Man Overboard

MAN OVERBOARD

MAN OVERBOARD

I was lost in a state of reverie

wondering about the marvel of creations,

the images of things incomprehensible

came into my subconscious vision;

there are many things yet unknown

 

The mind could not fathom

the sublime vast waters upon

which God erected the pillars of the earth;

revolving in motion like a giant Locomotive,

groaning and croaking: thus the crust bears the weight

of a million tons of its own weight

 

Upon the vast open waters

dotted craftsmanship of many inventions;

The ingenuity of God supreme creation: Man,

holding sway, manipulating and exploring

To conquer, and dominate the world

 

A peck he is, in this vast universe.

Neither does he know, nor feel the motion.

He can neither control nor halt this motion.

It spins and turns on axis invisible.

And sure and certain, it holds irreversible.

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In that state of melancholy, my thoughts

Cast a vision of a vessel at sea.

“Man Overboard,” cried the watcher.

The Captain halts and turns the vessel.

Fortune and fate he rescued the man overboard.

But in the great spin of the earth,

On its uncontrollable turns on its axis:

There is none to watch out; none to cry out,

“Man Overboard.” over the centuries,

And men have gone overboard daily.

 

There’s no rescue, fate, nor fortune.

Brothers, tread carefully! Sisters, tread gently!

For the thoroughfare is rough and slippery.

You are the watcher, you are the victim.

Oh Earth! So spin away in a locomotive spin.

 

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The Divisional Crime Branch: Pt. 4

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We asked the Desk Sergeant to detain the suspect in the cell with no visitor to see them.

“In which case should I take their detention entry from,” he asked as he made to take the details of the two men.

“For unlawful possession of hemp,” I told him. Looking at the men behind the counter, I have made a general remark and hoped that Kevwe could grasp my meaning, “I will be back soon, and then we will take your statement,”  And I was out of the station.

It was Kevwe who is the hero of today’s operation, I mused. It is just unfortunate he cannot come out to take credit in the circumstance. Why would he agree to take this punishment for helping the police? I hoped to have what it takes to reward him.

Mr. Ovie came to the station after about an hour of waiting. The officers in the station did not know that the suspect we brought in was a high stake, and we prefer to let be so for now.

“Hello Mr. Ovie,” I greeted him cheerfully as I went out to meet him where he has just parked his car.

“Hey! Mr. Bara,” he greeted me expansively.

I did not say Mr. Ovie is a very jovial person, dark and huge; about 6 feet tall and bulging in at the waist. His hands enveloped my palm as he shook me warmly. Also, I did not mention that Kevwe is his distance cousin.

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I think that was one reason he was taking this awful risk to assist us. I have no intention of informing him we have his cousin in custody. He may not understand the intrigue and may jeopardize our investigation.

“Please Mr. Ovie, I want you to take us to Warri town,” I told him, and led him into the DCB office.

He greeted the officers at the counter as he followed me into the office, “We are having a lead on those boys that robbed your house.” I began cautiously to explain to him when we have sat down in the office.

“Hey, Bara, are you sure?” he asked enthusisically, grabbing my hand, breathing heavily.

“Yes. I want you to take us to Warri/Sapele road by McDermott junction. There is a man we want to check up. I would not have bothered you, but we need a car to rush up there and back before it gets too late into the night.”

“That’s no problem,” he was all ready to go.

“Okay, let me call Wangyo, Itoro, and if Charles is available, I will also want him to go with us.” I told him.

You cannot be this close with Ovie without being caught up with his infectious mood. It was few minutes past 7 pm when we parked the car almost at the same spot I left Kevwe to check on the driver the previous day.

We walked up to the house in pairs. I was with Itoro in front, followed closely by Charles and Wangyo. Mr. Ovie was waiting in the car. We were fortunate. The taxi was in the same place it was yesterday, only nobody was attending to it today.

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We went straight to the room I heard the music playing the previous day, banged heavily on the door and pushed it open as it was not locked. He was watching a television program as we crowded into the room, and rose to his feet bewildered, and looked around us, too shocked to utter a word. We all have out pistol drawn.

“Aba Man,” I called him by the name he is known by the boys. His puzzlement was turning into alarm. “Are you not Aba Man?” I pressed on.

I…I’m from Aba,” he stuttered.

“I don’t mean from Aba town. That is what they call you, Aba Man, isn’t it?” I walked up to him.

I realized that he did not recognize me as the boy that was asking him questions yesterday. I can see the fear in him as he tries to have some control over himself.

Corporal. Wangyo came up behind me, shoved his ID card under the driver’s nose. “We are Police officers from DCB Ovwian/Aladja. We are taking you into custody for questioning on some allegation made against you.” He brought out a pair of handcuffs and chained his hands.

At that moment Mr. Ovie came into the room, glanced around the room, taking in the drama that was going on amusingly, and then dashed toward the TV table.

“Hey! This is my video cassette,” he shouted as he picked up a video cassette on the table. “It was in the video player that they stole from my house.” He turned around to the driver, and with a clenched fist, rushed at the man shouting, “Thief, Ole. I am going to crush your head,”

I restrained him by coming between them. “We’ve got him now Mr. Ovie,” I pleaded with him. “We have him now. It is our responsibility to do what we should do with him.”

That somewhat placated him, but he was still fuming and threatening as we led the suspect out of the room. Charles retrieved the cassette from Ovie.

“This is exhibit A,” he said smiling.

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We drove back to the station feeling very satisfied with ourselves. I was ecstatic at the turn of events in the last two days. We have been able to get this far in a case that was becoming our jurisdiction major nightmare.

It was a smooth sail after the arrest of the driver and recovery of the exhibit video cassette. The final outcome of the case was just a matter of time.

Back at the station, the DPO ordered the release of Kevwe immediately for what he termed ‘mistaken association’ as not to create any room of suspicion as to the role he played.

Confronted with the evidence of the video cassette, and the confessional statement of the driver, George finally broke up in submission and gave us very useful information regarding their operations.

The next day, two other members of the gang were arrested when they came to the house of the driver to collect the balance of their money. With the cooperation of the relations of the driver, the boys were lured into an ambush we have set for them.

Kalu, the dismissed policeman, was never arrested. When he heard about the arrest of the other members of the gang, he sank underground.

We recovered all the electronic items stolen from Mr. Ovie from the various people that bought them from the driver.

But for the Kalu we could not arrest, we made a great haul in the case; breaking the operation of the Block-boys and the receivers.

Kevwe was well taken care of, but he was put under strict surveillance. His knowledge about the boys and their operations was a subject of severe speculation in the Divisional Crime Branch.

