SYNOPSIS of the Novel
Chimezie the first son of Agbanusi embarks on a tedious job search in which he keeps facing irksome situations. Later rising to the occasion and stepping into Agbanusi’s big shoes as an accountant working in a bank in Kano, a city in the northern region of the country where Muslims and Islam is predominant. The city and its people are stereotyped because of the religious crisis it has recorded in recent years. In one of the religious fracas so many lives and property were destroyed especially lives and properties of people who are of a different region and religion, the Southerners and the Christians are the worst hit in the violent attack that lasted for several days. Lives are wasted like water and humans cut down like trees. The family is again thrown into another mourning that leads to hatred, bitterness, resentments, and aversion for the people from the northerner region of the country and Muslims.
As no one has monopoly of violence, there were reprisal attack killing some northerners and Muslims that were residing in their region. Weeping and wailing rising to the highest heavens. Curses rend the air as the helpless bereaved families confirm their fears. A typical refugee camps crops up both in the northern and the southern regions because many are being rendered homeless. With curfew declaration, deployment of soldiers to the streets and coming to a round table meeting of the northern and southern leaders and various religious leaders the normalcy that took to its heels started returning like the dawn.
Inspite of the death of Chimezie the first son of late Agbanusi life must go on. With the mantle of leadership falling on Chike the second son who is just graduating from University of Nigeria Nsukka in the eastern region of Nigeria where he read Medical Laboratory Science. Chike goes to check his posting for the one-year compulsory National Youth service and discovers that he is posted to the same state in the Northern region of Nigeria that murdered his Brother Chimezie in cold blood. Once beaten twice shy. Chike feeling devastated on seeing his posting to the volatile region but much more he fears what her mother’s reaction will be, the trauma the news will bring her, her vehement refusal to let Chike go for the National service leads to the intervention of some people she has so much respect for. Reluctantly letting him go and handing him a couple of directives that he shall hold on to with his life. But after some days at the orientation camp Chike’s resolve is weakened, not out of rebellion but out of vulnerability and susceptibility of love. Chike falls in love with Chimamanda who later became Aisha. Aisha is everything that her mother warned him against but everything that Chike wants. As the days goes by Chike sees reasons to go against his mother’s directives, the need to break down the wall of discord and conflict between his people, the southerners, Christians and Aisha’s people, the northerners, the Muslims. He accepts the challenge to bring the change but much more to be that much desired change though it is not going to come easy.
I could remember what happened during my primary school days when Mum used to package chocolate biscuits for us in our lunch boxes even after the usual Jellof rice with fried ripe plantain and fish. My teacher Miss Ego would not let me enjoy my chocolate biscuits. She was the one that kept custody of our lunch boxes, once Mum drove us to school, she would come and take us into the class and keep our lunch boxes till the time we would need them. She would eat my chocolate biscuits and cleverly buy from the street another less quality biscuits to replace it. This she did severally, I did not complain until the day I was careless with my lunch box while eating, my lunch box slipped out of my hands and my lunch poured on the floor. I cried like a baby I was. The only chocolate biscuits that would have sustained me have been eaten by auntie Ego. It was so bad for her that day; she had no money to replace the biscuits she had eaten. It was the magnitude of hunger that dealt with me that day that reminded me to report to my mother what has been transpiring. I was determined to tell her once she comes to take us home.
Unfortunately, it was uncle Nnamdi who has been living with us that came that day to take us home. Mum had some supervisors who visited their school and dad was very busy too. I could barely wait for her to come home; I told her what Auntie Ego did with my biscuits every day and watched to see how she would react. I could observe that she was not happy with the news at all. She would have charged at Auntie Ego if she was there at that moment. She just told me not to worry that she would confront her the next morning about it and have her stop that. When dad came back that evening, I reported the same to him. Then he called mum to ask her if she had heard what I reported to him. Mum told him that she had heard of it and would ask the teacher why she should be behaving that way and if she fails to provide reasonable answer, she would let the school authority know about it.
Dad smiled and told her that he has a better idea. He then told me to go and allow him discuss with mum. I then left for the sitting room while he talked with mum. The next thing that happened was that uncle Nnamdi was sent to buy three packets of chocolate biscuit from a departmental shop across our street. He was instructed to ensure that the price tags of the items were firmly placed on them. The following morning while dropping us at school, Mum gave me the three packets of chocolate biscuit to give to Auntie Ego and tell her it was a thank-you present for ensuring that I fed well at school yesterday. After that day, she never ate of my chocolate biscuits again. And I noticed that from that day, Auntie Ego started avoiding my parents and whenever they came around to pick us from school. I guess she felt ashamed of herself on realizing that the gift was a silent way of telling her to behave better, after all, the biscuit wasn’t expensive to buy as the left the price tag on the thank-you gifts.
