{DESPERATE TIMES} MY EXPERIENCE WITH MASQUERADE ROBBERS IN AKWA IBOM - By Uduak Umo

Ekpo Masquerade
Is it just desperation giving birth to ingenuity, or did Ekpo masquerades misinterpret the suggestion for Nigeria to make money through masquerades, made by Information Minister, Lai Mohammed? Well, Mr Lai, armed robbers have begun to wear the masquerade attire during operations; at least in Akwa Ibom.

I almost fell victim two months ago along the new Uyo-Abak dual carriage road. It was 9pm and I was on like 100 km/h heading to Abak. The street lights are powered by solar, but they're pretty week in radiance, and, as is the case on every lit street in Nigeria, some of the bulbs are fake and dead. Hence there are  whole sections on this very road unlit.

There was one crawling bus ahead of me and there was a dark area just ahead of him. There was like a stranded passenger bus backing the traffic on the right, with maybe two people hiding - I thought - behind. They chose a small stretch of the road where there's no houses. 

As the driver ahead entered the dark spot, he suddenly swerved wildly as if to avoid some harm. But he wasn't successful. Or so I thought, 'cause he cleared almost in the middle of the road.

I immediately stepped on the brakes as I entered the blanket of darkness. Then I saw the masquerade 2 yards away. He had weapons on him; a machete and other smaller objects. 

That was when I saw his companions behind the parked bus on my right.

I didn't give him or them a chance. I accelerated in his direction and brushed against him to destabilize him. There was some other metal on his hip as it scratched the car and I sped off through the narrow corridor left open by the other bus.

There is a police checkpoint about 1 km ahead. Angry, panting and praying, I stopped there and spoke to them. They didn't believe me till they saw the mark on my car. It was made by a familiar weapon.

Their pickup was on the parallel lane. As they jumped on it and made towards the direction of the masquerade, I u-turned and followed from safe distance hoping to see some bravado. For where!

Those people drove a short distance and stopped and returned to their post. They didn't even bother going up to the next u-turn to head back. Maybe their fuel, maybe their lives. I couldn't say.

I overtook them and went for the u-turn. I came back to the scene of the incidence and they were all gone. No buses, no masquerade. Rather I picked out one narrow bush track they escaped through, because on our way back there, I had not passed them leaving on the express way. Well, I dismissed it as maybe some desperate villagers using masquerade to beg or whatever, until the next time. 

This time, I didn't drive but sat behind alalok (okada). We got to the same area, and just before we could go close enough to the scene the cyclist suddenly stopped and turned off his headlamp as if to pee. He recognized what was going on before I did. This time the whoever had small torches. I didn't trust the Okada man, so I alighted and watched as the criminals stopped others that rode into them and did whatever in that cover of darkness. My okada  reversed, we found some other route and escaped.

This is coming out now because I've heard of the same incidence inside the city more recently, mostly in the dark. Last week people were being robbed by Masquerades close to Itam junction, a journalist warned in a Whatsapp group I belong to.

As a kid I thought masquerades only came out at Christmas and around village festivals which were mostly annual. These days you see masquerades almost daily. They go around begging and harassing women and children. Now they're robbing.

I'll do my best to make police PROs see this post, and as many members of the public. Possibly, the robbers will change tactics and God will keep disgracing them till they turncoat completely, lose their lives or go to jail.

Uduak Umo is a PR Practitioner and Public Interest researcher. Find him on twitter: @UdyUmo
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