Not Clarisse. Given the legal war she was just about fighting because of the promise of functional CCTV to the people of Port Harcourt, even if you gave her all the money needed to buy it, install it, and maintain it, she wouldn’t. She might instead put that money to use in empowering more female professionalism in the society. Moreover, she did prefer the more traditional means of acquiring hard evidence– an effective private investigator, a damn good camera, and kick-ass journalism.
Clarisse Coleman worked for Garden City FM, and owned a blog she titled “These Things We Silence” where she posted news most would deem unruly and crass. No, let’s give it the proper adjective– true. She had always wanted to be the one to go where the real story went and tell it to the masses, no matter how conspiratorial. Her tallness and well-cut body, like that of an Olympian, was added advantage. Some would say she owned a black belt just by looking at her, and she found herself wishing she actually did own one on a given Friday night, on her way home after hosting her Friday night radio regular, “Talk am as e dey”.
She had just opened the door to her apartment on the last floor of the three-storey complex when she heard a sound coming from inside. She had no roommate, so it was definitely a burglar, or an animal. She carefully and slowly pushed her door open, praying it wouldn’t creak, and stepped in. The lights weren’t on, and she reckoned that as advantage because she knew the cuts and corners of her home eyes closed. She crept into the kitchen where a glassware had just been disturbed until it fell and broke on the floor. She hoped it wasn’t part of the expensive china set her boyfriend bought her two weeks ago. The sound hastened her steps, and crossing the framing of her kitchen door, a strong arm from behind grabbed her at the shoulder and before she could take account of the immediate wave of panic that shot through her, she found herself on the ground, her back to the floor and in pain.
She wouldn’t give in; growing up in the ghettoes surrounding Abuloma would do that to you. She threw a punch that missed its target. The target laughed, a cold, animated, though quiet laughter, and then turned her around that her face was to the ground. She kicked, aiming for her assailant’s balls, and missed again. Doing this in the dark wasn’t doing her any favours. “Baba, carry dat gial make we comot here, abeg,” she heard from her sitting room, a voice with a much rougher timbre than that of her assailant. It then dawned on her that there was no escaping whatever these men came for. It was obviously not a robbery or rape; it was a kidnap. And right before she received the knockout punch from the man straddling her, she made a connection as to why these men were in her apartment. Maxwell Carragher, brother to the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, sent them.
Talk am as e dey that Friday, uncharacteristically, was about one thing alone- an anonymous blog post written as the very first post on a new blog that somehow garnered so much traffic that international news stations had begun citing it. It was put up three days earlier and could generally be summarized as the uncovering of truth that the Director of Public Prosecutions insisted on hiding, as pertains the court case “Carragher V. Nigerian Police” that the whole world was talking about. After the blog post, the Attorney General of the Federation took over the case, it was moved from the Port Harcourt High Court to the Supreme Court, and it thus became the most high-profile case that has been judged in Nigeria for a very long time. Caught in the middle of all the attention given to this case was Officer Nonso Nduka, who still has years to go before he could even be considered a detective, and because of the delicacy of the matter at hand, defending him was part of the acquisitions the Attorney General made as he took on the case. He had brutally beat up a white man, Mr. Carragher, on the streets of Trans-Amadi, Port Harcourt, and it was all caught on tape. Mr. Carragher – backed by his brother, the British Government, and Baker Hughes Oil Servicing Company whom he worked for, sued the Nigerian police force after the incident, calling them “brutes on a couch, cowards on a cold concrete floor”. He was the victim from all indications in the video. The Director of Public Prosecutions had presented ‘new evidence’ with photos from an unmentioned source at the last High Court Hearing, with claims that the police were not aware of the operation that lead to his being beat up. The controversial blog post insisted otherwise, and while it wasn’t in defense of the police, it was even more in opposition to Mr. Carragher, because you see, while the officer, Nduka, did beat Maxwell Carragher up, the blog post, with all the gut-wrenching undeniable facts it posited, insisted that the police officer was innocent, set up by the white man, and must demand a full pardon from the Nigerian government for being so blind to not see the things that go on under their noses, and payment for damages from Mr. Carragher who must be deported and locked up.
“Wake up, Clarisse.”
The smell of dead rats tore Clarisse away from a beautiful dream where she actually got to practice law since dedicating six years of college to learning the darned thing, getting on the bar, and then switching passions to hardcore journalism, never gave her the chance to.
