Not all killers are murderers. But all murderers are hunters –Apollos.
Ozi Francis was feeling very sleepy as he tried to fix his fatigued body into his reading chair. Sometimes in self-derision he called himself an arm-chair journalist. His best contemplative moments were spent in that chair – reading, writing, and critiquing. Still struggling with slumber he rubbed his eyes with the back of his left hand, as if telling sleep to give him a break. And most times when he did this sleep often went away; often times the sleep would be waiting for him in the bedroom or on the floor of the sitting-room. The young journalist had never slept off in his chair – that talismanic seat of contemplation. He would never accept that notion of his talismanic chair, no matter how hard Funki, his colleague and chum, tried to convince him about that idea. He believed he could read, write and critique with the same intensity anywhere else as he would in his armchair. But, all who knew him very well believed otherwise. He might not be a celebrated writer but he was brilliant – a brilliance that smacked of death, particularly this night.
Ozi seemed to have a certain burden that he carried in his life – to nail those he called perpetrators and perpetuators. It even became a curious thing that more often than not he was present at one crime scene or another. He witnessed a creepy incident where a 33-year-old man attacked a teenager for having large breasts. The girl was only 16. The burly man grabbed the girl by her throat, punched her and threw her to the ground. He stood motionless, more out of shock than fear. He quickly dialed 911 and reported what was happening. What do I do now? Wait and watch this man rape an innocent girl? Or risk fighting a man that I am sure will knock me out in few minutes? What would i do if she were my sister or my girlfriend? He thought.
“Hey, mister,” he started as he walked slowly toward the scene. The man had torn off the girl’s blouse and camisole. The girl’s feeble resistance could not stop the perverted man from sticking out his nicotine-tainted tongue to lap on the girl’s breasts. He took a suck left and right as he groaned with animalistic passion. Now as he was removing his trousers and boxers at the same time [still working his mouth on the teen’s breasts] Ozi slammed a small metal object, his midget, against the man’s head. He fell backward with his crooked legs tangled in his trousers and moaned curses under his breath. Before he could raise his head to ascertain what had hit him another slam “wham!” struck him. He stood above the man with a bloody plank in his right hand, looking like a cold-blooded killer. His face was expressionless: no anger, no fear; he just stood there as if paralyzed by some violent act.
“Oh thank you sir!” the teen began gratefully as she gathered the remains of her dress. “You saved my life. You saved my body. Thank you. Thank you sir!” she spoke feverishly. Ozi did not hear a thing until the girl, in appreciation, embraced him from behind. He felt the soft touch of the girl’s breasts against his body. He sharply turned around; looking embarrassed, he gently drew the teen away from him.
“It’s Okay. Are you hurt?” he asked the girl.
“Not much, unlike the last time I was attacked,” the girl said looking disheveled. She told him that was not the first time she had been assaulted. Only a reduction surgery, he thought, would put the girl out of her misery.
The sleepy journalist sighed as he recalled that incident; and that was by far the least of his encounters with criminal acts. He was not a crime reporter but one way or the other he had found himself working that beat. With his incisive and thorough write-ups he had exposed not a few dirty cops’ evils. With his writings he had sent one particular underhanded police officer to gaol; incidentally, he was not aware of this. His consistent, factual and detailed chronicle of the infamous City Ten killings that shook the Federal City was invaluable in exposing the murderous cops behind the tragedy. At that time the police maintained that the ten persons shot dead were armed robbery suspects. Ozi dug deep into the suspected murder case, asking along the line that even if these six persons were robbery suspects were they not to be presumed innocent until they were found guilty. He dug deeper and the revelations sent the Police Command tumbling down. The murdered armed robbery suspects were innocent bricklayers, after all.
