No sooner had the team arrived at the tunnel village than they swung into action. Having disembarked under a big mango tree, Lawrence and Sab lined the men in front of them and addressed them.
“Before we start,” began Lawrence, “it is important to refresh your memories on what you have been told to do, and how you are going to operate when you get in there.
“Now listen”, started Sab.
You, you, you and you,” pointed at the four dog handlers, you are to handle your dogs with one hand, and hold your rifles on the other hand.
You and your dogs will be the first to be lowered into the tunnel. But when you get there, do not start moving, until every other person has entered.
“You have been told there is a strong rope there with which you will descend to the tunnel.
You are twenty in number.
When you get there, you divide into two groups- ten on each side. Each group will face each side of the opening and explore towards that direction.
Two dogs will work with each group. Remember what you have been told about line formation.
You are to operate in two horizontal rows of five men each: The two dog handlers in each group will stay at the two extreme ends of the front row. Then three men will stay between these two dog handlers.” Looking at the dog handlers, Sab said “make sure your dogs are always near you, and never let the chain slip from your grips. “Then five men will stay in the second row behind the five in front. Men in the front row will walk stooping low or even kneeling down. In fact, if you wish, it is better to walk on your knees if you are in the first row.
The five men in the rear row must be standing, so that if you see the beast or any danger, you can all open fire at the same time without wounding anybody.
Finally, do not keep us in suspense. Lawrence and I shall be waiting at the entrance to receive you when you return. If by 6pm you have not finished the exploration, you must return, and report to us what you have seen so far. You must not keep beyond 6pm. But if you finish earlier, return and bring us good news.”
With legs feeble with concealed fear and regret, the twenty men marched towards the entrance accompanied by the two officers.
Two minutes walk brought them to the entrance.
Lawrence and Sab, assisted by one of the policemen unwound the stout rope serving as ladder. One by one they went down carrying their dogs in sacs tied over their backs.
They were now at the tunnel. It was all darkness and still. “Switch on the lights now! “whispered Leo in a voice trembling with fear and harsh with anger. Leo was one of the dog handlers. The dogs with tails standing with fear started to bark.
The powerful lights threw their rays deep into the tunnel and faded into the darkness still lying beyond. There were two such lights: One for each group.
Each light carrier stood at the middle of the row in each group. “Let us pray, first” suggested Mr. Onuh. All agreed. And he began: “In the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit Amen!” responded all.
“Oh God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our Father;
In the name of Jesus; through the merits of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus your son, and through the merits of the Immaculate Heart of Mary the Mother of God the Son, we humbly beg you to guide us in this mission.
We know and believe that nothing can happen to any man or any creature of yours, which you have not known and approved of from all eternity.
We know that if it were not your will, we would not have been selected to come here for this assignment. Please help us to survive this operation, if however it is your will that we should die in this operation, we offer this death to you as our sacrifices for the many sins we have been committing against you since our childhood till this moment. We unite this sacrifice with the sacrifice which your son Jesus Christ offered on Mount Calvary in order to pay for the sins of all mankind. We therefore beg you father, to use this united sacrifice to wash away whatever punishment may be hanging over our heads for the sins we have committed and confessed, in obedience to your supreme justice.
Your retributive justice teaches us that even after confessing and repenting of our sins, there is still some temporal punishment already attached to the offence, which we must go through, before being clean enough to enter heaven. This was why you still went ahead and punished king David for killing Uriah and taking his wife, even after David had repented and wept; because the forgiveness you grant us when we repent only removes the unending punishment in hell which we would have suffered if we had not repented.
We place ourselves in your hands. Let your holy will be done. You cannot love us more than you love your only son Jesus Christ whom you still allowed to suffer and die after he had pleaded with you to remove this cup of suffering which you had brought to him to drink.
Now we are about to go. Protect us Father if it pleases you to save us. But if your will is that we should die, receive our souls and grant us eternal rest in your kingdom. All these we ask you through your son Jesus Christ, Our Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the holy spirit, one God forever and ever.” Amen! Having finished this prayer, they began to advance in opposite directions with the two dogs in each group leading, the way.
The eastern wing of the tunnel was manned by Lambert, Monday, Anthony Ogu and Leo. These were the men in the front row as they advanced. With eyes sparkling with alertness and blinking with the frequency of rain drops, the men lifted one foot after another as they moved on in this devil’s city. After every four or five steps they halted. They looked up; looked down; looked back and surveyed their surroundings with their rifles in readiness for shooting. The dogs had now stopped backing. They appeared to have their own share of this fear that had engulfed them.
