By Hannatu Musawa
“Try not to mess this one up,” Tambawalle thought to himself.
In the last month, he had attempted to do three operations, but none of them were successful. It was important for him to succeed in the operation he was presently on because otherwise the members of his gang would look at him as weak.
He could tell that the attitudes of those around him had changed. There was a kind of disdain thrown his way. By way of shifty looks and off turning body gestures, members of the gang seemed to be put off by him. He couldn’t imagine what would make them react to him in that way since he had been a very active member of the team apart from the fact that he had pledged to do a couple of operations within the month but to his dismay, they had all failed.
Tambawalle used the shadow of the partly demolished building beside him to hide. The few streetlights that were working were dimed down in the small street that was riddled with potholes, mud and puddles. The moon and stars were shining up above. He sighs, reaches out and sticks his head out slightly to ascertain the position of his prey. Yes prey, for the man that he was following was going to be the victim of kidnapping. Tambawalle was on a mission to kidnap the man who he had been following for the last one hour.
Tambawalle had been on a motorbike when he noticed a well-dressed man leaving the ATM machine that was stationed near the fancy plaza in town. Tambawalle stopped to observe and saw that the man had gotten into a relatively new looking SUV. “Perfect,” he whispered to himself. “This is the perfect one.”…
Tambawalle was a young Fulani man who never had the opportunity of going to school. He was twenty-one years old with thick black curly hair, dark skin so tanned that it defied the pale light tone underneath it, dark brown eyes, chiseled features, a straight nose and a tall lanky, slim frame. His father died when he was four years old, leaving his mother to take care of the seven children they had together. From the age of six, Tambawalle was forced to beg on the streets of the Cosmopolitan city in which they lived in order to be able to survive.
Somehow, he had gotten involved with some older boys who introduced him to the dreamy world of drugs. Tambawalle loved that lifestyle because it gave him the magical ability to escape from the harsh reality that was his life. The reality where he would have to sleep on the streets dirty, not being able to clean himself for weeks on end. The reality where he would go for days without eating and be so hungry that he would partially pass out. The reality of seeing his mother, whom he adored beyond comprehension, struggle to make ends meet for the other children that she had given birth to.
After the passing of his father, Tambawalle’s mother had married two other men and had given birth to four more children. It was a tough existence for her and Tambawalle was determined to help his mother. He had tried working as a guard and did some domestic work. He had attempted to do some cleaning work in the market and lent his hand on assisting to pick up dirt off the streets. But each time he tried to get on the straight and narrow, the draw from his drug filled addiction would lead in derailing him. There were all sorts of drugs all around Tambawalle. Of the drugs, ‘Sholoosion,’ a drug derived from the gum and petrol used in motorcycles was Tambawalle’s drug of choice.
Despite all the challenges that Tambawalle faced, the one thing he so desperately wanted was to go to school. He wanted to be educated like his life depended on it. He had seen how those within his peer group, who were educated, had been able to have a manageable life style and take care of their families. He wished that he was able to take care of his mother the way other people were. However, there was no such opportunity for an education for people like him in his community because one had to have money in order to afford the kind of education he needed.
In Tambawalle’s quest to make the money he needed to take care of his family, he came across Barkono, a former herdsman that seemed to have it all. Barkono was a Local Criminal Don who drove around in a worn down Golf. He had been known to follow politicians during the political cycles. Through that activity, Barkono had amassed some wealth and had formed a group of bandits, thirty deep, that helped him carry out his operations.
Most of the gangs operations had focused on kidnapping motorists and demanding ransom for their release. Through these means, the group had been able to live out their immoral fantasies in their hideout deep in the forest on the outskirts of the town. They were so comfortable with their trade that they were even able to build small, operational makeshift towns in the jungle. Not once had any of the authorities tried to infiltrate the towns, no matter the operations the group carried out.
Since Tambawalle had been part of the group, they had successfully carried out fifteen kidnappings. They had made Millions. He had personally made N358,022 from his participation, most of which he could not account for. He had joined the gang to make money in order to help his family but somewhere along the line, something had gone wrong and none of the money had gone to his family. Between his obsession for big busted women and his need to take codeine and Splif, the money just seemed to disappear before it got to helping his family.
