THE RETURN (Part Two)
He was unable to eat or sleep, as anxiety and depression began to unravel his characteristic calm disposition. Only a couple of months prior to the abduction, the wife of the Commissioner of Works was kidnapped and an undisclosed but generous ransom was paid for her release. Kidnapping had become the new strategy adopted by members of the underworld, who targeted the rich and famous in their bid to get rich quick. Business tycoons, expatriate oil executives, journalists, politicians, and even religious leaders and their families were constant targets. Abduction had become a multi million naira enterprise in Nigeria, and the police seemed unable to find any solution to the problem. No kidnapper had been arrested, and huge sums of ransom money had been paid. Many people complained that there was evidence of collusion between the security forces and the criminals.
As he sat perplexed in his studio, Wewe’s cell phone rang in the middle of the night. It was the voice of the abductor.
“Call me back. Now, now,“ Mamanapper barked. Wewe dialed his mother’s number with a trembling finger.
“Picasso, I have confidential info that you have informed the police,” Mamanapper said with a chilling and mocking chuckle. “What can’t you understand? You are only putting your mother’s life in jeopardy. We give you three days to produce the money, or your niece will be decapitate and her head sent to you.”
Wewe found his voice, and replied. “I want to negotiate. One million naira, and the money is yours in the morning.”
“Are you kidding me?” asked Mamanapper. “Your mother and niece are worth only one million naira to you?”
“Times are hard,” Wewe replied. “I have hardly had any time to paint since I became a state commissioner. I’m making no money from art. And we have had no allocated fund released to us by the state. The governor is untangling red tapes to make funding available.”
“Untangling what? You think this is a joke? I don’t care how you get it. Steal or borrow. This is not a joke. You have three days to produce the money in cash. You are a man of large resources. Your banks will gladly assist you.”
“The ransom is too exorbitant. I can’t possibly raise such a huge sum.”
“Ok. A hundred million naira. Final.” The call abruptly ended.
Wewe was already in contact with the cell phone companies, who were coordinating with the state security forces. They used their satellite technology to detect the location of the caller within a radius of five hundred yards. They informed Wewe that his mother’s kidnappers were calling from a location not far from Ore, about twenty miles from Ondo where Wewe resided.
“We are rapidly closing in on them,” the security agents assured him. “Only a matter of hours before we nab them.”
But Wewe had a personal contact with the cell phone companies. She was monitoring the calls and provided him with a totally different story.
“The calls are coming from the neighborhood of the Koko Port, near Sapele,” the personal contact said. “They are not coming from Ore as you have been told.”
Wewe felt frustrated and helpless.
Day three. The phone rang. It was his kidnapped eleven year-old niece’s voice. She appeared to be reading a prepared statement.
“Please pay them now, papa,” she pleaded in a halting and scared voice. “We don’t want to die, please papa, pay them before they kill us….”
Wewe switched the conversation from English to their local dialect.
Where are you?
I don’t know.
Have you eaten?
No. I’m not hungry.
You must eat when you are fed, ok?
Where is mama?
She is in the creek where we were taken.
Is she fine?
Yes. But she is not eating either.
Mamanapper did not understand the local dialect and cut off the conversation. “Call me back on your mama’s number. Now, now,” Mamanapper snapped. Wewe called, but Mamanapper did not pick the call.
Wewe lit another cigarette. He was living on nicotine and liquor. He could not eat or sleep. His wife and children sat with him in the studio. Downstairs, friends and neighbors crowded the sitting room. Everyone was quiet, waiting for the latest updates. Nothing came for the rest of the day.
Day four. The phone rang just after midnight. It was his mother’s number. Wewe heaved a sigh of relief as he picked the call. “Picasso, call me back. Now, now,” snapped Mamanapper. Wewe called.
“You are playing with fire, Picasso.”
“The ransom is too much.”
“Ok. Fifty million.”
“I don’t have that kind of money.”
“I’ll be candid with you,” said Mamanapper. “We are many. But I was empowered to negotiate with you down to a minimum of thirty million.”
“Still too high.”
“Well, your mother is a dead woman. Farewell. If you change your mind, and you want her back alive, call me back. No later than tomorrow.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Painting below is a new work by Adetola Wewe.
Title: The Will Within the Body
Medium: Acrylic on canvas.
It is part of a series he is currently producing for an invitational solo exhibition in the United States.