Whilst he bemoaned the deplorable state of policemen, he was even more appalled by their corrupt and murderous tendencies. Their penchant to kill for 20 Naira, to torture an innocent suspect to confess to a crime he did not commit, to lend rampaging armed robbers their uniforms and munitions, and above all, to kill on personal provocations. Little wonder a policeman was no more fondly called Ascari – he now bore the sobriquet: The Trigger. Every policeman was trigger-happy. They were walking time-bombs, about to explode at a gentle push.
Even as he fixed himself in his chair tonight he had a murder story to unravel. Yesterday evening he was present while police authorities paraded one armed robbery suspect. The parade was conducted by one dirty-looking cop, with a funny face that made him appear as if he was laughing all the time; he was the chief of police. The police chief said the suspect was caught at a robbery scene which he did not care to elaborate on. He then announced to journalists that the suspect would be taken to the hospital. Before any of the press men could ask why an obviously unhurt person should be taken to the hospital, the accused man was hurled into a police van with the inscription: To Serve and To Protect.
He saw something fishy in all this. Later that evening, he stopped by at the City Hospital to check on the suspect and see if he could look beyond what he was seeing. “Mr. Ozi Francis, the man you wanted to see was brought in dead tonight,” the chief medical director disclosed to him on their way to the pathologist’s office. “It can’t be true. I saw him early this evening. He was OK. He didn’t have a bruise on his skin. It can’t be true!” he exclaimed in disbelief.
“Please, come in,” the grave-looking pathologist said.
“Well done, doctor. Here’s Mr. Ozi Francis, a journalist from The Conscience newspaper. He’s conducting an investigation into the killing of a robbery suspect. He’s a friend of this facility. He had been of help when we were in difficult times,” the medical director said as he introduced him to the pathologist. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll let the two of you be.”
He looked at the pathologist as a man who conferred with death. The man looked so spooky and unfriendly; he was gaunt, eyes sunken in their sockets. He had firm bony fingers with a countenance that betrayed brittleness. The journalist was wondering where to start, as his thought-flow was momentarily held hostage by the spookiness of the man. As he began to open his mouth to say something, “please, sit down” the doctor said, gesturing at a chair. He sat facing the doctor.
“You know it is absurd my young man. The cops are killing us off – the innocent people. They scream ‘to protect and to serve’ but all they do is to extort and to murder,” the pathologist said taking his glasses off as he wiped his face. “As you can see, I live in the world of deaths. Almost every death I have looked into bore the signature of a cop.” Ozi adjusted himself in his seat. He did not bargain for the confession of a distraught pathologist but he had better listen carefully.
“Forgive my outburst,” the pathologist said apologetically.
“That’s all right. I share your anxiety. You’re not alone,” he assured.
“From my thorough analysis, the suspect’s primary cause of death was gunshot and physical assault,” the doctor began to explain the content of the autopsy report.
“Who could have done that?” he asked the pathologist.
“His body was soiled with blood, gunshot injury on the left wrist entry and outlet with fracture of the wrist bone,” he explained. “Another gunshot injury at right upper abdomen with exit wound at left shoulder. Internal examinations revealed trajectory wound through the liver, lungs, trachea and cervical bones. Stab wound on the right shoulders.”
“The Trigger! An innocent soul sacrificed again!”
“What? What trigger?” the doctor asked him.
He thanked the doctor profusely, promising to keep in touch as he tucked a copy of the autopsy report in his breast pocket.. He paused as he stepped outside of the hospital’s premises and dialed a number.
“TCP on the line”, a deadpan voice came up.
“I just called to ask about the suspect. How is he doing now?”
“You journalist! You’re like dogs always wanting a chunk of the meat,” the voice at the other end retorted.
“What chunk of meat are you referring to sir? The one you deposited at the City Hospital, today?” anger and disdain rising in his voice.
“What do you mean young man?” the deadpan voice suddenly mellowed.
“I am not asking for a chunk of meat. I am not a dog. All I have asked for is a piece of information,” he fumed. “Sleep well!”