No wonder when certain things crops up Mum would advice us to wait till he comes back. When finally his back jeep honks, she would heave a sigh of relieve “Dad is back!” she would announce happily.
His judgments and assessments of things were deep with wisdom like that of the ancient sage. Little wonder his absence is irreplaceable. It was unbearable
I could remember of my father, in those days as a little kid, my elder brother Chimezie, Adaobi my younger sister and I used to rush out of the house to welcome him home each day after work. At the honk of his car, we will dash out of the house like starved dogs reaching out for a fatty bone. How we used to discern his car honk from that of others remained a mystery to me up till now. All of our neighbours had cars of different models and make, but we never mistook their car honks for ours. We rushed out with outstretched arms from the three storey building where we were living to the frontage, suspending everything we were doing. Nothing mattered more than welcoming father. It was more important to us than our meals.
Of course, a child does not go on frivolity visit to where he is not appreciated and treated well. Mummy would call us back as we desert the dinning table in a bid to be the first to give our father a hug. Those calls from our mother to come back always fell on deaf ears.
Welcoming Dad meant a lot to my brother, my younger sister and I. It meant seeing our hero’s face after so many hours we saw it last before leaving for school. It came with an assuring embrace, hug and kiss from him. He would do a throw-and-catch game with our tiny forms. This was one of the things we looked forward to. He would always pet our hair before handing over to us the little goodies he always bought for us. There was never a single day he missed bringing home to us our Goody bag. Apart from the warm embrace, hug and kisses Dad gave to us then, the goody bag was the magic I relished most, it stood tall amongst other things.
The goody bag was not necessarily a particular bag. It could be any bag, sometimes a polyethene bag or a paper bag containing some sweet edibles and fruits that children crave for. These sweet edibles vary each day. But there were still some items that were always present in the bag. Items like Chocó Milo; a small chocolate cube that melts in the mouth and leaves one with a sweet taste to relish, a ripe bunch of banana with roasted groundnut that filled a bottle and some peeled balls of sweet oranges. Other items like Suya; a special delicacy peculiar to Nigerians sometimes made it to the goody bag. Suya is a skillfully spiced and roasted beef that whoever dropped a piece of it into the mouth and begins to chew wished that it never get to finish. Roasted cashew nut, baked cakes and snacks of different shapes and sizes, packaged fruit juice and yourghurt drinks also made it to the goody bag, but not as often as Chocó Milo, ripe banana and sweet oranges. I wondered why Dad kept varying the content of the goody bag. I thought perhaps he bought whatever he ran into each day. Little did I know that he carefully and deliberately varied what he bought for us because he was an ardent believer in the saying “Variety is the spice of life”. Truly, the act of varying the content of the goody bag made us to look forward to each day’s pleasant surprise.
My mother would always be at the entrance of the door, with a smile-flooded face admiring what is transpiring between Dad and us. My father would carry my little sister Adaobi on his bossom and she would clung to him like a drowning man, wrapping her two hands around his neck and her two legs around his trunk while he would hold me with one of my hand which was free. My other hand used to be occupied, clinching the goody bag. I was officially the custodian of the goody bag. Chimezie gets Dad’s briefcase at the entrance to the sitting room where my mother who never hid her admiration and happiness stands to welcome him. My father would let my younger sister stand on her feet and let go of my hand to give my mum a warm hug which sometimes lasted up to a minute or more; he would then kiss her passionately before we would all enter together into the big exotic sitting room. Mum would walk Dad into their bedroom while we the children go back to the activities we abandoned on hearing our father’s car honk.
I could remember vividly on one occasion Mum and Dad entered their room and took quite some time. I ran out of patience as I had been patiently waiting for them to return to the sitting room so that the contents of the goody bag would be shared amongst us. I ignorantly walked up to Dad’s room, which he shared with Mum even though Mum had her own room. I barged into the room as if it was mine, without the formality of knocking at the door or asking for permission to come in my innocence. I was transfixed at what I saw. I couldn’t just move, talk nor walk back as my mouth went agape. I saw my Mum’s legs thrown wide apart in the air as she laid on her back on the Dad’s big bed that could contain half a dozen people. In between the well thrown apart legs that resembled the wild bull’s horns was Dad, thrusting into her as if there would be no tomorrow. The sounds of muffled moans filled the room. At first I thought it was a strife going on but on a closer look I realized that both of them were moaning but still will not disentangle from each other. Their faces showed they were lost inside the pleasure island that they didn’t notice my little form enter and exit the room after some seconds. Maybe out of passion they forgot that the door wasn’t shut.