There were other things that he had done during some of the operations that the group had embarked on. On one occasion, members of the group took a fancy to a young woman that had been kidnapped so they decided to take turns sexually abusing her. On that occasion, Tambawalle did not really want to participate but rather than look weak in front of his gang mates, he decided to have his turn. In his mind he did nothing wrong because it was his means to survive and fit in with the gang. It was only peer pressure. He didn’t believe that he had committed any kind of abuse against the young woman because by the time it was his turn, the woman had already experienced what she had experienced so his part would not have made any difference to her.
At another time, Tambawalle had stabbed an elderly kidnap victim with a knife in the back. The man succumbed to his wounds and eventually died before his release. But even that time, Tambawalle did not feel like he had done anything too, too bad because the man was trying to escape. In his mind Tambawalle felt like he killed the man in self-defense because the elderly man was trying to escape. Tambawalle had been put in charge of guarding the man and had he let the man escape, the gang would have blamed him. Yes. He killed the man in self-defense.
… Returning back to the mission at hand. “This is the perfect one.” Tambawalle said to himself as he followed the man who had driven for a few yards before getting out of the SUV.
He got off his motorbike and trailed the man on foot holding his knife tightly in his hand wondering where the man was going and when would be the best time to pounce on him, push him into the SUV and take him back to his gang’s enclave.
He wondered where the man was going to and before he could wonder any more, he saw the man walk into a building that looked like a Mosque. “Darn,” Tambawalle thought and he moved closer to try and spot the man again.
As he hid at the side of the Mosque, he heard the Imam say; “Astaghfirullaah alladhee laa ilaaha illaa huwal hayyul qayyoomu wa atoobu ilayhi.” “I seek the forgiveness of Allah the Mighty, Whom there is none worthy of worship except Him, the Living, the Eternal, and I repent to Him, Allah will forgive him even if he has deserted the army’s ranks.”
Strangely, Tambawalle felt as if the Imam was talking to him so he listened closer. The Imam continued, “Say Istighfaar. It means seeking forgiveness of Allah for the sins so far committed and turning repentant unto Allah.” “Repeat after me, “Astaghfirullah” Tambawalle repeated “Astaghfirullah.” He repeated it again and again and for a moment he lost sight of the reason why he was there in the first place.
All of a sudden, it was like a blast had hit him. Tambawalle did not know what came over him but he felt something touch his heart. In a flash of light he saw his whole life flash in front of his eyes; he saw his mother, his siblings, the jobs he had done throughout his life, his failed venture into education, his meeting with Borkono, his activities with the gang.
His eyes well and truly opened and he saw what he refused to see before. What he once convinced himself was trade now became clear to him to be crime and kidnapping. What he once saw as self-defense unraveled itself in his mind to be murder. What he told himself was peer pressure was now clearly rape to him. Just then he understood that he was a member of a ferocious kidnapping gang where he had committed rape and murder.
He was devastated and broken. He couldn’t believe that he had willingly committed all these atrocious crimes. He was a criminal, a rapist, a murderer. He was a horrendous human being who had let his family down and made people suffer.
His family! Now he remembers his family. He needed to go and see his mother. He needed to make amends for the terrible, terrible things he had done. He needed to go to the Mosque and confess his sins to the Imam. He needed to pray, ask The Almighty for forgiveness and cleanse himself of his sins.
Tears dripped down Tambawalle’s face as he walked into the Mosque, past the man that he had earlier profiled for kidnap and picked up a Holy Quran that lay on a praying mat. He held it to his face and begged for forgiveness. He walked out of the Mosque deciding to go to see his mother.
Arriving at his destination, Tambawalle walked into the decrepit and run down shack that was his mother’s residence. It was a tiny room made of sand in an overcrowded compound with other rooms made of sand. From his demeanor, it was evident that he carried a level of shame. He was aware that people in his close community had heard the rumors that he had been involved in some gang activity and may have been participating in kidnappings. He knew this because his mother asked him about the rumors and pleaded with him to stop the last time he saw her twenty nine months ago. Back then he was angry at the fact that she even had the guts to ask him such a question. After all, even if he had been engaging in such activity, shouldn’t she understand that he was doing it to survive in the harsh reality that they were living in Nigeria. He was doing it for her.
