17 Apr Thomas finds temptation, lure in Lagos difficult to resist
Professor Aditti Lawrence was a fashionable politician among Lagos’s most elite population. He had established strong connections with CEOs, especially those of the multinational companies. Wealthy individuals found they benefited greatly from Aditti’s initiatives which granted them tax cuts, protected them against most lawsuits and other forms of litigation, and allowed them all the economic and social advantages that helped them to remain at the top of the social heap. These initiatives also threw arduous hurdles in the paths of any working stiffs who sought to promote their social status.
Aditti’s greatest supporters were the ‘haves’ and the ‘have mores’, all of whom were fervently stingy when it came to paying their own employees yet enormously generous when it came to donating funds, services, or resources to Aditti’s political campaign machine.
Before entering politics, Aditti had launched a thriving career in academia, having become a professor of law at the University of Lagos. He viewed teaching as a social service to better his country by educating its young people, and thoroughly enjoyed it. At least he did for a while. Within a few short years at the university, he found that he enjoyed something else even more: attention. He thrived on his ability to pack thousand-seat halls for his lectures and academic presentations, as well as the rousing responses he garnered for his appearances.
The ovations he received from many of the students often bordered on idol worship, allowing Aditti to imagine that this was probably how it felt to be an international rock star. He was often asked to autograph lecture programmes, and he even received quite a few scintillating come-ons from many of the co-eds, each begging to be the chosen one the professor would take back to his loft for some private tutoring. The only things missing from the rock star analogy were the free mind-altering drugs.
Aditti published several articles, as most professors are forced to do to fulfil the ‘publish or perish’ obligation that attracted monumental grants to the university, and he was surprised by the enthusiastic response to his printed works, even when they discussed the most benign and mundane topics imaginable. The appearance of his name in scholarly journals merely enhanced his personal opinion of himself. He followed up his articles with full-length books, which brought him more celebrated acclaim and some fat residual cheques, contributing more fame and fortune to his life than overseeing a classroom ever did.
As much as these accomplishments stroked his already healthy ego, Aditti felt he deserved more. It was not enough for him to feel admired or even beloved by his audience of students and academic professionals. He wanted to perch himself on a pedestal so high that people would hang on his every syllable and perhaps even throw themselves as his feet in desperate need for his affirmation. Fully aware of his genuine charisma and above-average looks, Aditti Lawrence chose the next best thing to international rock stardom: politics.
As time passed and elections were won, Aditti found the political world to be every bit as rewarding as he had hoped. He started as the Chairman of the Island Local Council, and became Deputy Senate President three years later. His elected positions granted him access to the most powerful people in the world, and he knew that if he cosied up to them in the most proper fashion, he would eventually join their esteemed ranks. When it came to Nigerian political domination, there was only one thing that stood in his way: the working people and the desperate-to-be-working people of Lagos. In his efforts to woo the richest and most powerful Nigerian citizens, Aditti managed to alienate, and in some cases, completely offend and disgust just about everyone else.
Whenever Aditti gave the rich a break, whether it was on income tax, tariffs, or energy usage, someone had to pick up the slack. That collective ‘someone’ was the other ninety-five percent of the Nigerian population. This political nuisance only cramped Aditti’s style during election season. His personal charm combined with his addiction to attention made him popular with the media. He never met a camera he did not like, and during his time in office, he always made himself accessible to every reporter who wanted to put his face on television or in the newspaper. After two terms at the Senate, he opted for the Governorship of the commercial nerve-centre of the country. Campaigning to become Lagos State Governor however, exposed Aditti to the inconvenient truth that not all Nigerians were in love with him. The electorate over the years had become more mature. During his rallies, hecklers had been known to raise their determined voices.
“Aditti is a rich man’s whore!”
“Aditti robs from the poor and gives to the rich!”
“Aditti is a Nigerian embarrassment!”
Such outcries of dissent put the professor in a foul mood, so his handlers finally decided to do away with it. They scheduled rallies for their candidate in upscale locations that only the wealthiest of Lagosians could afford to patronise. When they wanted to make Aditti seem like a ‘man of the people’, they organised town hall meetings in places like public school auditoriums or municipal parks, but they guarded all entrances to the locations and carefully scrutinised everyone who attended the events.
