HANDCUFFS AND WEDDING RINGS

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December 20 – 21, 2013.

Some days are just made to go sideways.

From almost hurtling off the top of an uncompleted bridge to landing in a police cell with the groom’s best man, crazy got as crazy got. Maybe if we had all stayed at our hotels instead of having that night out; maybe if men can truly be men and stop being men for a bit then this wouldn’t have happened.

Okay, I think I’m going too fast. Let’s start again.

It was finally Sir T’s wedding. We all thought he was joking when he announced the date and told us to get ready. Knowing him, we all expected some kind of drama and a last-minute cancellation but Friday morning met us all confirming hotel reservations. Unlike the others, some of us couldn’t leave Lagos for Ijebu-Ode till late on Friday evening because our offices were closing for the weekend. I had to attend a party organised by my office for the less privileged and finish my annual report before going anywhere.

Sir T isn’t our boy; he’s more like an elder brother to us. The other guys were his peers but I and my friends were a few years younger even though we all shared a unique bond because we graduated from the same university one year apart. I, Scooby, Ephizzy – we also call him Epps – and El Flint all lived in his apartment during our National Service year in Akwa Ibom. We were there when he and his guys threw and attended all the parties from Second Base to Lounge Uno and others; we covered for him when one side-chick came calling and another side-chick was around, helped out with his sales job and generally enjoyed a service year many others could only dream about.

Not attending Sir T’s party wasn’t an option; besides everyone we knew from Akwa Ibom was gonna be there and we’ve missed them.

Epps finally called me by 7:30PM. He’s the one driving and I was the first person he had to pick along the way.  Scooby and Pinana were already waiting at Berger so we just had to stop for a few minutes to pick them before hitting the expressway. They brought bread and drinks, and after the initial greetings, I and Awo dug in. We had no idea how hungry we were.

Even at that time of the day, the Lagos Ibadan expressway was still being a bitch but thankfully, the only one among us with the driving skills of a Lagos Danfo driver was Epps. One minute he’s finding pockets of space to manoeuvre, the next he’s driving off road with the impatient interstate bus drivers.

Two hours later we got to Ijebu-Ode. Other than the harmattan haze which reduced visibility to about fifteen metres, It looked different. There was a flyover bridge at the intersection where you’re either headed towards Benin, turning left into town or heading right towards Ikorodu. A few minutes after passing the Lagos Garage, we realised we were driving up another bridge where there was formerly none. Thankfully we stopped and backed up; we would have dropped off the top if we kept going because the bridge wasn’t finished and the signs weren’t readable at that time of night.

By 10PM, we were settled in our hotel rooms. Surprisingly, Sir T was in his room instead while the others were at the club. Nothing we said could get him out; he said he was tired and needed to sleep. He said he wasn’t really in the mood and didn’t want to wake up with a hangover. It was as if he saw what we all didn’t.

When we got to the club, everyone was there; Kay, the best man; Boyo had been transferred to Imo from Akwa Ibom but he came in with Folly; Tony, Boyo’s childhood friend was home for the holidays from England. We didn’t know the others but it really didn’t matter; a friend of my friend is my friend. Besides, new friendships can always be forged over bottles of Absolut and Johnny Walker.

There were very few women though.

Kay was outside with some guy in a white kaftan. He’d been told by Kaftan Guy that he could get some female university students to join us because they lived off campus. Boyo was not interested; his fiancé was at the hotel. Tony was having a nice conversation with a pretty bartender who happened to be from his hometown in Edo. I, Scooby, Epps and Pinana weren’t bothered either but Kaftan Guy somehow managed to convince Kay to goad Awo into drive them to go get the girls.

About fifteen minutes later, I got a call from Epps so I stepped away from the loud music

“Guy, police don arrest us o. You guys should come quick abeg!”

“What the fuck! How?”

“They said I’m driving a stolen vehicle o. I don’t even know how that’s possible. We’re at that police station that we passed on our way to the club –”

The call disconnected.

I ran back inside to tell the others and within one minute, we were all parked at the gate of the police station. Alarmed at the sound of screeching vehicles bathing the entrance with multiple headlights, some officers rushed at us with their assault rifles.

“Who una be? Wetin una dey find?

“Oga, two of our friends were just arrested. We’re here to see them.”

“Which two? Na six people our people carry enter station!”

Apparently, they were returning with the girls.

“Two of our friends are among them.”

“Okay. Come back tomorrow.”

“Officer that’s not possible. We have to see them now.”

“I say make una dey go! If I count to three and una never comot here…” The officer cocked his rifle.

We didn’t wait to hear the rest as we scurried into our cars and drove a few metres across the road. Then we got out and decided to send two people over. It was while we were debating who to send that we realised Tony didn’t leave with us as we left the entrance to the station.

Some of us began to panic. Boyo however told us not to, he was just going to join Tony to plead with the officers but Tony was with us before we knew it.

