A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 24, read it Here
Voluntary repatriation and subsequent return..the journey continues…while the drum of civil way beats in Liberia, the saber rattling was escalating in the West, and the son of the soil keep marching on..the natural born warrior. oh yes!! the story, here we go..
the way, we ran into the same immigration officer who had refused me entry and sent me back to Sierra Leone five days ago. He looked like he couldn’t believe his eyes. He alerted all the other officers at the post, and Johnny and I were taken inside their office. Johnny was put into detention, and my situation worsened. I was charged for illegally sneaking into the country, violating the Liberian immigration laws, and Johnny was detained for aiding and abetting. I felt sorry for him, but there was nothing I could do; it had been his decision to come with me. That was the last time I ever saw or heard from Johnny.
The security officer at the post decided to transfer me to Monrovia for prosecution. I was put into a taxi with two police escorts and taken to Monrovia’s central immigration office, where I was thrown into another crowded cell room. I spent the first night there, not knowing what would become of me since I didn’t know anyone who could help me. The immigration officers wouldn’t tell me anything. However, the next day, as I was hanging out by the cell room door to get some fresh air, I looked outside at the lobby and saw Chime and Chichi. I was surprised to see them, and they, too, were surprised to see me in jail. Needless to say, I was thankful that they were there because the night before, I had prayed to God, asking Him to help get me out of jail and reminding Him about our three-nights-in-custody policy. Chime asked me what I was doing in jail, and I explained that I was being detained for immigration violation. He told me not to worry because they were there to see the chief immigration officer, and his office was right across from my detention center. They whispered that he was their personal friend and one of their clients.
The two left and I spent another night there, with no food or water. By the end of the second day I was exhausted and starving. I began to wonder if Chime and Chichi were actually going to help me as promised. With their connections, I should have been out already. I didn’t hear from them by the end of the second day and was tempted to give up hope, but I continued to pray hard.
Then I had a break on the morning of the third day. I was called into the office of the chief of immigration. He told me he was willing to let me go on one condition: he would keep my passport, and once I had a ticket to leave the country, the passport would be returned to me—and that if I intended to return to Liberia in the future, I would have to do it in a legitimate way. I accepted and was immediately released.
I returned to CY’s house and recounted my entire ordeal to him. He commended my effort and bravery, and again enjoined me to abandon my hustling and team up with him in business. I thought about his proposition for few days and decided I was done with trying to stow away or travel by land just to get to Europe. The risks were too much for me to handle at that time. I would start a legitimate business and raise enough money to pay my way to whichever country I wanted to visit. I spent the next few days researching the kinds of products I could sell in Liberia.
All of a sudden, it occurred to me that Aba had the biggest shoe market in West Africa. The shoes were locally produced and of good quality. Many people from neighboring countries even traveled to Aba to buy them for resale. I negotiated with CY and he agreed to sell my shoes if I could bring them from Nigeria. Easier said than done; making plan is one thing, but raising the capital to support the plan is another! There certainly would be problems getting capital for my potential business. As it was, I didn’t even have a return ticket to Nigeria. Nonetheless, I conceived of a plan.
I approached one of the Nigerian businessmen at the Star Hotel. He was preparing to travel to Nigeria and I begged him to take a message to my cousin, Joy, in Lagos. The message was that I was stranded in Liberia, living on the street, and desperately needed to return home. Three weeks later, he returned from Nigeria with a one-way ticket for me. He explained that at first it was hard to convince my cousin and her husband, since they were not aware that I had left Nigeria. But after explaining the details of my situation, they were finally convinced and had purchased the ticket for me. I was pleased, but my biggest problem was how I would raise the money to start my shoe business.
The following week, I returned to Nigeria and went straight to Joy’s house. She and her husband were happy to see me. I thanked them for the return ticket and promised to pay them back once I got back on my feet. I spent two days at their house before I left for Aba. I figured that since I had slaved for my uncle, John Ewurum, for more than a year, including the period of unpaid work at his construction sites, he owed me some money. Of course, I couldn’t just walk up to him and say that. So I decided the best way to get paid for the services I rendered to him and his family was to appropriate some of his belongings, sell them, and raise money for my business, after which we could call it even. I remembered that one of his large properties where my mother used to farm had some useful items like aluminum zinc and other metal sheets that lay discarded within the property. I concluded that the best thing to do would be to take the zinc that wasn’t been used and wouldn’t be missed, and sell it to raise the money I needed.
When I got to Aba, I went straight to my Aunt Comfort’s house. I didn’t want anybody from my uncle’s house to know I was in town. The next morning I went on a reconnaissance of the property where the aluminum zinc was located. Fortunately, at this time my mother was not staying at the property. My uncle had hired a guard to take care of the property, and the guard knew me very well. There was another family related to us living on the property, and my friend, Ricky, still lived there as well.