Sometimes they refused to allow people to attend the candidate’s rallies unless they signed ‘loyalty pledges’, which they claimed legally obliged citizens who signed them to vote for Aditti Lawrence in the general election. Most people were unaware that such a pledge could never legally be enforced, but the level of intimidation was so high that people who chose not to sign it were denied entry into the rallies.
These measures ensured that Aditti never had to deal with any antagonism while he was out in public.
When Dr. Clement Toyo stepped into the political arena, his antecedents promptly established him as the prototypical ‘anti-Aditti’. Despite his own membership among the Lagosian elite, Toyo was a steadfast believer in a Nigeria that facilitated all Nigerians, not just those with six- or seven-figure annual incomes. Aditti and most of his supporters benefited from the existence of an underclass. They did not believe in sharing the country’s wealth, and they relished the fact that their affluence could be used to separate themselves from those whom they believed to be socially inferior.
Toyo did not share this point of view, nor did he believe it was necessary for one person to fail in order for another to succeed. Lagos was a city of great extremes, from the tremendously privileged to the devastatingly impoverished. Toyo had no desire to deny citizens of the wealth they had rightfully earned. He just did not understand why the country’s vast resources could not be distributed on a more even playing field. As he said to one wealthy CEO, “For the price of one of your private jets, you could build permanent houses for most of the homeless people of Ajegunle. And you would still have your other three jets to cruise the skies.”
This populist stance made Toyo a well-liked candidate among the working class and poverty-stricken people of Lagos. It also made him a terrifying threat to Aditti. There were, after all, at least twenty times more ‘have-nots’ in the city than there were ‘haves’, and citizens did not need to be economically privileged in order to cast their votes.
Sharing his father’s sense of justice and altruism, Robert Toyo had been studying law at the state university with the intention of providing legal representation to those who did not possess the financial means to hire barristers to advocate their rights in criminal cases or civil disputes. He had done some campaigning on his father’s behalf, an effort that productively encouraged young people to involve themselves in the political process. It was these very young people that most greatly threatened the political future of Aditti. As much as they might have idolised him back when he was a professor, they had developed nothing but complete disdain and contempt for him as a political statesman. This made Robert Toyo a potential target of the strongmen and enforcers connected to Aditti’s campaign.
Three days after Robert Toyo’s murder, Kenny the Boss received a call from a nameless man who stated that he had dedicated his life to working for Dr. Toyo’s campaign. The man had one simple request. Kenny responded with one simple question.
“How much are you willing to pay?”
á á á á á
It seemed like an eternity since the team had last met in the sound-proofed room, and for some strange reason, Thomas was actually relieved to be once again seated at the table. Even in the short time that he had been working with Kenny, he had made over 500 thousand naira, much more money than he had ever made teaching in Ife. He had sent half of the money to his family in Moso with two mobile phones for his mother and sister, and their gratitude had filled him with a strong sense of accomplishment.
Thomas had been waiting to be summoned, believing that under these complicated circumstances a meeting could be called at any split second. Several days had passed without Kenny or anyone else contacting him. From the outset, he had been instructed that the Boss was the only person who could call a meeting, and until members received notice, the policy was “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.” This was to minimise the chances for covers to be blown and associations to be discovered by anyone who might be staking out their movements.
As the men gathered around the table, there was a smug sensation of victory in the air. Thomas was not sure why his team-mates seemed so cocky at that particular moment, but he noticed his mischievous sense of adventure suddenly returning. There was an excited tingling in his fingertips, and he wait with great anticipation whatever news Kenny was about to deliver.
“Gentlemen,” the Boss began, “within the last few hours, one of our brilliant team-mates has once again demonstrated why we are the best unit for hire in all of Lagos.”
The men all nodded, smirked, and smiled in their usually sinister fashion. Thomas darted his eyes from one face to another, wondering why he was the only person who appeared ignorant about what had apparently taken place. As it turned out, the others did not possess any more information than Thomas. They had simply been through this scene so many times before that they took the opportunity to congratulate themselves, even if they had no idea for what.
