which is the complex on the left, N Hostel Block, which is adjacent to it, then mammy market which opens up to Bagauda village.”
“And there’s no fence cordoning the campus off from the village?”
“It’s a shortcoming the management plans to rectify in due time.”
“What you’re telling me is the killer may not even be on the campus. Mr. Edom could have been killed by someone who breezed in from the village without hassle and breezed out without incident. This isn’t just a shortcoming, if you ask me. It’s a terrible disgrace that an institution such as this cannot ensure the security of its staff and students.”
Professor Yilzum stayed silent, and snapping on the gloves, Raliyat went to the body, crouched, and started to inspect.
“The first stab wound must have been the one to the neck. It’s deeper than all the rest and more jagged, suggesting there was a struggle,” she observed. “His carotid was severed. Some of these wounds may have been inflicted post-mortem, but we’ll have to wait for the coroner’s report to know anything for certain. Not that it would matter much. Any idea where he was coming from?”
“No,” Professor Yilzum replied. He’d taken several steps backwards from the body. “This path connects the entire compound. He could have been coming from anywhere.”
“How much relations did he have with the students?”
“Just enough to collect their keys when they leave for lectures in the morning and hand it back in the afternoon when they return. He was also an intermediary between the students in his block and the Students’ Affairs office.”
“When you say ‘they’, are you speaking of only male students?”
“He is — was the porter for C Block. C Block consists of both male and female hostels.”
Lawyers… Raliyat rolled her eyes inwardly. Whatever happened to an uncomplicated answer? “So it’s possible he had friends amongst them?”
“Male and female alike?”
“I can’t comment on that.”
“I here to investigate a crime, not try to catch you out.”
“I deal in facts and I don’t make sweeping assumptions. Surely you understand this.”
Raliyat nodded. “Come, Bamshak,” she said to the other man, “help me turn the body over.”
Professor Yilzum retreated further.
Beneath the dead man’s body were insects and squirmy, crawling things. Bamshak started to stomp on them with his boots. Mr Edom’s chest and abdomen were bruised and streaked with lacerations. The skin on the left side of the victim’s face had peeled away, and insects were burrowing into the raw wound.
“So he was tackled and stabbed in the neck,” Raliyat muttered to herself. “There was a little scuffle –doesn’t seem like much of it – and then…” She trailed off.
“I think the victim was moved’ she exclaimed, rising to her feet and following the path in the direction Mr. Edom appeared to have been going, Professor Yilzum and Sergeant Bamshak following closely behind.
Raliyat’s eyes thinned, looking out for the splotches she found in the sand and the crimson spots on blades of grass. She hit jackpot as soon as she cleared the dirt path onto the concrete road. A big spot of red on the concrete. Blood.
“This was where the victim was stabbed,” Inspector Raliyat said, crouching again. “Then he was dragged across the concrete to the spot where he was found, which explains the lacerations on the front of his torso and the damage to the left side of his face. That’s the side of the face that was on the ground as he was dragged.” She bent and inspected the patch of blood. “How come this spot seems washed?”
“It drizzled early this morning,” Professor Yilzum offered.
“Cars drove through here too.”
“You let people drive around this close to a crime scene — matter of fact, through the crime-scene?”
“We had no way of knowing this road was where Mr. Edom died.”
“You said it drizzled this morning. How come the victim’s body isn’t wet?”
“The tree under which he was found must have shaded him. It was a light drizzle.”
Something about the scenario seemed a tad convenient to Inspector Raliyat. It didn’t make sense to her that students and staff were allowed to drive through this road, so close to the lifeless body of a man they had known. She was thinking this when she spotted the skid-marks, a little bit to the left of where she knelt. The sort of mark tyres make when a driver suddenly leans into the brakes.
“What’s that over there?” Raliyat pointed.
“Skid marks.” Sergeant Bamshak moved closer to inspect. “The marks are in the shape of an S. As though the driver tried to avoid hitting something–”
“Or someone,” Raliyat finished, and then both police officers looked to Professor Yilzum.
“Like I said, a lot of cars have been down this way today,” he said, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“I’ll like to speak with the security officer who found the body now,” Raliyat said, rising to her full height.
“Right this way. She’s at the CSO’s office.”
Professor Yilzum made small talk as they walked to the CSO’s office. “So you’re at Daka Tsalle?” he asked Raliyat.
“Yes. Five months now. I was in Kano main-town before that.”
“Was it too much for you?”
“Then how did you wind up in Daka Tsalle?”
“By being a woman and saying what I think.”
“But that’s nonsense.”
“What’s nonsense to some of the men I work with is that I’m thirty-something and unmarried.”
“Isn’t there someone you can report to?”
Raliyat chuckled at this.
“You can sue for discrimination,” the professor maintained.
“You’re not ambulance-chasing, are you?” Raliyat asked playfully and he laughed.
An ambulance came hurtling down the road and sped past them. Professor Yilzum stopped.
“I believe they’ve come to take the body to the morgue. They must be heading to my office.”
“It’s fine. We can find the CSO’s office on our own,” Raliyat said.
“So we’re done here?”
“No,” Inspector Raliyat said. “We’ve only just begun.”
Written by Chiedozie