Gentle, but stinging slaps on the cheek and she came to full attention. “Good,” came the voice of a man, whom as she observed was in the company of her kidnappers, and though behind a hideous mask – they all were – walked and sounded much younger than his friends. “There are only two things we want you to do now. You nod your head for a ‘yes’, and shake your head for a ‘no’. It is very simple. Please understand that it is very simple and don’t annoy any of us because we would hate to kill you.” The calm in his voice sent shivers down her spine. She was in trouble. She wondered how they found out she was the one who posted the article.
“My friends tell me I like acting film too much, that I don’t get to the business very quickly; see that is because I like helping people understand their fuck up before I treat it. I’m a fair guy, and it is not fair when people don’t understand their fuck up.”
He went on babbling like that, as if he was stalling, waiting for someone to show up. Clarisse hoped Maxwell himself would show up. His appearance would put two and two together. It would provide impetus to push this matter further, probably with another blog post, or instead, a court appearance. She it was who gave the Director of Public Prosecutions his supposed new evidence, so why keep hiding? Best to show her face and boldly step into the scene. The thrill in itself was a high she had always craved. At this point, she was either going to kick the young guy still explaining why he likes being dramatic or shoot herself for them and get things over with instead of enduring his prattle.
“…what was the name of the blog post again, ‘WLMT But…’? What sort of title is that?”
“It means White Lives Matter Too But, then I present the points related to Maxwell’s case that justifies the ‘but’. It’s Maxwell who has employed you all I presume…”
The back of a pistol smashed into her temple, then the seat she was tied to was tackled, sending her to the floor. The back of the seat broke in two, and she felt splinters pierce her back. A fist jabbed on her cheek, a grabbing and a lifting. A smashing of her back to one of the pillars holding what she now observed to be the under of an overpass, and one the masked men holds back the fist of the young man who was about landing another deathly punch. “You wan kill am? Boss talk say make we no too injure am. Baba, this hate wey you hate your in-law massive o.”
“I told her nod or shake her head. She was busy spilling sentences. Who asked her? Who asked her?” The young man rushed at Clarisse again with hot rage, and the other masked man pushed him away. Clarisse was dead on the inside. She couldn’t place a finger on anyone who would hate her so much. She was not married, and had no in-laws. She was lost, afraid, and didn’t rule out certain death at this point.
A white Lexus screeched and pulled up. The young man dropped some photos and his dirty handkerchief on the floor before Clarisse. “For the ooze in your head,” he said, and cut the ropes that bound her hands behind her. He and the other masked men ran to the vehicle, got into it, and just like that, they sped away.
Clarisse was groggy, battling vertigo, and was amazed at the numbness at the left side of her head. Red was running like a stream, staining her multicoloured braids. She managed to bend down, pick up the photos and go through them. The gap between her eyelids were slits now, and she recognized Fortune on one of the photos, and an unknown very ruffled-up police man on the other. The third photo was both their bodies beside a dumpster; they looked lifeless. Fortune had given her up. They must have promised to let him go if he did. He did say one day that his job would be the very death of him. But it was like a drug though– an addiction. She wondered where private investigators keep their cameras and secret documents when they sense their bodies are about being dragged to a dumpster.
Was Trans-Amadi an L-shaped road or just a really angular bend? The section of the excruciatingly long industrial road which connected to Aba Road at Garrison Bus Stop was as busy as ever, but this part that contained three heavyweight oil servicing companies in Nigeria was like another world entirely. It was quiet, serene, and though with much traffic, it was peaceful. So, Fortune wondered, really, what he really expected would happen on that section of the road, on this peaceful Monday. He was perched on a long stool, at the first floor of an Indomie depot, just opposite the Baker Hughes company. He had half-done toast that morning, and had again eaten okpa twice for the seven hours he’d been sitting there, waiting, apologizing that his sales manager was to come before he could start pitching the idea he had of adding a thyme seasoning to Indomie as a way to improve consumer satisfaction. There was no such manager. The ridge on his right forefinger had suffered all the way through because he hadn’t desisted from pinching it anytime it – like it had a mind of its own – went for the button on top of the camera. His addiction- the sound of the shutter clicking. It wasn’t yet time though.
Then it was. The specifics of what to look out for wasn’t really given to him. He actually never cared for specifics, but this time, a gut-feeling warned him that the case Clarisse had brought to him required a holistic understanding of all the ways it could go sideways. “On Monday, Third February, follow Maxwell Carragher; He should have some police with him, tail them too. Follow him till something fishy happens. Of course I don’t have to tell you to keep a safe distance.” That Clarisse, she was straight to the point with the point. Maxwell stepped out of the general admin block of the Baker Hughes building, and with him three police escorts. Fortune’s shutter counts them. He walked to his car, and about stepping in, pulls out his phone and dials. The shutter, well-trained, knew what to do at each right time, and kept on.