Fanni leaned back in his chair and turned to Thomas. “This should be good,” he smirked.
“First off,” Kenny said, “please give a round of applause to your intrepid team-mate, Sadoki.”
The men were more than happy to oblige and instantly burst into a rousing ovation. Sadoki nodded in quiet appreciation, but seemed otherwise unmoved by the accolades. When it came to completing missions, Sadoki was all business. He saw no need for applause. As far as he was concerned, he was just doing his job, and all he expected in return for his efforts was a nice sum of cash.
Thomas had been wary of Sadoki from the first moment they met. He had been away to bury his father and Thomas did not meet him until after the group’s second assignment for Toyo. Tall and heavy, much like the Boss, Sadoki served as Kenny’s deputy. Thomas was told that ‘Sadoki’ was an alias. The man’s real name was never revealed to him, and he was not about to ask him what it was. In fact, he was not about to ask him anything. Sadoki was not the kind of guy you sat down with for a pleasant little chat. He rarely spoke, and when he did, it was usually to respond to direct questions with short, monosyllabic answers.
Thomas could never tell what he was thinking, which was probably why he was such a valuable operative when he was out in the mission field. The one thing he was sure of however, was that Sadoki was the kind of man you would rather have as a team-mate than as an enemy. Perhaps that was why he had earned the title of the ‘Faceless Executioner’.
“How many of you have been following the movements of the Aditti campaign lately?” Kenny wondered.
Fanni looked up from his computer and grinned. “An interesting little anecdote appeared on the Internet,” he said with a laugh. “It seems Aditti’s motorcade ran into some vehicular trouble on the way back from Abuja.”
The rest of the men burst out laughing.
“You never know when you might run into car trouble,” a voice cracked.
Kenny laughed. “I know,” he agreed. “That’s why I always keep a jack and a spare in my trunk.”
“From what I’m reading here, Aditti was in need of a lot more than just a jack and a spare,” Fanni remarked.
Thomas smiled, but a nervous sensation was developing in his stomach. He glanced over at Sadoki and noticed that he was the only man in the room not laughing. “So, what are you reading there, Fanni?” he finally asked.
Fanni dragged his computer mouse around the tabletop. “Apparently, our friend Aditti had a big meeting with the President in Abuja yesterday. God only knows what the two of them were discussing.”
Kenny dismissed the comment with a wave. “It was probably the same thing they always discuss: what new ways can we come up with to really screw the poor?”
Fanni rolled his eyes. “Anyway,” he continued, “as Aditti and his entourage were driving back, one of the cars in the motorcade exploded.”
“Exploded?” Thomas asked squeamishly.
Kenny nodded. “It was probably a case of spontaneous combustion,” he stated with a sarcastic smile. “Those things have been known to happen, especially in an election year.”
Thomas swallowed deeply and cleared his throat.
Fanni continued scrolling down the screen. “Actually, a police spokesperson has confirmed that the explosion was caused by some kind of incendiary device.”
“Incendiary device?” another man blurted through a laugh. “I love it when the cops try to sound like they’re smarter than they really are.”
Kenny turned to Sadoki. “Do you know anything about an incendiary device?” he asked with a wicked grin.
“Is a grenade an incendiary device?” Sadoki responded without changing expression.
“Yes, I believe it is,” Kenny answered.
Sadoki nodded. “Yeah, I know something about that.”
The rest of the men erupted in cheers and bursts of laughter. Kenny reached over and patted Sadoki on the back in appreciation, but Sadoki never so much as cracked a smile.
Thomas looked at Sadoki’s muscular arms. His hands and forearms were scratched with small cuts and bruises. “Did you get caught in the blast?” he asked.
Sadoki shook his head.
Thomas had so many questions that he did not know where to begin, but he was not sure whether he should take a chance on asking any of them. Sadoki was not the kind of guy to respond favourably if he thought he was being pumped for information. Before he could muster the courage to ask another question, Kenny jumped in.
“Sadoki is being treated for some nasty insect bites,” he explained to the group. “You see, he spent most of yesterday crouched down in some wild brush along the highway waiting for the motorcade to pass.” He turned to Sadoki and said, “I warned you to wear long sleeves, brother.”
