03 Apr Thomas’s Gang Disrupts Political Rally In Lagos
“Settle down, gentleman. We have an intricate plan to discuss.” Kenny’s booming voice, as well as his massive physical presence standing at the head of the table, brought the room full of rowdy men to order. The room Kenny had reserved for such meetings in his flat was sound-proofed. Its steel door was camouflaged to the colour of the wall, and Thomas had not known that it existed until that day.
Thomas had been standing back, watching the muscle-bound bodyguard types mingle with a few more slightly built gentlemen who wore smart shirts and ties. Seeing these men, many of whom appeared to be long-time friends and associates interact with one another, caused Thomas to smile.
It was in direct contrast to the scenes he recalled from his days at the university. The intellectuals and the athletes always segregated themselves from one another, unless an athlete needed help with his schoolwork to remain academically eligible to keep his spot on the team. So it was actually quite reassuring to see all ten men combine their talents, although Thomas had to admit that it was strange that they were doing so for an underground political assembly.
The four intellectual types all took seats around the large conference table. Some of them flipped open their attaché cases for their files, while others booted up their laptops. Thomas sat at the corner of the table near Kenny, hoping it was not too presumptuous of him to sit so close to the Boss at his first meeting. Three muscular men slid into the last remaining seats. Another sat on the rug near the door, and the last two appeared to be content to just hover about. Thomas got the impression that they weren’t much for sitting still under any circumstances.
“Most of you have already been introduced to Thomas,” Kenny said as he motioned to his left. “Because he is a new face, he’ll be doing undercover work for as long as he can.”
The other men nodded in appreciation. Thomas nervously nodded back. He still had no clue how he was supposed to convince people in the political arena, most of whom were very savvy, that he was an experienced journalist.
Kenny must have been reading his mind at that moment. “Jimmy Samson has infiltrated the media outlets many times,” he said, motioning to the man on his right. “He’ll get you started.”
One of the men tapped a few keys on his computer. “There are several options for our next plan of action,” he announced. “Has one been chosen yet?”
Kenny finally took his seat. “Yes, Fanni. We have an assignment coming up in two days,” he answered. “As you probably know, Dr. Clement Toyo is campaigning for the governorship position.”
“Toyo,” one of the hovering bodyguards repeated. “He’s with the People’s Party, right?”
“That’s correct,” Kenny confirmed. “He has a major rally scheduled in two days, and we have been invited to attend.”
There were snickers among the men, but Thomas had no idea what they found so amusing.
“Who invited us?” one of the bodyguards wanted to know.
Kenny smiled broadly. “Let’s just say that it wasn’t Dr. Toyo.”
á á á á á
It was a comfortable sunny day in the Yaba Motor Park. A stage had been set up at one end with a podium in prominent view. Shoppers mingled about the street. More enthusiastic visitors, those who had come to hear a rousing speech from the gubernatorial candidate Dr. Clement Toyo, began moving into the park.
Some carried signs, and one man called out through a bullhorn. “Bring those signs around to the front,” he instructed, “and then turn them around so they can be seen from as many angles as possible.”
He glanced around at the press corps that was gathering. “Remember, when you see a camera pointed in your direction, hold your sign up toward the lens. I want to see all of these signs on the television news tonight and on the front pages of all of the newspapers tomorrow morning!”
Thomas approached a group of Dr. Toyo’s ardent supporters. His counterfeit media credentials hung like dog tags from a lightweight chain around his neck. Kenny had given him a camera, which was flung over his shoulder. Sunglasses covered his eyes and managed to give him a sophisticated appearance. When he caught sight of himself in a store window, Thomas was quite impressed by how authentic he looked. He hoped he could speak, move, and behave well enough to complete the disguise.
Amongst the most boisterous group of Toyo supporters, a tall, grey-haired man with a slight limp, caught sight of Thomas and his media credentials and instantly clamoured for his attention. His compatriots waved and shouted. When Thomas pulled his camera up to his face, they held up their signs and cheered.
Jimmy had given Thomas a crash course in crowd infiltration. “Many of these people have obvious motives,” he had explained. “The majority of them sincerely believe in their candidate. Thus, it becomes your job to understand why they do. All you have to do is ask them, and they will be happy to share their thoughts on the subject. In fact, they will probably tell you more than you really want to know. We need you to catch as many of their words as possible on tape. This alerts us to a particular candidate’s strengths. Once we know his strengths, it will be easier to discern his weaknesses.”
Thomas carefully took in his cohort’s information.