Now, stuck in his chair, he thought rather than wishing the man with the deadpan voice a good night sleep he could have done that to himself because to him the man did not deserve a moment’s sleep. He had blood on his hands. He had murdered sleep. But if man must catch a thief he must not go a-slumbering too. Ozi had become a watchman – he was a watchdog. Funki’s call interrupted his thoughts.
“Men, what are you up to? Why did it take you ages to pick my call!”
“Funki, tell me you won’t be coming to my end tonight. It is late already. We’ll see tomorrow.”
“Howdy pal? I’ll come this night. I promised Atiko I’ll bring her to your end. Who’s certain about tomorrow? Let’s see the end of today first,” Funki argued.
“You mean Atiko, our great reporter from National Crusader, is coming with you? I can’t wait to host her. I thought it was going to be a long night. Now, I say it’s going to be the longest night ever!”
“I have a lot to gist you about. We’re getting married. I proposed to her.”
“Oh dear, save your breath and credit when you arrive you’ll give me the whole gist. I can’t wait to hear it all.”
“Drive carefully. Beware of the policemen on the road!” Ozi warned and ended the call.
On the street was a car parked opposite the building harbouring his prey; inside the car was a man. He had an old newspaper in his hand. He was reading, with the aid of a pen-torch, an article with the title, Trigger and the Triumph. Deep furrows appeared on his brow as he read through the article. His lips began quivering violently as he read aloud the last two paragraphs of the article: Our society is nearing the brink of a precipice where each man and son, each mother and daughter will seek justice not at the law court; not from the legislative chamber nor through executive fiat, but we shall one and all seek justice through the pull of a trigger…draw the blood of atonement from the evil heads of corrupt cops guilty of wanton extrajudicial and careless killings.
No matter what appetizes their taste for madness and murders, these corrupt, murderous officers will meet their Waterloo one after the other. I am not a prophet. I do not own a crystal ball nor borrow one to gaze into. But the grass of the fallen innocent victims shall be watered with the blood of these trigger-happy policemen: the hunters and murderers. And after this long darkness, a new dawn; a new system of things; no trigger will be pulled. At that time it will be an honour to approach a cop – a dignified police officer; and not a hunter, a murderer. The conscience and the pen are much more lethal than the gun!
The pen much lethal than the gun. The man thought. He brought out a gun from the pigeon hole and took out a pen from inside his jacket. He placed the two objects on the seat beside the driver’s. He studied those objects with keen interest. A pen? A gun? Which is more lethal? He pondered. He chose the locally made pistol and kissed it tenderly like a sorely missed lover. “Hush baby, you’re not going to shriek so much tonight. Okay?” he told the gun. The potent but lifeless gun said nothing in the vice-grip of his lover and master. He wished he had a better gun, like a Beretta pistol. But the Chief had told him no mistake and no living of any trace. A locally made pistol would do. So this burly man had to improvise with the locally made pistol. He did not really care. To him murder was murder. He could even do it with bare hands. That was why they named him Handy. And with this man violent death always came in handy. He let out a victorious whimper.
The murder case he was working on was still inchoate. He got up from his seat, walked across the room to the toilet. While in the loo the thought of Funki and Atiko came to his mind… Funki was a young man whose veins were filled not with blood but with the waters of ideas and dreams, a tireless and restless soul. He lived his life as if it were going out of fashion; maybe now that he was set for marriage he would act more maturely… Atiko, such a delectable damsel – the proverbial capable woman. She had eyeballs like something made from the sun; those eyes scorched unworthy men and warmed up the deserving ones. Ozi had found favour in those eyes just like Funki; but the latter was the apple of those beautiful eyes. Her luxuriant hair was like the Indian actress Amirah Bach Chan. Atiko had brain and beauty combined. And he adored her to the point of idolatry.
Rising from his reverie of personal thoughts and having finished attending to nature’s call he returned to the waiting arms of his chair where he continued his work. His eyes were still begging for sleep…just a little slumber! But his mind said no and forced those eyes wide-open. He buried his nimble head reading, scribbling, at the same time worrying about Funki’s coming.
