The Accidental Spy (Part 1)
I have been out of job for the past 6 months. Things are so difficult that I have to move in with a friend in one of the slums around the busy Idumota market in Lagos. My friend’s name is Seyi, but I was shocked when he told me never to call him Seyi, he said his name is now Spironto. I asked him what it meant and he tried to explain to me, but his explanation was too bizarre to be remembered, I just want to concentrate my brain power on getting that new job. Spironto works as a baggage boy in Idumota, his job is basic, help people move their heavy luggages from one point to another, without asking questions and get paid for it. Of course sometimes the luggages are within the law, but most times, the contents of the luggages are way above what the law allows. Spironto makes about 1, 000 naira (less than 10 USD) on the legal luggages and makes about 15, 000 (100 USD) on the illegal ones. They also have these terms they use to describe the luggages, if you want him to move a legal luggage for you, you call it “Fufu” and illegal luggages are called “Ororo”. It wasn’t long before I had to join him in his trade. But I told him I don’t have the wit and experience to start moving Ororo yet, so I just moved Fufu.
After about a month of moving “Fufu”, I decided to move “Ororo” for a change. The danger in moving “Ororo” is that, if the goods was seized by the Customs or the Police Officers, you MUST pay the bail on them. If they are not bailable, you must refund the owner. The consequences of not doing both are grave. A lot of people who move “Ororo” have suddenly disappeared without trace. There is this fable that if you move “Ororo” long enough, you can buy a house on Banana Island; so it is popularly believed that those that disappeared are actually living a good life in Banana Island. But Spironto swore to me that he has witnessed an “Ororo” boy being beaten to death and being thrown into the nearby lagoon.
Well, I was moving my first “Ororo” when I saw it happen for the first time. It was getting late, I was moving the “Ororo” to a part of Idumota I have never been, mostly because of the stories of the evils that go down there, especially at night. Anyway, this guy came to his car, he was carrying a bag, as he took his keys out to open the car, I heard a shout of “Oga fire dey under your motor, fire, fire, Oga, fire dey under your motor” (which means, Sir, there’s fire under your car). I quickly ran into a shop and told the owner, “Ororo ni mo gbe” (I am carrying Ororo), he said “Elo?” (How much), I said “Owo kan abo” (literally it means – One hand and a half, but translated it means 1, 500 naira). He said “Owo meji abo” (2, 500), I thought quickly and said Ok. He opened a back door, and I dropped my luggage, I also gave him 2, 500 naira and I quickly dashed out. To my surprise, there was no pandemonium outside, there were a few boys around the man’s car trying to help him put out the fire (or so I thought at first), but other than that, people were moving about their businesses as usual.
After about 2 mins, the fire stopped. Someone had sprayed a generous doze of fire extinguisher gas on the fire, there was a hazy smoke in the air and when the smoke cleared, all the boys have disappeared, only the owner of the car was standing beside his car, looking right and left, touching his pockets as if looking for something, then it hit me, he has been robbed. Even the passenger door of his car was open, it seemed he saw it at the same time as I did, he ran over to the other side and looked in the back seat. He immediately shouted “Mogbe ooo, Moku ooo, Egba mi oooo etc etc” (I’m done for, I’m dead, please help me). This screaming and wailing continued for some time, then someone walked over to him, they talked a bit in hush tones, then the man entered his car, with this new guy he was talking to and they drove off.
I went back to the shop where I dropped my luggage, picked my stuff and delivered it. But I couldn’t keep my mind off how that man was robbed. I couldn’t wait to get back home and tell Spironto all about it. But Spironto has been living here for some time, so he has seen it all. He told me those guys are called ‘Fire Brigade’, he said the man that got in the car with the man that was robbed is a police man, he will take the robbed man to their station, get his statement and estimate of how much he was robbed, he will use this list to collect his own percentage of the loot from the Fire Brigade.
I just stood there, mouth open, unable to close it. I knew the police men were corrupt, but this is taking corruption to the next level. Now it all made sense, nobody could do anything, or stop the Fire Brigade because they have Police Protection of course. It still amazes me how far people will go to make money in this part of Lagos. Even the police? I told Spironto that I don’t believe those guys are real police men, he shrugged and said he is going for dinner.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept playing the events in my head over and over again. I promise myself that I am going to learn as much about the Fire Brigade and their police protectors as possible. The most pertinent question on my mind was, how do they make the man believe there was truly a fire. It seems I also saw something like fire under the car, but I wasn’t sure anymore now. I hate to be fooled, so I decided I am going to visit that part of Idumota, everyday until the incident happened again.
I picked my watch post, it was what we popularly call a joint. It’s basically a bar, where you can buy other things (weed, cocain etc). The setting is very local, there are usually banters and once in a while a fight. The fights never get too far though as the trouble makers are quickly pushed out of the joint. Nobody wants to attract too much attention to the joint. When I visited the first time, they treated me like a stranger, and some were skeptical at first. But after a few days and a few shared drinks, plus I took Spironto with me one of the days, I began to gain their trust.
It wasn’t until after about 10 days later that it happened again. This time to a woman and what seems to be like her young lover. I have been watching them since I saw them for the first time. The boy could be half as young as the woman, but he seems to be in charge. I was thinking to myself, he couldn’t be the son, he was too controlling to be the son. If he is the son, he must be one spoilt child. Anyway, they went into a gold shop and I turned my attention to my drink, listening to the banter of the joint. When the woman and the young man came out of the gold shop, they are having an argument over an object the woman was holding, from the shape of it, it looked like a neck lace. They walked towards the joint and entered a shop where they sell wrist watches. I again turned my attention to my drink. They came out about 5 mins later, and this time, the young man was grinning from ear to ear, holding a heavy looking plastic bag. After shopping from about six more shops, buying several things, they walked past the joint and I had a better look at them. The woman should be in her late fifties and the young man in his early twenties. The young man was definitely happy about the whole trip because they were talking and laughing animatedly as they walked past us.
This time, the other people at the joint noticed them too, one man asked the question on every one’s mind; “You think say na her pikin be that?” (Do you think that’s her son), and another replied; “Tah, for where?” (No, can’t be). And this sparked a discussion that went on for about a minute until someone said, “Fire Brigade dey follow dem” (Fire Brigade is following them). It was like I was given a jolt of adrenalin, my blood began pumping fast, this is the moment I have been waiting for. There are some discussions about the Fire Brigade and how they are giving the market a bad name, I wasn’t listening, my attention was on the two people that are about to be robbed and their intended assailants. I kept looking around for suspicious characters, there were also a few cars parked and I kept my eye on the cars too.
Then I saw someone walk past one of the cars and threw an object under it. As the object touched the ground under the car, it began to give out a bright glow. So that is how they created the fake fire. If you are standing, you won’t notice the glow, the only reason I saw it was because I was sitting, and of course paying attention. When the young man and his partner (or whoever the older woman was) go to the car, I was expecting a shout of fire, nothing. They stood beside the car talking for a few seconds, and I can see the glow gradually dying, again, another mystery revealed. I saw someone throw another object under the car, again a bright glow. This time, the young man took out the car keys and opened the car, as soon as the door was opened, it began – “Oga, Madam fire dey under your motor” (Sir, Madam, there’s fire under your car).
It took about 3 to 5 mins, the smoke cleared and the robbery operation was completed. Once again after some mins, a guy walked up to the just robbed couple and spoke to them in hush tones, the three of them entered the car and drove off. I was determined to really get to the bottom of how they carry out this operation. I noticed that as soon the car drove off, some boys came to the spot and picked up what seems to be the fire device. So they left no traces, nice.
(to be continued)