“This is the problem with Nigeria”, said the leader of the robbers. “Nobody speaks the truth. Look at you, all of you”, he shouted. “Not even one person, I mean just one person could speak the truth about how much money he or she had in his or her pocket, wallet or handbag. And yet everybody hopes for Nigeria to be good”, he snapped. “Haba!”
We were in a stationary “Danfo” bus atop Third Mainland Bridge (TMB) in Lagos when the robber was heaping the blame for Nigeria’s woes on us, his victims. Had our situation not been perilous, I would have been thrown into a bout of laughter by such unimaginably brazen irony. But there we were, held hostage by a six-man gang of armed robbers who had their guns trained on us and looking determined to put them to use.
The early morning mist had not begun to clear and only the silhoutte of the Central Cafeteria and the Senate Building towering above and behind it at the University of Lagos, Akoka, could be made out. On a different occassion and in a different situation, this sight of Unilag, as the University of Lagos was known by all and sundry, would have brought joyful memories flooding back to me; for the Lagoon front and its many coconut trees, which lay in the foreground of the afore mentioned buildings, was my Reading Room as well as Gymnasium during my years at Akoka. The winding road to the lodges of the Vice Chancellor, the Deputy Vice Chancellor and the Registrar and which marked the limit of the lagoon, could be made out because of its elevation while the named residences stood like huge foamy bubbles in the distance.
Cars and buses sped past our motionless bus oblivious of our predicament. If they noticed us at all, these drivers would regard our stationary bus as broken down. No one cared to ascertain why people in a “broken down” vehicle would not dis-embark and seek help or at least push the bus or stand beside it, as each struggled to get to their respective offices and other destinations ‘ere the traffic builds up. So engrossed with their mundane concerns and challenges were all the passing motorists that none was inwardly moved to sense the precarious situation of those inside the bus.
But our ordeal did not begin on the bridge. It started at Maryland when we, individually, unituitively and absent mindedly boarded the bus the conductor of which was calling out to commuters “CMS straight, one chance, Eko straight, one chance, no change”. It struck me that I should flag down a taxi but I thought I was in luck when I heard the conductor. And with the prospect of saving some money, I had boarded the bus. Unknown to me and to the others, however, and this I was to learn later, as soon as I entered the bus, one person had stepped out and the conductor’s refrain had continued. The third person after me had boarded the bus before it became clear to some of us that the vehicle was not getting filled even though it was full of people. There was always “one chance” left to be filled. Suddenly, as if at a command, everybody started complaining and threatening to disembark. It is only with hindsight that I realized, long after the event, that it was the genuine passengers who had complained.
Anyway, the bus sped off like an airplane cleared to take off at a busy airport. But at Anthony, rather than continue straight, the driver veered right and headed for Oworonsoki. “Where are you headed for?” asked the man beside me of the driver.
“TMB” he had replied, his eyes glued on the road ahead as if he did not want any distraction lest he missed the way to the Third Mainland Bridge.
Meanwhile, the conductor drew shut the door which up until then was open announcing at the same time that every body should search themselves and turn in every kobo on them since they were robbers.
“Sho” shouted my neighbour in fear and “wham” flew a dirty slap across his face from the conductor. From behind and front four guns were levelled at the eight of us and we became effectively sandwiched in between their noozles.
“You”, the conductor turned robber-in-chief pointed at me and I handed the money in my wallet over to him. “You”, he pointed at the next person. “And you”…”And you”…..
It was while we were being robbed that I realized how stupid I had been, how inattentive too, in not noting the incongruity between the conductor’s huge size and demeanour and the job of a conductor. It was obvious that his massive frame which effectively barricaded the vehicle’s door was a veritable asset in the line of banditry he had chosen. Not even a sumo wrestler could dislodge him from his duty post.
And he had some grey matter too; for it took him seconds to tally the amount he had collected from all of us which to him was paltry. And was he enraged? “You mean to tell me”, he demanded, “that eight adults left their homes this morning with a total of just four thousand, seven hundred naira?” His wide eyes blazed. “Would you people not take lunch, even breakfast since you could’nt have eaten this morning having left home this early. And were you planning to trek home at the end of the day?” He querried. “Okay, Codo” he addressed no one in particular. “Show them we are not joking” and simultenously two shots rang out from the rear seat with a deafening report that drowned the sound of the vehicle which was still hurtling down at the same breakneck speed. Nobody was hurt but all were terrified as “the blood of Jesus” and “Holy Ghost Fire” tumbled down from quivering lips.
“Now bring out the actual money in your possessions, you liars”, he ordered, “or we throw you into the lagoon; useless people, destroyers of society. How can the blood of Jesus protect you in your lies?”, he demanded.
By the time everybody handed in what previously they failed to bring out, the conductor-robber’s face lit up. “Omo, stop”, he commanded and the bus came to a stop. “I’ll still search you one after the other, not withstanding the fact that I have over forty thousand naira from you. If I find more money on any of you, such ones go into the lagoon where the water and fishes cannot be deceived to spare them.
“Ejo, ema binu, no vex my brother, na work of devil”, stammered my neighbour as he drew out a wad of crisp 200 naira notes from his socks. Four other persons brought out more money from different parts of their attire.
“Now that you refuse to bring out the amount you have, is there any one here who will claim not to own a GSM phone?”, asked the conductor-robber. No one answered as all had been expecting that question. “Hand them in and your watches too. Hurry up and do not waste our time”, he barked.
The morning mist had now lifted considerably and people’s faces could now be clearly discerned. And without warning, the driver revved up the engine as the other robbers inside the bus started shoving us out of the bus that was already gaining momentum. I landed on my knees earning a torn trousers and some abrasion in the process. Others were not so lucky with one person’s left leg being crushed by the bus as it sped away in the direction of Lagos.