It was all stillness, with the serenity of a grave.
They moved so stealthily that apart from the noise of air coming out of their nostrils no other sound was audible.
Having walked for about fifty meters, Lambert suddenly jumped. A barrage of firing ensured. The dogs barked loudly, and the noise was deafening Suddenly and almost as soon as the firing commenced, everyone stopped shooting, and looked at each other in amazement. Then they laughed in soft chuckles. A small lizard had climbed over the foot of Lambert who instantly and almost unconsciously jumped up and frightened every other person into concluding that some danger had been sighted. And without hesitation, or waiting till they saw or knew what the danger was like, they all opened fire at an empty space. Soon there was calm again. The front row men stooped as before and the match continued. At the western wing things were slightly different. In this group, movement was at first as smooth as in the other until they heard the sound of the shooting by the other group behind them. The sound so frightened them that they all ran back. But as they ran back the firing seized. Next they heard laughter, this cheered them up again. They stopped and discussed among themselves. They decided to send two of their members to the other group to find out what had happened. They sent Mr. Onu and Mr. Ubi, while the others waited.
One hour passed and the men they sent were nowhere to be seen. They waited for another one hour and there was no sign of them. After waiting for another twenty minutes, the eight men decided to continue their assignment without Onu and Ubi. They concluded that the men must have been persuaded to remain behind and help them.
Contrary to their assumption, Onuh and Ubi, did not get up to the men they were sent to. As they approached the entrance to the tunnel, they changed their minds and decided to return to base to report the firing to the two police officers who had sent them on the mission and see what their view would be first, before going to meet them. This idea occurred to them after Mr Ubi has suggested to Mr. Onuh that their group might be wrong in concluding that the laughter they heard came from their own men. He feared that it might have come from other people who might have engaged their men in a deadly gun battle.
When the two men came up to the surface, the two policemen were not around. They paused for a moment and an idea sprang up in Mr. Onuh’s mind.
“Ubi! “he called, I am going home to my people” “Am going too” retorted Mr. Ubi. And the two men began to run and soon disappeared, and nothing was ever hear of them at the Police force from that day. Unable to tell exactly the point they had reached before running back the eight men continued their match with the usual caution from that point.
Lawrence and Sab, the two police officers who were leading the team had now returned from a nearby hotel where they had gone to eat at the time Onuh and his partner climbed out of the tunnel and escaped into freedom. They were beginning to get worried over the failure of the men to return. Sab looked at his watch again. “Six fifty” he said.
“May be we should wait till 7.30pm and see whether some thing had delayed them”, suggested Sab.
“I don’t think I would like to keep here longer than 7pm. “Lawrence complained. “It is getting dark, and I would not like to be here when it is dark”.
They picked up their small luggage and walked back to the camp.
The conviction which Sab and Lawrence had built in their minds that the men they sent into the tunnel were being kept behind by their inability to estimate just how far to go in order to ensure that they could return before it was 6p.m , began to wane rapidly as the hours plunged deeper and deeper into the night.
Sab looked at his watch again, “what can this mean? “he exclaimed. “It is now 11.15 Lawrence; I am afraid something has gone wrong”.
But what could have gone so wrong that not even one man out of twenty strong men was able to come out to report to us? Lawrence asked doubtfully. The two men sat up all night unable to sleep.
The next morning, they walked up to the tunnel opening and waited till noon, and then decided to return to the force headquarters to report the episode.
On receiving the news of the failure of the twenty men to return, everyone was thrown into deep sorrow buried between fear and wonder.
“Impossible!” shouted Mr. Peter Fill, the Inspector General. “I don’t believe this. At least one man would have been able to escape, from whatever danger they encountered, and come back here to report.
Call me those officers who led the team” he ordered. One of the officers ran out immediately to seek for Lawrence and Sab while the rest remained sitting in the I. G’s office as they talked over the sad news.
There was a small tap at the door.
“Yes come in,” the I. G. shouted. The officer who went to call Lawrence and Sab walked in
“They are here, Sir “he reported.
Lawrence walked in and Sab followed behind him.
Both men wore dejection on their faces as they stood in front of the I. G. With their hands thrown behind their backs.
“You are aware, “began the I. G.. “that the first batch of twenty men we would have sent for this operation ran away at night.”
“Yes Sir: they replied.
“Are you sure that these men did not similarly run away and you have come here to tell us that they did not come out of the tunnel?” the I.G. queried.