Maxwell throws his phone into the car, closes the door himself, speaks to his chief escort, leaves the car and walks out of the gate of the compound, down Trans-Amadi, not towards the busy section. He stops at a road-side burger shop and buys one, stands idly on the road and eats. He didn’t seem tense or expecting anything. His escorts drove his car out of the gate, stepped out of the car and awaited his return. A police vehicle drove past his escorts without as much as a hello, and began slowing down while approaching him. There was confusion with Fortune’s finger now, arriving with that familiar feeling of elation. A hard screech, typically dramatic of Nigeria’s finest, and two officers from the police vehicle jumps out and halts Maxwell, leaving everyone around him to their heels.
A frantic bombardment of questions ensued and Maxwell’s gestures suggested one completely and honestly oblivious of all that they might have been accusing him of. The questioning stops, and after a brief pause without words, next thing you know, one of the policemen runs at him, deals him a face-shattering blow, tackles him to the ground, shouts some more at him. Jumpy, Maxwell repeatedly shakes his head and squints. The officer must have held some grudge because the rounds of punches that followed should knock an elephant down. Then the officer was held back. The nearly unconscious white man was handcuffed, thrown into the police car, and the rusty beast coughed, revved, shimmied, and zoomed away.
His escorts watched the whole thing, though they acted like they didn’t, and while Fortune noted this, his own feet had climbed down the stairs, got into his Golf, and followed behind quickly. At the station, the speed of events was amplified greatly. They pulled Maxwell from the car into the building. One of the arresting officers held a white cellophane bag on one hand and what Fortune’s keen eyes recognized as Maxwell’s phone which he had dropped in his own car with his escorts on the other hand. Maxwell’s escorts arrives the scene, the mysterious phone was handed over to the chief of his escorts who hastily pocketed it, hiding it from view. Everyone steps into the building. A few minutes later, the officer with the phone steps out, makes a quick phone call, then smashes the phone thoroughly with his boot, kicking its remains to the side of the building. He stepped back inside. Then, Fortune was caught by a young officer at the gate, warned to move away immediately if he had no business at the precinct. Fortune obliged.
When Fortune saw the dead body of that same young officer at the gate beside a dumpster three days after the blog post, he knew the only option he had was to take the deal the men in the scary masks offered him. He prayed for forgiveness and disclosed Clarisse’s location. The younger of the men in the masks shoots him anyway, and kicks him to the dumpster. “That’s for time wasted on you, fool,” he said. If a photo of him and the dead officer beside him was rendered in retro, he thought as his heart slowed, how much contrast was needed to make sure there was no difference in hue between the red shirt he wore, the brick red of the house behind the dumpster and the red oozing from his chest plates?
“It was titled ‘Grovel Much?’, was it not?”
Clarisse laughed on the inside. If she had not sworn an oath to tell the truth and be of good conduct, she would certainly have said words, lots of them, to the leader of the defense council, feeling all self-righteous, with his two-piece Ralph Lauren, and well-chiseled jaw that was to-die-for. His perfect eyes must be his super-power; there were rumours among law practitioners that Steven Madu never took a case that involved men. He knew his influence- a charm most women couldn’t resist. And then he was very good at his job. His earlier line of questioning nearly threw Clarisse off-balance. If she hadn’t pulled her weight by delivering a whomp of an opening statement, she would be cowering by now. But she laughed, because he was struggling to hold on to something to pull off a magnificent comeback, and it accented his male charm.
Yes, finally, Clarisse was practicing law, and how better than to defend herself in court. She had offered Maxwell the route for settlement when she served him his summons, but he all but spit on it. He was already on the winning front in his case against the Nigerian Police; what damage could this sideshow from this annoying headstrong reporter really inflict?
“Miss Coleman, was the title of your blog post after the meeting my client had with the Rivers State Governor ‘Grovel Much?’ or not?” Barrister Madu asked again and Clarisse composed herself.
“Yes, it was.” She knew where he was going with this. There was no time to select another set of jurors, so the faces by the left side of the court beside the court secretary were the same as those present for both the first and second sittings in Maxwell’s case against the police. Madu was about playing at their sentiments, as Rivers State citizens, and as a bunch of poor people who would sell their souls for basic amenities.
