By Femi Aribisala
The time was around 8 pm. on 26th December, 1993, and I was standing by the roadside on Lagos Airport road with an armed robber rifling through my pockets.
He was also removing my watch from my wrist. Another man was removing the suitcase in the back seat of our car and loading it into the boot of their car. And then I heard that implausible voice once again, defiantly oblivious to the situation.
“Femi,” it repeated, “nothing is going to happen to you here.”
I was not really paying much attention. My whole life suddenly flashed through my mind. So this is how it all ends, I thought. I looked through the window of the car and saw my wife clutching our six year-old son to her breast. It was like seeing the future in the present. “So at such an early age this woman would become a widow,” I thought.
I noticed she was praying. I could see her lips moving silently. I did not believe in prayer and I never prayed. As far as I was concerned, the fact that she was praying told me that she was in distress. So I leaned through the window and decided to reassure her. But the only reassurance I could give her was the “ridiculous” one I had been given. So I said to her: “Karen, nothing is going to happen to us here.”
But something seemed to be happening. One of the armed robbers could not open the boot. He asked me for the key of the car, but I could not give it to him because it was jammed in the ignition as a result of hitting the lamppost. The man did not believe me. They had clearly seen us putting one of the heavy pieces of luggage in the boot. He went over to my wife’s side of the car and leaned across so as to remove the key but could not.
In the middle of that entire crisis over the key, one simple fact completely escaped me. Our abductors also seemed oblivious to it. The boot could be opened without a key. The car was a Nissan Altima, and you could open the boot by pressing a latch on the floor of the driver’s side of the car. But God preserved that luggage by refusing to allow the boot to be opened.
Finger of God
The fact that the boot could not be opened worsened the situation. I could tell that, with the frustration of being unable to dislodge the key from the ignition, the temperature of the entire incident was rising. But then, God had a plan.
A few days before then, I had collected the takings of one of my video shops in Lagos and put the money in the glove compartment of the car. Thereafter, every time I remembered that the money was there, I told myself I would retrieve it later. That night, on Airport Road, I realised why the money was left in the car.
One of the armed robbers opened the glove compartment and saw the money. I don’t recall precisely how much it was. But it was in the days when there were no hundred, two hundred five hundred or one thousand denominations in the Nigerian currency as there are now. So the money tended to be bulky, even if it was not actually that much.
The discovery of the money brought down the temperature of the atmosphere. The man who discovered it was all excitement. “Look what I found, look what I found,” he shouted gleefully to his partners in crime. Somehow, this atoned for the inability to retrieve the luggage from the boot.
It was time to go. The man who had shot at me re-cocked his gun. It was one of those revolvers you snap at the top in order to re-load. He pointed the gun at me and barked: “Lie down with your face to the ground!” I don’t know where I got the courage from, but I refused. I told him calmly: “I am not going to lie down. You can take whatever you want and go, but I am not going to lie down.”
The man glared at me. His look spoke eloquently. It said: “Do you know whom you are talking to? Don’t you know that I have the power to shoot you dead right now?” I now know that he could have no power whatsoever against me unless it had been given to him from above. (John 19:11).
For a moment, we stood looking at one another silently, with him pointing the gun at me. But then, I don’t know what he saw because suddenly, he changed his mind and walked away. They all jumped into their car and drove off.
As I said, while the robbery was taking place, I was filled with an incredible feeling of peace. From the time I heard the voice, which assured me: “Nothing is going to happen to you here,” I was filled with peace clearly out of kilter with the danger at hand. The assurance itself was profoundly nonsensical. Immediately after I received it, something did happen. I was shot in the leg.
But since my car was wrapped around a lamppost, I had run out of options. So I had no choice but to believe the unbelievable. My situation was like that of a man falling down a cliff, looking desperately for something to hold on to. Suddenly a saviour appears out of nowhere. But instead of catching him, he throws him a thread. “Catch this,” he says “and I will pull you up.”
You know for certain a thread cannot hold your weight. But this is really no time to argue. If you have other options, you would surely ignore the thread. But as it is, the thread is the only option available, even if it is absolutely ludicrous. So you grab the thread and unbelievably, the thread; a thread, holds your weight.
Thread of hope
Once I held on to this slim thread of hope, I was filled with an incredible feeling of peace. This peace made no sense whatsoever since it was in the middle of an armed robbery attack and a bullet had just been shot into my leg. Even more paradoxical was the fact that, once the armed robbers left, the peace lifted and I was filled with fear. It was as if I had been dreaming and had now come back to my senses. Clearly, I needed immediate medical attention.
My wife jumped out of the car and ran down the road shouting for help. I looked down and realised that my trouser leg, my sock and shoe were completely soaked with blood. So I said to myself: “Well, you escaped that one. But now you are going to bleed to death right here in the middle of this road.”
But immediately that thought came into my head, the voice I heard earlier came back to contradict it. It was matter-of-fact and conclusive. It was also just as inscrutable as before:
“Femi,” it said categorically, “there is nothing wrong with your leg.”