If like me you’ve watched a lot of James Bond type movies, you’d be forgiven, as I should be, for believing the ransom drop off was going to go terribly wrong.
I mean, being woken up from an uncomfortable sleep on a sofa, by a man carrying a Ghana-must-go bag full of money, is not exactly what you’d call real-life. And when in the darkness he said to me ‘It is time,’ it sounded more like an intentionally scripted line in a mystery movie than just another day in the life of Amaka.
I was instantly awake, not that I’d been sleeping for that long anyway, or so I thought. The first thing I asked him, as my heart began to beat faster with adrenalin, was “What time is it?” You can imagine my surprise at learning it was almost 6:30am.
“There’s no time to take shower,” he said, as if that was even remotely on my mind. “They want you to take the money to Faloma roundabout and be there at exactly 7am.”
“Falomo,” I corrected him.
“And they want you to wait on the chapel side. Do you know what that is?”
“Good. We have to leave now.”
"Is that the money?” I had seen the bag and I knew it must be the ransom money. Something in me wanted to see it, to see what twenty five million Naira looks like.
“And you are just going to give them all this money like that?”
“What would you rather I did? Let them kill him?”
He knew that wasn’t what I meant. I wanted to explain to him that I was only concerned that there was no guarantee they would let Johnny and his friends go once they got the money, then I remembered the money was for Johnny’s friends, not Johnny.
“How will I know it is them?”
“How will I know who to give the money to?”
“They will find you. You just have to stand there with the money.”
“And what about Johnny, his friends?”
“When they’ve got the money they’ll call to let us know where to pick them.”
“And you trust them?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Ok. Excuse me, let me get dressed.”
He drove us to Falomo where he handed me the bag that had been resting on the back seat all throughout the ride. It felt heavier than I expected, but then again I’ve never carried twenty-five million naira before.
I stepped out of the car, struggling with the weight of the bag, and I had hardly closed the door when he drove off. I suddenly felt afraid. I was panicking. Were they here already? Were they looking at me? Did they tell him to drop me and get lost? Would they just take the money and leave me alone?
I stepped onto the pavement; it was already busy with foot traffic just as the road itself was already building towards a major traffic jam. What if someone saw that I was carrying money and stole it from me? What if the police ask me what is inside my bag? I looked down at the bag to see if the money inside it was visible from outside. I shifted the handles from one hand to the other and tried to rest my strained shoulder. I wanted to place the bag down between my legs but I was afraid to let go of it.
I looked into the faces of the people walking past me; with apprehension that they might want to steal the bag from me, and with anxiety that they might be the kidnappers. No big black van with tinted windows pulled up to me screeching with doors flying open and masked men inside pointing a sawed-off double barrel shotgun at me and shouting to me to throw the money to them – the way I had imagined it. Nothing happened. I just stood there with the heavy Ghana-must-go bag full of money waiting for something to happen, and then it did.
A man wearing a helmet with its visor pulled over his face stopped next to me on his power bike. He was blocking me from view of the kidnappers when they arrived I instinctively thought, so I stepped sideways on the pavement, but with his feet pulling his motorcycle along on the road he followed me. I couldn’t see a face but the helmet was turned to me.
He pointed at the bag then at me and motioned for me to get onto his bike. Then it hit me in a sudden awakening of all my senses that he was Mr Kidnapper.
I suddenly didn’t know what to do. I looked around, on instinct, then at the same moment I realised how dangerous it was to do so because he could think I had come with people waiting to get him. I quickly moved myself and the bag to him quicker than I would have liked to: I would have waited and asked him about Johnny and his friends; but I had, in my opinion, acted in a way to cause suspicion and lives were at stake.
I stopped next to him struggling to hold the bag up like I was offering it to him for him to take and just go away, but he nodded his helmet for me to get onto the back. I obliged. I got on to the bike behind him, balancing the money on my laps, then I tried to work out what to hold on to to keep me steady. With his gloved hands he pulled mine around his body. Okay.
The bike surged forward throwing me backwards. He drove forward towards Lagos Island then he suddenly turned sharply and next thing I knew we were on the other side of the road heading back towards the roundabout. He went up the bridge towards VI, snaking through cars and accelerating as if he wanted me to fall off. I was having a hard time holding on to him and keeping the bag on my laps.