“I read from paragraph two, line four of the blog article,” Steven gives a copy to the Judge, “…and to think we expected our people to do better. This mentality, I must say, forced our hands into electing a president whose mantra and carriage are at loggerheads. Excellent propositions, but a general blindness to note that change that does not start from us is bullshit. I say quit this poppycock attitude of rallying behind the Messianic White Man figure; if possible, wreck his CCTV and install our own– he could be a CIA spy and we wouldn’t know. Let’s wake from slumber…”
Clarisse was at the verge of bursting out in laughter. She would unashamedly defend that article anywhere she went. “Your honour, words like this can only come from blind idealistic zealots who incite political mayhem in society.” From the stand, Clarisse screams, “objection! He’s projecting…” She was enjoying herself. She had to. After such beating as she received a week prior under the Mile 2 Overpass, and a series of painful hospital visits, that was all she had now- her smile.
Maxwell had never been known to have Nigerian police as escorts, so the first time Clarisse read on a daily that his siren had shocked a road side crippled beggar into running and revealing he wasn’t really cripple after all, she laughed, and grew an interest. It was doubly curious that the very next day, he was having a meeting with the state governor who was congratulating him for his philanthropic efforts in choosing to install working CCTV cameras at all major intersections in the state’s capital. By a unique stroke of luck, her manager at Garden City FM picked her to be the reporter at the event.
Shaking hands with the governor, Maxwell let out a wide smile with his twitchy nose, and Clarisse saw through it. Maxwell had cited that incident with the American Ronald Dawson – Shell Port Harcourt’s Technical Manager – where his personal bodyguard was shot dead with a sniper rifle and Ronald himself kidnapped, only released after a steep ransom of 23 million naira was paid. He had learned his lesson from that day, and knew to put the proper security personnel beside him. “Proper and dutiful,” the governor had replied. Bunch of wimps, Clarisse murmured. She felt it in her bones that Maxwell felt the same way about the police as she – probably even worse – and that was what was off about the entire shebang.
There simply was no way Clarisse could convince Judge whatever his name was – for she cared not – that Maxwell had sent his thugs to beat her up. The judge ruled in favour of Maxwell, and while exiting the court room, he said to her hearing, “today’s exercise tingled quite a bit; a necessary reprieve. Someone must learn today that you can’t have a good photographer in every situation. Some situations, others just have full control over.”
Nonye Nduka, Nonso’s wife and her three kids travelled to Abuja a given Tuesday. She hoped the case would not last so long in the nation’s capital because she had nowhere to stay with her children. Her petition to the state court to grant her lodging was expressly denied. The ugly secretary on her exalted cushion chair had opened her long mouth and uttered the words, husband, disgrace, and yeye police. “Na only your husband them need sef,” she terminated her verbal abuse. It was indeed the Nigerian government who flung her family from frightening law court to frightening law court. They say they fight for the flag, the badge, and the people, her husband representing the latter, but she knew better. The moment the case tilts to exonerate the flag and the badge from punishment, it ends. The faithful ten percent in social media and in the news speaking for her husband would not change it. That reporter (whom she’d noticed was on the same bus to Abuja with her and her kids) and her drama would not change it. Her plight as a hardworking local trader with a first degree in political science from IMSU pursuing a second in law at RSUST, and mother of three would not change it. The fact that the attorney general had pulled an uncanny hare from his hat and called her as the first testifier in Abuja, she was sure, will not change it. She would say her piece, and it would end, quickly.
She had already made arrangements on how to return to her father in the village at Oforola in Imo State with her little ones. Dike, her first, would be most affected by this– he had gained admission to study Electrical Engineering at UniPort. Probably, a monotechnic close to the village should now suffice. He’d have to cope. It had tired him even before her, all this court business. He had once told his uncle, Nonye’s brother Solomon who served at the same precinct with Nonso, that law in Nigeria was a joke. They were stepping out of the law court on the day of the second hearing and Solomon’s wife was patting her four year old to sleep. Dike stared at the little baby and completed his statement, saying no more, “a bitter joke, like a circus director poking a spear through your baby’s skull, and having a laugh about the little baby man-unicorn.” At home that day, Dike received a severe beating from his mother for his comments. The grimness of his illustration disturbed his mother beyond her wits.
“Have you gone mad, Chidike? I na-apu ara? You know your uncle doesn’t have the best of intentions towards your father, and you make such comments about his baby?” Nonye pulled a whip from under the seat of the long worn settee in the parlour. Amara and Nonso Jr., Dike’s younger ones stood by a corner, and each whip sent a shudder down both their bodies. When Nonye had exhausted her strength, flogging now the conception of defeat forced upon her by her fatherland, the representation of the abject helplessness she felt weighing her down and causing her to suddenly age so quickly that is her son Dike. She carried on with weaker strokes this time until Amara pulled her away. Dike shed no tear, and winced not once. He would cry later; not in front of his dear mother. He would never remind her of herself. She had long learnt how to cease crying when Nonso in his so-called righteous anger would turn her body into a punching bag.
