Saturday, June 6, 2009

My lawful criminal story

The ‘Lawful’ criminals in Fashola’s LGA administration

I was not planning on any adventure when I left home this morning to keep a job-search appointment at the corporate headquarters of champion newspapers. It was like every other day, only my finances made it imperative I trek a little of the distance to reduce cost. I got to the bus stop opposite Ibis hotel at the airport junction in Ajao estate to meet the usual unexplained transport hike that Lagos residents have had to do with since the unset of the current fuel crisis (yes, the crisis is officially over, but the passengers usually bear the blunt of whatever loss the drivers might have incurred while it lasted for some few extra weeks, with no apologies.). Opting to pay the N50 that was charged for a trip that usually goes for N20 or N30, I boarded the bus and endured the bristling heat while the driver played the usual ‘I don dey move’ trick. After a few well placed insults from a rather fiery middle aged woman at the windowless back seat, the driver decided not to wait for the remaining one passenger and drove off, but not without stopping at every designated bus stop to look for that one passenger. Since most people shied away from the conductor’s higher price, we got to Ilasamaja minutes later than was normal. As I disembarked, the angry woman was still cursing the conductor and driver to high heavens. They, in their usual thick skinned ways ignored her.
My visit to the media house did not take me as far as the editor as I had hoped, so I found my self outside almost immediately, with nothing new other than an instruction from the male receptionist to come with an application or a letter of introduction.
Since I have to cross over to board a bus back to airport road, I stood by the roadside awaiting the traffic to clear a bit, in my haste, completely ignoring the pedestrian bridge that was a few meters away.
It took me up to two minutes to cross over to the other side. I had almost boarded a bus that stopped to pick me when, out of the blues, I was surrounded by three scruffy looking young men, who flashed plastic ID cards before my eyes and told me in authoritative language that I am under arrest.
Bewildered, I asked them what for-I was still walking. One of them, who appear to be the one with clearer sounding English, politely told me to stop. I obeyed, hoping to get to the root of the matter, though still unaware of what my sin(s) were.
“Why did you cross the express way?” he asked gently.
“Am I not supposed to?” I asked, wondering where all this was heading.
“No you should have used the foot bridge.”
“Oh!” I said, smiling slowly, at least it is nothing serious “But that’s not against any law.”
“It is sir. That is why we are arresting you.”
“What do you mean arrest me? My friend get out of my way, I am in a big hurry.” I countered, trying to force my way through their loose circle. They resisted, it was then that I noticed that more of them were approaching from a packed bus a few meters away.
We were still bantering words when a burly man walked up and demanded to see me. I insisted that I am not going anywhere, but on second thought, I followed him to the packed car where his ‘boss’ was reclining on the door.
The ‘boss’, a young man in his thirties looked me up an down appraisingly and told me to be a gentleman and board the bus before talking to him, since he will not talk to me otherwise.
Angered at being treated like a common criminal just because I walked across an express way, I let him have a piece of my mind, gently though.
Commending me for looking and talking like a gentleman he started to lecture me on the hazards of crossing an expressway.
Tired of his lecture I decided to board the bus and hopefully get him to listen to me, since we both know that the number of footbridges available does not in any way equate the intersections that need them.

That obviously was my undoing, for no sooner had I taken my seat; he rushed up to block all exits, thereby ensuring my entrapment in the vehicle. Sensing a story and not having anywhere of great import to be at, I decided to play it cool and watch proceeding.

I must have sat there for up to thirty minutes when a docile, nicely dressed Youngman of my age was brought to the ‘prison’ bus. I believe it was the sight of me sitting calmly in the heat that made him enter the bus without complaint.

I took that time to pounder at the logic behind hiding amongst okada men and hawkers, waiting for someone to dash across the road when the easiest and rightful thing to do would have been to stop the person from attempting the act in the first place.

A few moments latter another youth was brought up. He was agitated and wouldn’t to enter the bus, throwing back their threats at them. After some phone calls to a madam he claimed is well known in the neighborhood he boarded the bus and almost immediately the entire ‘team’ appeared from their hiding places and swarmed the bus.

