It was 1st of February, 2020, the first day of the implementation of the Lagos State ban of specific private-public means of transportation based on public safety, in six out of 20 local government areas in the State. This ban affected Surulere, Lagos Mainland, Lagos Island, Ikeja, Eti Osa and Apapa. Everyone was aware of the ban, and most of us anticipated a traffic-free Lagos, but never fully understood the fact that crime and insecurity would increase simultaneously.
It was a Saturday evening, and my sister – Abimbola had gone for her usual choir practice. With the traffic situation and failed attempt at transportation, she began to walk, from Lawanson bus-stop to the house. Right in the middle of the road, with people hustling and trading, six boys accosted her. They began to slap and punch her in the face to make her confused and probably make her not to recognize any of them. She immediately went breathless. Staying alive was the one thing she must do. In that split second, she tried calling attention to herself by screaming for help. Every shop owner on that road saw what was happening, but no one helped. The more she screamed for help, the more they beat her silly, till they successfully pushed her to the floor and left with her handbag. For fear that they might still be on that side of the road, she crossed to the other hand, reported to the stationed mobile police, who chased after the boys and ran back to the bus-stop. It was like a bad dream.
I got a call at about 8:30 pm from Oando filling station, Lawanson and I could barely hear the caller. I assumed it was a terrible mobile network, so I dropped the call. Then, my immediate younger sister, Dayo called and said, “Abimbola got robbed at Lawanson, please go look for her”.
Now, Abimbola is the baby of the house, quick to tears and an incredibly fragile child. She is that child who believes this world is safe and nothing terrible exist in it. I rolled my eyes and screamed out in sheer frustration. I realized why I couldn’t hear a thing from the earlier caller. Knowing the hummingbird, I have for a sister before somebody steals her at the bus stop, I left to find her. My friend, Joan, opted to follow.
It was the most frustrating day of my life. The traffic was terrible. We had to run the stretch of the road to my sister. When I saw her, my heart melted. She was in such a horrible state, and I couldn’t help it. I cried too. I scanned her from head to toe; I realized why she was an easy target. Last born, ajebutter, all dressed in yellow and blue, with all those fine jewellery sitting on the right places, revealing her very slender frame.
I was almost scolding her if she needed a WhatsApp message from our dad to tell her to be safe and never to walk at night in a location she’s never walked before? I held my tongue. It could have been worse. Thank God, it is just a handbag. She then added, Sister Toyo, it is your handbag I carried. I pretended as if I was deaf. Which handbag? You must be joking, right? No. I am not kidding. I took your handbag she said, in tears. I was like, why did you carry my bag today of all days? Did I permit you? She cried the more, I knew that was insensitive of me, but I was pained. As she recounted all they stole from her, what pained me in everything was my handbag.
I took her to the police station to complain about the robbery. The police report will be a requirement for replacement of her valid Identity and ATM cards. My sister kept mourning the loss of her iPhone X as though someone died. I rolled my eyes. The police station was almost a mistake. The policeman we met was the only one in the whole station. He dared to tell us we disturbed his sleep and couldn’t we have gone to a better station.
I repeated in a higher decibel, find a notebook and take down the complaint of this robbery, if you don’t want me to go to the PPRO (Police Public Relation Officer) on Monday. He lazily stood up and took our complaint. He wrote in a new notebook upside down, I practically spelt every word for him, till I told my sister, this is just hopeless. Let’s get out of here.
As we left the station, I saw a boy in his teens sitting in front of his house. The way he spread himself on the chair, the confidence was annoying. How can someone fearlessly sit like this? Then, it struck me. There was this slight possibility that one can get back any stolen item if one knows any of the area boys or the Crime Boss. I somehow felt the Sherlock Holmes mood and swung into action.
I approached him. My already petrified sister began to pinch me that we needed to exit that place as soon as possible. She began to irritate me. Who would blame her, na she chop slaps! Between this boy and my sister, I knew I had to discard my sister. We took her home.