Before I had left my uncle’s house for Liberia, I had arranged for Ricky to stay there because he had had nowhere else to go after the construction work had stopped. He lived on the property and traveled to different cities, carrying on my Dymo tape business, which I had taught him to do. I let Ricky know what my plans were, and told him not to help me because I didn’t want my uncle to put him in jail, but he insisted on giving me a hand. We made a plan for the following day. Meanwhile, I told the guard and the family that lived on the property that my uncle had sent me to get rid of all the aluminum zinc. They had no reason to doubt me, since they weren’t aware that I had traveled and was no longer living at my uncle’s house.
The next day I rented a truck and Ricky helped me load it up with aluminum zinc. He wanted to accompany me to sell it, but I told him I didn’t want to get him more involved. I sold all the aluminum zinc in no time, but the money I received wasn’t as much as I had thought it would be. Still, I had no choice but to make do with it. I went to the shoe market and bought a hundred pairs of shoes. The following day I traveled to Orji Uratta to see my family. Everybody was delighted to see me—but their happiness didn’t last long after I told my mother about the aluminum zinc. I tried to explain that my actions were justified.
After spending a couple of nights with them, I proceeded to Owerri Nkworji, where I spent a couple of days with my grandmother Nwanyi Burunnu. She was more understanding, though she didn’t approve of me taking something that didn’t belong to me. I also knew she thought my uncle was a very bad man. As usual, before I left, my grandmother gave me part of her savings and said she wanted me to stay and spend the Easter holidays with her. I declined, but promised to spend the next Christmas with her. Then I went to Aba to get my products.
When I got to town, I found out that word had spread everywhere about the zinc I had sold, and my uncle had reported me to the police and a search warrant had been issued for my arrest. I also learned that Ricky and the security guard—who was an old man and my uncle’s relative—had been in jail for the last four days. I was deeply touched about their ordeal, yet there was really nothing I could do. Meanwhile, the little money I had left wouldn’t be enough to buy my plane ticket back to Liberia. But I could not, in good conscience, leave Aba without finding out what was going on with Ricky and the security guard. So I used some of the money to go to the police station where they had been detained, with the intention of facilitating their release. When I got there, I was told that they had been released earlier that morning.
I rushed to my uncle’s property and found the guard furious with me. My uncle had just fired him after he had spent four days in jail for a crime he did not commit. I pleaded with him and asked for his forgiveness. The guard didn’t listen to my pleas but my conscience was clear because I did not implicate him in any way. Ricky was more understanding. He didn’t mind spending few days in jail for me, though he was angry with my uncle. I thanked Ricky and told him my plans, adding that I owed him a big one.
The next morning I took my supply of shoes and headed to Lagos. I didn’t go to Joy’s house because I knew that it would hurt her to know I was heading back to Liberia, so I went to stay with my cousin Daniel instead. He lived with his uncle and worked as a bus conductor. I decided to spend a few days with him and see if he had some money to lend me. Daniel had always been the kindest of all my cousins. He would always give his last penny whenever someone was in need. I explained my predicament to him. I asked if I could borrow some money, and said I would pay him back with interest. I told him to consider it like we were in business together. Daniel hadn’t saved much money, but what he gave me was enough to help me buy a plane ticket. I flew back to Liberia the following evening, with all my merchandise.
Upon arrival at the Liberia airport, I didn’t have enough money to clear customs, so I left my goods at the airport and headed to CY’s house. I told CY to give me the money since he was going to sell my products for me anyway. The next day we went to the airport to clear the goods. Unfortunately, half the shoes were missing. We cleared customs and took the remaining shoes to CY’s house.
During the next few weeks I had to constantly borrow money from CY, since I was no longer hustling. CY and Bongo distributed what was left of my shoes, and I had to wait for one month for them to collect all my money. By the time they had finished their collections and after I deducted all my expenses, including what had been paid to the customs and all the money I had borrowed from CY, there was almost nothing left from the proceeds. It seemed like I was back to square one. Life was cruel. Though the shoes were sold at a price ten times the purchase cost, the quantity was not enough, especially since fifty pairs were stolen at the airport. With the little money I had left, I knew I couldn’t return to Nigeria.
I decided to buy some brocade and send it with people going back to Nigeria to sell for me. That way I could save costs and use the money to buy shoes and other products that I could sell in Liberia. I went back to Bobby and Elise and asked them to team up with me on this project. I also convinced another guy who was staying at the Star Hotel to be part of the business. They all gave me money, which I added to the little I had, and bought some brocade. Ngozi and Charles were going to Nigeria and I felt I could trust them, so I gave them my brocade and told them what the plan was. The two were encouraged by our desire to make a legitimate business and promised to do as I had asked. I thanked them and left to await their return in five days.