But fortunately, he was never implicated by any of the boys in the course of their interrogation. Other cases that have suffered neglect in the Divisional Crime Branch, as a result of the priority we gave to this case were brought up to the front burner of the team.

Operation End the Block-Boys was swift, discreet and effective. The team can now raise its head high and walk the street of the neighborhood; a proud Law enforcement organization.

The Divisional Crime Branch: Pt. 3

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THE DIVISIONAL CRIME BRANCH PART 3 

The time was 3 pm. I paced around the bus stop at Orhuworun junction, checking out all the taxis that were coming from the Warri end of the road.

I was not the only one laying seize in that area. Cpl. Wangyo, sitting with a shoe repairer across the road, also checked out the movement of the people at the intersection.

Cpl. Itoro and Cpl. Ibekwe were trying without success in chatting with a lady selling oranges. We were all maintaining eye contact with each other to know when anything would come up.

We have been here about an hour now, expecting my contact to come with at least one boy.   In retrospect, the 80s were a primitive era in Nigeria police work. We do not have telephone services then, for anyone to make a quick call;  we have to spend human effort on every action we take.

After the morning meeting in the DPO’s office, I  took a bike to Ovwian and had a meeting with Kevwe. I explained to him what he should know. I practically persuaded him to book a meeting with the leader of the gang to give him the details of an operation someone privileged him to have over-heard.   

Acting on that, he left to make that arrangement. I loitered around for more than an hour within the town until he returned. He gave me an assurance that the boy has agreed to come for an inspection of the supposed site between 2-3 pm.

Since there was to be no actual inspection, we arranged to stop the duo at Orhuworun junction on their way to the phantom site. We were to slam some bogus allegation against them and take them to the station for questioning.

I had immediately hurried back to the station and assembled this team for the interception. And since there were no phones available, all we could do to maintain close eye contact while remaining as vigilant as possible.

About twenty minutes after the hour, Kevwe came alone to the junction on a bike. I walked up to him to inquire about the boy.

“Well, I stayed in his house and waited for him to come back. Someone informed me that he went out with a certain lady and would return soon. That was why I waited for this long time,” he explained.

He looked around as the others converged on us, “Ah! Oga Bara, you came with a whole battalion,” he smirked. They got the hint and eased back a little.

“What is the next time to meet with them,” I asked flatly. #

“I will go back and wait for him. If he returns before nightfall, we may still come around, otherwise it will be tomorrow,” he assured me.

“That is all right,” I heaved a sigh. “I will hang around here to wait for you.” With that, he crossed the road to take a bike back to town. We gathered ourselves to re-strategize. They all should go back to the station while I will hang around to see what else we may have today.

With that, we dispersed. After the others have left for the station, I went into a small cafeteria to have a little bit of something. I sat at a side table by the window where I will be able to keep an eye on the road.

I sat there brooding through the events of the past two days. The activities were just fleeting through my mind hazily. I cannot imagine that in just a period of two days of action, we were right behind the tiger’s tail.

Once again I looked around at all the faces of the people in the restaurant. There is none here that anyone would associate to masking an evil intent on his face. Everyone seems busy doing what they intend doing.

There is none here to say, ‘officer I have information to share with you.” I am in a crowd and yet alone. At that moment, I felt the weight of the pistol tucked behind my belt, a reassuring comfort to get you out of troubled waters, I presumed. Am I in any troubled water? I asked myself.

I paid for my meal and went out onto the road. As if on cue, a bike with two passengers pulled up at the Junction. The passengers were Kevwe and another boy.

I passed close to them so that they would notice my presence. As they turned to look in my direction, I recognized the other boy. I have seen him in several places in town, and sometimes in Kevwe’s place. I think his name is George. Yeah, George, I am very sure of that

. A short bulky fellow with bulging arms as a wrestler. They both waved to me in recognition. I threw a greeting at Kevwe as someone I have not seen for a very long time. He responded agreeably to suggest they are going to his house.

That was the hint. They went their way, and I took the next available bike back to the station. The die is cast. It is now an action time. There was no patrol car at the station to take us for the operation.

Sgt. Adamu volunteered to convey us with his car to a bush part that I knew would lead us to Kevwe’s house. I have walked this rubber plantation severally and knew it like the back of my hand.

Adamu let us off at the point and went back to the station. We were four on this mission; Cpl. Ibekwe John, Daniel Wangyo, Itoro Akporaro and me. We snaked our way through the rubber trees until we got to the house. To our dismay, there was nobody in the house.

Itoro looked at me with alarm. “Why are you looking at me that way,” I protested jovially.

“Let us hide in some place here. I believe they will soon be here.” Looking around we saw some plantain trees within the compound. We quickly concealed ourselves amongst them. We have hardly done that when the two of them sauntered up from behind a building.

Kevwe brought out a key from his pocket, opened the door and went in, while George, well, he just flopped down at the veranda. He brought out a wrapped paper from his pocket and started fumbling with it.

I think he was trying to roll himself hemp. We stormed out from our hidden places behind the plantain trees, with our pistol drawn.

“Raise your hands up,” Itoro snarled as he went beside the surprised George. Wangyo went into the room roaring and dragged Kevwe out. He was looking perplexed at this intrusion.

For a minute, the compound was a cacophony of sound as everyone was marshaling out orders.

“What have we done officers,” Kevwe was sounding very desperate, searching for an answer from one face to the order, his hands hanging by his side.

Itoro roughly forced George hands down and clamped an iron chain on one hand and the other on Kevwe.

“I have not done anything wrong,” George kept on protesting.

“Well, we found hemp in your hand,” Wangyo reminded him gently.

“But how am I going to wear this bracelet and walk with you along the street,” George raised the chained hand to make his point.

“Well, if that is what you are ashamed about,” Itoro reasoned with him. “I will put them on my wrist and go with you. He collected a second pair of the cuff from Ibekwe and slammed it on his left wrist and the other end on George free hand. “I hope this makes three of us on chains,” he sneered.

“You still have not told us why you are arresting us,” he was glancing at our faces to regain some sort of confidence. We all gazed back at him without any expression. Ibekwe read their rights to them before we left the house.

“You are not obliged to say anything. For whatsoever you say will be taken down in writing, and will be used in evidence against you.”

That seemed to calm him down a little. Kevwe begged to lock his door as we left the house. Since there was no car to take us back to the station, we walked all the way to the road to get a taxi, with the people coming out from their houses to have a look at us as we passed by.

There was no funfair at the station as we arrived. I immediately sent for Mr. Ovie to come with a car to the station. We asked the Desk Sergeant to detain the suspect in the cell with no visitor to see them.

