Inyene walked home with Oseiwe, a tall brutish boy with large forearms and Dokiwari who was the exact opposite, he was short and slender. Their laughter scattered about the lonely road like seeds in the wind and their legs dragged noisily on the ground. Their bellies were filled with alcohol which Inyene sponsored with the money he made from stealing. They couldn’t see well, their eyes were dirty. Growing up in Port Harcourt Inyene fell in love with the vainglorious lifestyles of gang members, their stories and reckless way of living excited him, there was also the danger which he found thrilling. The only link he had to a gang was his friend Adiele; Adiele was a bad egg that most mothers despised. Adiele’s older cousin was also the leader of a notorious gang.
It was known around parts of Rumuokogi that being part of a gang was almost a do or die affair, especially for boys about to enter the university. There were places one couldn’t go because they were claimed by certain gangs, it was hard to move without being in the bracket of a gang and it was frustrating for boys who needed freedom. Inyene and his friends joked about blending, for the thrill of it, but Inyene meant it more. It didn’t take long before jokes turned to reality and they were initiated after Inyene convinced them to go together. Together they had gone to the market to purchase the materials needed for their initiation, a cotton white shirt, black pants and a handkerchief. Their initiation was something they never imagined; they were alienated in a forest and then flayed into rebirth. The sound of metal and fist meeting bare, unprotected flesh was like an industrial process, but it was what it took to belong. They took lashes until they almost weren’t breathing, after that a man came and sliced their thumbs open for a blood oath they recited with shaky voices. Other incisions were made on their body and then they were fortified with charms. For days Inyene could not sit or lay on his back else the rest of his skin clamped bloodily to the bed, he avoided his family’s gaze and remained sequestered in his room until he regained strength.
It was not over; to complete his initiation Inyene had to achieve something. An achievement is a crime committed to prove zeal to belong to the gang. To prove his mettle Inyene stalked a hostel and then strolled into it. At the gate he surveyed the environment, the compound was graveyard silent. Inyene reckoned most of the students were out for lectures and the ones indoors were fast asleep in the heat, or high like most students did to pass time. As he ambled around the compound he found a small generator at a corner at the back of the lodge and used a T-shirt he saw on the clothes hanger to carry it away on his head. The hairs on his neck stood as he walked, he suddenly became really aware of his surroundings and as he moved the pitter-patter of his feet made his heart go gbim-gbim. If there was one thing he feared it was the jungle justice that naturally followed being caught. Were he caught he will have been beaten and set ablaze. As he sold the generator and felt the money in his palm his heart beat even faster.
After a long day of shining the sun in the sky was nothing but an orange patch, the night was fast approaching. Oseiwe and Dokiwari stood at the mouth of the road where students took as a shortcut to their hostels, they had been unlucky with participants in their little game but it seemed like luck was about to shine on them with the two girls they saw returning from lectures. When the women noticed them it was late, the boys jumped into their faces, salivating. “Give me your handbag,” Oseiwe said. They were hesitant, “I’m sorry who do you guys think you are?” the second girl asked, barely frightened by the mere sight of the boys, unlike her friend who was visibly shaking. Dokiwari gave her a slap that changed the colour of her eyes from white to red and shut her up. The girls, in tears, surrendered their belongings.
“You should have seen their faces,” Oseiwe said. He had a bright smile on his face, his hand around Dokiwari’s neck as he limned the story. Inyene and Dokiwari listened, each with enthusiastic smiles on their faces. To them it felt well, to finally have some powers, they felt they could go anywhere.
Three boys approached from the other end of the road. None of them could see their faces but the boys on seeing them drew visible weapons out and increased their pace. Inyene saw them and recognized the one wielding a machete, it was his neighbour. “Felix,” Inyene mouthed, too in shock to move.
Felix a tall, lanky boy with an afro paused when he recognized Inyene but the boys in his company advanced, one held a plank and the other a large bottle. Before Inyene turned to the side Dokiwari and Oseiwe had taken to their heels. He was alone. It was late to run and so he stood his ground, he was too weak to move, anyway, alcohol held his legs firm to the ground. Inyene turned to face his fate and it met him with a bottle on his head. Inyene saw the glass shatter and closed his eyes in anticipation of the stab on his face but instead, he felt punches in his stomach. Six times Inyene felt blows on different parts of his stomach. When the boy finally let go of Inyene he staggered back and fell to the ground with a thump, his left leg twisted to the back and his hands were on his stomach. Inyene raised his hands and saw red, on his shirt, and on the floor. Three figures walked up and stared at him and then they ran off. Inyene sucked in his breath, he tried to scream but his voice failed; the chill of death was in the air as he lay wet on the floor. Shortly, for reasons unknown he felt like he was floating and moving at a fast pace, he opened his eyes and the sky was a swirl of blue fading into grey. Inyene blinked fighting the urge to close his eyes for fear that he will never open them again, finally, his body betrayed him and then he slept.