“No Sir! “We all arrived at the camp where we gave them final briefing and then took them to the entrance.
We were there until they had all gone in, “Sab explained.
“Yes, and after they had gone in, you went to where?” queried Commissioner Dag.
“We didn’t go to anywhere, Sir, we continued staying there because we were full of expectation. We continued to see if any of them would come out to make a report to us. We had instructed them not to stay there beyond 6pm. When we did not see them, we continued to stay there waiting for them up till 12 midnight. “Now, my boys, tell us the truth. I want to assure you that I will not penalize you for whatever mistake you may have made.
Tell us the real truth. You are quite safe. If these men ran away by whatever tactics, let me know it. It will help us know how to handle you again. Did they not run away when you got there, like their predecessors? The I.G. asked in a worried tone.
“No Sir, came the reply.
“Sir, we are in fact telling the whole truth about what happened. You can be sure that if they ran away from us, we would not hesitate to report this to you;
and more so now that you have assured us that we shall not be penalized for it”.
“Alright, you can go”, the I.G. said softly.
Everyone was still puzzled about the disappearance of the men, and the Inspector General and his officers had continued to hold series of meetings trying to find out what further measures to take when news was received that someone had reported to one of the policemen that he saw Mr. Ubi in a town called Kadu as he was boarding a bus. Mr. Ubi was the man who escaped with Mr. Onuh when they were asked to go to the other group to ask why they fired their guns. · When the story got to the ears of the I. G., he sent for the policeman, whose name was given as Patrick Esi.
When Mr. Esi finally arrived the l.G. queried him.
“Yes my boy, what do you know about Mr. Ubi”?
“Mr. Ubi, Sir, is the man who was living with us in block C at the barracks. We used to play Ludo game together some evenings and from there we became familiar. He was one of the men sent for the operation in the tunnel. I have a brother who visits me often and he knows Mr. Ubi also. He visited me yesterday, and I was telling the sad story of how the men sent to the tunnel have failed to return, and I told him that Mr. Ubi my friend was involved. At this he expressed surprise and told me that he saw Mr. Ubi at Kadu when he was trying to board a bus”.
“And what did you do next?” he asked “In fact I was so surprised that I ran out at once to the next room to tell my friend Mr. Ojo what I heard”.
“Is Mr. Ubi a native of Kadu?” No sir! “Mr. Ubi comes from Owo which is about 90Km from Kadu and about 200Km from here”. What day did your brother see Mr. Ubi at that place?” He said that it was last Thursday in the afternoon. And I told him that it was the previous Tuesday that they had left for the tunnel.
The l.G. was so infuriated at this revelation that he immediately ordered that Lawrence and Sab should be locked up until investigations were completed. Alone in the police cell, Sab and Lawrence wept bitterly. They were convinced that the man being reported about could not be Mr. Ubi. On further interrogations they insisted that Mr. Esi’s brother must have seen someone resembling Mr. Ubi, and went ahead to reveal that apart from the short period of time which they took off to eat, (and this was for about fifteen minutes) there was no other time they did not have their eyes on the tunnel.
Following this state of affairs, the police decided to send people to Mr. Ubi’s home at Owo to find if Mr. Ubi had been seen recently. Some officers in plain clothes were dispatched for this assignment.
On arriving at Owo, they soon discovered Mr. Ubi’s residence following enquires. It was a small mud house with thatched roof. The old door leading into the house was so low that one had to bend till one’s fore-head almost touched the knee before one could enter through it. The three officers who had been dispatched for this assignment had decided that only one of them would enter Mr. Ubi’s residence while the other two would interview people in the village, including children.
Inspector Lar was still a few meters away from Mr. Ubi’s house when a face peered through the window and withdrew; it was an old woman’s face, who by the wrinkle on her face must be approaching 70.
Standing at the entrance with his head touching the roof of the low house, Mr. Lar tapped at the door; “Please come in” croaked a voice in vernacular. Mr. Lar bent as low as he could and shoved himself in with his back brushing through the top frame of the door.
“Good afternoon Ma!” he greeted. “Aputa-noon my son” the old woman responded.
She lifted her eye-lids a little and studied the visitor’s face with a smile on her face, and asked: “my son, who gave birth to you?’
“Sorry madam,! You will not know me. I am not a native of this place, but I live in Zara, a nearby town.
Your son came to my house a few days ago, and asked me to check on him today. We have planned to go to somewhere together. “The smile on her face disappeared and she wore a serious look.
“Ohl” the woman started. “I have not seen him.
