10 Apr The murder at Lagos university
“Congratulations gentlemen!” Kenny the Boss praised the men who were once again gathered around the table in the sound-proofed room. “Our last mission was an outstanding success. Your skilful implementation is to be commended. It calls for celebration: too bad we don’t smoke nor drink in the room.”
“Rules are meant to be broken, Boss?” someone shouted.
The team members roared in laughter as they exchanged high-fives and patted one another on the back over their latest victory. Once the team had finished congratulating themselves, Kenny continued.
“I have expediently secured our next assignment,” he announced, his voice booming off the walls. “We have to strike while the iron is hot, as they say, and I know I’m ready to strike again!”
The men cheered and pumped their fists in the air. Thomas found himself leaning forward in his seat. Deep in his soul, his first mission with the team had left him feeling uncomfortable and even slightly guilty. Although the team never dwelled on the so-called ‘collateral damage’ that accompanied the execution of their missions, Thomas was well aware that many innocent people had been injured in the stampede at the Toyo rally. For all they knew, someone might have been killed or permanently maimed in the pandemonium. Such truths made Thomas question the ethical standards by which he was currently living.
At the same time, he understood that these kinds of missions had been taking place in the dark world of competitive politics since the days of the very first democratic elections. And they would continue to take place throughout the world, with or without any assistance from Thomas. He realised that such truths did not justify his participation in this kind of underground activity, but he worked hard to push those feelings down.
This suppression turned out to be easier than Thomas had expected. As much as he hated to admit it, his first mission with the team had actually given him a wicked adrenaline rush. He had never felt so empowered. He and his team members actually had the potential to change the course of history through their actions. Thomas had never been in a position to affect such monstrous change for reasons that were either good or bad. The feeling it gave him was exhilarating, and even he was amazed by how anxious he had become to try it again.
“Okay guys,” Kenny said, waving his hand in the air. “We need to get organised. Our next assignment is less than twenty-four hours away.”
Thomas was surprised. He turned to Fanni who was sitting next to him, tapping the keys on his notebook computer. “Do the missions always come this fast?”
“In an election year, yes,” Fanni answered. “In fact, as we get closer to the election itself, we may have as many as three missions on the same day. My advice is that you get all the sleep you can while you still have the chance.”
One of the bodybuilders paced around the table. “Who’s paying us this time, Boss?”
“Dr. Clement Toyo,” Kenny said.
Thomas sat up in his seat, completely surprised. “Dr. Toyo has hired us?” he asked, wondering if he had properly understood Kenny’s announcement.
“That’s correct,” Kenny responded. “The Yaba rally, or rather, the orchestrated disaster that occurred at the rally, has convinced Dr. Toyo that he is in dire need of a more competent security force.”
The other men laughed, but Thomas was trapped in a state of confusion. “I don’t understand,” he confessed. “Why would Dr. Toyo hire us?”
“It’s business, Thomas,” Kenny detailed. “Nothing in politics is personal. We work for whoever is willing to pay us.”
For Thomas, the logic still did not compute. “Why would Dr. Toyo be willing to pay us to work security for him after we disrupted his last rally?”
“He doesn’t know we were the ones who demolished his last rally,” one of the bodybuilders stated.
Fanni looked up from his computer. “He might know,” he suggested. “It’s hard to tell. Besides, even if Dr. Toyo doesn’t know personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone connected with his campaign does. Each campaign has people within its system who clock those sorts of things so the candidate doesn’t have to. If someone connected to the Toyo campaign is aware of our involvement in the rally disturbance, he may have decided that it is better to have us working with them than against them.”
Thomas frowned deeply as he took in all the information. “So…,” he thought aloud, “doesn’t that qualify as extortion?”
The room erupted in laughter, startling Thomas enough to make him involuntarily jump back in his seat.
Kenny reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “It would be extortion if we went to the Toyo campaign and threatened to crash all their rallies if they didn’t pay us off,” he clarified. “In this situation, they came to us and requested our security services. I will not question their motives behind this request. I will only question the amount they intend to pay us. When an amount is finally agreed upon, we will simply perform the services that have been commissioned.”