He later woke with a start; he tried to run but was held down by strong hands, his father. His mother and sisters were by the side of his bed. They were in tears. “What happened?” his father asked, “an old lady found you by the roadside; she wrapped your body with wrappers and then begged a Good Samaritan who carried you on his back and ran to a nearby hospital.”
Inyene began to cry.
Killers think differently, the way a man can sit and suddenly feel a crave to eat is the same way a killer suddenly wants to kill, it’s an itch in the bone marrow too out of reach to scratch, satisfaction can only be gotten from carrying out the act. Adiele was itching.
He had been bored at home since he returned from school, his fingers itched and his mind raced. He tried to take a nap but that didn’t work, he ate but crave ran deep and wouldn’t leave, he smoked grass to calm his nerves but it didn’t work and Adiele laughed because he knew it was a different high he wanted. It took seventeen hours for a day to become dark and Adiele had spent only twelve hours. He had five more of restlessness and it felt like he was going to run mad. He pranced and paced. “What is wrong?” his mother asked, but he ignored her prying. He searched corners, crevices, every empty cupboard and under the furniture, the top and the bottom of the house for nothing in particular. Finally, he took a shower. It worked, his body cool down and then he slept for 4 hours and woke up with restlessness still in his blood, but it was night time. He slinked out of the house after tucking his gun into his pants.
Adiele stood at a corner cloaked by the thickness of the night watching for any victim of his random thoughts. Women were easy, he didn’t consider them tasking and he derived no satisfaction when he robbed or killed them. But it felt good to strip men of their power and watch their eyes beg, it made Adiele’s cock hard. Every now and then a streetcar rattled past the tarred roads and his eyes followed as it whirled. His eyes flickered in the headlights and dimmed in the dark like a cat. Adiele watched and took his time to choose.
A thickset man made his way across the busy road, he walked briskly but it didn’t seem like he was in haste. In one hand he held a black bag and in his other, he fiddled with his phone. The light reflecting on his face showed he was in his mid-forties; he had a moustache and little beard under his chin. He was probably a husband, father, brother, son? he had much to lose and Adiele chose him. Like a cheetah spotting its prey, Adiele crept out of the crack and tailed him down the lonely road he was heading. Occasionally the man turned around or looked over his shoulders but every time Adiele dodged into the night. Adiele tailed the man until he caught up with him at an intersection, a perfect place to rob him and if he refused to cooperate to kill him. It was a crucial moment and there was a good amount of fear in Adiele’s heart to stop him but he put the feelings aside. Adiele went up to the man but before he took out his gun the man turned.
“Hey, what are you doing around here by this time of the night?” the man asked. Adiele froze, he looked down and saw the silver lining in Adiele’s boxers and gasped, he stepped back, dropping the contents in his hands. “I am going home to my family please, don’t do it, don’t do it.”
“Give me your wallet,” Adiele said, drew the gun, hesitated and then pulled the trigger.
Guns got on the streets because people who sell to the government sell to civilians like every other business, if you want, you get. The police scratch off the serial numbers and sell guns to civilians, army men take guns to the ghetto and show boys how to use it, movies show boys how to use guns. Without a systematic setup, things will crumble to the ground. Everything that happens is to ensure life’s continuity, to ensure a balance of things. Good and evil, black and white, Ying and yang. Not every man you see makes money from how he said he did after all society made it clear that it doesn’t matter where you get money from, as long as you have it. Crime will thrive simply for it.
Okogwu’s face was fleshy but stern, he didn’t look like an everyday armed robber but he was hardened. As he spoke a cigarette dangled from his mouth, on his right hand as he gesticulated was his favourite piece, a silver Glock-45 he swore by. “God is good all the time. Sometimes there will be plenty and sometimes there shall be empty but we will always ball, however brief. It doesn’t matter where you get armoured trucks carrying a lot of fucking cash to deposit in the bank as long as you robbed it successfully,” Okogwu said and laughed maniacally while throwing bundles of naira in the air, he was hysterical. Robberies gave Okogwu genuine joy. He had handled several operations from Rumuola, Aba expressway and other major routes in the South and even though in all his operations he feared for his life, still, he never stopped.
“I think it’s wise we burn the truck because it can mean trouble later, the police can use it evidence to pin us to the robbery,” Haye said. He was the second in command and the only one who can speak directly to bloodthirsty Okogwu. The reason Okogwu respected Haye was because he knew Haye did not care about living or dying. “We already have the money.”