A man who had earlier told me to ‘settle’ the ‘case’ there turned out to be the driver. The bus drove out. I ignored the protests of my fellow captives (a man who packed his car by the roadside and crossed over to buy recharge card was our last comrade, he was dragged in screaming just as the car was about to leave) and watched the busy streets of Mushin float by as we headed towards what was to me an adventure in waiting. Though I noticed fear in the eyes of my fellow captives, I felt non whatsoever.

We arrived at a two story building, painted a dirty off-white color, adjacent to the Mushin general hospital and directly opposite the national population commission. At the entrance, a large green metal signboard with “the presidency, public complaints commission’ written in bold white paint, stands guard.

Inside proper, I discovered that the building, which turned out to be the old local government secretariat, houses the Nigerian immigration service, which shares the same floor/room with our captors, the so-called ‘traffic controllers’, on the second floor; the Nigerian legion, the civil defense corps, the Nigerian immigration service share the top floor with the afore mentioned public complaints commission whose sign tell you to bring ‘any type of complaint to us’. On the ground floor, an eye sore police post makes do with a dirt ridden corner, while a broken chair and table are the sole furniture in a stairwell office of some agbero-like young men.

Though some of my fellow captives, noticing the environment and the predatory stares of the workers, started acting up in a vain hope of being spared whatever justice is to be met upstairs, I boldly followed the youth that was then acting like our lives were in his hands.

They took us up the stairs, past the area boy looking youths in the dingy office by the stairwell, into a large room on the first floor. The room is drab without any particular identity; the same dirty off-white paint that is used for the outside walls was also applied here with a much more unflattering appeal. Three long benches with back rest that reminds on of either an orthodox church or a colonial style court, competes with other patched up benches for space. In the front, at a place of honors, a beat up desk stands. An official wearing a multi colored kaftan sits behind the desk, talking with what I am sure he assumed to be a fear inducing voice.
The talk was an adaptation of what one of our captors said in the bus, A summary of the sections of the law we broke and the penalty, which includes a fine of N5000 (five thousand naira) or six months jail term with hard labor. This is excluding the one week we are to spend in their detention cell downstairs.

As he talked, I paid more attention to my surroundings and those that are in its vicinity. I noticed that the plywood that demarcates the room is rot ridden and that the walls are smudged and dirty, also, the ‘officials’ who brought us were not with us any more and those that are here, three women and about four men, all wore the sour faced expression of the empowered.

Soon, our names were taken and the ‘oga’ in traditional clothes proceeded to call them out. I waited patiently for my turn, refraining from asking those who have gone in what transpired-I had a Nigerian sense of what was going on.

Then my name echoed, murdered as usual, my surname was. I went in to face the ‘master’ who pointed out a sign that read ‘court in process. Silence!’. I smiled while I answered his questions.
“Please identify yourself?”
Knowing it means who you are in Nigeria, I replied.
“I am a writer sir,”
“Can I see an ID.? Which paper do you work for?”
“Sir, I don’t work for any paper. I am unemployed; actually that’s why I was at champion sir.”

He looked at me disbelievingly for a while, belying my well feed appearance. Noting his look, I pulled out my CV and credentials which were in my carry bag.

Disappointed, but determined to collect his due, he pressed on.
“Call someone close to you to bring your fine.” He said with bluffing finality which I saw through.”

That is the problem, I say, I don’t have any one and what I have here is not up to one thousand naira.
“How much do you have exactly?” He asked
I pulled out my wallet and brought out all the money in it, eight hundred in all.
“You mean you can’t use your ATM to get the money?”
“Sir, I don’t have up to two thousand in my account, like I said before, I am a job seeker.”

“Ok,” he said, “go outside and wait in the hall.”

Outside, I waited while everyone was attended to; soon he noticed me at my corner and called me into his office again. See, he said, I want to help, go and bring two thousand.
“I can’t sir, I can’t afford it.”
He didn’t answer but stormed out and ordered that I be taken together with the others to the cell. Not surprisingly, many panicked and last minute pleas and hidden money started appearing.
Ignoring all, I walked with a light headed bounce down the stairs, even managing to walk before the man that was taking us down.

Inside the police post mentioned before, we were headed into a corridor jam-packed with apparently sized okadas. This, I was told by some other captors who were there before us, is the cell. In all we were about 15 in number and during the course of my vigil, which lasted about 5 hours, more people were brought in(I didn’t note the number because they were releasing people who were able to pay up or whose relatives showed up to pay.