The men around the table all nodded in agreement. Thomas had to admit that Kenny’s explanation made perfect sense, but he could not say exactly why. The whole arrangement still seemed bizarre and convoluted. As Kenny delved into the details of the assignment, Thomas sat back and tried to make all the pieces fit in his mind. The more he thought about it, the less sense it made. He decided to seek further clarification from Fanni, who seemed to be the team’s computer. Tall, fair in complexion and always wearing a confident smile, Fanni Fakunle looked friendly.
á á á á á
Thomas surveyed the crowd near Pen Cinema in Agege through his camera lens as his media credentials once again dangled from the chain around his neck. He watched Kenny and several other big-muscled men move among the cheerful, enthusiastic Toyo supporters. Kenny did not sit around this time. Instead, he was vigilant and hawk-eyed, making his hulking presence as overt and conspicuous as possible. This was in direct contrast to the strategy he had employed during the previous Toyo rally.
“The main objective for this assignment,” Kenny had told the team, “is to ensure that no one pulls the same stunt that we pulled off so brilliantly last time.”
As he continued working his way through the crowd, scouring its many faces, Thomas was amazed by the irony of the circumstances. He was actually scanning the minions in search of people just like his own team members. It sounded so confusing. Thomas was amazed that Kenny and the others had no difficulty keeping it all straight.
“It’s really not all that complicated,” Kenny had told him. “This is politics, which means there are no good guys or bad guys. There are only winners and losers — and I don’t like to lose!”
Static crackled from the public address system as Dr. Clement Toyo shouted into the microphone to address the throng of admirers.
“And so, with your generous support,” he summed up, “we can move toward victory — not just on Election Day, but for the weeks, months, and years that follow!”
The crowd roared in approval, but this time Thomas did not shriek in pain. He had prepared himself in advance for the deafening cheers. Another team member had provided him with a pair of ear plugs that were so small and discreet that they could barely be seen.
The Toyo rally went off without a hitch. Upon its conclusion, Kenny and his men made sure the crowd dispersed in an orderly fashion to ensure that no one was injured as the area was cleared. Dr. Toyo was enormously grateful.
“Your men provided the best security I have ever seen,” Thomas overheard the Doctor tell Kenny. “I hope you will continue your work with us as we move the campaign throughout the city. I will feel so much more confident knowing that your men are watching out for our staff as well as our supporters.”
Kenny smiled and shook the candidate’s hand. “It would be our pleasure to serve your campaign, Dr. Toyo,” he said. “There is, however, the issue of compensation. As we get closer to Election Day, security measures will need to be stepped up. This requires more men and more comprehensive strategies.”
The candidate nodded with complete understanding. “Speak with Mr. Sanusi,” he said. “He signs off all the campaign expenditures. Tell him what you need and he will ensure that you get it.”
Thomas watched the exchange with total fascination. He always knew Kenny could be intimidating and he also understood that he was extremely smart. He was suddenly taken back, however, by how charismatic and persuasive he could be. Watching Kenny cajole Dr. Toyo was like witnessing a master artist practicing his craft.
As he continued to take in the scene, a man suddenly bumped into him. He turned to see Jimmy, the man he had learnt the trade from, also wearing fake media credentials and scribbling on a notepad.
“Take a photo,” Jimmy muttered under his breath.
“What?” Thomas asked.
“Take a photo of the candidate,” Jimmy insisted. “Don’t look at the Boss so much. You’re a journalist, remember? You don’t know Kenny and he doesn’t know you. You’re here to cover the campaign, so take photos of Toyo before you blow your cover.”
Thomas quickly pulled his camera up to his face and started snapping away, hoping he wasn’t wasting too much digital memory.
á á á á á
Back in his room, Thomas stretched out on his bed, looking forward to the first restful sleep he would have in weeks. Naturally a person who enjoyed and sought out solitude, he rolled onto his side and closed his eyes, still savouring the success of the day’s mission. This time, he had no ethical questions regarding the team’s activities. This was a positive mission, and it had garnered positive results. The rally was well-received and no one was injured, frightened, or bullied along the way. Thomas could sleep with a clear conscience.
As it turned out, he would not sleep at all.