Sadoki shrugged. “I hate long sleeves,” he muttered.
Thomas assumed Sadoki hated any item of clothing that disguised his well-defined muscles. To avoid raising the strongman’s ire, Thomas directed his next question to Kenny. “How long did he have to wait in the brush?”
“As long as it took,” Sadoki blurted.
Thomas took the terse tone of the big man’s voice as a sign that no more questions were desired or would be entertained. Kenny, however, was too euphoric to let the subject drop.
“Our man Sadoki hit the designated location at approximately ten o’clock in the morning,” he proudly stated. “Aditti’s convoy was scheduled to pass by at eleven, but apparently Aditti and the President so greatly enjoy each other’s company that the Prof didn’t leave the State House until one, putting the whole mission two hours behind schedule. In the meantime, Sadoki got himself scratched, bitten, stung, and munched on by every man-eating mosquito, beetle, and hornet in the area.” Kenny playfully slapped Sadoki on the shoulder, something only a man Kenny’s size would dare to do. “Next time, I’ll get you some insect repellent.”
Thomas could not be sure, but he thought he saw Sadoki crack a tiny smile.
“Despite the discomfort that he may be feeling for the next few days,” Kenny continued, “Sadoki maintained his position, and when the motorcade finally made its way down the highway, he was there to greet it — with his grenade.”
The other men laughed, nodded, and gave Sadoki a thumbs-up.
“Wait, there’s more,” Kenny broke in. He gestured to Sadoki. “Why don’t you tell them about it, my brother?”
Sadoki shook his head. He wasn’t interested in recounting his own activities.
“Well,” Kenny pressed, “I think your team-mates should know that you are not just brave and strong, but you are also smarter than most of those snot-nosed politicos out there.”
Sadoki now grinned.
“After the explosion,” Kenny went on, “rather than run away from the scene and hide, Sadoki manoeuvred his way through the brush down the road about half a mile. He then walked back on the other side of the road, pretended that he had just happened upon the situation, and proceeded to assist the wounded. People kept thanking him for his kind assistance, and Aditti himself peeled a few large bills off his money clip and gave them to Sadoki as a gratuity.”
The rest of the team howled with laughter and Sadoki relaxed his guard just long enough to drink in the adulation. Thomas shook his head in disbelief. Kenny was right: Sadoki was both sinister and brilliant.
“There’s even more to the story,” Fanni said as he looked at his computer screen.
Kenny walked around the table to look over his shoulder. “What have you got?”
Fanni let out a nasty, but self-satisfied grunt. “It seems that in the wake of the incident, Aditti Lawrence has cancelled all of his upcoming public appearances. That includes three major rallies, a meeting with the trustees of the national bank, and a deep-pocket fundraiser at one of the high-end country clubs.”
Kenny’s eyes widened as he read the words on the webpage. “I never thought I would see the day when Aditti Lawrence hid from the media,” he exclaimed. “The man is a full-fledged attention whore. This is like a drunk swearing off liquor at a moment’s notice.” He walked over to his deputy and threw his arm around his shoulder. “Sadoki, you are a master!”
A round of applause greeted the statement. When the ovation faded, Kenny walked over to the table and opened a cardboard box.
“We have completed our last few missions with perfect execution and flawless timing,” he declared. “We have also been well-compensated for our services. Given that we will have many more complicated missions to complete in the future, we must bring our technology up-to-date.” He reached into the large box, pulled out some smaller boxes, and passed them around the table. “Each of you will receive a new mobile phone.”
The men were elated.
“Thanks, Boss. This is great!”
“It’s about time!”
Kenny waved away the remarks. “I have all of your numbers stored in my phone, so I can reach you when necessary,” he stated. “You can call your wives, kids, girlfriends, or whoever from these numbers, but you cannot call me or each other. Do not store my number or any other team-mate’s number in your phone. After I call, you are to immediately delete my number from your call log. This is a security measure. If your cover is blown, if you are arrested for any reason, or if your phone is stolen, we cannot afford to have all of our communications information fall into the wrong hands.”
The men nodded their understanding as they played with the buttons on their new state-of-the-art gadgets.