Joan knew I was unrelenting – and she is such a good person – without a word, she followed me back to engage the boy on that street. It was 10:00 pm. Now, this young man realized I wasn’t bluffing. I assured him, I won’t involve the police and he can help a sister, after all, we all are partners in progress. I must state, at this time, I had just a Nokia torchlight phone on me, I wore bathroom slippers, no jewellery and no flashy outfit. A domestic worker must have looked better. He wondered how my sister and I could be siblings. I told him not to forget that Lagos was all about packaging. I introduced myself as Oluwatoyosi, but he could call me Toyosi. He told me his name was Femi. I immediately asked for the Crime Boss. Femi laughed and said I couldn’t handle it; I told him to try me. He looked at me; I stared back. He called a friend Jide, and they told me, boys who weren’t from that area were the ones who robbed my sister.
So he asked me five times with spit splashing all over my face if I was brave. I told him, I was the brand ambassador of the fearless clan. He said I must stick to the story that I came to visit his mum-my aunt, and got robbed. (Things were getting complicated and Joan held onto my hands tightly. Without giving it a thought, I was darn sure; if Abimbola were with us, she would never ever agree to this. So that was how I not only became a sister to Femi overnight, I also took over the person of Abimbola. After all, lawyer na my work, we sabi act well well). Femi had a clue of who the thieves were, and we began the search from one dead street to the other. We combed about 20 streets from Lawanson down to Ogunlana drive.
There was a place we got to; the police had just raided the area. Haa Toyo! You sha want to land inside trouble? World people will not understand it is your sister phone or a handbag that brought you to a place like this at this time of the night o! Invoking God’s presence, I did the sign of the cross three times. What could have happened if I had carelessly walked into the scene in the company of Femi and Lekan, while the police raided, was just unthinkable!
Lagos at night is another world, a place that fascinated and shocked me. As though some people were on the night shift to serve men of the underworld. Everybody knew everybody. From prostitute to horrifying-looking men and extremely loud women. I was a misfit, even in my ragged clothing. Every eye cautiously turned as I walked. I had this “don’t even think about it” look, and people could tell Sherlock Holmes was on the street. If by any chance the valley of the shadow of death of psalm 23 ever existed, THIS WAS IT.
It was that day; I knew that robbers have levels. Thieves knew themselves. It was more of a shock, knowing petty thieves paid a royalty to bigger thieves. In this way, everyone covered everyone’s tracks. I could not stop thinking of the destinies destroyed here, as the boys were young boys of ages 16-19. It was 11:00 pm. The spirit of fear told me to go back home and forget about the handbag, but by this time, I had sized them all up.
My sister Dayo called every 2-3mins to be sure I was safe and to continually give me the live update of how the phone moved from street to street. All the while, the robbers thought they had landed a good deal and tried multiple times to put off Abimbola’s phone, Dayo used her own iPhone to put it on. After tracking the phone from street to street, we weren’t successful finding the thief. I soon gave up.
Femi and Lekan told me to go home. They promised to call when they found the phone. I gave them my number. I and Joan, who had silently accompanied me, made way home. We got back at 11:21 pm. As I was about to relax, convincing myself that I did my best, my phone rang, they had found the phone, at a place I learnt was called the “Dark Nightspot” for gangs. He told me that if I was still the head of the fearless clan, I could retrieve the phone with just ₦3,000.
I smiled at the thought of ordinary ₦3,000 compared to the value of the phone. I almost said I’d give you ₦5,000 then I remembered I was role-playing. I quickly asked what kind of exorbitant ransom was that? Where would I get it from, I lamented. I sharply said I would go and ask a neighbour. I dropped the call. After 12mins, the phone rang again, and I was confident they had found the phone. I told them I was only able to borrow ₦1,500, and that was it. He asked that I make it ₦2,000 as the Crime Boss wouldn’t release the phone without a token. I wasted some more time; then I returned the call, that I had hustled to get ₦2,000.