“Also in the crowd,” Jimmy had told him, “will be people who have absolutely no knowledge of what the hell is going on in politics. They’re simply there because there’s a crowd and they want to be in the middle of the action. They also want to see if they can get on TV. Try your best to identify these people because they are a complete waste of your valuable time.”
Thomas had nodded.
“An even greater waste of your time will be the people who have gathered because they have been paid to do so,” Jimmy continued. “All the candidates do it. It’s part of the game. Fortunately, they won’t bother you too much. Many of them make a great deal of money doing things like this. They’ll show up and form a crowd for any candidate who hands out cash, and you may find the same people cheering on political enemies. They really don’t want to be photographed, but you should look out for them anyway.”
Thomas rolled his eyes. He was astonished to learn that people actually got paid to stand in crowds.
“Lastly, you need to be on the lookout for an important group of people,” Jimmy instructed.
“Who are they?” Thomas wondered. Jimmy sneered. “People like us,” he replied.
Thomas was taken aback.
“C’mon, Thomas,” Jimmy responded, “you didn’t really think we were the only group out there spying on the competition, did you?”
“Of course not,” Thomas snapped back. “I just don’t know how I’m supposed to deal with, as you say, ‘people like us’.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Discreetly take photographs of anyone you think might be a spy. Chances are we already have this person’s image and pertinent information in our database. Make a note of anyone who might be taking photos of you. Remember, you’re supposed to be a member of the media. We don’t want the other spies to know that you’re with us, so do your best not to be seen speaking to any of us. Eventually they’ll figure you out. They always do, but that won’t be your fault. As it stands, we want to keep you undercover as long as possible, so pretend you don’t know us.”
Keeping all of this in mind, Thomas stood in the park and snapped photos of the excited rally participants as they waved, cheered, chanted, and sang. He found that it was easier to scrutinise the faces in the crowd and the possible motives they may be masking from behind his camera lens. Along with the sunglasses, the camera concealed most of his face, making him less self-conscious about his facial expressions. Another advantage was the fact that the camera was equipped with a motorised zoom lens, which allowed Thomas to focus in tightly on faces that he thought deserved some special attention.
As he panned his camera around, Thomas caught sight of Kenny sitting on a bench over to the far left of the designated rally area.
“I’ll be sitting,” Kenny had told Thomas. “When I stand around, I attract too much attention. Everybody likes looking at the big guy. Sometimes that works in our favour, but in this particular case, it will detrimental to our assignment.”
Thomas was then told to glance back in the Boss’s direction every minute. He would rise from his position on the bench to signal the moment when it was time for the mission to shift into high gear. At that designated moment, Thomas was told, it would be advisable for him to very discreetly leave the scene.
Thomas turned his camera’s focus back on the crowd, which had doubled in size in less than ten minutes. As he glanced around the area, he saw his cohorts from the meeting sprinkled among the multitude of faces. Some were quite skilled at blending in with the rest of the public. Thomas saw one of Kenny’s men holding up a campaign sign and chanting slogans in unison with the candidate’s supporters. Thomas surveyed the faces in the man’s close circle and concluded that none of them even marginally suspected that this man was not actually one of them.
A moment later, Thomas jumped when the sound of feedback from the public address system blasted out. He turned toward the stage to see the man who had earlier been shouting orders through his bullhorn standing at the podium and waving his arms in an effort to pull all eyes in the area toward him.
“Ladies and gentleman of Lagos,” he shouted into the microphone. “Thank you so much for joining us here on this beautiful day! It is a day the Lord has made.”
The crowd applauded while Thomas continued to focus his camera on various faces and jot down occasional notes, making his best effort to appear as journalistic as possible.
“As you know,” the speaker continued, “we are in the midst of a crucial period in Nigerian history. This is a time that calls for new ideas, new determination, and above all, new leadership!”
As if on cue, the crowd erupted into an approving roar. Then again, the more Thomas thought about it, the crowd’s roar probably did erupt on cue.
“The days when our country was consumed by so-called leaders whose only motivations were greed and personal gluttony are over!” the speaker exclaimed. “The time has arrived for great men to step into the breach and give this country back to its people!”
There was no way the crowd could pass up the opportunity to cheer that rousing statement, no matter how unlikely such a thing was to occur.
Thomas found the speaker’s words uniquely inspiring, but he had to remember that he was not there to be inspired. He was working as part of an important mission, one for which he was being generously compensated. He held his tape recorder up in the air, mimicking the technique demonstrated by the other correspondents present in the marketplace. Thomas could not help but wonder how many of them were actual journalists and how many were impostors, just like him.