Sometime in the afternoon, a woman was brought in, crying bitterly. She claimed she has a pot on the fire, literary. She was cooking and ran across the road to buy spices and got arrested. The major fear was that the electric stove she is using might explode and burn down the tenement she is living in. we all forgot our problems to appeal to the official to either let her go or let someone accompany her home. They didn’t budge and I furiously gave all of them, police included a bitter piece of my mind.

Soon after, I heard my name and upon investigation discovered that the ‘oga’ wanted me to be brought back upstairs. Getting there, I was told to go get my things and go. No, not free, I had to forfeit most of my meager eight hundred naira, leaving with only enough transport to take me back to Oshodi.
As I made my way home, I wondered about the fate of my fellow ‘captives’ and the long arm of a very stupid law that doesn’t have any provision for first offenders. Passing the very spot of my abduction, I noticed that there was no warning sign post to warn people about the dangers of crossing the main road and the inherent fine.

I am positive that the system has found a way to milk the masses off their hard earned cash, and like everything Nigerian, a source of unfettered corruption. Fashola should take note.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Rough draft of a short story that was later revised, updated, refreshed and published in StoryTime


It was still dark enough for the neon lights to reflect off the paved road, throwing crooked shadows off the potholes that are scattered like puckered pox scares on the coal-black tarmac. Across the road, to the left of an abused public toilet, a huddled figure lay prone, seemingly dead to a sleeping world.
Looking from afar, the weak light fails to hide the deep callous on feet that had apparently taken a tough beating. Large, mutant-like mosquitoes can be clearly seen on the exposed soft areas of the feet, which strangely, is a little further up the foot than normal. At this point, the mosquitoes spotted distended tummies and swaggered with the delirium of the high that comes from ingesting too much human fluid.

The figure appears to be immune to the bites of the giant vampires, for apart from the occasional gentle heave of chest, he lay perfectly still.

An attentive watcher, coming closer, would notice the way patched lips seem to move in silent mime to whatever song is playing in his dream world. The sleeping figure, haggled by a thousand internal demons, turned involuntary in dreamy stirrings that revealed an impossibly deep wound on his shin. It is fetid and crawling with hundreds of maggots and a zillion other microbes.

It had probably gotten to that stage beyond pain for, at that moment it lay partially on the jagged face of a broken pavement stone, a darkish red liquid run off it to form a small spreading puddle beside the stone.

A few feet away, a sprawling mountain of refuse looms, spreading its peculiar fragrance overall the scene.

Beyond this, lies the bridge. Large and gray, a solid testimony to man’s engineering genius. From afar, it appears nondescript, without identity, a lonely sentinel, with only the earth base and dirty canal water for comfort. But closer, she takes on a distinct identity, calling attention to her animate family, silently attesting to her right to be called mother by those who take solace and shelter under her concrete wings. The so-called homeless who have found a home where none but the earth can rightfully claim to own.

Beneath her they lay, in individual singles, in communal clusters or in the larger feudal clutch of the gang-bred, street men and kids. Rank determining the proximity to the middle, made-men laying claim to the center around the street monarch while outcasts and recruits fan the outer rim.

There are those who are yet to be accepted into the clutch. These ones either find security in company of others like themselves. They, like the drifters, people who are here today and most probably gone tomorrow, chose the more trusty companionship of the self, deeming it wiser to snore alone, doing nothing to upset the tribe.

Among these drifters, a new face appeared a few days back. But, unlike them, he had stayed put, though out of everyone’s way. Unlike them too, he appears to draw attention where others are over looked. Alaye was the name he gave the street monarch who uncharacteristically took a curious second look at him during his nightly round of his monarchy. Apparently bemused by the street name he had asked again, “yu sure sey yu bi Alaye so?”

Alaye who did not miss the underlying treat of menace and challenge in his voice had replied in kind, allowing faint submissiveness to color his voice a little.

“Yes ke! Baba, I bi alaya now! I don tey fo area onli sey we neva jam.?”

“Ok now, we go see,” was the non-committal response from the street monarch who continued to look him in the eye. “Shey, from wia you show from respet dey abi? Bicos for hia wi no de take yab o.”