He bent his body to the right and we came down the bridge heading towards Lekki Epe express way. At this point he speeded faster than I’ve ever experienced on a motorcycle. We were coming up to traffic lights and LASTMA officials when the lights turned red, but rather than slow down I felt my body suddenly lurch backwards as he sped towards the junction that was about to be crossed by impatient motorists who had just been given permission to cross.
I think I screamed; I’m not sure, but I peed. He was driving as if he thought we were being followed. I was trying to see where we were going but the wind was rushing at my face so much and forcing water out of my eyes that soon, squinting wasn’t enough and I had to close my eyes.
When I felt us swerve again, leaning dangerously close to the ground, and I heard voices shouting curses at us, I ventured to open my eyes to see where he was going. He had turned off the express way onto the road leading to 1004. He drove up a distance then suddenly did that thing he did at Falomo when he suddenly turned and faced the other side. This time he stopped almost as soon as he turned and when I was still contemplating placing my shaking legs on the ground, a hand reached out of a black Passat parked next to us. His helmet was turned backwards looking at me, waiting for me to hand the money over. I lifted the bag off my feet and tried to look past the hands waiting to get them and into the car. Once the man had the bag in his hand the biker kicked off again, this time almost really making me fall off. I turned to see what the Passat was doing but the biker suddenly shunted in front of oncoming traffic and I had to look forward to know where to ‘fall well’ if I was going to fall. Before I knew it we were back on Lekki Epe expressway speeding towards the new tollgates.
As soon as we passed the tollgates he stopped, in the middle of the road, and nodded for me to get off. Apart from the fact that it was the middle of Lekki Epe expressway and I wasn’t ready to be hit by bankers rushing to get to work in VI, I was also acutely aware of the fact that I just handed over twenty-five million naira to a pair of hands in a Passat and I’d not yet collected what I paid for. I stayed put. I didn’t know if he could hear me but I asked all the same. “What off my friends?” I shouted into his helmet.
He didn’t answer me. He shook the bike as if to scare me to get off – big mistake. I wrapped my hands around his body tightly and I screamed into his helmet again.
He let go of the handles and tried to peel my hands off his body. That was when I bit him, or at least tried to, through the think leather thing he was hearing. I didn’t see his elbow coming but I felt it meeting my jaw. I pulled him with me as I fell off his bike and the bike fell with us. He was trying to pull his leg free from under his machine but I wasn’t bothered about mine; I just wanted him to tell me where the people I had paid for were.
I decided to go for his helmet. Somehow I felt unmasking him would defeat him and give me the upper hand. It worked. He stopped fighting me and started struggling to keep his helmet over this head.
As we struggled on the floor I saw people running towards us from the tollgates. Some cars had even parked on the road and their occupants where either part of those coming towards us or they were looking at us waiting to see if they were needed. That is one of the things I love about Nigerians: you cannot beat a woman in public and expect to get away with it. He also saw them coming, some of them with sticks, and this must have made him panic. He left me to trying to get his helmet off and focused all his attention on getting his leg free from under the bike. He succeeded. He got onto his feet, quickly finding that he could not stand well on the leg that had been under the bike, then he looked at me on the floor, and even though his face was covered behind the visor of his helmet, I could feel that he wanted to deal with me.
He looked up at the people rushing towards us. I expected him to pick up his bike and try to get away but he did the most unexpected thing; he started running towards them.
Strangers who a minute ago had been running to help me even though they didn’t know me suddenly parted for him to pass or ran backwards as he charged at them. He sprinted past them through the passage they had made for him and he jumped into a car with the backdoor wide open. The car speeded off screeching.
What I had done was just dawning on me when several people began helping me up and someone, only God knows why, was pouring pure water over my head.
I started searching for my phone, ignoring the several different voices and manners of English asking me what happened. Someone in particular was holding my arm from behind and not letting go. I turned to see who it was and instantly recognised her. It was the policewoman who had tricked me to get me arrested. She was in mufti. What was she doing there? Something told me to look at the other faces around me, around her, and I recognised two or three faces from the police station. I had fucked up! I had fucked up big time! I remembered what John junior told me about the police being involved. I remembered how he warned me not to tell them about the drop off. I felt my head ringing as I realised that Mama or Uncle China or Rotimi had called them. I had fucked up, yet again, and this time Johnny and his friends were going to pay with their lives.