“Rat-a-tat-tat”, a rap on his door brought him back to the consciousness of the world beyond his immediate surroundings. He rose gently from his seat and approached the main door to his two-room self-contained apartment. He heaved a sigh of relief thinking that the two lovebirds had arrived at last. He opened the door and on impulse threw his hands open to welcome his guests. But there was only one guest. The figure standing at the entrance hit him hard on his head with a gun in his hand. He staggered backward like one in a drunken stupor. As the door closed slightly behind the figure, he followed his victim with brisk, giant strides. The man burly and darkly, had eyes like an owl – bloodshot eyes from several consumption of alcohol. He reeked abominably of paraga and ganja. However, he seemed to have his senses intact.
A hunter knows his target; he knows the smell of his prey. Ozi’s staggering was halted as he was pushed to the wall. For the first time, he looked the man in the face and found no expression in them except the deathly shadow of his mien; he could only think of death, his dying in the calloused hands of this messenger of death let on the loose. But he was not prepared to die neither was he prepared to beg to live. Pinning him to the wall with his gun, the burly and darkly man asked with a derisive smile playing on his lips: “Do I need an introduction?” “It may be the last piece of information I really need before day breaks, sir,” his target replied in studied calmness.
“You know, at gunpoint even the Reverend Father will confess his adulterous waywardness. And the pull of this trigger is an opening of the lid of Sheol – the depth of death. How does it feel to be killed by a cop like me? I have been raised from the dungeon of hell to settle a score and liquidate you. I am the bad dada one of your stories sent to jail. I have lived life like a common criminal in the hole of hell called prison…all because of your stupid story. You know, dead men don’t write stories,” the man paused as he hit his prey again with the butt of his gun. Ozi fell to the ground. “Get up! You moron…I said get up!” the man was incandescent with rage. Yet he spoke in hushed voice. Ozi’s eyes were swollen and his head dripped with blood. The man dragged him up. “On your feet soldier. You know, a journalist is a soldier. He’s always fighting with his pen. Mad pen. Where’s your pen comrade Ozi Francis? I’ve got my gun what have you got? Your nimble head, idiot!”
Ozi’s lips were quivering. He was praying. He was entreating God. His eyes were too swollen to see anything now. “Open your eyes – look at me. Listen to me. The Master of Death himself has sent me. You know, the Chief. You are the prize of my freedom and the ransom for my servitude.” He taunted him in so many unprintable words. He was convinced that no one could save Ozi at this moment. The deranged cop even asked God to stay out of the matter. He asked Him to watch as an impartial umpire. “I am killing you with this locally made pistol,” he waved the gun in his prey’s face as if it were a prized object.
“You know, only the pull of this trigger can determine whether you’re quick or dead. Many people out there in the system want you occupying a space in the vastness of Sheol. I do. I’ve come not to hand you a death warrant. I am here to hand you to the Demons of Death. I am Handy!” he boasted.
Dazed, he just stood still like a mosquito transfixed by RAID insecticide that “kills insects DEAD”. The trained, strong hand of the cop positioned the gun between his eyes. The end had come. The muscles in the man’s hand were taut. The pellets of death gathered in attention waiting for his cold finger to send them on death’s errand. The pellets were cold and wanted to be fired into some warm blood. Ozi did not give up in his mind. He left everything for providence. Handy pulled the trigger…
Ozi Francis slumped.
“…the violent shooting of the young brilliant writer of The Conscience newspaper has continued to generate interest, rage and bizarre revelations. In the eye of the storm are the Police High Command and their goons. The suspect of the violent shooting who has been on the lam for five days was finally apprehended trying to cross the Lagos-Seme border. But his capture was not achieved by the Police Force, it was done by a local ethnic vigilance group known as Odd – a vigilance group that is notorious for violent justice…” the famous ETV news caster, Jide Mobor, reported. “Don’t go away as we give you more update of this celebrated shooting incident. Now we take a break.”