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The Divisional Crime Branch: Pt 2.

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THE DIVISIONAL CRIME BRANCH PART 2

It was dark when we arrived at the estate. Well, frankly, calling this area an estate is just glorifying the place. The best it could pass for is a shanty town, or better still, a ghetto. When Bob Marley was calling Kingston concrete jungle, he does not understand what Kolokolo layout in Warri looks like.

It was an iron jungle. They built all the building in this part of the estate with a corrugated iron sheet; popularly known here as batchers. Kevwe was a step ahead of me as we sauntered between these iron box houses deeper into the estate.

I had deliberately slowed down my pace since we arrived at this area to allow him to walk ahead of me. I cannot help imagining that I could walk into a setup. If it does not seem to give him a scruple to lead me to the den of his friends; who to all justification, if arrested, could face the firing squad, what stops him from leading me to them: who, in all they knew, is a pest they should get rid of.

I was wearing a T-shirt on top of a loosely fitted jean short. I had my right hand in the pocket, resting on the butt of the pistol. If there will be any shoot out, I guess I knew who will be my first target.

I have been counting the number of turns we have made, two to the right, and one to the left. Promptly, we came to a little opening, and Kevwe stopped on his tracks. I almost bumped onto him.

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“Look at that roof,” he pointed out a dark shape behind the house in front, silhouetted in the fading light. “That is where three of the boys live,” his voice a conspiratorial whisper. “If you go in there, now you may see them. And I believe other boys will be with them.” He did not move forward, and I did not push him either.

“How many of them do you think are going about this business?” I whispered to him as we move into the shadow of a building along the street.

“They are always five. I told you that back in the house,” he said harshly. “But sometimes they could change one person or the other. There is also that dismissed police officer amongst them, the one I told you about.”

“Yea, you said so,” I agreed, all the time observing the environment. There were many people going about their nightly affairs. And amid them, live some vicious people; the dregs of the society which stock in trade is to cause pain and sorrow to humanity. Yet none could come to the Police to report.

There is a path on the left from where we stood that leads to the house. I could see people coming from this road.

“You know I cannot lead you into the house, or even closer than this place,” Kevwe was saying.

“Who asked you to march into their home with a police officer on tow?” I gibed him. “Won’t you allow someone to think for a while? Is there any other way from the back of the house?”

“This road here leads to the other street we turned off to the one we followed,” he pointed to the path that passed by the house. “If anyone is to come to the house, he can do so by either way.”

I have no plan of marching up to the hideout of this gang, not tonight or any other time. I have to bring them out to meet us in a neutral field. I was not going to mention that to Kevwe now. “Can we go back now?” I patted his shoulder. “You know we are still going to the house of the Receiver; the man that’s buying their cargo, and you said that is a long way into town?” I asked him.

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“It is close to McDermott road,” he agreed as we made our way out of the estate.

The taxi dropped us some way from the compound along the main road. We walked a little distance and stopped.

“Look at that compound in front,” he was pointing to a compound just ahead of us. “It is after 8 pm, and I believe the man would be at home with his taxi. I cannot go with you any further.”

“It’s okay,” I nodded to him in the dark and walked up to the front of the compound.

From the security light in front of the house, I saw a man, not tall, but fair in complexion, washing a Toyota Corolla taxi cab. Loud music was coming out from an open door in the room beside him. No doubt, that must be his room.

“Good Evening Sir,” I called out a greeting to him.

He stood up. Just as I have noticed, he was about 5ft tall, slim body stature. His eyes were scrutinizing me over, but I acted my part well as a student, balancing myself from one leg to the other bouncingly.

“Evening,” he responded, his voice thick with a forced croak.

“Please Sir,” I continued animatedly as if I did not hear his response. “I am asking about my classmate, one Bara, from Urhobo College. He told me that he lives in this house. ” I pretended to be peeping into the compound  from the opened passageway beside the door from where the music was playing, while collecting the registration number of the taxi.

“I am not sure of the name,” he answered and flung his arm into the compound, “you can go in and ask the Landlord.”

He huddled back into his washing. I was now quite in my element. I thanked him and ambled into the compound. I have no intention of knocking at the Landlord’s room and came out just after a moment.

I waved goodnight to our car-washer friend, “I am sorry. I think I was mistaken about the description. It is not here.”

‘”It is okay,” he answered me lively this time. I went out of the compound, breathing heavily.

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As easy as a pie, I said to myself. I joined Kevwe where I left him. He was all animated, trying to know what I have been able to find out.

I felt the relief flowing into my soul as we made our way back to Ovwian. I left Kevwe at Orhuworun junction and took a motorcycle back to the station. I have promised to get in touch with him tomorrow.

I am all exhilarated up with the fact that I have been able to get a grip of the backbone of these Block-boys operation.

However, knowing the houses of the boys and the receiver is not the end of the tale. So far it is my word against theirs. I have to build up evidence worthy for prosecution, or else I have just been riding a roller coaster.

It is time to present the result to the DPO I guessed. I have done some field work enough to let in the crowd for the compound job.

So the crowd was once again gathered in the DPO’s office the next morning. He has just finished going around the station on the routine check before inviting us all to his office.

Earlier in the morning, I have had a briefing with Inspector Okoro – the Inspector Crime. I have given him the bone of my exploit, and I believe he has done so with the DPO; hence this morning assembling of the Divisional Crime Branch.

The only new face in today’s gathering is ASP Kolawole Idowu. Mr. Idowu is the Divisional Crime Officer, (DCO). He is from one of the Western states. An action-looking man in his 30s, dark in complexion, slim in stature, with a head that sits on a neck seemingly too small to carry it.

His face is marked threateningly with the traditional marking from people of his race; three long tears from the ears to almost touching the jars on both chins. In spite of his appearance, the DCO is a very agreeable fellow.

“Okay Baralate,” it was the DPO the broke the sobriety in the office. His eyes were amicably fixed on mine. “What have you been up to this past two days? Mr. Okoro has given me the bone of the story. Can you elaborate on what I have already known?”

I looked around the office, seven pairs of eyes were all fixed on me; all comradely urging me to spill.

And this is the story as I was able to pitch together from a very dependable but slippery ally. There were about five of the boys. They were coordinated by one dismissed Police officer, named Ngozi Kalu.

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Kalu was a police constable that was serving in this very Division. Somehow, he got into trouble with a renowned smuggler in town. This man had gone to the Police Area commander in Warri and reported that some Armed robbers attacked his men where they were off loading their wares and robbed them of their valuables.

