ROB WAY. THE MUSICAL
They came in twos and threes and fours. I don’t remember seeing a group of five. They came in twos like multiple weddings at the Ikoyi registry. They came in threes like the slaving union of a tricycle’s tires. They came in fours, like crawling babies.
There must have been close to fifty of them, all clad in leather jackets over blue tee shirts, quartered denim shorts and Converse shoes. In truth, one group could’ve passed for One Direction touring Oshodi. Or another, Coldplay in 2001.
They came in five Hilux trucks, arriving exactly 75 seconds between them. The last car swerved right back into the middle of the road seconds after parking, making a lousy screech, drawing spitfuls of oloriburuku and weyrey from a truck driver who was forced to make a jerking halt. Two other cars revved their engines and almost immediately, backed their reverse either sides of the last car, forming an ominously neat triangle which blocked off traffic on both ends of the road. The remaining two cars took up positions on either ends of the road.
There was nothing remotely Gestapo about them, if you ignore the careful disregard for traffic. Some of them went into the nearby shops, high-fiving people, laughing their chests out and giving mock salutes to those too far away for the hand claps. Nobody knew who they were, where they’d come from and what they wanted.
A few onlookers passed them off as the underpaid hirelings of some political party, a street dance-off sponsored by some phone manufacturer to promote a new product. Some even dared argue the possibility of a bold LGBT advocacy group looking for attention.
“Na person wey God do AC follow ein body go fit dey knack leather inside this hot sun” somebody volunteered near me. Two men nearby broke into a loud laugh. I wasn’t finding any of this business funny. I’d been here for the last one hour.
It was just typical of the Nigerian banking system for all five banks in one location to deny your supposed ‘Master Card’, as if somebody at Interswitch had an unsettled grudge with you. I had been to all four banks, patiently waiting through queues of twenty and thirty; people before me would get money, people after me would but when I got there, the machine inexplicably comes up with some reason why I can’t take money.
I was at my fifth bank, last hope, third on the line and two people away from finally collecting the 5000 I’d spent all afternoon trying to get.
“How far, man dem?”
One of them walked to the queue and shook hands with a few people. He had crooked teeth, hair strung up in tiny little portions, his veins congregated around his forehead and his eyeballs craved sleep. If you’ve seen Taribo West…
Still amazes me how Nigerians eagerly stretch out their hands to slap it against a random stranger’s. Ebola taught us nothing. I had both hands in my pocket. I was now second on the queue; the fat man who’d been keeping the rest of us grumbling finally left the machine and walked to his car.
Across the road, there was a small crowd gathering already; a mix of people who had nowhere to be, people who wanted to be entertained for free, professional pickpockets and food peddlers. Not far from the crowd, a group of people were demanding to know what was happening and threatening all sorts.
Then they did something strange – they brought out guitars and trumpets. By now, a drum set was finished assembling and three of them had microphones in their hands. I observed all five of the police attachés at the banks had made it to the scene and were ‘showing themselves’. At this point, I was probably the fifteenth person on the queue since everyone had moved past me.
I am sure I wasn’t the only one enraptured by the civilized savagery on display – their discipline, coordination, I daresay respect for fundamental human rights, decency, composure and timeliness, for all of this happened under fifteen minutes.
The guitars went first, then the drums kicked in, then the saxophonists followed – from Ojuelegba to Dami Duro, Baba Nla, Skelewu, Orente and several other street-recognized jams. By now, the enraptured crowd was by themselves the performing artistes. gods. The men with the instruments, mere backups. Humans.
I then observed the stage was getting packed and at this point became very difficult to pick out the concert organizers. Of course it was a Tuesday afternoon – the throng of the Monday morning rush had long settled and the Friday evening crowd was still a safe distance away. It was perfect.
Policemen, their arms waving frantically in the air like they just did not care, their guns hanging dangerously over their unsteady shoulders, their blue uniforms black with oceans of sweat, schoolchildren dancing away their break periods, hawkers seizing the moment by providing long throat Pepsis dipped in literal ice bergs, rich man pure water selling at 20 naira per sachet, pickpockets ducking between shoki moves to peep in their victims’ pockets – it was a carnival.
The next morning, I scanned the headlines – gang of forty storm five banks in Enugu, cart away 400 million dollars. I did not understand it. I still do not understand it. Not a single shot was fired that day. Rob way. The musical.