By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
THE weekend sun was reluctant to come out, so we ventured out. I was determined to give my family a great weekend of fun and relaxation, on the second leg of my overly delayed vacation.
You see, I have not gone on vacation in the past 15 years, so I was desperate to share this free period with my children and wife.
An old friend invited us to Abuja for an entire week: free lodging, free food, free car and chauffeur, and several other freebies. The awuf was too good to pass over. We landed in Abuja the same night the President was smuggled in.
So there I was few days after, strolling around Asokoro with my people, admiring the splendour of Abuja’s highbrow areas — the scenery was more beautiful, more un-Nigerian than I had ever imagined.
After about three hours meandering through different neighbourhoods, soaking in the sights and smells of this architectural pot-pourri, four soldiers literally sprung out of a shady undergrowth. “Stop there, bagger!!”
We were all petrified at the sight. The soldiers were well-dressed, with an unusual shade of green I had never seen with our Army. “Who goes there? Where are you going? Who gave you permit? Who sent you?” It was as if the barrage of questions was meant for the four of us. Their angry faces commanded us to answer, or be silenced forever.
“Sorry, sir,” I mumbled despairingly, “we were just sight-seeing? We mean no harm ooh! We are on holiday…”
“Which kain holiday say make you come inside danger zone? You no see perimeter?” A burly giant with a single star on his shoulder bellowed, pointing at a small notice 50 metres away to our left. We had not noticed it. The inscription, through my trembling eyes read: “Danger Villa: Trespass At Own Risk”. Suddenly, the severity of the mess we had landed in dawned on all of us. I couldn’t explain how we got anywhere near the Presidential Villa!
“Sit down there!” “Shut up and hands up!” “Face down and hands up!” More orders that I could not decode were backed at us at such rapid pace that I thought we were already being shot. The fracas was too much for my children and they started crying. I was helpless, trembling on my knees. On seeing two polished men in suits sauntering towards our party, my spirit lifted: “Please, help us gentlemen, as I told these officers, we were visitors to this city…only strolling and looking at the fine-fine places around…we did not know…”
“Are you a journalist?” I almost vomited at the direct question from one of the new comers. Obviously, the answer was all over my face and open mouth. If I said I was a journalist, considering the situation of things in the country; and if by a stroke of serious bad luck, we had stumbled on the section where the ill President was stationed, we were done for. But if I denied, in the presence of my children that I had spent years teaching how to remain steadfastly honest under any circumstances, I would have lost the high ground to inspire them – ever!
“Look, we know you are a journalist,” the silent one answered for me. He brought out a tiny recorder similar to the one I usually tuck into my inner jacket (just in case).
“Your thing fell down around Point 2, so we know your game.” I was too stunned to think of a sensible response. I touched my body instinctively, my ‘midget’ was missing.
“See, I’m not attached to any media now… these are my family, ask them, we are on holidays. I swear, we have no other reason being here.”
Suddenly, I heard a distinctly feminine voice behind the leafy façade. “Bring them here!”
Though I have never met her nor heard her speak anywhere, I knew that was Turai’s voice. Considering, all I’ve been reading in the past one year, I made the sign of the cross, as I herded my people towards the voice. At gun point, looking back at the fast disappearing rocky landscape of Abuja, I mumbled my last prayer.
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