THE RETURN (Part one)
His ordeal began with a brief phone call.
“Hallo? Hallo? Honorable! Are you there? Your mother. She was stolen from her house.”
A sharp pain pinched him in the middle of the chest and traveled slowly down to the bottom of his stomach.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” he thought.
For the past week he had been nursing an ominous feeling that something beyond his control was going to happen. Somehow his mind kept going to his mother.
He was thinking of driving to the village this weekend to visit her.
“Hallo? Hallo? Are you still there?” the voice asked again.
“What did you say?” he wanted to be sure his ears were not deceiving him.
“Hallo? You mama has been kidnapped,” the faintly familiar voice said.
He was instantly soaked in his perspiration. Adetola Wewe, the prolific Nigerian artist, felt strained and looked drained of all energy as he took the unexpected call on his cell phone. He needed to sit down.
He looked around for a seat. There was no seat near him. He rested a hand against the wall to stabilize himself.
He was attending the meeting of the Ondo State Executive Council when his I-phone vibrated.
He checked the number. The call was from an important chief in Shabomi, his hometown in the western Niger Delta.
He quickly left the room to take the call.
The executive meeting that he was attending was a particularly long session that had dragged beyond midnight into the early hours of the morning.
He had been on his seat for a couple of hours, and felt that he needed a break, when his cell phone vibrated.
The caller did not have any detail.
“Who abducted her?” He finally found his voice. It sounded like it was not coming from inside him, but from another person down the hall. “Do you know who kidnapped her?”
“We don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Where was she taken?”
“When did this happen? Today?”
“A short while ago. In the night. At about 1:30 am.”
“And what time is it now?”
“I don’t know. I’m not wearing a wrist watch.”
“This is already more than twelve hours. Why didn’t you call earlier…”
The phone went dead.
Wewe, perplexed, stood alone in a corridor in the State House, his entire body shaking. He checked the time on his cell phone.
It was past 2:00 am. He returned to the meeting room. He tried to control his shaking body.
As he whispered into the ears of the secretary to the state government, it was clear to everybody that there was something seriously wrong with him.
“There is an emergency and I must leave immediately.” The secretary nodded his head understandingly.
“Hope you’re fine,” said the secretary, whispering back.
The governor, Olusegun Mimiko, was in the middle of an important statement, but he paused, because he could feel the tension and fear in Wewe’s shivering body.
Wewe went to the unlit parking lot. “Everything will be alright,” he whispered to himself, although he believed nothing he was saying. “It’s probably just a mistake,” he said in self-reassurance. “Must be a case of mistaken identity.”
The large power generator plant supplying electricity to the State House was making a loud irritating noise.
Otherwise everything was still and pitch dark.
Wewe’s driver was behind the wheel of his personal car, a Jaguar painted black, waiting for him.
He slumped into the back seat and said, “Home.”
He hardly ever used the Jaguar. His eyes scanned the dark streets, searching for any strange movement.
He saw nothing. His was the only car on the road. He felt lonely and afraid.
It started to drizzle as they drove home. At that time of the year, the rainy season was slowly disappearing, and the heat of the tropical dry season was beginning to sizzle.
Though the car air conditioner was fully blasting cold and dry air, Wewe was sweating.
As soon as he got home, his cell phone rang again.
It was his mother’s number. His hand went clammy as he took the call.
“I am The Kidnapper,” the anonymous voice announced. “Na you dem dey call The Lagos Picasso, right? You must call me back. Now, now!” The caller snapped in pidgin English.
The line went dead, as Wewe kept looking at his cell phone.
Wewe dialed his mother’s number.
“Your mama is in our custody. I am using her cell phone. First thing in the morning you must text a phone credit of twenty thousand naira to her number.” The Kidnapper again ended the call abruptly.
Wewe went to bed.
He lit a cigarette, and poured himself a drink of brandy.
Sleep did not come. Kidnapper, he thought, as he lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. A more appropriate term would be “Mamanapper.”
Morning arrived slow and torturous.
Wewe did not sleep a wink throughout the night. He sent his driver to buy phone credits of twenty thousand naira as he was instructed.
His driver returned within an hour and handed him the cell phone credit cards.
He began to text them to his mother’s number. The phone rang again.
“I am The Kidnapper,” the voice snapped. “I asked for twenty thousand naira in phone credits. This is not twenty thousand!”
“Patient, please,” Wewe pleaded. “I am still loading the credits.”
“Good. When you finish loading, call me back on your mama’s number.”
Wewe completed the long process of texting the credits and called his mother’s number.
“She is safe,” said Mamanapper. “To obtain her release, you will deposit one hundred and fifty million naira to a secure location that will later be disclosed to you. Reporting this matter to security agents will put her life in serious jeopardy, which, as you know, may result in her death. As soon as you provide us this modest ransom fee, your dear mother will be immediately released. Otherwise she will suffer a slow and agonizing death, and the fault will entirely be yours. You have been warned.” The call ended as abruptly as it started.
Wewe’s ordeal is a common Nigerian tale of life imitating Nollywood, the larger-than-life African film industry.
And like a bad Nollywood script, it began with incredulity.
Wewe sat stunned for several minutes after receiving the call in his official residence in Akure, where he relocated one year after he accepted the technocratic position of the Ondo State Commissioner for Art and Tourism in 2009.
He slowly recovered his mind and began to rally his resources of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.
His first and most important commitment was to bring his mother back home safe and sound.
He also believed that he could outsmart the kidnappers and bring them to justice: after all he was a member of the Ondo State executive committee, with the entire security apparatus of the state at his disposal.
He placed a call to the head of the state’s security forces, and received assurances that the abductors will be apprehended, and his mother brought home unscathed.
“Awon olopa fi mi jeun,” Wewe said. “They kept telling me every day that they were closing in on the kidnappers. In fact they hardly raised a finger to assist me.”
Wewe called a meeting of family members and announced the bad news.
Relatives from his village came and confirmed the news: not only was his mother missing, his eleven year old niece, who was his mother’s favorite house sitter, was also taken by the kidnappers.
His brothers and sisters broke down and wept throughout the family meeting.
In tears, his immediate junior brother, known as Chairman, pleaded, “Don’t bring in the police because they are only going to make matters worse. Let us look for the money and settle the abductors.”
Someone suggested negotiating with the criminals to reduce the ransom figure.
One of his sisters remarked that Wewe’s fortune as a celebrity artist and state commissioner was what attracted the kidnappers.
Wewe started feeling guilty and responsible for the atrocity.
He left Akure, moved to his personal house in Ondo, and kept his cell phone permanently in front of him on the desk in his studio where he retreated.
TO BE CONTINUED