Nigeria has been awash in recent times with heart-thumping narratives. Some of the stories are capable of bringing tears to your eyes or laughter to your lips. Whether they are tears of joy or of pain, the truth is that they evoke a mesmerising emotion in you. These stories are stranger than fiction, I have often said that the facts of Nigerian life are actually so fictitious that fiction-writers have had their jobs strictly cut out for them. They can roll and write.
The story of a small man from Nnewi who has by self-confession terrorised people in three countries – Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana – and made billions of Naira, and millions of dollars is still trending. Since his name seems to change with every crime story he narrates – just the way he changes his weapons – let us just stick to the one everyone remembers: Evans. This man who would collect ransom and still keep his captive in legcuff detention now has the temerity of going to court and asking to be freed. Democracy has many fruits. That is one of them.
The Evans story must have already occupied the attention of movie-makers in Nigeria. Very soon we expect a chart-buster movie that will put The Wedding Party in the shade. While there are many stories of horrific and horrendous proportions patented to Evans there is also one story from the Evans factory that hits me like cold water during the hot season: The Donatus Duru story. Donatus Duru is a rich pharmacist who was captured by Evans and his gang. His relations had paid, unknown to him, the sum of N100 million, for his release. Evans insisted they must pay the full sum of one million dollars. They kept him in their detention camp in legchain and only in his underwear. The leg chains would ensure that he cannot escape; the underwear would tell him he will be treated by onlookers as a mad man if he tried to escape. And considering his billionaire status Duru was not expected by the hoodlums to try to find a way out of the seedy place with his guards armed to the teeth. But he did. Adversity is the mother of creativity. It is also the father of experimentation. By some fortuitous circumstance he fiddled with his legcuffs and they fell apart. He fiddled with the back door and the padlock fell apart. He tip-toed out of the place, climbed the fence – still in his boxers’ underwear – and vanished into the night and into freedom. The rest, as it is often said, is history.
This is a story of heroism, of derring do, of courage undeterred, of making a clear choice between the prospect of freedom and the certainty of death, what John Wayne calls “being scared to death and saddling away,” and what Cervantes described as “halfway between rashness and cowardice.” He chose rashness and lived to tell his story of triumph. While Evans may represent the human spirit at its worst, Duru epitomises the human spirit at its best. He is, all things considered, a Nigerian original. Those who bestow awards on people may accept my unsolicited nomination of Donatus Duru as the man of the year. I charge no fee for this service but I expect to be invited to the unveiling of the honouree.
Another heart-gripping story is that of Dr. Idongesit Udom, a man from a humble home, not a silver spoon kid but someone who rose by the gift of sheer brilliance and the dint of hardwork to the top of life’s ladder. He got a Ph.D, worked for the oil giant Exxonmobil and retired on a high. On retirement, he went back to his community in Ukanafun Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State and set up a Polytechnic, Sure Foundation Polytechnic, reputed to be one of the best equipped in the country. By building this transformational edifice he intended that his community and humanity can kill the blight of illiteracy and hug the bright flame of literacy. He could have gone to Dubai and built mansions for making money. He could make yearly primages to centres of pleasure with friends and family in the South of France, the Swiss Alps, Honolulu, Disneyland or nearer home Obudu Cattle Ranch, one of the world’s wonders that is inexplicably underutilised by its own countrymen. He could have done whatever he wanted with his money but he chose to build an edifice that would transform the lives of his people positively and irreversibly.
Some weeks ago the unexpected happened. On his way to church four armed and masked men confronted and took Dr. Udom away. This was a moment of atavistic horror for him because these fellows often carry various impedimenta of horror. He must have descended, at that point, to the gulf of despair because for people of the underworld a casual deployment of violence is the name of the game.
They abductors asked for a ransom of N500 million. His people rustled up N10 million and paid to his abductors. They took the money but, as is their custom, asked for more. When they did not get more money they offered what to them was a brilliant advice: sell the polytechnic. They waited for more money but when they apparently believed they had reached the dead end of hopelessness as far as collecting more cash was concerned they chopped off Udom’s right hand. His face must have been distorted with unmitigated pain. When I spoke to him some days ago he was still in deep pain but in a good spirit. The optimistic outlook arises from the fact that the loss of one hand is better than the loss of one’s life. He can get an artificial hand which is not a perfect substitute. He can learn to use his left hand which is not also a perfect substitute. But a substitute is the next best thing to death and the trauma it would have brought to his family and friends. This may be cold comfort but it is comfort all the same. With his warm disposition to the state in which he is now and the support of a caring family and friends he will learn to cope with life without too much thought of the loss of part of his capability.
In the emerging narrative of crime in Nigeria the debate seems to be whether criminals are born or are made. Is crime in the genes? Do children of criminals invariably become criminals as a matter of course? Or do they walk away from the rough road that their fathers (or mothers) walked? Or do criminals emerge from the hurdles that society places on human beings and therefore make a life of crime a sine qua non for them? Criminologists and other social scientists haven’t quite been able to give precise answers to these puzzles. Why would a gang of a few poor people collect N100 million from one man’s family and still ask for more? Why would four gangsters not be content with the collection of N10 million from a man who worked for a lifetime to save it? Why would less than a dozen people make N400 million from three bullion van robberies and not turn away from the robbery lane? Part of the truth is that no matter how much society takes care of its citizens the criminal still exists; he exists because he thinks that he deserves more than he has got or that there is more where that came from. The other truth is that in the underworld there are actually no sane rules, not the same types of rules that the society arranges for all its people for the purpose of imposing greater sanity on the society.
In the sub-culture of the underworld there is no honour, no integrity, no humaneness, and no sense of fairness, only greed and more greed. That is why Evans and his group would shoot and kill six of their gang members at the sharing venue of their loot. Reason: disagreement on the sharing formula. And six of them died without getting a kobo of the loot they risked their lives for. This is evidence, if any was needed, that there is no honour among thieves. That is why the gang of four would cut a man’s hand after collecting N10 million from his family. That is why they would keep a man unreleased whose family has paid them N100 million. These irrational happenings are a further indication that in the underworld no rational behaviour is to be expected because the instrument of achieving results in the underworld is violence, not reason. Bullets that spit out of the guns do not reason, they do not argue. They simply do what they are asked to do. That is the world in which the Evans of this world live.
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