Kalu was implicated in this case of armed robbery. It would have been a very embarassing case for the police, so they did some hush-hush on the case and Kalu was transferred to the riverine area of the state.

This, however, does not go down well with this over-ambitious police constable, and he refused to report for duty in his new post. He was subsequently dismissed from the Force and was going around with all sorts of shady characters in town.

His activities to the best of my knowledge, and also to some of the men in the Crime Branch has been limited to hanging around with dupes and cheats, popularly known as ‘419’, an acronym of section 419 of the Criminal Code.

His graduation to being a fully fledged armed robber was sort of surprise to me. I could see that the men in this room, including the DPO, were also having the same feeling. Anyway, Kalu was able to absorb himself into this renegade group to carry out the recent spate of robbery in our jurisdiction.

Their mode of operation goes in this wise. They go around the town scouting out victims they believe will have electronics in their houses. Since some of the boys were from within the community, everybody is known to them. In the evenings before any operation, the taxi driver, popularly known as Aba man, would carry their arsenals with one of the boys to hide in close proximity to the selected venue.

All they need to do in the night was just to stroll up to the place from their various points, retrieve their weapon without arousing any suspicion from a curious observer or the Police.

After the raid, they will hide their loots in a bush and scatter in pairs to their various houses. In the morning, one of them will get in touch with the taxi driver to retrieve the loot from the bush. The driver is the conduit pipe through which their whole operation flows.

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He sells off the goods and pays the boys whatever sum they agreed upon. He can sometimes pay them immediately if he has the cash, or sell the items off in the underground market and pay them later.

There is an underground market in Hausa Quarters, where any amount of stolen items that arrives there would disappear in a matter of minutes through chains of special channels. There was a pulsating silence in the office as I rounded off my brief.

“And from what the Inspector Crime has told me, you have been able to locate the houses of these boys?” The DPO asked, leaning forward on his desk.

“Yes Sir,” I answered.

“He has also located the house of the taxi driver,” Inspector Okoro completed for me.

There were hushed mumblings and shifting of feet in the office for a moment.

“How far can we trust your informant, Baralate,” the DCO wanted to know.

“Well Sir,” I ventured cautiously with a smile, “as a recruits in Police College, we were trained not to trust anybody a hundred percent, but to rely on our instinct. That is the extent to which I trust him. But in this case, I think we are on a perfect track.

There was a general concession in the office, and the DPO continued, “We are not going to their hideout to fight them out.” I realized that he is now threading my line of reasoning.

We all watched him as he began to explain our next line of action. “If we bring the boys in now, it will be their words against our allegation. We have to gather enough evidence to prosecute them.”

“If we bring in the driver first, we may have some incriminating items on him to hold on the boys.” The DCO opined

“Excused me, Sir,” I raised my finger. I am not always in the best frame to make a suggestion on the course of an action where there are senior officers, but I have a hunch which I have discussed with Kevwe. I told him I will sell the idea to my bosses, that if they accept, we can swing.

“Okay,” the DPO prompted me. “Do you have an idea how you think we can go into this?”

“Well Sir,” I continued hesitantly. “If we bring in the taxi driver, and they hear about it – and they will – there is the likelihood that they will sink underground. On the other hand, if we bring in the boys and delay in arresting the driver, but start accusing them of any crime, they will deny to high heaven that they do not know what we are talking about.

“I am thinking that we should sell them a dummy. I can get in touch with my contact to persuade them to come out to the open. The dummy is about a fake business deal. If they buy into that, we can pick them up, or any of them that turns up. We will thereafter go after the driver.

“I think it will be a great spectacle to have both parties looking at each other to deny their involvement.” I rounded up and felt silent, exhausted.

The DPO picked up my analysis from where I left off. “If they will trust your contact enough to meet with him, I will agree that it is a brilliant idea. My fear however is, will the suspicion of their arrest not fall on his laps?” he asked rhetorically.

“I think we should take up the issues as they come,” the Inspector Crime added. “If there is anything we should do, I think this is the best moment to follow up on the lead we have got.”

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“Baralate, can you bring your man for me to talk with him?” the DPO requested of me. “Sir, I don’t think that will be necessary,” I responded promptly.

I do not fancy the idea of a ‘big man’ aura over Kevwe. On the other hand, he may not like the exposure.

“Sir, if it does not matter, we can handle it from this point. We will feed you with a very positive result,” Corporal Wangyo enthused in from beside me.

I gave him an encouraging smile. After a few moments of fine-tuning our proposal, I was asked to come back with a time of action after consulting with my contact.

‘Operation End the Block-Boys’ has been approved and launched. It is going to be fast, discreet and effective; therein is the concern. A lid over the operation until it has swung off successful.

 

The Crime Branch

“So, do you know who is responsible for those activities?” I asked him. 

He looked at me through the haze of cigarette smoke dangling on his mouth. “What did you say about their method of operation?” he asked, dragging the cigarette from his mouth with two smoke stained fingers. His eyes were regarding me, a smile playing around the corner of his mouth.

“It’s like you’ve not been listening in the last five minutes I’ve been talking,” I said, looking straight at him with no hint of impatience. I know how to play this game with him, and I do not mind how tactical we maneuver. The underlying result is to get what I should get from him.

Kevwe Oghenekaro came into my spotlight when I was a beat constable attached to the Police ‘C’ Division Warri in the ‘80s. His mother had come to the Police station one afternoon to report about her son who was threatening her life with violence.

As the Constable on duty, they drafted me to go with her to their house to invite him to the station for interrogation. What simply should have been an invitation, turned out sour the moment he saw me in Police officer uniform coming with his mother to their home.

He was a big boy of about 21 years of age. I think must have regarded me as a pest coming to infest him with a moral disease as he looked at me with an unhidden disdain. He picked up a broken wood lying beside the house and brandished it on my face and threatened to smash my head into a pulp if I should come anywhere close to him. He was a head taller than my five feet six inches; the police regulation of recruitment.

Bulging on the shoulder, with a broad face, like the faces you will always see on the area boys in Lagos.

“Hey man, there is no need for that stick,” I said and gave him the best charming smile I could muster in the circumstance. I was trying to weigh the options I have in dealing with this thug. For that was exactly how he appeared initially. I showed him the Billy in my hand. I do not have to brandish it, for he might take that as an effrontery on his domain.

“See, I mean no harm. I want to have a chat with you concerning your mother’s complaint.” I said and bent my head sideways to mean no harm.

“What did my mother complained about me?” He asked, his voice hoarse.

“Can you put that stick down so we can talk a man to man?” I insisted.