He did not wait for Alaye’s reply before stalking of, his longish legs scraping the hard-parked earth as the muscles rippled in his bare upper torso. Behind him followed his court, a collection of the nations reject, all affecting various degrees of hopefully mean grimaces to match their leaders mood and possibly ensure the quaking of on-looking hearts.

The monarch, who goes by the street moniker Area Baba to reflect his ownership of the bridgehead and the whole of the street down to 25th bus stop, used to be more accommodating. But that was up until his lieutenant Jada, who now runs the areas beyond 25th bus stop, tried to overthrow him in a bloody palace coup that was fought with their weapon of choice, broken bear bottles and iron rods. The fight lasted the most of two weeks and in the end, he was made to part with the choicer part of his inland real estate, which meant loss of revenue from street begging and pick pocketing.

Now he only manages to scrape out a hard going for himself and his boys from pimping for the prostitutes at 2nd avenue and ‘harassment’ money from drivers who use the illegal bus stop at the foot of ‘his bridge’.

Now he looks at this new drifter and sees the same intelligent glint that he saw in Jada’s eye the first time they met. He knows from experience that smart people may mean a whole lot of success. But, if they are as ambitious as Jada, then trouble is what they bring with them.

He prays this one moves on soon. But in the mean time, he will put Kekere on his trail. Because even if he isn’t made he may strike out on his own and would, like Jada, soon have enough boys to challenge his authority. Turning to his new lieutenant Stone, he whispered.

“You sure sey we get space for this one?”

Alaye knew the street monarch’s interest portends trouble. He has being on the street long enough to know the code that is the difference between life and death. The faster you decode another’s code the surer you are of knowing where you stand with him. He had moved the big refrigerator carton that is his mobile tent and bed a little further away from the clutch of the gang-bred. Trying his very best to distance himself from any conflict that might arise.

He positioned the carton in a way that the peephole he had opened in it was facing in the general direction of the bridge base where the street monarch’s chambers lie, instinct warning him that trouble would probably come from that direction not from outwards as usual.

He has kept a low profile from that first day and up till the moment was yet to attract any undue attention to his person from the monarch who still looks at him suspiciously whenever their paths cross, a meeting Alaye avoids as much as he can.

Tonight like other nights before it, Alaye is sleeping deep, though not too deep as to loose grip of his environment and situation. All around him, other street urchins are also in different levels of sleep.
Their young bodies having gotten attuned to the weather and mosquito bites, they sleep unhindered, much like the destitute by the highway that apparently has entered a world that is far from that of human beings, the world of the weather beaten mental chase.

As the night sky took on a faint hue of light that gradually turns the deep black of night gray, Alaye stirred as his biological clock ticked the unset of dawn. He sat up in his coffin like carton and looked towards the gang-bred chambers. His heart gladdening at the sight of the sleeping figures there.

“Hopefully,” he thought, “I would have finished my morning bath and be far away before they awake”
Alaye has every reason to be weary for today is one day that he hopes that avoid trouble, at least, until he knows his stand.

Yesterday, a woman who bought pure water from him at the bridgehead hold up promised to give him a job in her supermarket. On the condition, that he makes it to her shop before

Since her shop is on the other side of the city, he will have to rush if he is to retain any hope of getting the job. So, an entanglement with Area Baba will only slow him down or even curtail his going altogether.

His path towards the broken water mains that served as source for drinking water and bathroom for the street boys and indigent residents as well was light by the glare from craggy molues wobbling towards the day’s job.

Unlike other days, he took his time bathing, trying his utmost best to rid the grit and sweaty odor that clung to him. Though he is one of the few street boys that still see an everyday bath as a necessity, the hard life of the street still leaves him as dirty as the others at the days end.

When he had assured himself that he is as neat as he can ever get in the circumstance he walk back to his carton. Foraging inside he pulled out his only decent dress-reserved for days like this-and shrugged into them. Having no option in the footwear department he made do with his threadbare bathroom slippers.

Five minutes later found him trudging down mile two at a pace that is not too brisk but not slow either. He has hope of reaching Ikeja by 6:30 and get to the woman’s shop with a few minutes to spare. Even if he could afford the fare from mile 2 to Ikeja, the thought of taking a bus did not occur to him.

