Concluded: The day I came face to face with the devil

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(CONCLUDED: THE DAY I ENCOUNTERED THE DEVIL)

By Bar. Kenneth Ikonne

Nwachi, boss of Nwachinemere Motors, explained to the visiting policemen who the “Barrister”, whose name was on the exhibit, was. I was his customer, and had been robbed violently a few days earlier, he said, but I was still alive, and had only gone to Lagos to raise money and fetch the particulars of the stolen car. Inspector Edward then asked Nwachi to bring me to their station at Mbano, immediately upon my return.

It was therefore in consequence of that summons that Nwachi mercifully drove us to the police station at Mbano. And now, I was face to face with the robber who had pulled a gun and snatched my car only a few days earlier!

The police and my friends had effectively restrained me from assaulting the robber, who had returned to his rice meal, with his mother still asserting that the people of the world were just out to frame her innocent son! Inspector Edward, who had been recognised in the melee by Nwachi, motioned that we follow him to his office.

We entered his cramped office, which was not enough to seat all of us, the robber’s uncle, who later introduced himself as a serving policeman in another station, having also joined us. Inspector Edward asked me to write a statement detailing the robbery. I did, and supported the statement with the a photocopy each of the car’s purchase receipt, and its other registration and insurance credentials. He then asked everyone else to excuse us, excepting Nwachi. When they did, he impressed it upon me how police had risked their lives against dare – devil robbers and recovered my car. He told me how they had resisted inducements by the robber’s uncle to release the robber, since no complainant had reported a car theft. He confessed that they were almost taken in by the robber’s strident professions of innocence, and the passionate pleas by the robber’s uncle, a fellow policeman – until the team of investigators led by him travelled to Owerri, with the receipt, and met Nwachi.

The robber’s story, until the investigators’ return from Nwachi’s office, had been that the car was sent to him by an uncle in Germany. Even after their return from Owerri, the DPO was still insisting that they give the robber the benefit of the doubt, since a fellow officer was interceding – until the emergence of a proper complainant. “Barrister, show us appreciation now and see the other side of me”, the Inspector concluded.

I brought out the sum of N10,000.00 and gave him, naively thinking that that would at least secure the release of my car. Inspector Edward thanked me effusively, but instantly transformed to a monster. He grabbed a rifle, stormed out of his office, and ordered the robber’s uncle and mother to leave the station at once. They complied, with the mother wailing and looking back. Then the inspector slammed the butt of his rifle on the robber’s head. He fell on his back, still conscious, with blood gushing from his head. “Where did you keep the gun?”, the officer thundered. The robber insisted he carried no gun, and that he had only been armed with a sawed – off motorcycle exhaust pipe. “Then, where did you keep the exhaust pipe?”, came the reply, accompanied by vicious kicks.

The other officer emerged from the back of the building to announce that “the food was ready.” They dragged the robber to the back of the building and asked us to follow them. There, at the back of the building lay a putrid pot of human faeces, festooned with a fork and a spoon. The inspector cocked his rifle, pointed it at the robber and ordered him to begin to eat it. The robber went on his knees immediately and complied. He scooped a spoonful, and held it close to his nose, momentarily. “Now, eat it at once”, came the order, accompanied by vicious kicks.

The robber began to eat shit, his face contorted in anguish and revulsion. After shovelling four spoonfuls to his mouth, he stopped and let out a loud yell in the Owerri dialect: “chei, Awaka murum ni oo”! It was a futile summons for intercession to the gods and and ancestors of Awaka, his homestead.

Feeling dehumised myself, I begged the policemen to stop, and they obliged. The robber thanked me effusively, insisting that he had been misled by the devil. They led him back to the cell and locked him up. But just before he entered the cell, I noticed the white head of my montblanc pen sticking from a small pouch in his Danshiki. I stepped forth and took it, without resistance from the robber. “That’s my pen”, I explained to the officers.

I was then taken before the DPO where I was once again made to show appreciation, after profusely thanking him. It was only after receiving my appreciation that the DPO explained to me that the case was above his station’s remit to handle. Already, he explained, a signal had come from Police Headquarters, Owerri, ordering that both the robber and the exhibit, ie, my car, be transferred to Owerri, for further investigations and necessary action.

I spent the next four weeks in Owerri, visiting the police headquarters everyday. I even became an investigator myself, driving policemen and the suspect in my cousin’s car in furtherance of the investigations. We visited the robber’s residence – a one room apartment in the boys’ quarters of a doctor’s house in upscale Ikenegbu, Owerri. I had by then stayed long enough with the policemen – and bought enough beer and food for them – to gain their confidence and understand their antics.

So, when we arrived the gate of the doctor’s residence where the robber lived, I immediately began to “form” policeman, especially after seeing the doctor’s very attractive wife. “Open this gate, madam. We are policemen on special duty”, I announced to the petrified lady. She looked at the robber quizzically. “Okwudiri, what is this?”, she inquired from the robber, who only bowed his head in shame. He was still wearing the Danshiki, and was trying to conceal his cuffed wrists in the Danshiki’s bulbous folds. But the fact that he was barefoot, accompanied by gun – wielding stern officers, including me, gave him away instantly. The woman swiftly disappeared into her home, terrified.

When we entered the robber’s room, it was virtually empty. His accomplices, on learning that he had been arrested at Mbano, swiftly raided his room and looted everything. He understood what had happened at once. Confronted by a vacant room, the robber sank to his knees, let out a searing yell and cried: “Chai, is this how wicked this world can be? My friends have come here and looted all my belongings.” He was still sobbing when we led him out of the compound, eyes peeping at us from crevices in drawn blinds from the main building, and proceeded to downtown Owerri where the robber ran a dry cleaning shop, still in an elusive search for the robbery weapon.

