Monday, June 19, 2017

Efunsetan Aniwura and other Evans stories by Lasisi Olagunju

 “The first operation I went with the gang was at Uguruta Junction on the Port-Harcourt International Airport Road. We attacked some vehicles conveying a huge sum of money in foreign currency. We killed all the policemen escorting them including a man the police identified as the Regional Manager of the bank where the money came from. After that operation, I was given N3 million as my share…” The person who made that statement was a man nicknamed White Witch, who had participated in 15 bank and bullion van robberies and made millions. His ambition was to retire from robbery into politics. And he almost realised that ambition but for nemesis. He was arrested around this time last year shortly before his swearing in as a cabinet member by a state governor: “Two weeks before my arrest, I was shortlisted as a Special Adviser to the Governor, and we were waiting for him to return from his trip abroad so that he would swear us into our various offices. I did not know that the police had got to know about my activities.” If he had not been bursted, one day, he probably would have become the governor of his state, appointing his gang members as commissioners.

I wonder how many White Witches and how many of the now very popular kidnap don, Evans, we willingly elect every four years into our lives. A former senator who is a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police once declared that the National Assembly was a tank of confirmed criminals. He got elected into the Senate, looked around and the faces he saw were those of his former suspects in violent crimes. He famously declared that there were armed robbers in the chambers. Shocked Nigerians, as usual, gasped but moved on to the next drama. That was in the legislature. Among the more audacious executive, how many felons do you think could have been laundered into Government Houses? Some people are heirs to the throne of Satan but society celebrates and venerates them. Some have come and gone with crowns of life leadership on their heads. At their exit from power, they keep the chain unbroken, handing over to their gang members. The results have been reigning dynasties of criminals. Imagine if Evans, the doyen of kidnapping business in Nigeria, had contested the last elections, he would have won and would have escaped into real heroism, especially if he built dubious bridges and distributed cash and rice to all who caught his fancy. His 40th birthday would have been marked with lectures delivered by the brightest professors around with a honorary doctoral degree as the icing on the cake.

And getting into government would not have prevented the felon from continuing his bloody business. Indeed, it would have enhanced and sustained it. He could kidnap anyone, including his Accountant General and then collect ransom from his state. A whole month’s statutory allocation may go into that. No EFCC would harass him for paying it out. It is a humanitarian gesture. As a governor, he would have immunity from suspicions, from investigations and from prosecution. He would have deeper insights into how to restructure his business for greater efficiency. He wouldn’t have issues on how to hide the billions from the ransoms. As a governor, he would have several options. He could own a bank or banks, give loans and kidnap the loanee. He could own and license a bureau de change to legally handle his dollars and convert his government naira to euro and pound sterling. He could  even start selling dollars back to his victims who may need to pay ransom in hard currency. That is one very viable option. Governors do it with government funds. Or who do you think own many of these dollar-dealing companies around? Put a trusted ally in charge of the bureau and you win all the time. He could also build and stock a one-in-town shopping mall. Install a trusted soul in charge of the business and all dirty cash can then daily go in there, bear the stamp of that legit business and move into banks.

But because Evans lacked wisdom to diversify into government and politics, he is now begging for mercy. What mercy again? One victim paid you a ransom of N100 million and was still not released. Another was coldly told to hold a thanksgiving service for surviving a gunshot. You, the source of his affliction, assured him you would attend the event. After reading the several accounts of the victims, are we wrong to be surprised that the kingpin seeks pardon? At least that is what we have been reading in the last couple of days. It has been either he is burying his head in the Books of Job and Lamentations or he is weeping, seeking a second chance or the wife is pleading for pardon. Evans won’t be the first iron to melt after arrest. There was a very notorious armed robber in the mid 80s who almost became a legend. He would rob, throw some of his stolen funds at the people and vanish. He was invincible and enigmatic. His name sent shivers down the spines of even the best of security operatives. At a point, the then president, Ibrahim Babangida, had to publicly ask his Inspector General of Police: “My friend, where is Aninih?” Eventually, he was bursted and caught. He turned out to be a cowardly felon, fearful of death, begging for mercy. Why won’t these fellows think about the consequences of their actions? Or did they just assume that they wouldn’t ever get caught? Or they did not know that the wages of sin is damnation?

You can be evil for a very long time. Sometimes what nails the vampire may not even be the bloodiest of his actions. When the time is up, something just gives way. And it is because justice does not just stalk the evil doer, it catches up with him. Efunsetan Aniwura was the very rich 19th century Iyalode of Ibadan who was deposed on May 1, 1874. She was not exactly a criminal but she was wicked and lacking in mercy for her slaves. There is a play about her life written by Professor Akinwumi Ishola. There is a film too adapted from that book by Ishola Ogunsola (I-Show Pepper). In the book and the film, she is the totality of what a blood thirsty witch does to foul the community. She had to die because she was evil. That is her eternal reputation promoted actively through popular drama. The image of evil associated with her stuck like the leopard’s spots. Every wicked woman next door is an Efunsetan. But recorded history says she was killed not because she killed her pregnant slaves. She really did that routinely and society looked away. History says she had to die because she had become too big for her king to handle. Someone can be rich. Someone can become a chief and a person of means and power. But when riches increase and powers multiply, and the head swells and someone wears the babanriga of impunity, the end moves near. Even if you are the sovereign, the eyes of justice will soon be on you. The charges against Efunsetan were: That she didn’t accompany her sovereign, Aare Latoosa to that year’s war against Ado Ekiti; that she didn’t send supplies to her lord during the war; and, that she did not come in person to meet the Aare outside the town wall to congratulate him on the successful campaign. Those were the recorded reasons for her death now lost in the maze of perception across centuries. And what was the reaction of the rich, tough woman to the dawn of justice? She pleaded and pleaded for mercy and pardon. She paid out most of her riches to escape death. She was sober. Samuel Johnson said of her last moments: “The Iyalode spent miserable days and nights suspicious of every sound and movement. She changed her sleeping place from night to night as she could not trust any of her domestics. She prepared her food herself, could not go out of doors, received no visitors, as she did not know from what quarter the fatal blow would fall. At length, on the night of June 30, 1874, knowing where she slept, two slaves entered the room from the ceiling and dashed out her brains.” Her pleas, her riches, her safety measures could not save her. Nemesis always trumps such measures.

So, we plead with the Evanses and White Witches in our Government Houses to reduce the monthly ransoms they collect from us. We ask them for freedom for the kidnapped salaries and pensions. We urge them to remember that, like the Evans of Magodo, Lagos, their surveillance cameras will one day fail them; that an Abba Kyari will one day break their front doors; and that on that day, even though they read the Psalms, the Lord would not be their Shepherd.

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