That was my initial encounter with Kevwe. Since then, we have been able to establish a very close acquaintance; mostly on official capacity. I gradually came to understands that he has knowledge about most of the boys in the community, on account of his house is being rumored to acts as a transit point of hemp retails.

He was, however, is discreet in that regard whenever I was around to visit him. Since after that initial encounter, the mother has somehow persuaded me to watch over him. It was not a small call. I cannot imagine how I can watch over a man who, to all appearance, was big enough to be an elder brother. But somehow, we have been able to make the best out of that relationship.

When I became an investigating Police Officer in our Divisional Crime Branch two years later, I found this relationship precious. It is easier for me to set my ears amongst his associates to pick up snippets of information that could aid in some of my investigations.

However, some months later when he suddenly vanished from my radar, I was not unnecessarily wary as to what has become of him. He has been playing the high game from both ends and one cannot tell when the bubble could burst on them. But he vanished somehow while life continued on its infinite crawl.

The Police created ‘C’ Division in Warri when they commissioned the Delta Steel Company, Ovwian/Aladja in the early ‘80s’. The station was within the staff housing complex called the Mobile Barracks.

The housing complex was a large expanse of land between the communities of Ohruworun/Ekete/Ovwian and Aladja in the eastern axis of Warri; comprising the Permanent Camp, Camp Extension phases 1 and 2.

The Permanent Camp quarters the senior and expatriate staff of the company. They quartered the senior staffs in the Extension Camp, Phase 1. It quartered the bulk of the staff of the company in the Extension Camp phase 2. The Mobile Barracks extended to phase 2, which quartered the Company’s Security personnel, the State Security Service Staff, and the Police barracks and Divisional Headquarters.

The jurisdiction of the police covers providing security services for the housing complex only, but also to cover the company industrial site at Aladja; a distance of about four kilometers from the station. They are also to provide security to all the communities in the Udu clan, made up of Aladja, Egbe-ijo, Ovwian, Orhuwhorun, and a network of villages in the clan where it was not even possible to drive through.

It was in this setup, and in the mid-80s, that we had a wave of armed robberies, unprecedented in the area over the years. It put the division on edge. Twice a week on the average, a case of robbery was being reported to the station. It tasked the men in the Crime Branch with trying to unravel this unrelenting effrontery into our careers.

“We cannot allow this to continue. No, we must stop those boys from making rubbish of this station.” The Divisional Police Officer said angrily.

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He was glaring at the five of us standing in front of his desk. I was regarding him closely. I knew he was not overtly angry at us that we have not done well in our job, but he expects more. We were the best team he thinks he has got at the moment in the Division.

There was Sergeant Adamu Silas, a tall, fair complexioned man from the North. I do not know exactly in which state he came from. He was also staring at the DPO with his sharp penetrating eyes, his lips drawn back, and holding down by will power, what was in his mind to say, but that he could not utter at the moment, given the temperament of the DPO.

Corporal Ibekwe John is from one of the eastern state of the country; a short fat man. He has a temper that could easily flare up, but not in this present situation.

Corporal Daniel Wangyo is from Benue state. He is a very likable, fair-complexioned man.

Corporal Itoro Akporaro was from the present Delta State; a sharp talker, fat with an almost a protruding tummy. He has a slight frown on his face as he looked blankly at the Officer seated in front of us.

Then there was my humble self. I was the most junior in rank. I cannot explain myself, but for the last two years, I have got an evaluation report describing me as a ‘young constable with a quiet disposition with a flair for investigation, needed to be watched.’

Sitting at a table next to that of the DPO, was Inspector Okoro. He was the Inspector Crime of the Division. The rest of us were standing in an at ease position with our hands behind us, nodding and shaking our heads.

“Sir,” Inspector Okoro said, trying to break the silence that seemed to have engulfed the gathering. “There is a trend that is forming in their modus operandi. After every operation, they’ll take two to three days before their next one,” he said, looking around our faces for confirmation.

“It is true, Sir,” interjected Sergeant Adamu. “All the statements we have been able to get from witnesses suggested that those boys break into the houses of their victims, shooting sporadically into the house to scare away the occupants into their bedrooms or under any other cover they could find, then they would remove all the electronics or any other valuable item available in the sitting room, and zoom off before our patrol team could get to the scene in response to any distress call made.”

“So all the items stolen in all the cases were electronics and other valuable items?” the DPO asked, looking at the row of faces.

“It is Sir,” Corporal Itoro put in. “One other salient revelation in all the reports we have had so far was that they used a heavy object – mostly 6 inches blocks or some similar heavy instrument that could smash the lock open for them to gain entrance into the house.

“They also alternate the places of their operations. For instance, if they operate in, say one end of Aladja on one occasion, they will move to another town or the other end of the same town.”

“And our patrol has a large area to cover,” I said without being prompted, shifting my weight from my right leg to the left. “I think the idea they have is to throw our patrol team off balance and away from their scent, so we may not predict their next target.”

“And what is the idea you think you have to curtail them running amok in our jurisdiction, Baralate?” the DPO asked, shifting his attention unto me.

“Well,” I blurted out, pointing to Daniel and Itoro standing beside me, “We have been thinking about a strategy. We are subjecting ourselves to extra patrol duties in the nights without wearing our uniform. We are assuming this will complement our patrol team, and the other beat duty personnel in their locations to expand our coverage of the area.”

He nodded his approval, putting his hand together on the table, and turned to the Inspector Crime.

“They have briefed me of their arrangement,” he answered the unasked question to confirm what I have just said. “I think it is worth a trial, though we want to be very discreet about it in the beginning.”

I noticed the relief flooding back into the DPO’s face. I think he is under immense pressure from the Area Commander to control the wave of robbery from his Division. And after a brief strategizing of our plans, we filed out of the DPO’s office. 

And so, for two weeks, the men of the Divisional Crime Branch were going around on foot patrol in the nights. This was no doubt a very stressful duty besides our other routine duties we were doing; going to Court in the mornings to give evidence as an IPO in other cases and running about other investigations.

It was worth it though because, during this period, we recorded no report of the Block-Boys activities. Though, that itself was strange. How do they know we have put up an extra measure against their operations? This will be for another brief though.

It, therefore came to us with surprise when the boys again, robbed one Mr. Jacob Ovie, an electronics repairer in his house at Ovwian. We have had a relative peace as far as their activities in our Division were concerned and were already basking in the euphoria of our success when this case came up.

They detailed me to run the investigation. I visited the scene of the crime with Mr. Ovie and Charles Ikom, a Police constable in the station. Charles has been a close friend that always accompanies me on my investigation if he is not engaged on official duty. A slim, sharp police officer from Cross River State, Charles is about my age – 27 years.