His eyes could not have been closed for more than ten minutes when he was rudely awakened by the sound of a heavy fist aggressively banging on his door.
“I hear you!” Thomas angrily growled. “Stop it already!”
He rolled out of bed and staggered over to the door. When he pulled it open, he found Fanni standing in the doorway. He had spent the night in one of Kenny’s many vacant rooms.
“Thomas, get dressed immediately,” he ordered. “Something big has happened. The Boss has called an emergency meeting.”
Sleep drained from his eyes. Thomas threw on some clothes and followed Fanni out of the building. The two of them met up with several other team members as they all ran toward the meeting room.
Downstairs, Kenny turned up the volume on a transistor radio. As the men clamoured down the stairs, the Boss held up his hand, urging them to keep the noise down. Thomas slipped up to the table and dropped down into one of the chairs.
“Even hours after the incident, there is still a sense of chaos throughout the campus.” The men listened closely as the newscaster’s voice rang out of the radio’s speaker.
“The police have locked down and secured the area,” he continued. “As of this hour, the gunman remains at large.”
“What’s going on?” Thomas wondered.
Kenny winced, but did not offer an answer.
“To repeat,” the newscaster stated, “there was a shooting incident on the campus of Lagos State University this evening. As of now, the police have confirmed that one person is dead, but they are not reporting any other injuries.”
Some of the men frantically paced around the room. Others sat at the table and leaned in to listen very closely to the radio.
Thomas sat back and tried to make sense of what was happening. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Please tell me this has nothing to do with us.”
Kenny turned toward him. “If you’re asking whether this shooting is an example of our work,” he replied, “the answer is no, at least not this time.”
Thomas glanced around, hoping someone would fill in the missing details. Before anyone could speak, the newscaster’s voice once again crackled out of the speaker.
“A press conference is now taking place,” he reported. “The gentleman speaking is Ali Baba, the Lagos State Police Commissioner.”
The broadcast then shifted and Ali Baba’s voice could be heard addressing the media.
“A shooting has taken place at the Lagos State University this evening,” he restated. “The campus remains on lockdown as we continue to search for the gunman and interview witnesses. One person has been confirmed as being fatally wounded. He has been identified as Robert Toyo, a final-year law student.”
Thomas sat up, alert. “Is he related to Dr. Clement Toyo?” he asked.
Kenny nodded. “That was Dr. Toyo’s only son,” he told him, “and I think it’s safe to say that the shooting wasn’t a random incident.”
Thomas felt a sick feeling in his stomach. “How do you know that?” he questioned. “Or shouldn’t I ask?”
Kenny let out a disgruntled sigh. “There were rumours floating around. Certain people thought Dr. Toyo was gaining too much traction in the polls, so there was a possibility that someone might be tempted to do something that might, well, distract the doctor from pursuing his campaign.”
“Aditti,” Jimmy muttered. “Aditti Lawrence.”
“Who’s that?” Thomas wondered.
“He’s the Progress Party’s gubernatorial candidate,” Kenny elaborated.
Fanni tapped a few keys on his laptop. “As of now, there’s no direct evidence linking this murder to anyone in particular,” he said, “but I would be willing to put my money on him. He’s one of the dirtiest players in the game.”
Thomas shook his head in disbelief. “Are you saying that a candidate ordered a hit on his opponent’s son?” he gasped.
“It may not have been Aditti himself,” Fanni clarified. “In fact, it probably wasn’t. If a candidate were directly involved in something this devious, he would pay for it in the end. There is no honour among political advisors. Someone would use that kind of information as blackmail material, which could then be used to turn a man into a slave. Aditti has never been that stupid. He’s not the kind of guy who would put himself in that position.”
“I agree,” Kenny replied. “He probably has no direct knowledge of who ordered the hit, but I’m sure it came from his camp. For Aditti himself, ignorance is bliss.”
“What makes you so sure about all of this?’ Thomas asked.
Kenny flashed a tired smile. “Trust me,” he answered flatly.
The Boss reached over and turned off the radio. The room became oddly silent for an uncomfortable moment. Thomas’s eyes bounced from one man’s face to another as he tried to wrap his thoughts around all that had taken place. When he could not stand the tension any longer, he had to speak up.