“It is now my great honour and privilege to introduce you to a man of tremendous integrity,” the speaker announced. “An internationally renowned medical doctor, who has volunteered to bring to the polity his enormous experience.” He paused. “Ladies and gentlemen of the great city of Lagos, please welcome the next great governor: Dr. Clement Toyo!”
This time the ovation was so ferocious and dense that Thomas’s ears rang with a stabbing pain. He winced and instinctively covered them with his hands. He caught sight of the other media representatives and noticed that they were not having the same difficulty. Thomas wondered whether they were wearing ear plugs or if perhaps they were simply accustomed to such excruciating noise. Whatever the case, Thomas realised that he had better regain his composure quickly or his cover would be completely blown.
When Thomas’s ears finally adjusted to the noise, he turned to see Dr. Clement Toyo approach the podium. Dr. Toyo was a distinguished looking gentleman. Tall, heavily built with a bewitching smile. Through his camera’s lens, Thomas found him to be wonderfully photogenic. Toyo carried himself in a self-assured manner, displaying the kind of poise that inspired confidence in others. He stood behind the podium for a moment to drink in the crowd’s overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. Thomas panned his lens across the crowd, looking for people who might not be applauding or perhaps those who were applauding too much, suggesting overacting on the part of some spies.
“Thank you, Lagos,” Dr. Toyo spoke into the microphone. “It is my greatest pleasure to be here today.”
The crowd let out one final cheerful blast and then muted itself just enough so that Dr. Toyo’s words could be heard throughout the area.
“As you know,” the doctor continued, “it is time to seek a new direction for our country. The strategies that have been used in the past are no longer viable in the twenty-first century. It is imperative that we pursue the latest technologies and resource management to bring all of our cities into the future.”
Dr. Toyo took a small step back from the podium, allowing the crowd to greet his words with another roar of approval. Thomas was impressed with the doctor’s presentation. He was charming, intelligent, eloquent, and even handsome. In the era of television politics, Thomas felt he had all the makings of a first-rate political candidate.
Dr. Toyo reclaimed the microphone. “International commerce will bring great economic resources to Lagos,” he began. “But we must train our citizens to work with the rest of the world so that we may reap the benefits of such resources. For that reason, I will make academic and vocational education a top priority for our state, so that when the opportunities arise, our citizens will be ready to seize them!”
Another step back from the podium led to another enthusiastic ovation. Thomas casually glanced around the area until his eyes landed on Kenny, who was still sitting on the bench. Something about Kenny’s body language told Thomas that something was about to happen. He tried not to stare too long in Kenny’s direction for fear of being conspicuous.
Thomas’s instincts were right on target. A split-second later, Kenny leaped off the bench, sending a signal to his men and their many assistants stationed within the crowd. Remembering his instructions, Thomas quickly looked for an exit from the park. Spotting one, he tried to look professional as he walked toward the edge of the crowd. He scrutinised his camera as he moved and checked the notepad in his pocket. Before he knew it, he no longer had to play the role of a journalist. Instead, he had to make himself completely disappear.
Dr. Toyo barely had a chance to step back up to the microphone when parts of the crowd lurched forward. Thomas caught sight of one of Kenny’s men shove the people in front of him, causing several to fall down like a row of dominoes. Kenny and a few other men ran around the outside, trapping people within the stage area. Soon the crowd rumbled like a herd of frightened animals and stampeded directly toward the stage. Dr. Toyo’s security force physically grabbed the candidate and rapidly carried him off the platform. People were soon plastered up against the plywood. Those who lost their balance hit the ground and were trampled by hundreds of feet. Horrified screams from those who were injured and those who were separated from friends and loved ones rang through the air like ear-piercing sirens.
Thomas accidentally stepped on someone as he bolted for the nearby market. His first instinct was to reach down and try to help the man up, but it quickly became clear that doing so would only make matters worse. He continued to run straight ahead until he reached the market, and then he continued running until he reached safety on the other side. It wasn’t until he was at least five blocks away from the pandemonium that he allowed himself to slow down. He was panting heavily, so he leaned against the side of a building and tried to catch his breath.
Kenny had arranged for Thomas to stay in a room in one of the flats that was between tenants. As he had been ordered when the mission was laid out, Thomas returned there to wait for further instruction. He was about to set his camera down on the desk when he found a note waiting for him.
Meeting on Thursday @ 6:00 am