Ten months after US correspondent Blake Hudson was murdered in her hotel room, a London-stationed agent of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA), Kayode Moshood is killed in a bomb explosion that tore apart the Peckam Rye Station.
Three Weeks Later . . .
The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Godwin Fimibama, was the man the public saw step out of the gleaming, black, tinted-glassed Peugeot car that was part of the cavalcade that had just glided to a stop before the international airport in Abuja. President Fimibama stood, a broad-shouldered, tall man who looked very presidential. He tugged at the hem of the expensive-looking, hand-tailored dark suit he was wearing over a pristine white silk shirt and discreet silk tie, before lifting a hand to wave at the people.
A cheer erupted amongst the crowd as the president acknowledged them, all the while walking slowly toward the interior of the airport. Phone cameras flashed, and only the brooding presence of the dark-suited men flanking the president discouraged the exuberant rush of some of the people to his side. The news station cameras documenting the moment for a live or later broadcast on the television captured him moving gracefully, but with purpose, not in a hurry but not wasting time.
“God bless you, Mr. President!” someone yelled, and the cry was carried on by a number of people.
President Godwin Fimibama was indeed a man of his people. He had paid his dues and established his position as the rare Nigerian politician dedicated to the good of his country through years in the public office, starting out as a State House Assemblyman, and rising rapidly through the ranks to the Senate and eventually winning the presidential election three years ago. Looking down the annals of history, the president had always been vocal about being inspired in parts by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and America’s Barack Obama. Next year was another election year, and it seemed as though Fimibama, who was running for a second term, was going to be a shoo-in for the office. After all, he had done so much for Nigeria that her past presidents hadn’t been able to accomplish. His achievements included a heavy-handed stance on the Republic’s battle with the rampageous Islamic sect, Boko Haram. Under his administration, and with the covert expertise of the NIA, the fight had raged fiercely for a minute, before the government gained the upper hand with the capture and swift execution of three of the sect’s major generals. Fimibama did not grant them the grace of a trial. The execution had shocked the international community, and there had been an initial outcry at what the world perceived to be an act of barbarism, but the president stuck to his guns and did not budge from his single-minded objective to eradicate the threat to Nigeria’s stability, despite a possible outcome of disfavor with the United Nations. However, when some world leaders publicly declared their approval of Fimibama’s controversial methods, the UN withdrew its ultimatums.
And after nearly four years in office, President Fimibama had become at once the most loved and most hated man in Nigeria.
“This way, sir.”
The president was led swiftly through the airport protocols before approaching the aircraft that would convey him to Cote d’Ivoire where he was scheduled to attend a private summit of African heads of governments. The airplane, named Flight Plan One, was the official vehicle of every sitting Nigerian president, starting with him. The jumbo jet, a Boeing 747, was a gift from a very grateful and very wealthy Russian industrialist who had escaped an assassination attempt during a business trip in Senegal based on Intel intercepted by the NIA and the swift preventative action of some of the agency’s best operatives. The Russian had returned to his country very much unhurt, and his sign of gratitude had touched down on the airport a week later.
The jet stood there in the tarmac, white and sleek, a prominent symbol of the Nigerian presidency and its ascending power. It had been modified to meet presidential requirements, with accommodations that included a conference/dining room, quarters for the president and the first lady, an office area for senior staff members, another office that converts into a medical facility when necessary, a galley, work and rest areas for the presidential staff, media representatives and airplane crews, and multi-frequency radios for air-to-air, air-to-ground and satellite communications. Its furnishings were elegant and plush, and its navigation system state-of-the-art.
President Fimibama and his entourage climbed up the stairs into the plane, and within moments, the plane was taxiing down the runway before ascending smoothly into the air, a metallic silver speck dotting the cottony white of the clouds and the azure stretch of the skies.
* * *
The man who was watching NTA’s live broadcast of the president’s arrival at the airport was turbaned. He wasn’t a big man, but he conveyed an indisputable aura of malevolent authority on his face. The dark-complected face was marred by several tiny cicatrices on the left side, which had the left eye looking like a washed-out pebble, marked and very nearly opaque. In spite of that, both eyes shone with barely-concealed evil. The scarring was his inheritance and a testimony of his survival from a bomb fight that had erupted between his gang and the military in the arid plains of Abaji. They had been on a mission that had gone horribly wrong for them. He had failed then.
This time, however, he wouldn’t.
He looked at the other man who was standing by his side, and with a nod, he said curtly, “Yi.” The man nodded back and walked away into an adjoining room to turn on the switch that would rock the world with another terror strike.
Then, the scar-faced man turned back to the TV and said grimly, “Allahu-Akbar.”
* * *
The Boeing 747 was still ascending smoothly into the air, scything its way through the clouds and still within sight of the onlookers below.
The only portent of the impending evil was a piercing but tiny whistling sound, followed by a glimmer of gold in the sky. That was all witnesses would later say they heard and saw.
And then it happened. The missile streaking through the sky struck Flight Plan One in an explosion that was just barely audible. A blinding flash, like sheet lightning, erupted from the point of contact in the air, and a huge ball of varicolored fire splashed outward, with debris scattering about in a fluttering testament of the lives that just been taken.