But now with his new awakening, he realized that he wasn’t doing it for his Mother. Almost all the money that he made from the kidnappings that he had engaged in had been spent on him and him alone. He barely helped his mother. He realizes that now. He had been engaging in crime ruthlessly and selfishly for himself and himself alone.
As he walked in towards the direction of his Mothers’ room, he could see that everybody was staring at him. From the corner of his eye, he saw a few women take their small children and move away from him; some even ran. They acted as if he was the Boogey man. He wasn’t angry because he now realized that he did act like the Boogeyman. He realized that the lifestyle he led and the person he had become was evil. He had done terrible things. He had been evil.
He focused on his Mother and the mission ahead of him. He had come home to tell his Mother that he was repenting and giving his life to his Deen. He wanted to be a new person, to do right by his family and his religion. He would work hard to make a living without resorting to crime. He had decided to walk away from the gang that did so much to destroy people’s lives.
He had decided that he was going to find the families that he had brought such destruction to and ask for their forgiveness. He would do anything they required by way of retaliation. He would start with the family of the young woman that he had participated in gang raping and then reach out to the family of the elderly man that he had stabbed and murdered. He knew that there was nothing he could do to correct the wrong he had committed to those families but he was ready to subject himself to them and allow them to retaliate in any way they felt fit.
He had also decided to turn himself over to the authorities and admit his part in all the crimes he had taken part in. He would give the authorities all the information they needed about the gang he was involved with, their whereabouts, locations, identities, plans and other gangs that they were associated with. He was ready to spill the beans at any cost. He was ready to stop and make things right.
As he entered his Mothers’ room, a pungent stench hit his face. He winced and squinted to try and adjust his eyes to see who was in the room. Through blurred vision, he saw the silhouette of a frail woman holding a limp body that looked like that of a small child. He heard the cries and the moans. Shinning the torch from the i-Phone S that he stole from a Kidnap victim that his gang had carried out a couple of months ago, he saw a face that looked eerily like that of his Mothers.
He could hardly recognize her. “Mamma,” he said. She didn’t reply him but continued to gently weep. He went close to her and could see that she was holding the lifeless body of one of his younger sisters.
Suddenly, Tambawalle would feel a hand on his shoulder. He would turn round to see the face of one of his neighbors who had tears running down his face. “Are you happy now?” the neighbor screeched. “You have brought shame to your mother. You have helped to kill and destroy your family!”
Through the neighbors’ outburst, Tambawalle found out that within the last couple of weeks, four of his siblings had passed away. Apparently, there had been some sort of infectious disease that caused severe watery diarrhea, which lead to weakness, dehydration and hot fever. His siblings died closely together because the condition had been untreated. His mother did not have the money to go to the hospital or buy medication. She begged for help but it did not come. She tried to reach her older children but was unable to get in touch with any of them in good time. Now she held on to the lifeless body of the fifth child and she sobbed quietly as she cradled back and forth.
The neighbor told Tambawalle that she did not even have the money to bury the dead child that she was holding and the people in the community were trying to raise money to help her. Tambawalle additionally learnt that apart from being given notice to vacate the sand made room that she resided in because she had been unable to keep up with the rent, his mother was also very ill and was dying because she was unable to afford medication.
Tamabawalle rummaged in his pocket to see what he could find to help his mother. He had nothing, apart from the i-Phone he held. Since he had embarked on his life of crime, he had made a lot of money but he had wasted it on a seedy lifestyle that included drugs and women of the night. He had saved nothing. Even if he was to sell his phone, it would not be enough to take care of the immediate issues his mother had. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do but he knew that no matter what, he would have to do something… anything to help out his Mother.
“What could he do?” he thought. After a few moments, Tambawalle scrunched his hands so hard that his left palm began to bleed from the pressure exerted by his index nail. He was about to make the most difficult decision of his life. He walked out of his Mother’s room, past the neighbor, out of the compound and towards a destination that provided the only solution he could think of. It was the destination of Borkono’s hideout deep in the bush that gave way to a jungle on the outskirts of the State that he lived in. It was the direction and destination of trouble.