We found the locks of the protector and the kitchen entrance smashed into bits, and they left the offending implement, a heavy block, lying on the floor. The kitchen has a door on the left that opens into the dining room. We noticed bullet holes on the wall just above the dining table.

They have removed the television set, video player, an amplifier and a stereo set were in the parlor, leaving the rack they were, gaping like a black cave on a mountainside, at us. Curiously, they did not touch the two rooms in the house where Mr. Ovie and his family went into hidden when they heard the first banging on their door.

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It might have been intuition, but I told the DPO when I came back to the station later in the day that this has got to stop. I was sure he did not know what I meant, neither did I know why I said that, but I was sure he believed me.

“Oga Bara! Hey! Oga Bara!” he shouted on seeing me, as I literarily burst into his room without even bothering to knock at the door. The room was in a haze of smoke and smelling like a burning barn.

“So you can disappear from town without letting me know, eh,” I asked him, pretending to be furious, and extended my hands to him.download-11

“You know, it is not like that,” he said accepting my hand with both hands. “I need to make money for myself.”  

“What about your school?” I yelled at him. “What about your school? You can’t abandon school now for money. You’re already over-aged for a secondary school. If you don’t complete your education now, you may find it very difficult to pick up later. You can make all the money you need to make, but your education comes first,” I reprimanded him, leading him out of the room as I was almost choking in the room.

“Well, how much have you been able to make in Lagos, and what have you been doing there?”

“Ah! Things were difficult out there also,” he shuddered. “You cannot believe it, but I was lifting sand from the lagoon to feed.”

He went back into the room and came out with a rag to clean the pavement for us to sit down. He spoke about his friend who persuaded him to go with them, only to find out they have nothing to offer.

I allowed him to speak for a while and stopped him and told him about the problem we have at the police station and explained about the Block-Boys, and how they have been committing havoc in his community.

“So, do you know who is responsible for those activities?” I asked him pointedly.

He looked at me through the haze of smoke from the cigarette dangling on his mouth.

“What did you say is the method of their operation?” he asked, dragging the cigarette from his mouth with two smoke stained fingers.

I regarded him coldly for a long while. He was watching me closely. We all understand the drill. I knew if there was any anyone in this community that can throw light into this case; I am right there with the person.

I slowly repeated their method of operation to him. He sat silent for a long moment shuffling his feet in the mud before raising his head to look at me again.

“I will show you where they live.” He said, his voice was husky, and the eyes cloudy. He was no longer looking at me.

 I can hardly believe what I think I have heard. Is fortune favoring someone here? I thought to myself.

“What do you mean you will show me where they live?” I pressed on, veiling my enthusiasm with skepticism.

“I knew about those boys. Since I came back from Lagos, I have heard about their escapade. I knew the boys and where they live. I will take you there and I will also show you the house of the man that has been buying their cargoes.” He said with finality, in case I was still entertaining any doubt.

Now he was regarding me now as if to mean, ‘can I trust you?’

I extended my hand to him, gazed into the soul of his heart through his eyes, and crossed my chest.

“You have nothing to worry about me.”

For about an hour, we strategize what we would do, that at the end of it all everyone will come out clear.

I floated back to the station like someone in an air bubble. I will not breathe a word of this to anyone till I have packaged the details, then the action will unfold. That was what has made me unique. I went to the counter, booked for a Beretta pistol with eight rounds of ammunition.

“Serge, please, can you vide the entry on that case of the armed robbery reported yesterday and book me on inquiry?” I asked the sergeant on duty winking at him as he returned a smile.

 I sauntered out of the office; the weapon tucked under my belt. I am now officially on duty I said to myself, adjusted my red face cap and whistled down a cyclist riding by the station.

 

 

 

 

 

The Angry Raging Waves: Pt2

The concluding part of the Angry raging waves. There is no fury as the anger of the waves.

THE ANGRY RAGING WAVES 2 


He tied the twine at the end of the net to the seat of the canoe. We came together and sat at the wooden platform in the canoe and float with the tide upstream. I looked into the dark water and saw the movement of fish and the depth of our net being lightened up by millions of bio-luminescent.

“I wonder where all these lights in the water are coming from,” I remarked, looking up at my brother.

“It is the wonder of nature,” he answered as he leaned on his elbows to stare into the glittering water. “We can swim in the water during the day and you will see none of these lights, or whatever is making them shine.”

“I am surprised that even as the whole net is lightening up like a diamond curtain, the fish will still get caught on it,” I reflected.

“That is the reason we are out here in the cold,” he reasoned. “The fish is always standing against the current. The water therefore, carries the net to meet them. They may also not understand what the net is about, and may want to examine the glow from the net.”

“Whatever be the case, I want them to come in droves to check out our net tonight,” I joked, as I reach out for the bottle of diesel from under the seat.

“Pass the bottle when you are through,” he said as I poured a handful of the diesel on my hand and rub it all over the exposed parts of my body.

“I will see how these hungry mosquitoes will come to feed on my blood tonight,” I smirked, and laid down on the wooden platform and tried to listen to the sound of the night.

Long stormy sea wave against dark sky

There is no humming of an engine from anywhere, but I could hear the continuous humming sound that has become a permanent feature in the Niger Delta. It is the sound of fire that is emitting from the flaring of gas from the various flow stations of the Oil Companies.

Any direction one turns to look, he will see the illumination of fire from the distance beyond his sight. They act as an artificial moonlight even when it is a pitch dark night.

Beyond the sound of the fires, I can also hear the constant blowing sound of the sea. Though it is still a long way downstream to the open expanse of the ocean, the feeling of it is everywhere I look. I can perceive the smell of fresh fish in the air.

The weather is calm, and the stars were bright all over the sky, and yet our canoe was continually being rocked by giant undulating waves that washed off at the ocean entrance.

I looked at the distance trees as we swiftly swept along with the current by this body of moving water. I can also hear fishes struggling to get free from the net. But the more they struggle the more they got entangled; poor little creature, they are just helpless in their own habitation.

About an hour later, we decided to draw in the net. Our net was configured to catch mainly herrings, but we caught many other types of fish, like broke marriage, barracuda, mullet, and a lot of herrings; our primary target.

“Ah, if we carry on this way,” my brother mused. “We may have up to five scorecards by morning.”

“I think we can do that before down,” I agreed happily.

“But the tide is already full,” he observed after he has drawn up the last float. “If we launch another round, we will start going downstream with the ebb tide.”

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“I hope we will not get to Owukubu,” I objected. “I don’t want us to get that far.”