The last time I saw him was during the last Christmas.
Since then, he has not come home again.
Mr. Ubi had warned his mother that she must not tell anybody that she had seen him recently, even his closest friends and relations. He had told her that some strange people might come to look for him, but that she must claim never to have seen him in recent times.
With this explanation from the old woman, Mr. Lar left the house and went to wait for his colleagues at an agreed meeting point. After waiting for about an hour and a half, his colleagues returned and they all narrated their experiences. Mr. Lar told them, how he met Mr. Ubi’s mother and how the old woman denied ever seeing her son recently. Many of the people questioned by the other two officers said that they never saw Mr. Ubi recently.
There was however a wine tapper who said that he saw someone like Mr. Ubi walking away early in the morning carrying a box on his head. The tapper said that he was not very sure whether it was Mr. Ubi or not, as he was far up on the palm tree and there was not sufficient day-light for clear visibility then. With these findings, they returned to the police headquarters at Pranil the Capital.
Nine days now passed and it had become clear that the men would not return again.
The three officers sent to inquire about Mr. Ubi arrived and reported about their mission to the Inspector General.
After listening to the three officers, there was a divided opinion among the top police officers. Some urged the Inspector General to order the release of the detained officers-Lawrence and Sab – as the findings could not prove that Mr. Ubi was seen. These men argued that with Inspector Lar appearing in plain clothes to Mr. Ubi’s old mother, there was no way the old woman could have suspected him to necessitate her telling him lies about his son, after she had heard that it was her son that asked Mr. Lar to check on him. Secondly, there was no way Mr. Ubi could return to his village without being seen by anyone -including ignorant children.
On the other hand, the other officers, including the I.G. himself held strongly to the view that the person seen was Mr. Ubi.
According to them, the fact that both Mr. Esi’s brother, and a wine taper in Owo had claimed to have seen Mr. Ubi, or even someone resembling him, (at the same period of time) is enough evidence to believe that Mr. Ubi was the real person seen.
The news that the twenty men who were sent to the tunnel never came back again had become so widespread that everyone had heard it including Mr. Onuh and Mr. Ubi himself. These men spent long days thanking God for saving their lives.
This triggered off an unprecedented wave of desertion of the police force which compelled the government to announce a sudden increase in the salaries of all policemen and officers by 50% as a means of dissuading the men from further desertion. This measure worked. No further news of desertion was received although the strength of the force had been reduced to one third of its original size.
There remained no doubt in Mr. Fill’s mind that the twenty men sent into the tunnel had fled. He therefore ordered that a fresh team of twenty be sent again, and this time, the team was to be accompanied by ten officers which shall include one police Commissioner and two superintendents; Having lost four of its best dogs, out of a total of only 12 dogs, the I.G instructed that the operation be carried out this time with only two dogs. As a further incentive, the men chosen for this operation were promised that on return they would each be paid a bonus equivalent to three months salary of each participant. Armed with all the weapons necessary for the operation, the team again left for Aniche for another exploration of this tunnel of dread.
The police force could now be described as one made up entirely of men who were ‘more confident’ and ‘more brave’ than those who had deserted. One may not be entirely wrong if one also added ‘more mercenary’ and ‘more patriotic. This is because no one can say for sure why the remaining people did not desert like their counterparts.
Although desertion from the force is an offence which caries stiff penalties when caught, yet the degree of danger to life was believed by those deserters to be so high that nothing could hold them back. It is therefore possible that of those still remaining in the force, there were some kept behind by a spirit of patriotism, some by the attraction for more money following increased salaries and the bonus. Others too might have been either less fearful or confident that with the weapons at their disposal, there was nothing to fear. This group must be holding the view that their predecessors simply absconded after being given the assignment.
These considerations go to explain why, unlike their predecessors, this group left for Aniche singing and jubilating in the bus they were travelling. The approach of Aniche was signalled as before by the total absence of people and by empty and abandoned houses overgrown with grass. These scenes appeared to have quietened some of the men as the tempo of the singing reduced.
At about 11.16am. They arrived at the tunnel site, and disembarked in readiness for the operation. As before, the men were given last minute briefing before they entered. This time the 20-man team comprised two police inspectors who were to join in entering the tunnel, while the other officers including the superintendents and the commissioner were to remain on top awaiting results. Now they began to enter, one after the other. Eighteen days ago, twenty men entered in a similar fashion. Apart from the two that escaped, all perished. Today another twenty are entering the same place. What fate awaited them, remains to be seen in the next chapter.