The policewoman and her policemen took charge of the situation, dispersing the crowd by flashing their badges. She asked me if I was ok. I didn’t answer her. She told me I didn’t need to cry; I wasn’t even aware I was.
A silver Peugeot car pulled up to us and they led me inside. She sat in the back with me. We started driving towards VI and I knew I was now truly going to die in their hands.
“Amaka,” she said, “You are a strong woman.”
How do you respond to this? I was between her and an officer, I assumed, who I didn’t recognize. In front in the passenger seat was a short officer I recognized, he was also in mufti, and a lady in police uniform was driving.
“The way you fought that man, not many people would have had mind to challenge him like that.”
I looked at her wondering what it was she wanted from me or wanted me to say.
“We have been following you since morning. We were just waiting for him to drop you so that we can pick you, but when you started to fight him like that we just had to intervene.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We are going to catch all of them today, this morning. The criminals. The kidnappers. We have made contact with them and they will lead us to your friend and his friends.”
I knew it was a trick so I decided to stop talking.
“Amaka, I’m really sorry about everything that happened to you. The commissioner called us. He said Brutus messed with you.”
“Ehn. The night duty officer that, that disturb you.”
“He is facing disciplinary panel. I didn’t know about it, if not I would have disciplined him myself. I am woman too. That kind of thing doesn’t normally use to happen in our station but they just transfer him to us. My sister, you are a woman like me, I cannot ask you to forget what happened, but I’m begging you, please, we will deal with him, just take heart. I didn’t know anything about it.”
What was she on about?
“How did you know about today?” I asked her.
“It is out job. We have been investigating nau.”
“Who told you?”
“Told us to investigate?”
“No. About today. Who called you?”
“Nobody called us.”
“So how did you know about the drop off? You said the commissioner called you.”
“Ehn. We know the commissioner is your friend, but this is our job and it is not before someone calls us to say they have interest in a case before we do our job.”
“But how did you know about today?”
“Amaka, you are really something. Ok, I will tell you. This police work is brain work. You see, when Mr Johnny’s family contacted us to say they didn’t want police involvement, we knew that that means the kidnappers have contacted them, so we started to monitor everything. We got the numbers calling his son and we contacted the kidnappers to tell them that we will hand the matter to the American Embassy if they don’t cooperate. You see, they think they are working with some of our men. We told them that they should share the money with us, unless we will hand over their number and location to the American Embassy.”
“You know where they are?”
“No, but they don’t know that we don’t know. We told them that satellite has pinpoint their location and we can just hand them over to American embassy, but if they cooperate and give us half of the money we would just assist them to collect the money. That is the only way we can get them to expose themselves so that we can retrieve the hostages alive and capture them.”
“You mean you are not working with them?”
“How? I said we pretended to them that we are working with them. The man that you were struggling with is one of us. The people that collected the money are the criminals. We are following them now but we already know where they are. Today today, this morning, they will release your friends to us and we will arrest them.”
“They said they are only releasing Johnny.”
“Yes, that is what they negotiated with our boys because they said that when they share the money with us, the money remaining for them will be too small. But once we share the money they have collected today they will trust us more and we will know where they are keeping Mr Johnny. Don’t worry, all your friends will be free today, but please, tell the commissioner to have mercy on us. Amaka, my husband does not have a job and I have four children and I’m looking after my little sister and my husband’s brother is living with us. It is only my salary from this police work that I’m using to support everybody. Please, Amaka, I am begging you, let bygones be bygones.”
The car was speeding towards VI. I was trying to process what she had just told me.
“Does John know about this?”
“Who? His son? He didn’t know but now our officers would have briefed him by now.
“And you are sure this will work?”
“It is a trick we use all the time. It always works, as long as it is only the team working on the case that knows about it.”
We drove to Ikoyi and by the time I became aware of where we were the driver had turned onto First Avenue.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“The Commissioner of Police said we should bring you to his house,” she said.