Mum would quickly make ready his bathing stuffs. As my father would be taking his bath, she would warm his food on the gas cooker and set it on the dining table for him. Our gas cooker then could sit four pots at a go; usually l watched with admiration the blue flames that glow whenever the gas cooker was lit on, especially at night when it glows the best. It was a square-shaped gas cooker with oven made by Philips. It had a dark-brown colour.I could remember the oven having a regulator which I used to argue with Chimezie that it was a wrist watch imbedded inside the cooker just like our father’s wrist watch, simply because I could see the minute hand and the hour hand in the regulator. It was later on that I learnt from Dad that it was a kind of watch that only works when turned on while the oven is heating or heated and not necessarily a wrist watch. That was the explanation that ended a series of arguments I had with my elder brother over the regulator. I ceased from believing Chimezie’s idea of things since the day he offered to help me do my take- home assignment that was given to us by our teacher, I had trusted his judgment so much that I didn’t bother to take it to Dad or Mum to cross check what I did with Chimezie.
The next day at school, I submitted the take-home assignment with every confidence and assurance because I had always believed that Chimezie knew better than me. To my greatest disappointment, I failed eight out the ten questions in the assignments that was given and that was the poorest mark I had ever gotten in any of my take-home assignments. From that day onwards, I began to doubt most of the things Chimezie told me, I would always confirm from Mum or Dad before I subscribe to whatever he said. Though it made me to have a lot of logger-heads with him but I couldn’t help it because there was this proverb that said “If the bee stings a child, the pain and the fear of the sting will make the child to scamper for safety whenever he sees the housefly or any other fly that look like a bee”. And another said “if an ant bites a child on the buttocks while sitting on the floor, next time he wants to sit on the floor he will check well for ant before sitting.”
The gas cooker and the gas cylinder was so sacrosanct, it was a no-go area for the kids.
“No amount of excitement or tantrum takes any of you to tamper with these items”, she pointed out to the gas cylinder and the gas cooker.
Mummy would warn us repeatedly sometimes dragging our ears. This used to be painful as she adds a little pressure while doing it, but it always a way of making us remember any instruction that the ear-drawing exercise accompanied, such as never to collect things from unknown persons, never to eat anything without showing her first or getting her approval and finally to keep away from aunty Ogechi who was known to be into children.
Aunty Ogechi was in her late twenties or early thirties. She lived in the same compound with us and had a kiosk in front of the compound where she sold petty stuffs that children can’t do without like biscuits, sweets, roasted groundnuts, pencils, biros, exercise books, erasers, razor blades, toiletries, bottled and sachet beverages of different kinds. Ogechi’s room was adjacent her kiosk so she could easily lure little boys into her room where she perpetuates her acts. She would normally begin by being friendly to the boy, offering him a little bait like a sweet or a biscuit. She would pretend to be feeding and pampering the child and carry the child on her laps. I guess this sets her laps on fire. Soon she starts moving her hips as to let her frontal lobe rub against the child’s buttocks. From there, she would take the child’s hands to her heavy breasts and would start to caress it with the little boy’s innocent hands as she moans quietly and drifts away. Depending on the level of co-operation of the child she undresses the child, touching, caressing and even sucking on his boyhood. At other times the paedophite lies down on her back tells her victim what to do to her with his hands and his little manhood. I wondered if aunty Ogechi did not know that children do not keep secrets, no matter how hard they try. I can not say how but somehow all the parents living in our compound had known of aunty Ogechi’s sexual escapades with children and they warn their wards in advance.
In those days Microwave was not common in Nigeria. It was until early twenties that it became household item in most homes. I could remember that most of the times, Mum would wait for Dad to come back so that they would eat together. At some other times, she would just sit and watch him eat while they discuss. I think mum enjoys watching Dad eat. Sometimes I listened in to what they were discussing. They would ask each other how they fared at work for the day. One of them will definitely have a story of what happened in the office to tell. Sometimes they story ends with laughter. Some other times, it will end with one offering the other a piece of advice on how to get on in the office.