* * *
The phones were ringing off the hook and there was a lot of chaotic movement in the hallways of the Aso Rock Complex. That was the nature of the pandemonium that Chief-of-Staff Tekena Anieye left behind when he shoved open the door of the president’s inner sanctum and stood solemnly for a moment, containing his grief, before bolstering himself well enough to say, “Mr. President, the Flight Plan One has been bombed.”
Godwin Fimibama stood in one corner of the office, by the window whose curtains were drawn open to let in bands of muted Harmattan light. Slowly he turned to stare at his subordinate.
“So Director Kanemi was right,” he said in the husky tone of one who’d already heard the news and was battling to get his sorrow under control. “The threat was real.”
“It would seem so.”
“I should not have doubted him. The man is almost never wrong. I should never . . .” His voice broke off and he shook his head, bringing it down and his fingers up to massage his temples.
“Do not blame yourself for this, sir,” Tekena urged. “It seemed far-fetched, the idea that your enemies could have obtained a missile and be capable of an air strike. It still seems unbelievable now, even in light of the tragedy.”
“All those people . . . I sent them to their deaths. . .” Fimibama’s face sagged under the weight of his self-reproach.
“Better them than you, Mr. President,” Tekena said tonelessly. When the president’s eyes snapped around on him with outrage, he continued hastily, “I apologize if what I just said seems insensitive, but this was the reason we sent a decoy in place of you. We may not have believed Kanemi, but on some level, we knew to take some precautions. We suspected that there was a chance of veracity to the claim of an air strike; it is after all the word of the director of the NIA we had. So those people may have been sent to their deaths, but let their deaths be remembered as an act which saved their president, their country.” He began to come closer to the other man, an exhorting expression on his face. “Don’t let the guilt sink you. Rise to it instead, and let it propel you into new heights of this fight against terrorism.”
For a moment, Godwin didn’t say anything, and then he exhaled, trying to lose his tension with the expelled breath. He said, “Do we know who is responsible?”
“We have the NIA already working up different possibilities.” Godwin Fimibama had many enemies, which ranged from fellow politicians, powerful men, whose feet he’d trod on in his pursuit for a rightness in the system to the vicious jihadists.
“In other words, we don’t know. . .” he said wearily.
“We will know, Mr. President.”
“We have to work on the best plan of action to handle this tragedy, especially in light of the fact that the public saw me get into that airport and on that plane. There’s shock now at the bombing, and there will be further shock and confusion when I reveal myself, alive and unharmed.”
The Chief-of-Staff nodded, his mental gears already spinning and churning out strategies.
“I have to get in touch with the bereaved families of everyone who got on the Flight Plan One. For those of them living here in Abuja, a personal visit to their homes would be in order –”
“Now, Mr. President, I advise strongly against that–”
“I knew you would, Tekena, and I’m still going to do it. I won’t let myself be boxed into the relative safety of my fortress and seem cowed by the attack. I have to be perceived as going about my duties, duties which include consoling the loved ones of those people killed.” At Tekena’s reluctant nod of acquiescence, he continued, “Put together an entitlement, a nice figure . . . when the time is right, it will be offered to the families. And there has to be a memorial too –”
Just then, there was a knock on the door. Both men looked up, and Tekena walked to the door and jerked it open a considerable inch. On the other side stood the president’s personal assistant, Joyce Etuk. Tall, bespectacled and good-looking, with her hair pulled back in a sleek bun, the stoic quality of her voice seemed forced as she said, “There’s a call from the President of the United States on Line 1.”
She blinked rapidly over the redness of her eyes. Her best friend was an aide to one of the cabinet members, both of whom had been on the ill-fated flight. Tekena knew that, and placed a hand briefly on her shoulder, murmuring his condolence, before shutting the door and gesturing at Fimibama to pick up the phone on his desk. “It’s a call from the US president.”
Godwin picked up the phone and answered, “Tom, hello. . .”
Thomas Finnegan’s astonishment at the voice of who had just spoken to him was evident when he answered, “Godwin . . . is that you? My goodness, you’re alive! How . . . when – it’s all over CNN, the bombing. They’re saying you were aboard the flight and got killed. . .”
“I can assure you I’m unhurt, Tom.”
“So the man in the news was a decoy?”
“Why did you need one?”
Godwin gave an infinitesimal pause, one he needed to gather his thoughts and guide his response. Despite the present good relations between America and Nigeria, and his own firm acquaintanceship with the western country’s president, they were still leaders who had to do what was best for their countries. He could not afford to reveal much to President Finnegan; one never knew when a little too much of what you’d said could blow up in your face.
He replied, “We were operating under the Intel that I was targeted for an assassination.”
“An air strike?” The other man sounded flabbergasted by the possibility that any singular African community could be in possession of such dangerous artillery.
“Yes,” Godwin answered.
“Do you know who’s responsible?”
“We’re still working on it.”
“Well, you’ve got yourself a real problem this time.”
Like he didn’t know that already, Godwin thought irritably. “I’m aware of that, Tom.”
“Anything – if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Thanks for the offer, Tom.”
“You take care now, Godwin.”
And the call was terminated. For a moment, Godwin stood staring sightlessly at the phone, feeling his body get tensed up under the hold of sudden anger and refreshed grief. Then he turned to Tekena and hissed, “We have to find those bastards.”
“Yes, Mr. President,” Chief-of-Staff Anieye said before he let himself out of the room to go bring hell down on someone’s head.