Funki groaned mournfully in his seat as he stared into the TV set. His eyes were red with tears as he kept muttering “twenty kids, twenty years…twenty children, twenty years”. Sometimes he would jump out of his seat and let out a shriek. He was weeping uncontrollably, a man distraught and inconsolable. “Tell me this is not happening. Wake me up, it’s a nightmare!” Even with dark glasses on, he could not hide his mournful state. He was like a woman violated and left alone to face her humiliation. His body heaved under intense sobbing. From time to time he had to clear the mucus dripping from his nostrils with his kerchief. Sometimes he behaved like a man possessed uttering unintelligible words.
“Please, tell him to stop writing. Policemen are coming! Tell him to stop o!” he would rant. “Ah-ah, that man has a gun…please, don’t shoot Ozi. He writes very well. He loves only pen and ink. Not gun and blood…olopa, abeg sir!” Then he would say again: “Ssshhh…Eyi’s sleeping. No noise. Nobody wakes him now. Listen to the rustle of papers…he’s not sleeping on a mattress; he has plenty of papers to sleep on!”
He became silent again as soon as the news caster appeared on the screen again:
“…the Odd vigilance group has told the government authorities in plain language that Handy was their ‘sheep’ and they will ‘shepherd’ him accordingly with their ‘rod’ of justice. When our reporter asked the Odd spokesperson what they meant he said: ‘Soul for Soul’. The group warned that the authorities should not interfere. However, the group charged the government to deal decisively with the likes of Handy in the force. Warning the authorities if they failed to do that on time they will take the laws into their hands.
“Still on the violent shooting, rumours have been rife that Ozi Francis, the shot journalist, is still alive. One of his close associates, Funki, a celebrated journalist and an activist, said on the night of Ozi’s shooting the SSS took away the body to an unknown destination. Claiming that since then no one has seen the remains of the shot journalist. As the day goes by, more dusts are being gathered rather than settled. Even government agencies having oversight of Crime and Security have pointing accusing fingers of complicities against one another…
“Once again, the nation is the focus of the world, not for good but for evil. There is a strong outcry of condemnation, to the point that a famous international human rights activist called the nation’s Police system ‘an abattoir of inhumanity’. The nation’s president is under intense pressure. The IG has been fired. Other heads are rolling. Pockets of riots are reported in some areas. There are bonfires on many streets,” Jide Mobor, the news caster, informed her news-starved viewers.
Nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. Was Ozi dead? Was he being treated secretly somewhere? Every day, in its issue, The Conscience newspaper published the undying words of Ozi, the same piece of words found in the pocket of Handy, the shooter: Our society is nearing the brink of a precipice where each man and son, each mother and daughter will seek justice not at the law court; not from the legislative chamber nor through executive fiat, but we shall one and all seek justice through the pull of a trigger…draw the blood of atonement from the evil heads of corrupt cops guilty of wanton extrajudicial and careless killings.
No matter what appetizes their taste for madness and murders, these corrupt, murderous officers will meet their waterloo one after the other. I am not a prophet. I do not own a crystal ball nor borrow one to gaze into. But the grass of the fallen innocent victims shall be watered with the blood of these trigger-happy policemen: the hunters and murderers. And after this long darkness, a new dawn; a new system of things; no triggers will be pulled. At that time it will be an honour to approach a cop – a dignified police officer; and not a hunter, a murderer. The conscience and the pen are much more lethal than the gun!
As part of the anniversary marking the first year of Ozi’s shooting, The Conscience Crime Editor was interviewed. “Mrs. Phib Dukka, do you see the end of guns on the street in sight?”
“It will take some invincible force to take them away!” she had answered. With that interview, many concluded that it would take an invincible force to bring Ozi Francis back.