Why you should care
Nights out in Lagos could be free, fun and easy. Or they could be anything but. This was one of those nights that was anything but.
I heard the repeated rap on the steel gate that barricaded our door. Although I was not asleep, it was past midnight, and I wondered who it could be. My mom’s bedroom window was closest to the gate, and, since she’s a light sleeper, it woke her up.
“Oi, Rotimi, it’s Micky.” I heard my best friend whisper in his British accent. He had schooled in England since he was 7. I opened up.
“Micky J! Ki lo n shele!” I greeted him in our native Yoruba.
No sooner did he step in than the typically calm Micky got a load off his chest.
“You better warn your friend Bola to learn to kiss ass when dealing with the cops. I just spent a good half an hour begging to save his ass. If he wants to get killed by those bloodthirsty cops, he should do it when I’m not there, man. You just have to swallow your pride in this freaking country when dealing with the cops, man.”
The shooters dragged Bola into what turned out to be an unmarked police car as they ordered his other passengers to get into their vehicle.
But a few hours later, Bola, our mutual childhood friend, would be murdered driving a brand-new car owned by his mom. He had a girl who was another childhood friend with him. She was with another female friend, and with some other guys they had gone to enjoy the Lagos nightlife — at a pepper-soup joint — having a few drinks, chatting away. There was nothing else teenagers could do, since we were all home again because our universities were shut down under the brutal dictator Sani Abacha.
There was nothing unusual about the night. Until Bola noticed a black car following them after he’d dropped off the girls. Ikeja, the capital of Lagos state, had experienced sporadic attacks from armed robbers who terrorized residents indulging in the festive nightlife of Lagos, usually on their way back home. But the robbers didn’t kill you. They robbed you. They let you go. Mostly because they wanted the festivities to continue, since unencumbering the party people of some cash, jewelry and expensive watches was a steady source of income.
So Bola assumed the black car tailing them was filled with robbers. But the university students had no money on them. Sometimes the robbers beat you black-and-blue, and the occupants of his car did not want that. Bola stepped on the gas, trying to escape them. Although he was not far from his house, he drove away from it, since he would not lead robbers to his home to terrorize his neighborhood or his mother.
Eventually, alarmed that the car kept pursuing and now convinced that they were being tailed by robbers, he turned into a hospital, thinking he ducked them. However, this was a blind alley, and the car showed up soon after. Cornered and afraid, Bola came out of his car with his hands raised in surrender to show they were ready to do whatever the robbers requested.
But under the glare of the bright headlights the occupants heard a sudden burst of gunshots, and Bola grabbed at his chest. Another person in the car was hit in the leg by a bullet. The shooters dragged Bola into what turned out to be an unmarked police car as they ordered his other passengers to get into their vehicle. After being driven for a short distance, they were transferred into a pickup truck, and carried along for the rest of the patrol that night. Bola, still alive, bled profusely from the chest.
After their patrol, the police threw the injured Bola and his two friends into a cell. Bola was handcuffed to a balustrade, while, in the early hours of the morning, alarmed that he hadn’t returned home, Bola’s mother went to the nearby police station to file a missing persons report — at the same jail where the cops who had shot him had him shackled. The next time his mother would see him was after she’d been informed that her car had been found and was at the station, many hours later.
She found his bloodied corpse dumped in the trunk of her car.
Micky told me of their initial encounter with the cops. He’d been driving his own car behind Bola’s when they stopped at a police checkpoint. While ostensibly the procedure should have been simply for the cops to verify that car documents are in order, the real reason the cops stop you at the checkpoint is to collect egunje, a bribe.
“You are posing because you have girls in your car? Wait and see. I will deal with you!”
But the teenage Bola, an economics major at the university, who dreamed of helping to modernize Nigeria’s economy, wouldn’t have any of it. He provided all the documents he was asked for. His vehicle registration papers were in perfect order, given that his father owned one of the largest and most renowned car dealerships in Nigeria.
Frustrated that Bola was not simply going to give them the egunje, the cops started in on him.
“Wetin dey do you wey you dey make yanga?” He yelled in pidgin, challenging Bola’s seeming aloofness and refusal to bribe the cops. “Do you think only your father is rich? My father is rich too. Do not think I do not have a rich father because I am doing this job. I am doing it because I am a man. And I will deal with you. You are posing because you have girls in your car? Wait and see. I will deal with you!”
As Micky later humorously mimicked the frustrated comments of the corrupt cop, the threats should have been taken seriously.
Because about 48 hours after Micky first informed me of their encounter, he returned and announced, “Bola is dead.”
My constantly grinning skinny friend, Bola, was one of those guys that everyone just liked. But the jealous crooked cop had promised: “I will deal with you.”
And he had.