Like others in his situation, he has come to an understanding his fate and sees any money that can be saved as worth saving, so he treks to his destination. Another reason he treks is the hope of meeting someone or something that will alleviate his suffering. It is this hope that keeps him and his kind alive that drives suicide from their minds and keeps them sane even when the world around them has gone totally insane.

Alhaja, the woman that promised Alaye a job runs a big supermarket in Ikeja with branches in most of the markets that cluster Lagos. She fancies herself a philanthropist who looks after the dregs of the society. She absorbs youths like Alaye without any family to turn to.

Why she picks out the strong and young can be left to anyone’s imagination. In Ikeja shop, several young men and women work as sells persons or loaders. She clothes and feed them while providing them shelter from the element and the bitter world. Some of her employees, former street boys and girls, have being known to climb the social ladder while in her employ. But, it is a minimal number that do so.

When Alaye Ikeja he discovered that the difficulty he had earlier envisioned of locating the shop was premature for at first inquiry he was directed to a row of well stocked shops that as early as then was in full swing. He watched with open mouth as an army of youth battled to set up for the day’s business.

It was hard going for him following the progress of the workers who bustled like a thousand worker bees. Some unloading from crates while other arranged them in whatever order caught their supervisors fancy.

It was this supervisor, a girl of about Alaye’s age, who directed him to the Alhaja’s office to wait her coming.

Alaye discovered that he is not as special as he thought, as other kids were seating on a long bench in the corridor outside the office, various degree of fear and expectation mingling in the young faces.

A plumpish girl on the far end made space for him. He thanked her as he joined the wait.

They did not have to wait. For, at 7.30 am on the dot, Alhaja turned up. It was her voice that Alaye heard first. It was raise in apparent anger at whatever wrongs the workers outside perpetuated. Alaye caught his breath and the girl beside him stiffened, apparently he wasn’t the only one that felt the gall in her voice.

The next moment the small corridor was swallowed up by a heavy musk based perfume that had that Arab fragrance that is as overpowering as they were made to be.

She looked each child up and done as she responds to their individual greetings which she appeared to live off. She expected the postulations of both the males and females and scolded a girl that did not squat as deeply as was expected of her.

But unlike the tone they had heard her use outside, she was rather mild about it, scolding with a motherly voice that was both stern and kind admonishing for forgetting a deep cultural norm that a little girl overlooked.

Later, they were all interviewed by her, in twos, to ascertain their level of intelligence and placement.
Somehow, by some trick of randomization, Alaye and the plump girl were the last go in. initially, as the others came out of the office, Alaye had thought of asking them how it went. But, they being strangers it was rather difficult and no one met his eye no matter how heard he tried to catch theirs.

Now it was his turn to face the lioness in her den.

Alaye did not lie to himself for he knew that his future is close at hand. As they stepped into the office the deep fragrance hit him again, only harder this time, it was all he could do to stop from choking from the nausea that rose from his belly. It took all his will to cross the lush carpeting to the front of the large vacant table that where Alhaja sat.

She was intent on a paper she was scribbling on, though not enough to not notice them and stop them from coming too close to her table. Apparently, the perfume served a dual purpose; it keeps her foul odors in as well as keeps that of others out from her ringed nose. She wrote on seemingly ignorant of them while they looked at each other and fidgeted.

From the much they could see of her face, unobstructed by the shawl she wore arab style over her gele, she is obviously in her mid forties. Her figure, though a little on the fat side, retained the basic curves that are accentuated by an extra large backside and bustline. Unlike most fat women, nature spared her extra folds across her tummy.

Her face, though not closely beautiful is still handsome enough to be called pretty. In all, she makes for one striking figure that her average frame seems to carry very well.

Her office, though well furnished, appears to be a sort of showpiece, for the space that would have been spacious was choked by equipments and other stuffs that aren’t really needed. Like the extra TV behind her desk and the electric typewriter.

Two hours later Alaye and Zainab, the plum girl, were on their way to Alhaja’s wholesale shop in Oshodi. He is to work as a loader with the supply truck while she is to work in the shop proper, as a sales girl.

The shop was not as big as those in Ikeja were but it was still big enough to require a staff of eight excluding Alaye and Zainab.