They warned me not to even come with a guy, or anyone other than myself. While walking down, I was also instructed to put my hands on my head, leaving a space of two meters between I and Joan. Joan was like Toyosi; you must be finally mad to want to go out. Shey ori e o buru sha?” which means “Are you sure your head still functions well”? Abimbola was already sleeping. We alerted no one. We sneaked out of the house, observed social distancing and walked on with our hands on our heads.
We walked through a market, through the abattoir, we passed the heart of the market where Hausa’s keep their wares and sleep with it (what a life) to the Dark Nightspot. We got to the point that looked like an entrance to a canal bridge or so, Femi and Lekan moved no further. In as much as there was light, the place was still so dark; I couldn’t see what was ahead. I asked Joan, can you see? She whispered, I don’t have my glasses here. Lobatan! Awon afoju, ni ilu afoju. They took us to the Crime Boss. Though he didn’t come out, he sent a spoke person. I moved some feet ahead of Joan as I recounted my sister’s ordeal as mine, and I said I knew who slapped me and took my bag. Something just told me to point my hand to the guy who leaned on the wall as one of the robbers who punched my stomach. The guy was scared.
I silently asked myself, Toyo, are you mad? When did you become so daring? I made no eye contact, but I held a stern look at the darkness.
That was how the spoke person took back my message to the Crime Boss, as he was going back into the end of Dark Nightspot, I made moves to follow him. That was the point Joan moved swiftly to drag me back. She was like; I have kept quiet all these while and followed you so that you won’t die, I have to make sure Toyosi doesn’t get both of us raped and killed. That was the point I suddenly remembered I was female, somebody’s daughter and not James Bond. I became very humble, though I still moved some steps ahead of Joan.
The spoke person came back with just the iPhone and demanded anything for the boys. Anything for the boys ke? Abi e moti yo ni? Where is my ogbonge Sussen handbag with all its contents? He had the guts to tell me; they had thrown the bag and all the ID and ATM cards into the canal. Ha, handbag mi! I needed to create a scene here, so I said there was also ₦4,700 inside the bag, where was it? And war almost broke out because the petty thief did not deliver that money to Crime Boss.
There and there, the spirit of stubbornness entered my soul. I told them that I wouldn’t give them all of the ₦2,000 but ₦1,000 and demanded an apology that they had caused me grief. The spokesperson hailed me in Yoruba as a boss woman and apologized, all because of ₦1,000. I still did shakara. That moment I realized I didn’t know our way out; I became humble again. I had to think about Joan. I gave out the remaining ₦1,000. We got out of the Dark Nightspot through the valley of the shadow of death at 12:40 am. Surprisingly, we found a mini-bus and got home with Abimbola’s iPhone at 12:54 am.
I was disappointed I didn’t get my priceless handbag because it was the bag that gave me that unholy bravery. I woke Abimbola up, and I gave her the iPhone. She was dazed, then became all mushy, mushy, and kept on hugging and kissing me, saying you are the best sister in the world. Sister, Toyo, I love you. I warned her straight up; never you carry my handbags again. You owe me that till you die.
I was damn crazy to think I could solve the crime and retrieve my handbag. Till date, when we pray in the morning, my mother asks God explicitly to rebuke such spirit from me and order my steps.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
WORDS AND THEIR MEANING
Ajebutter – “Someone who has no clue about how harsh the world is”
Na – means “it is”
Sabi – “to know” or “to know how”
Well well – emphasis for “very well”
Sha – exclamation
Lobatan – “It is now finished”
Awon afoju, ni ilu afoju – “the blind, in the land of the blind”
Anything for the boys – “a token”
Ke – for emphasis
Abi e moti yo ni? – “Are you guys drunk?”
ogbonge – “gorgeous” or outstanding”
Handbag mi – “my handbag”
Shakara – “self-conceit”