Though, I was the custodian of the goody bag, I knew the limits of my powers; I was fully aware of the limits of my powers as a custodian and knew how better of I would be if I do not exceed it. I was to collect the goody bag from Dad and take it into the sitting room only. I normally kept the bag on the dining table without touching or taking anything out of the bag till Mum picks it up and shares the contents amongst us. My father saw to it that we all had self control and discipline as little as we were then. He would not hesitate to correct us whenever we did not get things right especially when it comes to the area of self control and self discipline. His favourite quote reads “Self discipline makes a man”. It was one of the quotes I learnt very early in life from him. He would tell us in plain words that what differentiates humans from goats behaviourally is self discipline.
I will never forget what happened the day my elder brother Chimezie was tempted and he took some money that my father kept in the pigeon hole of his car without telling him and was even doing his very best to deny that it wasn’t him that took the money. It was so terrible. Dad interrogated him for a very long time but could not extract the truth from him. It was until he threatened him with Bulala that he owned up. Bulala is a kind of whip used in flogging animals when they misbehave. It is mostly used by Fulani cattle rearers and herdsmen. This bulala is a three fold cord made from the dried skin of an animal usually a cow or a goat. When this bulala is lashed on the skin the pain is usually massive. It was until bulala showed up that Chimezie owned up and told Dad the truth that he had reserved for his dying day. The bulala was like the big masquerade Ozoebunu that shows up once in a while in my village Ozubulu. It is only great events and occasions that brings it out and when it comes out the entire village will feel its impact. Ozoebunu, a very tall masquerade that displays the ability of hitting his head on the ground with a force that can make the ground to tremble. It will climb a very tall palm tree without a climbing rope and uses bare foot to bring down the thorn ladened branches. It also swiftly climbs to the roof tops of buildings, dancing aggressively at the edge of the roof without falling off the height. Ozoebunu is not an ordinary masquerade, it possess some supernatural powers. One must first be initiated to be a member of the masquerade cult. The initiation takes place at night; the young boys emerge from their parents hut topless but with wrapper hanging on their necks as they converge at the Obom Muonwu – masquerade hut usually at the village square. So was the bulala, Dad does not bring it out to flog us with it until we are of age and a great offence was committed, and when he flogs with it, the impact would be felt for a very long time.
I was a little boy of five years then, my little sister Adaobi was three and Chimezie was eight years old. My mum wake us up by 6 0’ clock every morning and hand us over to Dad who takes us to the bathroom to bathe us. He would help us brush our teeth, rub moisturizer on our bodies, dress us up and make sure we did not forget any of our school materials at home. My mother would be in the kitchen washing our dish, water bottles and preparing the breakfast for the family. When the meal is ready she would serve everyone their meal and package our lunch in our lunch boxes and fill our water bottles. Then she would dash to the bathroom to take her bathe while we take our breakfast with our father. On her next appearance, she was dressed up for work. She would took us into her car after she had hugged Dad and wished him a lovely day at the office. Mum’s car was a reddish brown Volkswagen golf. She would drop us at school gate in the custody of our school teachers who stood at the gate every morning to receive their pupils. She would then continue her drive to her office which was not too far from our school. Mum was a Secondary School Head teacher at Idaw River Girls’ Secondary School in Enugu, the state capital of one of the Eastern states in Nigeria.
Uncle Nnamdi, my Mum’s youngest brother lived with us for a while when he got admission into University of Nigeria, Enugu campus popularly known as UNEC. He was in his first year in the university then. I could remember Uncle Nnamdi sweeping the compound and washing the three cars whenever they were dirty. He was very nice to us. Most times, he would buy things for us on his way back from lectures. He helped Chimezie, Adaobi and I to do our home work and. Often times he would call us together to tell us some traditional folktales and to teach us songs either traditional or contemporary song. I wouldn’t forget one of the folktales he taught us, tittled ‘who will be my friend.’
He made us sit round, forming a circle as we sang and clapped. One of us would be going round the circle we formed from behind with an object usually a flower or an egg, looking out for who would be his or her friend as the song goes on. Once he or she decides on the person to be his or her friend, he or she would quietly drop the flower or egg right behind the new chosen friend. Immediately the object is dropped at anyone’s back it automatically becomes the person’s turn to walk round the circle and look for someone to his or her friend. As the newly chosen friend stands up to walk round and chose his or her friend, the one that choose him or her would take his or her place on the circle. This would go on as long as we want it. It is usually very engaging and enjoyable. One of the rules of the play is that one does not choose back the person who chose him or her last.