They received just as about the same sort of greetings that they got in Ikeja. The workers did not pay them much heed as they went about their duties, only one stopped long enough to direct them to the manager who turned out to be a middle-aged woman equally as fat as the Alhaja.

They were not giving much room to settle as they were rushed off to work.

Alaye did not much like hate his work as a loader, he had had cause to do jobs of such nature in the past, it is just that the unpredictability of it vexes him to hell.

One minute he would be getting set to eat his lunch, the next he will be rushing off to load up a truck for a customer.

Like most people taken off the street Alaye wasn’t bothered any by the sleeping arrangement. Some of the workers have their own accommodation in town but Alaye, Zainab ant two other girls had to sleep in the shop. While the girls slept in the packing store, Alaye made do with the cold shop floor, once again bedding down on a large carton.

Time passed like a swallow’s flight. He got closer to plump Zainab of the dreamy eyes and the other workers stopped seeing him like a stranger. They did not see much of the Alhaja and the few meetings were brief. Strangely, she appeared to remember his name, a thing he thought peculiar until he leant that she knows the name of all her employees, a sharp memory that served her very well in her day-to-day dealings.

Alaye was too grateful for his change of fortune that it did not occur to him to ask for his salary at the end of that month or the ones after. Every day he collects the stipend of one hundred and fifty naira that served as his feeding money. One a good day, he gets as much as five hundred naira as tips from happy costumers. With all these, he was as comfortable as one can be in the circumstance.

To him demanding for the three thousand naira that was due him sounded like betrayal of trust.

It was Zainab that raised the issue of unpaid salary some months later. Apparently, she had spoken to the other girls and from their narration, it appeared like the norm, they too didn’t get paid up until one year after they started work and even then only a few months worth.

Alaye preached caution, opting to wait till they must have worked for one year before complaining. He said this to pacify her for he wasn’t sure he had the guts to face Alhaja even then.

Zainab was later moved to Alhaja’s private residence as a housemaid while Alaye stayed on in the Oshodi store only he now had to follow the trucks that supply pure water as a loader.

The issue of unpaid salary was not treated as Alaye’s earnings from tips increased. But he did not forget and hoped he will get paid at the end of the one year. True, he was picked from the street but he has his plans and hopes to see them to fruition.

Trouble started when it one year passed and extra months added up. After much dilly dallying Alaye summoned courage and went to Ikeja to speak to Alhaja. Like the previous times he had being to see her he was made to wait for a long time.

When he finally saw her, she was on her way out and would have passed him on the corridor where he sat waiting if he had not hailed her.

At first, she looked at him strangely as if trying to place him but after a while, she smiled slowly.

“You are from the Oshodi shop right? I hope no problem?”

“Yes ma,” Alaye replied, “there is no problem ma.”

“Ok. How may I help you?”

“eem, ma… its about my salary… I have not been paid since I started work and it over a year now.”

“I know,” She said turning towards the door apparently dismissing him.

“But ma I was told that you pay after the first year and it is four months after.” He said following her outside.

She turned sharply, her eyes blazing. “who told you that?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

When mothers go to war

When mothers go to war
Raised voices, hyperventilating breath
Taint this morning aura
Invectives, shouted with hurt intended
Rend color to a wordy conflict

Before blows are struck and
The tongues speed is deemed not swift enough
Wrappers get better tightened or shed for
Sagged knickers of bulbous hue

When flurry hands react to quickness of tongue
Ill fastened wrappers go flying
Oops! Stretch marks bear witness to
A middle aged parody of

What should be youthful partaking
Laughter, wild and sarcastically humorous
Greets exposure of bare flesh
Shame flies in the face of points lost

Hands make for grabs again and
Exposed flesh bore more witness to
A mothers early morning frenzy
For today our mothers went to war

Monday, April 6, 2009

Today we start a new page

As it appears, this will be my first posting here. I don't know how I can ever hope to get people to read my stuff and I still don't know waht I want or don't want them to see/hear about my life. but, as it is, I will be posting any thing that I feel should be here.
It is my blog so I will be the judge of what comes up, from my end that is, or not.
I am first and formost a creative writer so my poem, short stories and other scriblings will take first place.
lets see where the morrow leads.