“What happens now?”
Kenny leaned back in his chair, rocking the front legs up off the floor as he blew out a tired sigh. “I’m not sure just yet,” he confessed. “This could prove beneficial to us in that Dr. Toyo may be willing to shell out even more money to upgrade his personal security detail.”
Thomas’s mouth dropped open and his eyes almost popped out of their sockets. “Are you actually describing the murder of Dr. Toyo’s son as ‘beneficial?’”
“Relax, Thomas,” Kenny ordered. “This is politics, remember? Nothing is personal in the political arena. If Toyo wants extra security, we might as well be the ones who provide it. If we don’t, someone else will. and we’ll be leaving a large amount of cash on the table. That’s just the way it is.”
Kenny stood up and paced for a few steps. “I’ll contact Toyo’s people tomorrow and find out what they plan to do. Tighten your grip on your moral code, Thomas. Right now as we speak, there are people working on the Toyo campaign who are considering different strategies for using Robert Toyo’s murder to pull in the public sympathy vote. Don’t hate them for it. They work for the candidate and it’s their job to get him elected any way they can.”
Thomas sighed. The positive feeling he had enjoyed just before he had jumped into bed that evening had completely evaporated.
á á á á á
Two days passed, and Thomas travelled around the city and then back to his room with no news from Kenny. One afternoon, as he was walking back home after grabbing some lunch, Jimmy greeted him on the pavement in front of his building.
“I guess something’s up,” Thomas remarked.
Jimmy nodded and motioned for him to follow.
Most of the team was already gathered in the meeting room, but Kenny was not among them.
“The Boss is on his way,” Jimmy explained to the group. “He had to stop off somewhere first.”
Thomas sat down and tried to relax. His sense of adventure had left him in the wake of Robert Toyo’s murder. He could not understand how anyone could desire a political office so badly that they would slaughter an innocent young man to scare off a competitor. Then again, Thomas could not understand how the members of his own team did not seem surprised, frightened, or even the least bit unnerved by the news. He had mixed emotions concerning their response, or more accurately, their lack of a response. On one level, he was disgusted that they appeared to have no regard for this young man’s life. On another level, he admired their ability to completely detach themselves from such painful facts. That, Thomas believed, was the one good thing about not having a functioning conscience. He concluded that his colleagues never lost sleep over anything.
The sound of Kenny’s heavy footsteps bounding down the stairs brought the room to attention.
“Sorry I’m late, gentlemen,” he apologised as he set a large cardboard box on the table. “We have a significant change in our mission agenda.”
Everyone leaned in to listen more closely.
“I spoke to several people connected with the Toyo campaign,” he announced, “or should I say the now-defunct Toyo campaign.”
Grunts and sighs bounced off the walls of the room.
“Dr. Toyo and his wife have left Nigeria to deal with their grief,” Kenny stated. “There is no estimate on when they will return, if ever. My sources say he may be replaced as a candidate for his party, but I believe it is all over for them. We should now pay more attention to Aditti and Taylor, okay?” The Boss tossed a copy of the AfternoonNEWS newspaper onto the table. “Has anyone read the headlines?”
Thomas reached for the newspaper, but before he could read it, Fanni had called up a news website on his laptop.
“It’s all over the world,” Fanni said, “assuming anyone outside of Nigeria is paying any attention. You know how self-absorbed the Europeans and Americans can be.”
Kenny smirked. “Did you see who is being accused, or perhaps credited, with Robert Toyo’s assassination?”
Fanni rolled his eyes. “Reuters is reporting that the attack was carried out by a fringe cult that had infiltrated the campus.”
“That’s a creative one,” a voice remarked.
Fanni laughed. “The Associated Press is reporting that the shooting may have been the result of a botched robbery attempt.”
“That’s not a creative one,” the same voice sneered.
Thomas flipped through the newspaper and scanned the article about the incident, which included photographs of the Toyo family in happier times. He then looked up at Kenny. “Are you still convinced that Aditti’s people committed this murder?” he wondered.
Kenny did not bother to answer the question. Instead, he took his seat at the head of the table. “Gentlemen,” he declared, “it is now time to discuss the details of our next mission.”