Our frequent investigative tours of Owerri had made me strangely to begin to bond with the robber, resulting in me feeling exceeding pity for him. In all of those tours round Owerri and environs, we would always end up at an eatery, where I regularly feted the policemen and the suspect. It was in one of those eateries that the robber, in the presence of those policemen, looked me in the eyes and sought my forgiveness. “Since anyi pa mara motor”, he confessed, in that sonorous Owerri dialect, oozing remorse, “enwere certain cars anyi ejila apa: nkea wu motor ndi army, motor a police, and motor nda judiciary “, ie, ” Since we started snatching cars, there are certain cars that as a rule we don’t snatch: army cars, police cars, and judiciary cars.”

According to him, my car fell in the category of “judiciary cars”, and it was therefore a fatal error of judgment to have snatched it – a whole judiciary car. He confessed that they discovered this sacrilege only after the deed, when they saw my NBA sticker, and the photocopies of the car’s registered credentials. At this, I convulsed in heavy laughter, unconsciously disgorging large helpings of precious bushmeat I was about to swallow.

But the day that finally melted my heart was the day we drove to his village at Awaka, a suburb of Owerri, to search his homestead for the robbery weapon whose whereabouts he was still refusing to disclose, insisting that his fleeing friends took them away after the operation. I had now known his name – Okwudiri – and called him by it.

The visit – or raid – took his parents and wife by surprise. The fully armed policemen briskly alighted from my car and immediately took positions around the impoverished homestead, guns ready and pointed. The bewildered parents and wife watched as an armed policeman led him out of the car, pointing his gun at him and barking orders. His young wife was clutching their less than one month old child tightly to her chest, face filled with tears, swaying as she sang a Christian song. Okwudiri went straight to her, took his infant infant son in his cuffed hands, held it close to his chest, shook his head in regret, sank to his knees and began to cry. Tears started welling up in my eyes and I turned away.

Two policemen went into the thatched mud – house and turned it inside out, while Okwudiri continued to wail in regret, still carrying his baby. But his aged father, who had been preparing thatch roofing from felled fronds when we arrived, was totally unmoved, and openly mocked both Okwudili and his mother, telling them that that day of reckoning which he had always prophesied, had eventually dawned. Okwudiri’s mother was sobbing and still insisting that even if our story was true, it was obvious to her that her son, Okwudiri, had been charmed by her enemies, who had now succeeded in casting a spell at her only son. Her husband told her to shut up. “This is the Uniport for which i sold family land to enable Okwudiri attend.” At this, the old man clasped his chest and cried a man’s cry. The baby too, joined in crying!

It was time for us to leave, no weapon having been recovered, inspite of a very thorough search. Okwudiri was ordered to return the baby to its mother, and enter the car. As he made to do so, the baby fell off the outstretched hands of its mother and fell on the dust. Rather than pick up the shrieking child, the mother too fell on the dust and clasped on Okwudiri’s right leg. She was crying, lost and helpless. “Where are you leaving us to?,” she howled in helplessness. “Okwudiri, was this what you promised me?” One of the policemen had picked up the baby from the dust, and handed it over to the grandfather who carried it into his home, to continue grieving in private.The policemen finally succeeded in disentangling Mrs Okwudiri’s hold on their suspect’s ankle, promising her they were going to recommend his release upon their return to their office. I also joined, sincerely, in making the promise, looking deep into her terrified eyes in reassurance!

The trip back from the village of Awaka to police headquarters was made in utter silence, interrupted occasionally by the sad howls emanating from Okwudiri’s bowed head which rested throughout in his cuffed hands. At the station, before being led back to his cell, he implored me once more for forgiveness, pointing out that at least the trip to Awaka had driven home the hopelessness and squalor that drove him to crime. In my heart, I had completely forgiven him, and had even resolved to do my best to see to his release.

At Awaka, the policemen had allowed his wife to give him a fresh trouser and shirt. These, ironically, were to prove his undoing. For, the next day when he was brought from his cell and taken to the Superior police officer, he was in fresh clothes, and looking clean and span. “Who are these men”, the Senior police officer inquired, shifting his gaze from the suspect to me. The IPO explained that I was the victim of the robbery and the complainant, while the other man was the apprehended robber.

I bowed slightly, and began feebly to plead the robber’s cause. The now very enraged Senior Officer immediately cut me short. “Shut up, young man”, he thundered. “You don’t know the danger me and my men face every day. Do you know how many men we lost to robbers in the Orji axis alone last week?”

Turning to the robber, the Commander roared: “Now, where is that gun? Where is that gun?” The commander momentarily shifted his attention to his officer: “You see how useless you are? A confessed robber, whose weapon is still unrecovered? Looking like this? As if he was going for a party?” He turned his fierce gaze again to the robber, this time with his gun pointed at the robber: “I ask you again, where is that gun?” The commander didn’t even wait for an answer before releasing two quick shots at the robber’s groin. Okwudiri instantly collapsed in a heap, blood gushing, but I thought he was still alive. Turning to me, the red – eyed demonic commander roared: “Go and collect your car immediately and go back to Lagos and do something with your life.”

Terrified and utterly shaken, I practically fled the commander’s office, accompanied by one of his officers. At the general office, the officer quietly handed me my car key, took me to the exhibit bay, where he arranged for a vulcanizer to inflate my deflated tyres. I left the Owerri police headquarters a completely broken man, and returned to Aba, in my BMW, with Doctor Ebere driving my cousin’s car in tow.

It has been a full twenty – seven years since that gruesome shooting in the Commander’s office. Yet, till this day, whenever I visit Owerri, I am still haunted by the look of utter hopelessness on the robber’s wife’s face, and my unkept promise to her!

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