“Guys, dem say we fit enter.”

How did he do it? How come they didn’t manhandle him? Tony somehow felt we had questions so he told us he only showed the police his ID as an officer in the British Navy.

Bloody hell.

Buoyed by this little progress, we got to the counter to see Epps and Kay stripped down to their boxer shorts. Awo had forgotten his licence and ID card at the hotel. Since the car belonged to his company and the officers couldn’t find anything to link him to the company, they simply arrested him, Kay and the girls. Unable to keep his big mouth shut, Awo had further infuriated the officers by insulting one of them.

We had no choice but to beg. The officers said we had to pay N20,000 but they were only going to release Kay, the girls, Kaftan Guy but not Epps and his car. We refused; everyone needed to be out though we didn’t care much about Kaftan Guy and the girls. And damn, those girls were so not fine! Looking at them, it was as if they’d just arrived from the fufu Olympics. Awo said he overheard one of them talking about leaving her two kids with her mom.

Folly suggested calling Kay’s dad since he retired as an Assistant Commissioner of Police. Boyo suggested we shouldn’t because Kay’s fiancée might find out. How would she react when she got the details? It wasn’t going to be pretty.

So we continued begging and hoping they’ll let everyone go for twenty grand.

At around 2PM, they finally agreed to release everyone but the female officers at the counter demanded an additional 10 grand to let them go. These were a greedy bunch and it seemed we had unwittingly become an ATM for this bunch.

All this time, Folly was generally being Zen just sitting outside the station with a flask filled with liquor when a muscled, bare-chested cop closed him down and asked to know what was in his flask.

“Officer, na Black Label o. I no fit let this harmattan cold kill me for outside.”

The officer laughed, before adding that Folly could have emulated him, seeing as he wasn’t fully dressed in the cold.

“Bros leave that thing jare, you’re used to staying outside on patrols and all that. And I sure say you go dey drink too. Follow me go car make I give you better drink.”

When they got to the car, the officer was surprised at how much alcohol Folly had in the boot of his car. Folly just shrugged and told him that it was the way he and his pals rolled in Akwa Ibom. Now the officer was curious because he did his National Youth Service in Akwa Ibom too in 2009, Batch B.

Boyo also served in Akwa Ibom in 2009, same batch.

Folly couldn’t hide hi excitement at this new piece of information, “Bros some of my people for here dey the same camp with you for Akwa Ibom. Make I take you go meet them.” He gave the officer a bottle of Jack Daniels and half-walked, half-ran back to meet us at the counter.

“Boyo!”

At that time, Boyo was pleading with the female officers who refused to sign out Epps and Kay without something for themselves. After an agreed 20 grand, we weren’t gonna budge but the officers were just as adamant.

When he got to Folly, the look of recognition on his face was unmistakable as he stared at the officer with him.

“I know you. Akwa Ibom NYSC 2009. You contested for Mr Macho when we were at the orientation camp.”

Kay, a fair skinned dude who hadn’t said much since we got to the station suddenly shouted, “Agbara!”

That was what they called him back then because of his muscles and body-building. The crazy thing was that Boyo, Kay and the officer all lived in Uyo with Folly’s elder brother for a while before they got their own accommodation.

We were now so confident because we had a friend who was willing to help us – it was a breeze from then on. Fortunately, we hadn’t even paid the 20 grand the police were asking for so we halved it and asked Officer Agbara to settle things for us. The female officers also got nothing.

As we left the station at about 3AM that morning, I asked Epps if he was going to drop off the girls they went to pick up.

“Abeg, fuck that shit. I didn’t ask for this in the first place.”

The laughter that erupted among us was palpable. It’s been a crazy night.

We barely had two hours of the sleep at the hotel before Sir T came knocking on our doors to get us ready for the engagement. The lucky dude was just laughing his head off as we narrated our ordeal, thanking his stars that he wasn’t with us as it all went down.

I’m not gonna talk about the wedding but I know you’ll be wondering about how we all made it through. It was really fun but let’s just say we were a bunch of groggy-eyed groomsmen for the first couple of hours.

And then…we took pictures! 😀

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Epps and 1 – My favourite pic of the day.

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Flint and my goggled self

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Myself, one of Sir T’s friends and Epps

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Pinana, Epps, Myself and Flint that can’t photobomb with dignity

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Sir T le badass groom!

 

Featured image credits: Sugar Six Photography, https://isgphotography.wordpress.com

Another Crash, Another Moment of Sorrow Tears and Blood

This article was initially written after the Dana air crash on June 3, 2012. Another crash occurred a few days ago. Apparently, nothing has changed, my message hasn’t changed either…

So there was a plane crash involving the corpse of the former governor of Ondo state, Chief Olusegun Agagu on October 3, 2013. 15 people died, five survived. We’ve started asking questions – again; like we always do whenever this happens. But questions shouldn’t only be asked after tragedies, they should be asked to prompt actions in order to forestall tragedies. Plane crashes in these climes usually expose our lack of maintenance culture on a wider scale. We tend to ‘manage’ things and live life on the edge – unnecessarily.