There was another traditional play very similar to the one above which we called the Masquerade play. In this play, we still sat down, forming a circle, singing and clapping but this time we sing about the masquerade. The song warns that none of us should look back because the masquerade is passing right behind us and whoever that looks back the masquerade will flog him or her. One of us goes round behind us with cane in his or her hand acting the masquerade. The masquerade cautioned whoever that dared to look back by flogging the person mildly on his or her back with the cane. The masquerade would quietly drop the stick at the back of anyone he wished and then run back to his sitting position. At this point, everyone was permitted to look back. If the stick is at your back, automatically it is your turn to play the masquerade. This went on and around as long as we allowed it.
I usually don’t look back during this particular play, not because of the stick that might hit my back but because I fear Mmuonwu which means Masquerade. There were so many myths and mystery that surrounded this masked being. It was said to be the spirit of the dead evoked whenever it was needed for some traditional rites and ceremonies. The women folks dare not near it. In some parts of eastern Nigeria, Women dare not to look at it. They flee with their children and scamper at the sight of it. It was a common belief that a woman who dare nears it will run mad. Young boys of sixteen years and above must be initiated into the masquerade cult before they could come close to the being. It was believed that the masquerade comes out from the ant hole after series of incantation and invocation has been done. At the splattering of an egg, the Masquerade emerges from the ant hole.
Just as most women and children do, I feared the masquerade. It took me some years and a further probing to find out that there were two types of masquerades the friendly ones and the wicked ones. The friendly ones were those from the good spirits, they usually dance and entertain people like the Odogwu Masquerade. They were always amiable and caused no harm to people. While wicked ones were those from angry spirits; the dead people who were ill-treated while they were alive on earth and they were not appeased even at their death. Ones like Ozoebunu Masquerade are aggressive, wicked and causes havoc on people.
My childhood experiences were mostly blissful. Dad and Mum were around to give us best they could afford. My father treated us as every loving father would. Every Sunday after church service at the St. Piran’s Anglican Church Enugu, We would stand beside our father and watch him greet and hug his friends. Most of them were Doctors and Professors in their various fields of endeavour. I admired the way each of them comported and carried theirselves with prestige and grace. Their hearty laughter and confidence really made it look like the world is really a bed of roses; devoid of problems.
St. Piran’s Anglican Church, was known throughout the city for the caliber of men and women who worshipped there. Most of the highly placed inhabitants of the coal city worship there. The Academia, the Army Generals, the Business Moguls, Captains of Industries, Politicians and Entertainment Stars. It was more of a star church in the entire city. This reflected on the magnificent and gigantic cathedral, with a big tarred space that contained series of exotic cars of the worshippers. The runway and gangway beautifully marked out and decorated with ornamental flowers. It was an architectural master piece and the landscape alone was evangelistic – it can draw people to the church. The pulpit and the altar were designed and arranged to a taste, almost to the taste of the Anglican Church at Canterbury in England. The setting and the exquisite edifice told tales of the caliber of men and women worshiping at the church.
We all drove to church every Sunday on my Dad’s black Mercedes Benz Jeep. He used this car mostly for Sunday services and important occasions. He was a member of the church Parochial Church Council, they usually have brief meeting after every Sunday services before we would drive home. There was a newspaper vendor who always dropped a newspaper and a news magazine for him every Sunday at the Church, Mr. Ajayi; a dark stout man that always walked briskly, he seldom talked; I think he did that to conceal his inadequacy in the use of English language which was and still the lingual Franca of Nigeria. There were over two hundred and fifty different native languages in Nigeria. Mr. Ajayi was a man of cheerful countenance often used smiles to cover up most questions he should have answered. He never missed dropping the news materials for Dad once. Even when he couldn’t find any of us to deliver the materials to, he would keep the materials on Dad’s front windscreen using a water proof material to wrap it up incase the rains decide to visit that very moment, then he used the wiper on the front windscreen to pin the papers down. It was always safe there and that was his method of delivering his news materials to almost all the worshippers that patronized him. Mr. Ajayi seemed not bothered about collecting his money immediately as he knew that his customers were well-to-do and would always pay him as soon as they spot him. How Mr. Ajayi used to know his numerous customers’ cars and the speed with which he delivered his materials even before the first worshipper left the church premises never ceased to amaze me.