Okogwu pointed his gun at Haye and took it off safety. “The need is that it’s a trophy, my trophy, I want to see that truck every day to remind me, it makes me hard I want to open the fuel tank and fuck it,”
“Don’t point that thing at my face.”
They both eyeballed each other until Okogwu laughed and levelled his aim.
“I was joking.”
The armoured truck was the easiest heist Okogwu pulled; other times he and his gang held up luxurious buses and small cars that passed along Rumokoro road, they ran into apartments, did kidnaps. Okogwu always told his gang to be patient beautiful things will come if they stayed true to the game, the armoured truck was it. Holding it didn’t take more than two minutes. Okogwu’s informants informed him well, a huge deposit was to be transferred and the truck was to pass Rumuogi to avoid being noticed. All Okogwu had to do was lay work and get paid, and so did he, Fifty-five million in cash.
The robbery made Okogwu a legend; but he rose to fame as a guy who found wealth early in life, it looked good, a fine young man with so much cash happened every time in Nigeria. It seemed even more normal with a wife.
Belema was a pastor’s daughter on the path to convert Okogwu but fell heels behind head for him. Belema knew Okogwu in and out and even the fact that he was an armed robber but she still she stayed with him and always prayed, with fear in her heart, for his return. Belema was beautiful, petite with a smile that crippled most men. She was good-natured and kind, everyone spoke well of her around and not a bad word was said.
After a spree of reckless spending Okogwu’s funds ran low and then agitation crept in, He began planning for his next hit, this time he wanted a bank and needed as much help as he could get since he fought with most of his gang. His cousin, Adiele, was who he had in mind to help. Adiele, for a long time, itched to be a part of his operations and time had come for him to prove himself. He remembered vividly how Adiele showed elation as he taught him how to use a gun and the look in his eyes when he finally gave it to him to handle.
It was the first thing Adiele told his friends when they gathered at the back of their secondary school. “My bro yarn me say if any of my friends get mind to blend into the crew no problem, the guy show me better strap tell me say more dey if only guys get that kind mind, you understand.”
They leant against a fence smoking Pall Mall cigarettes. “You know those SS3B boys don join one or two to gain respect, soon dem go dey voltage for una,”
“Ah go like get my own iron, I go play pool for downtown and those boys all of dem don dey the thing so now I no fit branch that side again,” Oseiwe said.
“I swear down, better iron go make sense, make me feel safe for town because too many bastards,” Dokiwari said, “Man like me gats blend up quickly, tell your bro say my mind dey.”
Only Inyene didn’t show strong interest. “How the initiation dey go?”
“You never watch that Issakaba film? dem go give you some jazz for protection and then you go swear,” Adiele said, “After that, you go need to achieve one or two solo operations, if dem catch you, you must keep your mouth shut and take the beating.”
“Big operation or small operation,”
“You don do your own?” Dokiwari asked Adiele.
“I slap two women collect their phones but that one no do me so I rob two guys for Atm with iron my cousin give me,” Adiele said, with a smile on his face.
“You just dey whine us, you no fit.” Inyene said.
“You don murd person?” Dokiwari asked.
“No dey ask me stupid questions, I don prove myself.”
Silence, save for the hum of nature, befell them. “My own mind dey,” Dokiwari said, breaking through.
“When three of you are ready let me know.”
Okogwu and Belema had a big fight and the first thing she did was took a gun and pointed it at him; during their struggle, a shot let off. Later that same day the police visited Okogwu’s home; his neighbours alerted them.
Belema spoke to the police. She smiled and explained that it was a loud crash caused by a big pot that fell and not a gun. The men were hesitant; they peeked inside the door and said they wanted to search from top to bottom. “Madam your husband is a rich man, we are sure to find something.”
Belema understood. She offered them a bribe which they took and then left. But every Nigerian knew it was better for the police not to visit because they will return, especially when they know a person is rich. And they did after two days asking for more money or they searched the whole house. It infuriated Belema, “I will not give you a single farthing more and I will need to see a permit,” She said, to the inspector and his crooked looking comrades.
“Well, fine, if you say so madam we are just doing our jobs, everyone says your husband is hardened,” The Inspector said, he had a smug on his face that revealed his crooked teeth. They went back and returned with the permit. They searched Okogwu’s house and found nothing; except the truck in the garage and in its trunk guns and the blueprint of a bank. Belema was bundled away to write a formal statement, the house was locked until further notice. Okogwu got wind of the matter, avoided his home and absconded.
On his way out of town he remembered his favourite gun, he just couldn’t leave town without it and so he returned. At midnight Okogwu crept into his compound with a mind to head into his bedroom to take the gun where he hid it separately. He scaled the fence noiselessly and moved with stealth. Everything seemed fine, but as he came out of the house he heard guns cock in unison in front of him, the police laid an ambush.
Photo credit: Marcus Bleasdale