“The allegations you raise in this court today is severe Mrs. Nduka,” the judge turned to her. The court session had gone on for a terribly long time. She had said something she’d, out of shame and some foolish hope that Nonso had a chance of coming out of this unscathed, not ever said since the case started, but had known, and been witness to from the beginning.
“I mean every word I say your honour. I slept with Joe-Joe. Joe-Joe knew it was finally his chance to sleep with me, and he had the upper hand. He showed me pictures even, from his phone. My husband caught him at Red London, the strip bar Maxwell goes to, on police duty and arrested him for accepting drugs from Maxwell. Then my husband and my brother, Solomon who caught him too, released him so that they could plant him at Trans-Amadi street where he would give the drugs and weed back to Maxwell at their spot, that place they sell burgers. It was in a white cellophane bag.”
“You accuse Mr. Maxwell of drug trafficking, Mrs. Nduka?”
How were they not getting the picture? “Sir, I will muster all my strength and say this in the most polite way I can conjure– that white man sitting there is a demon. A devil in disguise. I not only accuse him of drug trafficking. He is a heartless human being who set my husband up. I know Nonso has a temper, and an inability to condone nonsense. These were the qualities that made him ripe for the police. It is sad that the same qualities were his downfall, the tool Maxwell used to trap him. My husband, an innocent man, was played as pawn in his grand scheme of things. Instead of finding new ways to call Nonso a criminal or a disgraceful Nigerian, find out what that man’s real play is. Does my husband beat me up at home as you’ve asked earlier? Yes. It is not consequential to this trial though because I have never reported it. I am his wife, and my duty is to manage him, temperaments and all. Thank You.”
Clarisse teared up. She was in that court. Nonye won the most part of the day, but lost at the end, because, compelling as her speech was, court ruled ‘hearsay’. The next day, Clarisse wrote a short article about herself and Nonye Nduka on her tablet titled, “Of Unpracticed Female Lawyers.”
This discombobulated state of affairs started for Nonso the day Solomon called him aside after their DPO congratulated the officers in his precinct for ensuring the Niger-Delta Avengers did not intrude in Maxwell Carragher’s meeting with the governor. Solomon said Maxwell was duplicitous, and had personally selected the police men that would serve as his escorts. Solomon had once caught them with Maxwell at Red London, he said. Nonso’s brother-in-law told him to ‘shine his eyes’ and notice the growing support for Maxwell at the precinct; that it wasn’t moral support; that it was what results from greasing one’s palms.
Suddenly Nonso realized everyone was talking about CCTV and how it would help their work a good lot. Then Solomon said a little bird told him that Red London was the place to be that night. They went early and bugged Maxwell’s favourite room. True to words, the Brit arrived, and pissed off, dropped a phone call to his brother at arrival. “You don’t know these ugly ass-faced negroes as much as I do, Tim. When you step out of that high and dignified commission of yours, you’ll find that the malodorous sods are commodity. Don’t worry, I’ll behave. I’m the white man, and they are the black men, is it not?” Those words ended that phone call. Then Nonso saw his course mate back in his polytechnic days, Joe-Joe, in cahoots with Maxwell. Maxwell said a lot. He was rip-roaringly drunk. His grand aim was a controlling share of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, in charge of all oil imports and exports, but to remain the invisible man behind the scenes. To do this was going to be difficult, so it had to be a bargain. He will present it as the alternative to suing the nation for having its police force beat him up. Then, he asked Joe-Joe if his scapegoat was ready. Little did Nonso know he was being referred to. The rest of the night, with Young Money’s P-M-W giving ambience to the room, Maxwell ruined the dignity of an apprehensive strumpet who looked barely seventeen.
Solomon slipped when grabbing Joe-Joe, blamed it on sweaty palms. Strange. Nonso made the grab, and set Trans-Amadi in motion.
The next two court hearings in Abuja was to decide Nonso’s fate. On the day, Nonso narrated his story and Maxwell his. The Nigerian police had already received a court pardon, to Maxwell’s very detest. But the judge’s gavel and the words “guilty” rang at the same time for Nonso. The constables went for him. Clarisse shook her head, and then Maxwell’s infuriating voice sifted through the noisy room to her ears, but they weren’t coming from Maxwell’s direction. It was from a phone in the hands of a baby a woman, whom Clarisse noted as Officer Solomon’s wife, was carrying.
Clarisse dived for the phone, and like a thunderclap, Solomon arrived late with a crash on the pews. “How can an Igbo man marry my sister, a core Ogoni woman? Don’t worry Oga Maxwell, I’ll show him.” Then Solomon passed the bottle of vodka to Maxwell at the bar at Red London.