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On Damascus road (1) by Femi Aribisala

Illuminated College road, Ogba with Street Lights courtesy of the Light Up Lagos Project, an initiative of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode's Administration

By Femi Aribisala
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice. (Acts 9:3-4).

My wife was coming back from a trip to the United States and I went to Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos with my six-year old son to meet her. She had two major pieces of luggage. I put one in the boot and the other in the back seat of the car. It was around seven-thirty in the evening, and we set out for home.

The Okota Road, Isolo 

Soon, a car overtook us with some people who seemed to be shouting at us for some inexplicable reason. I was lost in thought and paid little attention to them. It is commonplace in Lagos for some driver to be upset with you rightly or wrongly. But no sooner had they overtaken us than they swerved and blocked the road with their car. Immediately, some men jumped out menacingly.

Armed robbers

From that moment everything became surreal. Indeed, it seemed that everything went into slow motion. I could not believe the dexterity and spontaneity of my reactions. I slammed on the brakes and the car stopped. I quickly switched the car to reverse gear and pressed on the accelerator and the car moved back. Our assailants were banking on the element of surprise, but my prompt reactions upstaged them. Having quickly reversed the car, I again brought it to a stop.

In front of us on the road were four armed men.

I had always believed in myself. I saw myself as a self-made man and I regarded myself as a problem-solver. True, this was a rather bigger problem than I have had to deal with before. This problem seemed to be one of life and death. But it was a problem nevertheless. Therefore, unlike others who might have simply surrendered, I decided to solve the problem.

I needed to make a quick decision. I had to decide whether to continue to reverse the car, which I could only do for so long; or to go forward, never minding our assailants; or to surrender, which might be fatal.

James Bond

I seemed to have all the time in the world to make this split-second decision. I decided to fight for my life rather than surrender to the unknown. I made up my mind to go forward at top speed to the right and try to avoid their car, which was biased to the left side of the road. I also decided that, if the man to my extreme right did not get out of the way, I would overrun him with the car.

I put the car back into the first gear and went ahead to execute my plan. I slammed hard on the accelerator. The man to my extreme right literally had to jump out of the road because I aimed the car directly at him. I managed to avoid the car with which they had blocked the road and made a dash for it. I told myself if they chased me in their car they would not be able to catch me. These people did not know whom they were dealing with.

But before I could begin to congratulate myself on turning the tables on our abductors, my plans went disastrously wrong. A lamppost appeared out of nowhere, and I slammed headlong into it.

I have been back on that road so many times since that day and have wondered why I did not see that lamppost. But I did not. Once I hit the lamppost, I was trapped. Once I hit the lamppost, all my brilliantly executed escape plans turned out to be foolhardy. Once I hit the lamppost, I knew I was in trouble. I looked out the window to see that the man I nearly ran down had got up and was now coming towards me. I knew there could only be one thing on his mind: vengeance.

Jesus, my saviour

But before I could panic or be resigned to my fate, something even more dramatic happened. I heard a voice. It was not a booming voice. It was a “still small voice.” It was authoritative and calm. It spoke with quiet reassurance. “Femi,” it said, “nothing is going to happen to you here.”

Before I could even think about what this meant under the circumstances, the offended armed robber drew near. Again, I saw everything in slow motion. Grimacing, he pointed his gun at me and fired.

I saw a flash of light and the glass at my side of the door came crashing down. Don’t ask me why, but I opened the door and came out of the car. Only then did I realise I could not walk. There was something wrong with my left leg. I noticed then that the bullet must have hit me in the leg, but I never felt it enter my body.

With the benefit of hindsight, I wonder what my assailant must have thought had happened. There must have been something disturbing about pointing a gun at a man from virtually point blank range and firing, and nevertheless the man you fired at calmly opened the door and came out. In this part of the world where many believe in the occult (juju or voodoo), I wonder what the man thought happened to the bullet he fired directly at me.

Prince of peace

I am not a brave man. I would hardly describe myself as courageous. I had, for example, a chronic fear of flying as a result of a hair-raising flight I had in the early 1980’s from Lagos to Jos. And yet, I was not afraid of our assailants on Airport Road.

Surprisingly, I was somewhat indifferent to the attack. I seemed to be abstracted from the entire incident, and to be like someone standing on the side lines watching an unfolding reality show. And yet. I knew, however the matter was resolved, my life would never be the same again.

I now know that apart from the armed robbery, something definitely supernatural was going on. I now know that it was God who spoke and told me in effect not to worry, and that nothing was going to happen to me. I now know that when God speaks, he speaks peace. The psalmist says: “I will hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people and to his saints.” (Psalm 85:8).

When God speaks peace, peace is established. (Mark 4:39). Therefore, on that fateful night, in the middle of a deadly armed robbery attack, I experienced inexplicable peace: a peace that surpasses all understanding. (Philippians 4:7).

As I came out of the car, the armed robber who had shot at me did not shoot again. I say this because he could easily have done so. I believe he knew he could not have missed me the first time, and yet I was apparently unhurt.

Instead of shooting again, he came over and slapped me. “Why were you driving like that?” he demanded. How else, I wonder, should one drive when accosted by armed robbers? Of course, I did not dare tell him that.

“Please don’t be offended,” I pleaded. “I was only trying to get away from you as best as I could.”

CONTINUED

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