After five days I went to the Star Hotel to see if they had come back, but they hadn’t. Two weeks passed and there was still no sign of them. I got very concerned, and everyone who had teamed up with me thought that I had swindled them, especially Bobby, who was furious and kept trying to pick fights with me. However, our friend Amara intervened every time on my behalf, telling him to calm down, and that Ngozi and Charles would eventually come back and we would have our goods.
At this time the political and security situation in Liberia was getting worse. It was said that rebels were approaching and about to enter into Liberia from Guinea and Ivory Coast, so there was an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty in Monrovia. There was a general belief that the rebels could enter the city any day. Rumors were flying that a rebel group led by former General Service Agency director Charles McArthur Taylor was planning to overthrow the government of President Samuel K. Doe. People from the hinterland were running from the border area of Ivory Coast and Liberia and into Monrovia. There was great fear among the people. To me, Monrovia seemed calm and normal, and there was no reason to worry. But the rumor mill maintained that inhabitants of Butuo in Nimba County had woken up early and heard heavy gunfire. Confused and panicked, they started running, especially after hearing that a group of armed men was arresting and killing people for no reason. The news spread in no time, and people in the area packed their belongings and started to head toward Monrovia.
Meanwhile, in Monrovia, the government dispatched the joint security team to the area to verify this information. Unfortunately, the team was ambushed and no one ever knew what happened to them. Later the BBC announced that there was a rebel incursion in the southeastern part of Liberia led by Taylor, who, according to rumors, had embezzled five hundred thousand US dollars from the Liberian government and escaped to the U.S., where he was later arrested and detained, pending extradition. This news took most Liberians by surprise. The situation didn’t cause me to panic, but I did want to have my goods so I could sell them and have some money in my hands, in case there was a need to leave Monrovia. I started to plan my exit strategy. I tried to convince Amara that we should travel together to Sierra Leone as soon as the goods arrived. But like most other people, Amara was not yet convinced that the rebels would ever enter Monrovia. He believed that the government forces would be able to defeat them before they could arrive.
After that third week in April 1990, Ngozi and her boyfriend, Charles, finally returned to Monrovia. I was delighted to hear that they were back and immediately rushed to the Star Hotel. Their mood told the whole story. They told me of how their goods were confiscated in Nigeria, my brocade fabric included. I didn’t believe it and was astonished that they could do something like that to me. I had trusted them; moreover, they were rich businesspeople. They also understood that some of the money used to buy the brocade belonged to others. I wondered how they could think I would believe such a story, given the fact that they had returned from Nigeria with plenty of goods of their own.
My problems became compounded since I now owed other people and had no way of paying them back. All of a sudden, I realized that my life was in great danger, so I quickly made the decision to leave Liberia immediately. I pulled Charles aside and begged him to at least give me back some of the money that was supposed to be used to buy the goods for me. He told me he didn’t have any money, and then I noticed that they had already purchased lots of brocade that was ready to ship to Nigeria. I asked him to give me some of it to me in exchange so that I could appease my creditors. He gave me two bundles, which I grudgingly accepted. I had no other option to offset my debt with the guys who had invested with me.
After leaving Charles’s place, I had a change of heart. I concluded that it wasn’t wise to give up the two bundles of brocade to the other investors, especially when Charles had promised to return the rest of my money, and we had agreed that he would return the money directly to my co-investors. I took the two bundles back to CY’s place, put them in my traveling bag along with few of my belongings, and started my journey to Sierra Leone.
The decision to leave Liberia, though rushed, happened to be one of the best I had ever made. As I headed out of Monrovia, the city was in a mad frenzy. People were evacuating as the news spread that the rebels were already in town. As it grew, the rebel incursion had established a name for their group: the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, commonly called Freedom Fighters, with Charles Taylor as commander in chief and Prince Yomi Johnson as battlefront commander. Prince Johnson was a former army general in the armed forces of Liberia. He had been implicated in a 1985 coup attempt and had fled the country.
I took a taxi from Monrovia to Bo Waterside, and this time I had no problem going through Liberian and Sierra Leone immigrations. I spent some time chatting with the young immigration officer who helped me the last time. She was pleased to see me again. I had planned to catch a taxi from the Sierra Leone side of the border to Kenema, but there was no transportation that day. I suspected it had to do with the rumors that the war in Liberia had spread toward the border of Liberia and Sierra Leone.
To Be Continued…