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Contemplating Life’s Complexities – By Betty Abah

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I am here reflecting on the plight of the young and famous music video producer, Clarence Peters, and I am really scared about life’s complexities. You are riding fame’s sensational waves today, then a single slip, a single event implicates you rightly or wrongly and it takes only the grace of God to pull you out of the pits aka wahala.

According to ongoing news round, a popular dancer, Kodak, died in Clarence’s house a couple of days back. Though the initial cause of death had been pegged at electrocution while charging her phone, the Lagos State Police Command, Ikeja at the weekend arrested Mr. Peters, saying that he was being ‘investigated for murder’, while also awaiting autopsy. We just hope an autopsy can clarify things really quickly. At this point it’s not yet clear what actually transpired.

But this also brought back personal memories of how I very nearly got into trouble about a decade ago.

On a certain morning in 2010 or so, I drove out of the house on Ajilete Street in Lagos and about a minute or so, spotted my old neighbour who is also a relative of my now deceased land lady, walking down the street. I stopped, greeted and offered him a ride. He declined. I then made to move on, a move that would have marked a dangerous curve in my entire life’s trajectory.

In the less than a minute or so interval in which I stopped to greet my elderly neighbour and to offer a ride, a kid of not more than two years had sauntered unto the front of my car and taken a fixed pose there, COMPLETELY unknown to me. He was so tiny that I didn’t spot him at all. One move and he could have been crushed to death.

Then a miracle appeared as if from the clouds. A man coming several metres ahead by the street gate, saw what was going on but he was too far away to be heard and so he screamed desperately at some students of LAFOGRAM, a nearby secondary school, who were relatively closer, to ‘tell that driver to not make any move, there is a baby in front’! All the while, I had no idea what was going on. I made to move the car then out of some intuition, paused and paid close attention to the students running towards me, gesticulating wildly and the entire commotion outside. I cocked out my head to ask what was going on and they pointed at the car’s bumper, still no idea, the gentleman’s head still wasn’t showing. Then one of the students, a tall teenage girl, ran and grabbed the baby, dragging him from where he was still ‘balanced’, leaning on the car without a care in the world! It was then his distracted mum realised how far her baby had strayed, and then I also realised what I nearly got myself into.

Relief. Relief. Life-long relief.

And believe me, all this couldn’t have taken up to two minutes– two significant minutes that nearly marred my life’s story.

To this day I still have goose bumps contemplating the outcome if things had gone awry. At the least I could have been charged for manslaughter. If I ever got out, I would be living the rest of my life with the guilt and stigma of having taken a life—a young and promising life. Thank God for that angel. I still feel a sense of guilt that I didn’t step out to get his details. I was so shell-shocked I just sat staring for a long time, muttering what I can’t now remember.

Life could be complicated at times; the wrong company, the wrong move, the wrong event at close proximity to someone and then he or she is in for a long thing especially in a country with an up-side-down justice system.

One of the most memorable cases I have worked on involved three Nigerians who were wrongly incarcerated for 15 years for the October 1995 murder of eminent stateman, Pa Alfred Rewane. Two of them, Elvis Irenuma and Lucky Igbinovia were then young house staff of the murdered octogenarian (later assumed assassinated by the powers that be). That of Effiong Elemi-Edu, the third was the weirdest. He was picked up during a police raid as he stood to order for suya (beef kebab) on a roadside in Ikeja one unlucky evening and taken to the Ikeja Police Command, Lagos (Special Anti-Robbery, SAR) section.

Meanwhile, the Rewane ‘suspects’ had already been brought in by the time Effiong joined. Most of the others picked during raids across Lagos the previous night ‘bailed’ themselves out with ‘any amount’ to the monsters in uniform the next day. Effiong had nothing on him, couldn’t reach relatives. The police quickly roped him and others like him to the Rewane staff, tortured him and seven others to confess that they killed the old man. The next 15 years, Effiong found himself in prison awaiting trial, a completely innocent man who happened to find himself at a wrong place at a wrong time in a dysfunctional country. Out of the incarcerated eight, Effiong, Elvis and Lucky were those lucky enough to live to tell their stories, the others were tortured to death, while the survivors were holed up mostly at the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons in Lagos, criss-crossing Lagos court rooms, awaiting trial, albeit wasting so many youthful years in incarceration for a crime they knew nothing about. After years of legal battle, and then intense media scrutiny on their case between 2009 to 2010, all three were acquitted between June 2010 and January, 2011.

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