Friday, 24 June 2011


Bit of a long one this – you may want to make a cup of tea!
‘Leave it for a week’, the police officer advised,’then look on the stalls and in the shops where they sell stolen laptops, cameras and phones(!) Pretend  you are a customer and ask to see. If you see yours, ask them to save it while you get money. You come to us and we make arrest’. Elementary, my dear Watson!
So in other words, if I want any of my stolen property back, I’m going to have to look for it myself. OK!
This advice was offered as a parting comment having spent much of the day in the local nick reporting a break-in the night before. They took it seriously and sent a young plain clothes (well, she wore quite a pretty frock actually – brown and yellow floral pattern on a cream background, not that i notice these things!) officer who looked more like a kindergarten teacher than a strict officer of the law. She viewed the break-in site, where the burglar had sawn through one of the security bars in one of the vacant bedrooms, inspected inside from where my stuff had been taken, obliterated any possible forensic evidence from the tools abandoned at the scene or from the shoe print left in the mud outside the window, commandeered a neighbour’s  vehicle from the compound, plus neighbour, and got him to drive us round to the workplace of Izi the electrician and his apprentice – the last people to work on our house and thereby the police’s’prime suspects’.  They were taken back to the station to help with our enquiries, where Izi was given a grilling by the deputy somethingorother:
‘Do you know anything about the burglary at the oyibo house?'
‘OK. What’s in your bag?’
Izi tipped out the contents of his work bag – a rather basic set of electrician’s tools.
‘Are these your tools as well?’ showing Izi the tools from theburglary.
‘So you know nothing of the burglary?’
Interview over.
We then all ‘followed’ (ie accompanied) Izi in the neighbours car – with neighbour-  to inspect the house of the primsry suspect which was miles away. The neighbour had to refuel first –at his own expense!
When we arrived I was invited to search his wardrobe to try to find a pair of black pin-striped trousers to match the jacket that the burglar had abandoned in his haste to make a getaway. I am not persuaded that a cat burglar would choose a black pin-striped suit as his uniform of choice for his night prowls and I doubt he would even have possessed such garments, but I suppose you have to follow all avenues; I found nothing – nor any sign of the laptop, camera, mobile phone, hard drive, wrist watch, i-pod or cash stolen during the night – neither in his wardrobe, bedroom nor in those of the woman alseep in the next room, who was mildly surprised to find a police officer, her husband (presumably), our neighbour, two drivers, two colleagues who were there to translate and give moral support, four spectator children and an oyibo – all standing round and peering into her personal effects; she rolled over and went back to sleep.
We returned to the police station. I was told to make an official  statement, ‘but we have no official forms – you will have to provide your own stationery’. As I was also fresh out of police incident report forms myself, i asked a colleague to go and buy an exercise book and biro. While we awaited his return the young officer laid herself out on a bench and dozed off. As if we had requested some form of entertainment in the interim, a street hawking woman came in selling washing-up liquid – she only had the one bottle!  My colleague, Funmii, had had a gut-ful by now and started to make clear his views on how things were proceeding – his disgust that we had  to provide our own stationery, especially. Washing-up-liquid-lady joined in the debate which was rapidly coming to the boil. Funmii told her to shut up every time she attempted to interject. She eventually got a word in and told him not to speak to police officers like that and to be a good Nigerian. I thought Funmii was going to be arrested himself. In the end washing-up lady shrugged and got up, and both she and Funmii burst out laughing as she left the room.  The police officer by now having recovered from her nap, we set about filling in the ‘form’.
Izi has been known to Esspin for many years - a highly reliable and a very pleasant, likeable, mild-mannered man. He has worked in all the homes of expats in Ilorin; it was he who fixed my self-electrocuting kitchen appliances and who installed our generator recently. My main concern was that neither he nor his apprectice would be detained any longer than necessary and that they would not be mistreated. I was told they may have to be put in custody for 1 to 4 days depending on the progress made in police investigations, (which could mean considerably longer) but I could have them released if i wrote and signed a ‘withdrawal of complaint letter addressed to the chief police officer – using my own stationery, of course! This I did, but then learned that they could not be released without payment of bail – this is the free bail enshrined in federal law! Against my principles and secretly, i told Funmii I would pay it to ensure a quick release without maltreatment. 500 Naira should do it – about £2. For some reason my money was rejected! (Why? Is my money not as good as the next man’s?) I think they were anxious that everything should be seen to be being carried out according to the law as a white person was involved. Izi was being collected by a friend – not easy for him to arrange as they had confiscated his mobile phone and were reluctant to return it to him but they conceded that it would speed things up  if they did so.
The next morning Izi and his apprentice were at our property again, fixing new fuse boxes and meters – the burglars had taken them too!
In time I will no doubt come to terms with the loss of my laptop, phone, camera etc, my sense of invaded privacy, my feelings of wanting to pack up and go home. One way or another they will be resolved. What will take a lot longer to get over is the loss of all the poems i have written over many years, a large number here in Nigeria. These have built up over the decades into a sort of autobiography of my life and thoughts. Hard copy does not exist for the vast bulk of it.
I was told by my VSO friend Julie about the mandala created by Tibetan monks. On large round boards they create the most fantastic and intricate patterns out of different coloured sands, delivered through hollow straws. Having spent many many hours designing and ‘building’ these patterns, on completing them, the monks carry them to a nearby river or lake and just toss the sand into the breeze. Something that once was has now been lost, never to be re-created, except perhaps fleetingly in memory’s imperfect vision. Although the analogy of the transcience of things and life in general is clear, I don’t feel sufficiently spiritually enlightened just yet to accept this – I don’t need this sort of challenge just now. I still feel as though giving someone a well-aimed kick where it hurts would do me a lot more good.
When I consider things more dispassionately though, I can sort of rationalise the event in terms of 'here is a guy down on his luck, probably hungry, which is why he stole a bottle of groundnuts, possibly with sick children which is why he took Caroline's anti-malaria tablets, unemployed with mouths to feed, and basically quite desperate'.
Nope, it hasn't worked! He had a bottle of gin and a packet of fags in his jacket pocket, and he'd clearly done this before - often; no excuse - I still feel like giving him a good kicking!  

No comments:

Post a Comment