“All right now,” Kenny said. “Put down the phones and listen up. We are about to begin work for another client.”
Thomas placed his phone on the table and leaned forward in his seat.
“We will be doing some work for the new National Secretary of The True Nigeria Party,” Kenny told them.
“I didn’t know TNP had appointed a new Secretary,” Sadoki said. “Who did they choose? And what is his interest in the Lagos elections?”
A smile crawled up the side of Kenny’s face. “The new Secretary is an acquaintance of our team-mate Thomas,” he said. “He has the mandate of the Party to deliver Lagos State, and the Party’s candidate is his boy.”
Thomas looked up startled. “I don’t have any acquaintances in the TNP,” he replied. “Do I?”
Kenny chuckled deeply. “Of course you do,” he answered. “His name is Chief Thomas Adekunle.”
At the end of the meeting, Thomas returned to his flat a dispirited man. As he reflected on his encounters with the Adekunles over a bottle of beer, his phone rang.
“Hello,” he said reluctantly.
“Brother, this is Rita,” the voice at the other end said desperately. “You don’t sound okay.”
“Oh, it’s you Rita. I’m just tired.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, Rita. How’s Mummy?”
“Mummy is fine. She asked me to call you,” she said quickly. “Are you okay?”
Thomas sensed there was something wrong back at home. He quickly put the bottle in his hand down and adjusted himself on the sofa. “Now tell me. Is Mummy okay?”
“Yes,” Rita said. “Except that she’s worried about rumours that someone here in Moso saw you working as a bus conductor, Thomas!”
“Ohhh!” Thomas exclaimed and paused to think. “In a large city like Lagos there’s always the possibility of seeing the lookalikes of loved ones. A bus conductor couldn’t be sending you all the large amounts of money I’ve been sending you and Mum. Could he?”
Rita laughed. “No. That’s exactly the explanation I gave Mum.”
“Yes, Rita. That’s why people who have briefly visited Lagos go back to say they’ve seen ghosts of their deceased relations and friends.”
“I think so, Brother.”
“Good. Tell Mummy I’m fine. And in fact, I should be sending you some more money soon. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“But Brother, there is one more thing,” Rita said excitedly.
“Your visit to Lagos?”
“Yes, I want to come as soon as possible. It’s boring out here,” she pleaded and added, “Mummy is eager to see her daughter-in-law. You can’t continue to live alone. You must find yourself a wife, Brother Thomas.”
“Oh that?” Thomas took a sip of his beer. “That’ll be sooner than you think.”
“Okay. I’ll tell her.”
“Bye, my Sweet Sister.”
Thomas hurriedly put the phone on the table and filled his glass for a long drink. His lies had begun to haunt him. He hated to deceive, and serving his sister a cocktail of lies was a painful thing to do.
His arrival in Lagos had saved his sister from dropping out of secondary school, but he was unhappy about the things he had been forced to do to earn money. Although Thomas had read social sciences at the university, his sister took after their father and had a flare for hard science: mathematics, chemistry and physics. She hoped to read Medicine and she had the full support of the rest of the family. Luckily, he had money to support her but the source was not sustainable. And it was so dirty: Thomas could not risk a visit from her. Rita would quickly realise that he had not become the great academic that he had set out to be and she would be ashamed of the fact that he was now a cheap hoodlum. And there was also the city.
A small kernel of belonging was recently starting to develop in his subconscious. Not belonging to Kenny’s gang — Thomas was still uncomfortable about how it sat on his moral compass — but belonging to Lagos itself. It was as if the bright lights of this city had drawn him in from the countryside like a moth to a candle flame. He had already been burned a couple of times but the hypnotic allure was still there, beckoning him to stay. This living, vibrant organism was seducing him, just like Moji Adekunle had done in her boudoir, but Thomas was beginning to realise that the temptation and lure of Lagos was far harder to resist. Residence in Lagos was becoming a status symbol for him, as it was for many Nigerians.
The more Thomas thought about it, the more depressed he became, so he turned all his attention to the bottle of beer before him. He finished that and drank two more bottles. Later he groped his way drowsily to the bedroom and slept.