While at school, a roommate of mine got off a commercial motorcycle whose rider later told him to thank his stars for getting home safe. Why? Because the bike had no brakes! Trust me, when I say that this is not just a fictional anecdote but a clear depiction of how negligent we are when it comes to the sanctity of human life. You might not realise it until now but there probably would have been a time when you might have boarded a death trap of a bus without even knowing it.

Let’s face it, Nigerians as a whole do not really value lives. This is why a petrol tanker would be on the road when it shouldn’t; this is why our roads are bad; this is why we have an ill trained, ill educated and ill equipped police force – security officials by extension; this is why oil spills are left unchecked for days; this is why people go out to scoop fuel from burst pipelines and felled tankers, well aware of the attendant risks, some even go as far as making phone calls. I can go on and on but I’m sure you get the picture already.

This brings me back to the plane crash in Iju-Ishaga, a suburb of Lagos on the 3rd of June 2012. The plane owned by Dana airlines was supposedly not meant to be in the air and the management was notified but all complaints were waved aside. What do we have now, over 150 people dead is the answer. According to the Special Adviser, Technical to Minister of Aviation, Victor Oche Elias, the pilot declared ‘May Day’ 11 nautical miles to landing and when he declared emergency, he was given priority. But the plane crashed 4 nautical miles to landing. The main question is: should the plane be allowed to take off in the first place?

In a report by Vanguard Newspapers, there were indications that the Dana Air MC Donnell Douglas MD 83 which crashed in Lagos had a history of worrying defaults even before original owners, US-based Alaska Airlines sold it to Dana Airlines on February 17, 2009.

According to the information from Aviation Safety Network, an exclusive service of the Air safety Foundation, the ill-fated aircraft was acquired by Alaska Airline in November 13, 1990 with registration number N944AS. However, on November 4, 2002 the aircraft developed fault and had emergency diversion due to smoke and electrical smell in the cabin area, which engineers said was because light ballast had over heated.

Four years after, the aircraft’s health was also called to question when on August 20, 2006, it was again evacuated after landing at the Long Beach, CA due to a chaffed wire bundle that discharged and produced smoke in the cabin area again.

Apparently scared that the worst could happen, Alaska Airlines was said to have on August 21 parked the aircraft at Victorville until September 11 2008 when it carried out maintenance on it.
Eventually on February 2009 Alaska Airlines shifted the burden to Nigeria when it sold the ill-fated plane as 5N-RAM. The MD-83 was manufactured in 1983, announced go-ahead on January 31, 1983 and had first flight on December 17, 1984.

Now, the issue is not the fact that the plane is old (although you might want to wonder why a 28 year old plane should still be in business); there are old planes everywhere but why is our maintenance culture so bad? Planes are supposed to go for a scheduled C-test with authorities every once in a while. Unfortunately, it is only in Nigeria that scheduled tests are postponed, hence, if a C-test is supposed to take place on the 10th of June, it can be shifted and the plane will be allowed to fly on the 11th, even on the 20th! This is a worrying trend and people die at the expense of a few naira notes exchanging hands.

If a plane is declared unfit to be in the air, it should not be allowed to take off, period! Yet, we manage and manage till lives are lost. Tell me, how do you manage the irreplaceable loss of human lives?
The Minister of Aviation has pledged to conduct an investigation and we all have our fingers crossed. If the various allegations surrounding the Dana airline crash become established as fact, there should be just one outcome: the airline should not only be mandated to pay compensation, it should be banned.

Worse still is the sorry state of our government’s readiness for emergencies. Over two hours after the crash, rescue operations had not begun. The attitude of the ordinary Nigerian is also deplorable because the sheer number of people at the scene would have hampered the work of emergency agencies had they been at the scene. The Nigeria Police Force is also culpable as there was no visible perimeter around the crash site and people were allowed to roam as they liked at the risk of their personal safety.

This should not be the end; rather, it is an indication that there is still a lot of work to be done in the Nigerian aviation sector. Serious measures should be taken, routine maintenance should be mandatory and all regulations should be strictly adhered to. The person who cleared the plane to fly should be tried in court. Fines and bans should be applied whenever rules are flouted. Yes it would be bad for business, but business should never be conducted at the expense of human life.This is a wakeup call to Nigerians, aviation authorities, public officials, security agents, emergency management agencies and all other stake holders. We must begin to take lives seriously. The attitude of prioritising money in place of lives must be done away with. 156 dead people = thousands of mourners and it is not pretty. Entire families were killed, people lost spouses, fathers, mothers, sisters, in-laws, brothers, cousins, etc. IT MUST STOP!