In his mind, Tambawalle knew that what he was about to do was wrong, very, very wrong. He was about to go back to the unruly gang that encouraged him to gang-rape a young woman and murder an elderly kidnap victim. He didn’t want to do it, to subject himself to that lifestyle again. He wanted to repent and stop doing evil but he felt like he didn’t have a choice because that was the only thing he knew that would get him the kind of money he needed to help his Mother, his family. She was dying and he desperately needed to help her. He promised himself that he would engage in only one more kidnap operation, get the money that he needed to help his family and get back to doing the right thing.
Once he got back to the layout of the gang deep in the jungle, he was welcomed with open arms by Borkono. Incidentally, the gang had made a big score. A few days prior, they had laid a trap on the Express highway and were able to snatch a Silver Mercedes carrying a man and his wife. A call had been made to the family of the victims and a ransom of N20,000,000 had been demanded from the family.
By the time Tambawalle had joined the gang, he heard through Duhu, Borkono’s right hand man that they did not have the intention of letting the couple go. Apart from planning to squeeze more money from the couple and demanding more ransom after the initial ransom because of the fantabulous condition of the Silver Mercedes, the gang had taken a fancy to the woman who had been kidnapped. She was a beautiful woman and each member of the gang were planning to have a piece of her. In fact, Duhu was of the opinion that both kidnap victims would probably be killed by Borkono.
This troubled Tambawalle greatly. It was one thing going back to his former lifestyle for only one more operation to help his family but it was another thing to actively turn a blind eye while the kidnapped woman was raped and the man killed. Tamabawalle knew that he couldn’t sit by idly and watch a woman get rape and a man get killed. Not now. No more. Never again. He knew that this was the first test for him in his new life. He had no choice but to do what was right. He said a gentle prayer and knew what he had to do. He had to help them escape and once they were safe, he would go to the authorities, hand himself in and completely expose the identities of the gang and their hideout. He started thinking of ways that he could put his plan into effect and how best he could rescue the victims. How could he get them away from the gang of about thirty kidnappers?
The answer didn’t take long to come to Tambawalle because in the early hours of the next morning, he was awoken by ferocious gunshots. He didn’t know where they were coming from or what was happening but as the mayhem ensued with the kidnappers running amuck, Tambawalle, used the opportunity to run into the pen where the victims were held, untied the ropes that had incapacitated them, gestured to them to keep quiet and grabbed the two of them. He ran with them through the mayhem and headed with them to freedom.
As he led the two escapees through the forest in the direction of the nearest town, a ringing echo is heard and the brass shell of a stray bullet hits the floor with what one could only describe as several exploding balloons.
Tambawalle looks down to see his chest oozing blood where the bullets rippled through him. His adrenaline kicks in. He looks up and smiles at the final image of the two escapees running to freedom as he falls into a huge ravine. Now he lies lifeless in a ditch so deep and littered with dirt that the human eye would be unable to see its content. That was it for Tambawalle or Ilyasu Ado, as his birth name was… that was his end!
How long will it take anyone to find out he is dead? Would anyone be able to find his body? Would anyone know that he had saved the two victims that had been kidnapped? Who anyone know that Tambawalle was determined to clean up his act, stop with the drugs and the crime and focus on helping his mother in a legal and honorable way? Would anyone know that he was about to give himself up to the authorities and give his life to The Almighty? A family member, a person from the gang he was about to leave, a police-man, anyone?
… No, the sad truth is worse than one could imagine. Tambawalle’s body would never be found. His remains would disappear once the Vultures and Coyote’s finish feeding off it. His bones would sink deep into the hidden crevasses of the ravine, never to be seen again. His intention to turn his life around, make amends for his mistakes and repent would dissipate almost as soon as his soul did.
Tales of him being a Kingpin would be told over and over again. His mother would never get to know the intention her once innocent baby boy had before he went on his final mission, before he died. His mother would carry shame as she suffered with an ailment that would slowly ravage her and cruelly kill her because of lack of medication. She died a couple of weeks after Tambawalle. She would die with the shame that ate her up.
Tambawalle would only be known as Another Blasted Kidnapping Fulani Herdsman hiding and operating somewhere in the bushes….