“Well, if it looks like we are to get that far before the current turns, we may just have to tie up somewhere along the bank, and follow the tide in whenever it turns,” he said reasonably.

“Are we going to launch from midstream to the bank, or should we paddle to the to the trees line and do as the first time,” I asked, as I made to turn the canoe that way.

He looked around the river for a moment and then pointed towards the trees. “You see that line of trees over there, if the water starts ebbing now, it will push everything to that side. If we launch from the near bank, the net may be pushed into the trees and get entangled with the mangrove tree.

“We have to launch from this point down. Whenever the water threatens to pile us aground, we will start drawing in the net.”

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It was after midnight when we got to Amgbakiri. The camps in this area were smelling of smoke and drying fish from the catch of the afternoon fishermen. They must have made reasonably catch for the fires to be blazing this late into the night.

We have just launched out for the fourth time and were lying down on the platform. The odor of fresh fish was very thick in the air, but it was coming from our own canoe this time.

We are happy with the result of the effort so far. It was a fruitful night. We have a rough estimate of over 3 scorecards of herrings, excluding other fishes. I was lying with my back on the plank starring at the stars as we rolled along with the current.

The wind was getting stronger as we approach the entrance to the ocean. The waves have also increased in both height and size. Some of the stars were running under a wide gray cloud that has risen from the horizon.

I was jolted awake to the sound of an ominous rumbling from the distance. Our canoe rolled from bow to helm as if some giant whale has passed under us, rubbing its back on the keel.

I shook my brother awake and pointed downstream where there was a huge dark cloud like the face of a monster, grinning with its ugly gnarled face at us. “I think we’re going to encounter a storm,” I howled at him.

“I’m not sleeping,” he said, rubbing the corner of his eyes with the back of his left hand. “I’ve been watching that cloud also. You see, it has swallowed up all the stars in the sky.”

The encroaching darkness was supported by a very strong wind, pushing our canoe backward. The rope of the net that was tied to the front seat was drawn tautly, seeming to drag us into the deep black water.

“I think we had better draw up the net and head home,” there was a slight quiver in my voice as I said this, and hurried to the helm of the canoe, grabbing my paddle. It never occured to me that we were so far away from our camp, and that there is no way we can paddle against the current upstream.

The storm was sudden, and there was very little we could do to escape from being swept under these rumbling rolling waves as they pursued one after another.

Initially, they were just a high rolling body of water. But as the tempo of the wind increased, the waves also became violent and rough. They were not just the mesmerizing rolling and rock waves that has keptus company all through the night.

They have become angry and aggressive. The wind seemed to suck them into the air, suspends them for a while and just let them fall back into the sea. They broke their crest over our canoe, threatening to submerge us into the dark hungry depth of the sea.

The net, as Furotogu was hurling it into the canoe, was coming from the belly of the waves.

“Let us cut off the net and run for it,” I howled to hima second time above the sound of the storm.

The wind seemed to snatch the word from my mouth and trew them away in to the dark night. I do not even know if he heard my shouting. I tried to make out the line of trees from any of the banks. It was a futile attempt; everywhere was covered in darkness.

I jumped to where we have left the lamp and hid it under the platform. Then it came; a torrent of rain as heavy as the cloud, was let loose from the skies upon the sea. It drenched us into our skin in a matter of seconds.

The rain, like a giant hand, rolled away the clouds, and for a brief moment, I was able to make out the shoreline. The wind and waves were hurling us dangerously to that bank.

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“I’m through,” my brother shouted triumphantly above the sound of the storm, as he pulled in the last float. “Where is the nearest bank?” he shouted again.

“Over there,” I cried out, already turning the canoe to face the bank I have seen minutes ago, but which now just a dark outline.

“I hope it is not the mburu angala’s bank (big mangrove trees),”

“No. I think it is the short trees.” I tried to reply, pulling my paddle vigorously against the current clawing towards the bank. My brother also picked up his paddle to join in.

The most unlikely aid to our effort came from the wind and waves. The waves pushed the canoe from one crest to the next one against the pull of the current and drove the canoe into a shallow bank away from its raging anger.

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The angry Raging Wave: Pt1

https://hallmarkinfoblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/07/the-angry-raging-waves/

The Angry Raging Waves

THE ANGRY RAGING WAVES 1

Something jolted me awake; it was the sound of an ominous rumbling from the distance. Our canoe rolled from bow to helm as if some giant whale has passed under us, rubbing its back on the keel. 

I shook my brother awake and pointed downstream where there was a huge dark cloud like the face of a monster, grinning with its ugly, gnarled face at us. 

“I think we will encounter a storm,” I howled at him. 

“I’m not sleeping,” he said, rubbing the corner of his eyes with the back of his left hand. “I’ve been watching that cloud. It has swallowed up all the stars in the sky.” 

A very strong wind supported the encroaching darkness, pushing our canoe backward. The rope of the net tied to the front seat was drawn tautly, seeming to drag us into the deep black water. 

“I think we had better draw up the net and head home,” there was a slight quiver in my voice, and hurried to the helm of the canoe, grabbing my paddle.

Every encounter in life is an adventure that leaves its impression in the subconsciousness of one’s soul throughout his life sojourn on earth.

I have been looking forward to this holiday to travel with my father to the fishing camp.

My name is Inikiomoye Olali. I said I would tell the story about my fishing adventures the last time. Well, here is the fulfillment of that promise.

The last holiday I made was to go with my mother to Ndelle. It was during a long vacation like the one we have now that I went to Ndelle with my mother to have an experience of what Ndelle market would look like and have a story to tell my friends back in school.

That adventure nearly cost me my life. I have decided not to go out of our village during any holiday; but fishing adventure, well that has its appeal.

All the kids in school have traveled to one place or the other, to have holiday stories to tell on the resumption of school. We have, therefore; – my elder brother, Furotogu and I – agreed to go with our father to the fishing camp this holiday.

Our little village is in Nembe, a community in the Niger Delta. Every family in our village has a small farm, but fishing is the main occupation for everyone.

Every household has their type of fishing. A family may choose to only fish with hooks while others with nets. Some may fish on both types depending on the season and market demand.

Some families that do fishing with net may solely concentrate on throwing of nets while others may have long nets to setup snares on a particular location, or in the deep water. This also depends on the season and the fish at the period.

A pod of killer whales swim past the Olympic Mountains in Washington state.

I have tried severally to throw a net, but could not get either the trick of the swing or strength to throw out the net for it to spread out over a target school of fish. I have therefore accepted to adapt our household type of fishing; setting out the net in the deep water during the night. This fishing method is effective to fish herrings in the rainy seasons.

