The more things change, they say, the more they remain the same. We Far Northerners can’t travel much to Abuja these days because of the fear of sophisticated kidnappers (but alhamdu lilLah for the Abuja-Kaduna train). Ten years ago, the story was no different, as it was the ‘primitive’ armed robbers we feared. So, on this Tenth Anniversary of the loss of my KIA to armed robbers at Gun Point at Tafa Yam Point, I revisit my lament ‘NOW WE CAN’T EVEN BUY YAM’, published on this page early March 2008.
Last Sunday [early March 2008], my car had stopped at 12 NOON (yes, 12 noon) a little after Tafa on Abuja to Kaduna Expressway, just to buy yam. Is it wrong to buy yam? With hindsight, it is apparently now a miscalculation to stop and buy yam on the road, at noon. Even though Nigerians love yam. And the poor yam sellers need the business. And the nation needs the jobs so created.
Most likely, the armed robbers were trailing my car, an ash-coloured almost brand-new KIA CERATO with registration number KANO AA 723 WRA. Noticing that all attention was on the haggling of the price of yam, the robbers had stealthily approached and had suddenly shoved guns at the sides of my driver and of my brother. When the crowd noticed what was happening, the armed robbers screamed that all should lie prostrate on the ground, much as the nation lies prostrate. Some of the women yam sellers started screaming in abject fear, relative to their abject poverty. So the robbers shot seven times into the air, apparently one shot per each of the nation’s 7-Point Agenda. Helter-skelter, pandemonium, chaos.
The robbers bundled my driver and my brother into the car at gunpoint, while another robber took the wheel and headed Kaduna-ward, screaming: ‘Where is the security?’ ‘We are going to kill you!’ while continuously beating my people on the head and body with the butts of guns. The robbers were told there was no security on the car, yet they continued to beat the heavens out of them. When they assured themselves there really was no electronic security on the car (such as that would cut off the fuel supply), the robbers made their way into the bush, gave my people more thorough beating, took everything they had – caps, wristwatches, money, handsets, slippers, glasses, everything – beat them some more, and pushed them out of the car. They ordered them not to look back, or they would be shot. My people did not, could not.
The robbers drove back onto the road. Eyewitnesses report that they drove on the wrong side of the road for several kilometres. It is said they were even accosted by a Police patrol, but they apparently explained themselves. They continued to drive on that same one-way until they reached a u-turn. They then took the way back to Abuja; glaringly passing by the yam-point they had a few minutes earlier attacked act at gun-point.
Everyone saw them drive by at top speed. But alhamdu lilLah no life was lost, and there was no major injury. Except for the trauma, the shock, the absolute disbelief that such a thing could be perpetrated at 12 noon on a major highway by robbers who did not even care to don masks! By the Rule of Law! By Lawlessness!
Several months ago, I had lamented on these pages how my South African medical doctor friend, Dr. Fakroodin, once stated that in his country, the innocents live behind bars and the criminals, who should be the ones behind bars, roam free. That was in 2001 when I was at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban. During those days, South Africa’s major commercial centre, Johannesburg, used to be referred to as the world’s crime capital. Behavioural scientists had always rationalised South Africa’s then raging crime rate as backlash from black Africans who had been so short-changed during the apartheid years.
When I left South Africa and returned home fully, I realised that if that country was the frying pan as far as insecurity is concerned, my own country is the fire. In no time, I had learnt how to enhance personal security. I started out with seven padlocks on my main gate, which doubles as both a garage and entry door. To be able to enter my garage and park my car, I would need to struggle with a bunch of keys so heavy and cumbersome no pocket could easily carry them. The locks and the keys are numbered for ‘ease of reference’, and it has become quite a task going through the same mundane motion every evening and morning.
Most Nigerians know that all the safeguards we employ are there just for the emotional reassurance. For most Nigerians, there is this foreboding dread that it is just a matter of time before it comes to their turn to pay their ‘dues’ in this most horrible of all injustices: armed robbery. No one sleeps with any assurance of safety and security in this country, except for the very few who occupy the haloed spaces called State or Government Houses.
A lighted environment is a securer environment. But to make matters worse, due to inadequate electricity, Nigeria is the darkest country on earth (both figuratively and literally). Since there is no light, most people just go to bed as a perfunctory requirement of the human body, not to relax or sleep, but just to wait for tomorrow.
The Yam-Point Gun-Point Tafa robbery at noon was not the first in this writer’s experience. In 2000, fresh from another sojourn overseas, I was a victim of highway robbery on the same Abuja-Kaduna road. The ‘operation’ occurred at dusk, when it was still light, not too far from the Kaduna-end tollgate. My then driver, David of the Convoy, was so traumatised that I had to act driver for several days afterward. It was then that I learnt from David the Christian equivalent of our Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Raji’un! He had been chanting and invoking ‘By the blood of Jesus’!
Back then in 2000, the next morning after the robbery I had gone to see the then Kaduna State Commissioner of Police to lodge a complaint. When I explained to him what happened and where, his reaction was more shocking than the robbery itself. After he himself described the contours of the road and the surrounding bushes to ensure he had got the correct location, to which I concurred, the CoP had said: “Shegu! Kullum a daidai nan su ke wannan iskancin!” (Bastards! That’s where they perpetrate their dastardly acts). He even knew the place, which meant it was preventable.
That spot just before the Kaduna-end tollgate on the Abuja to Kaduna Expressway had been notorious for several years, yet the Police did not deem it fit or proper to establish a permanent station or outpost at that place. One wonders whether one will ever be safe in this country.
All that now fades into history as the trauma of that Sunday hit home. In the broad daylight of 12 noon. At Tafa, the most crowded of all roadside towns. At yam point. At gun point. We had dutifully reported to the police. As at the time of filing this report, there has been no report of the sighting of my car, that lovely ash-coloured KIA CERATO. My KIA! My Ash-Coloured KIA. Ash! Remnant of fire. Hellfire. For the armed robbers. Allah Ya isa!
EPILOGUE: Ten years on, there has still been no sighting of my KIA, but alhamdu lilLah we are still alive!