Our father, Olali Bausou, does not own a particular fishing camp he stays. We have over the years, moved from one camp to the other like the herdsmen, who move with their cattle from place to place in search of greener pasture for their flocks.

Come to think of it, the life of the herdsmen and the fishermen are just about the same thing. The later moves about in search of fish, the former mobility is with his herds in search of greener pasture.

This holiday, our father has decided on a place called the ‘one man Country’, a settlement along the river St. Babara. It is a long way from our home, and close to the estuary where the river empties itself into the Atlantic Ocean.

It is called by that name because there is only one big thatch building in the camp. Whoever built it must be an eccentric of some sort, to have chosen that particular portion along the river to do so.

About five nautical miles upstream is a place called ‘Juju point’, a confluence point. There were three fishing camps at either side of the rivers. Directly opposite this camp is another settlement called Twenny.

We always cross this 1000 meters wide river to fetch drinking water in a bush behind this camp, and also to buy our supplies. Though there were always traders going up and down the river with their wares, some cases would be when there were no traders.

It was always a task crossing the river either in ebb or flowing tide as a result of the swiftness of the current. Downstream from One man Country, as far as the eye could see, are dotted other settlements; collectively called Amgbakiri. Beyond the horizon, and out of sight, lie Owukubu and Akananga.

These are the last camps before the river opens into the big ocean. It is, therefore, surprising that anyone would want to come to this God forsaken, snake-infested ; and they are many, a portion of land to erect a camp.

Well, that was where we came to spend our holiday. I was just 13 when we came on this expedition. Each morning, I would come out to the bank of the river and watch the flow of the water; a huge body of water that nothing could obstruct, or impede, as it flows down on an unending cycle. Anything that stands on its way is swept into the ocean.

I cannot help in my childhood ignorance, wonders at the ingenuity of man to conquer his environment. Bubbling on this gigantic body of fury fluid, are different types of canoes with their occupants flowing with the water in any direction it is headed, or crossing the river.

It must be overexertion of energy to try to battle against the current. Your effort would be futile, to say the least. This afternoon, we have watched with excitement the fishermen throwing their nets and making a large catch of herrings. We know the night will be a fruitful one for us also.

We started getting our net cleaned out and amends torn parts. The net was about four parts of 100 yards, joined together. They are about 12 feet in height with a twine lining both sides. At the bottom, we fixed little round stone at an interval of 8 feet.

At the top, we fixed floats or cork at an interval of a yard. The idea is that the twine on both ends will allow the net to maintain a straight line from the point of launch to the end that is tied to the canoe.

The stones at the bottom will allow the net to sink straight down while the floats will hold it up so that the whole net will not sink to the floor of the river, or to form a muddled entanglement.

And since the river is so deep, the bottom of the net will not be sweeping the river bed and getting entangled with whatever the water is carrying along as it swept along its part.

On our part, we will just be tagging along with the net wherever the water bears us to. The beauty of this is the fact that herrings move in school. The net will either get to them or they will come to it.

In the ensuing melee and confusion, they will get entrapped in the net, and the fishermen will return home satisfied with their day’s work. And since this is done mostly in the night when the water is dark, it would be satisfied night labor for the fishermen.

The process of launching and drawing up the net will be done many times in the course of the night, with the flow of the water either in ebb or flow tide. Some nights could be so frustrating when one labors through this hectic maneuvering, and could not catch much to show for it.

Such nights brought into my remembrance a story our teacher told us in the school. It is about a certain fisherman who toiled through the night but caught nothing until he had an encounter with Jesus Christ in the morning.

At 6 pm, we boarded our various canoes with all the accouterments for night fishing. It was Furotogu and me alone that were going tonight. We have a big hurricane lamp filled with kerosene, a bottle of diesel to use against mosquitoes. We use this to rub our bodies to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

They are one of the night fishermen companions. They come in droves, that sometimes; you open your mouth to speak at the risk of swallowing them. We dressed up covering our whole body with a sweater, trousers, and woven raffia hats.

The nets are heaped up behind the front seat of the canoe. We have a wooden platform in the center where we may stretch out and take a nap as we float along with the net. There is an opening between the two last seats to bail out water from the canoe.

The tide was flowing as we set out. It was our second week in the camp, and we knew exactly what is expected of us to do.

“Watch out for ‘Idoni’ before the last turn to Juju point,” our father came to the waterfront to wish us off.

Idoni is long sticks set in V-shape erected in the middle of the river by certain fishermen. They are fish traps that allow fish to congregate in line with the sticks, in the process got entrapped by a giant woven basket placed at the V-point.

If one does not mind the flow and position of the Idoni, his net might get entangled with them. There is no retrieving such net as it would be shredded in pieces by the oyster shells that have formed on the sticks.

“Ah papa,” my brother called out with a smile. “This is not our first night out. We know the river like every other person out there,” he added as he pushed the canoe out with his paddle.

“Mind the control of the canoe, Inikio,” my father warned me, a grin in his face.

I waved to him with a smile. “We will be back, Papa, relax.” He moved to touch his head with his finger but withdrew it.

My father was in his mid-30s, about 6 feet tall. The toil of life has hardened his face, but he still managed a smile as he waved back at me. Standing beside him was his boatman, Polobotari, a fair-skinned man.

He has a limp on his right leg when he walks. His face was red from frequent sneeze as a result of snuffing. Even now, he was tapping at the cover of his snuff bottle; a ritual he performs before opening the bottle.

We were immediately swept away by the current the moment we pushed out the canoe.

“The tide may not flow for long before it will start to ebb,” my brother was saying. He was sitting at the front seat facing me at the helm of the canoe, trying to select out the head of the net. “We may not get to Juju Point before it turns.”

“That will be better for us.” I agreed. “We will then float with the current close to Owukubu before it will stop.”

“Look at that,” he shouted excitedly, pointing at a line in the water.

I turned to see, in the fading light, a golden line moving across the river. It is not just one, but many such lines almost everywhere.

“That is herring schools all over the river,” I shouted back to him.

Far away, I can make out the dark shapes of many other canoes. Some of them have already started paying out their nets as the helm men paddling vigorously across the river.

“Turn around the canoe and let’s start launching,” he waved his hands to me.

I was not waiting for his instructions; I have already started turning the canoe around, the helm facing midstream. He took his position, standing with the heap of the net between his open legs, and picked up the head float that will mark the beginning of the net.

As I started paddling backward, he launched out the net in a fluid-like motion. We were almost to the midway across the river when he launched the last part of the net.

It was dark all over the river, but all around us were flickering lights from tens of scores of other hurricane lamps like starlight, where fishermen have taken possession of St Babara River.