Mum would always glance through the papers on our way home while Dad would be driving the car. Chimezie, Adaobi and I were usually kept busy with ice cream. I love strawberry flavour; Adaobi preferred vanilla and Chimezie always went for banana flavour.
Dad’s chocolate colour, above average height and well proportioned body made him look younger than his age. He was always smartly dressed and wears a smile of confidence. He was very kind to people. He never gave a deaf ear to anyone in need, never. I never witnessed any. He would always say that when it comes to helping people, he is helpless. He always offered to help even when it would be very inconvenient for him and the family. I’ve heard my Mum say severally that he was good to a fault. His philanthropic gestures made people think he was super rich and lived in affluence. Dad was a Medical Doctor, a consultant in pediatrician. He worked and taught in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu, the famous UNTH. On Sundays, after lunch and drinking copiously the chilled home made soya milk drink Mummy prepared, the family goes on a habituated siesta for an hour or more. After that, we dressed up for an out-door recreation either in the Zoo, Eatery, Resorts, Museum or the famous Polo field. Although some times Dad missed out of the fun due to duty-calls from the hospital and we were left to go with Mum only.
The Coal City was beautifully dotted with big rocks and hills. Little wonder it bears the name Enugu; Hill top. The rocky hills and plateaux titivated the city; the arable green vegetation of the tropical rainforest made it the envy of the agriculturist and geographers. The pleasant weather of the city that left it cool and chilling day and night. It is a haven for tourist. The popular Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, the Sports Club, the magnificent Hotels with world class facilities and the enchanting Nike Lake. The City was always a place to be. Only the sights and the sounds would leave any tourist satisfied.
Though Daddy was bent on giving us the best things of life, he never failed to inculcate good manners and virtues into us. One thing he would never take from us was telling-lies. He abhors fighting and stealing. He will not hesitate to punish us if we dare any of these. He took his time to point out the implication of any wrong action we took and showed us how rewarding it would be to behave in a goodly manner.
“A liar finds it easy to do other vices, he easily steals, fights, kills and commits all other types of crime simply because he thinks he can lie and deny committing them”, he chided us.
“Fighting is the last step before killing, it is usually fighting that ushers in killing, and a murderer is usually sentenced to death”, he would admonish. He did not only teach us with whips and reproves; his life was an example for us.
Our morning family devotion was really a time for us to come together to hear words of wisdom and admonition from Dad and sometimes mum. I did not appreciate those words back then as much as I do now. As if he knew he won’t stay long with us.
Dad told us how he struggled hard to succeed and got to the height he was.
“The world belongs to the determined because everything in life is at a price. The prize winners are the pain takers, simply because things don’t just happen on their own, especially good things. Someone will have to take the pains to make them happen. Whatever you want in life, don’t sit and wait for it, go and make it happen”, he charged us.
I will not forget the illustration he gave us that morning with the television set in the sitting room.
“This television will not and can not come “On” on itself until someone takes the pain to press the “On” button on the television or the remote control. It will remain in its “Off” state for the next hundred years if no one puts it “On”, he said. Though making things happen does not come easy but someone must make it happen, make sure you are the one,” he pointed out. The other day he said.
“Life is a battle field; the world is very competitive. Stop breaking like an egg, stop avoiding challenges, they are the only gateway to success and fame. Easy things are common and cheap, they don’t draw attention neither do they make news. Easy things don’t count much but tough things draw attention and bring one to fame, wealth and stardom” he challenged us.
“Champions are big doers. They are people that have mastered the art of taking the bulls by its horns, the tiger by its tail and the dogs by its ears. They do things that are hard and scary; they do it until it becomes their lifestyle. That is the succeeding spirit”, he motivated us.
I have just entered my second year in Medical Laboratory Science when Chimezie graduated from Banking and Finance with a second class upper grade from the University of Nigeria, Enugu. They whole family celebrated it. My mother threw a mini party. Adaobi and I came home to celebrate his graduation with our friends. We popped up champagne; we ate, drank and danced. We were all happy for him. He later went for his National Service in Edo State. He worked in a local government in the accounts department where he gave in his best. He initiated the computerized system of accounting to the local government. This was made for easy computing and accounting. Little wonder he earned the award of the best corps member that served in the local government council.
When he finished his service, he sent out his curriculum vitae everywhere. He sent it to the banks, companies and organizations in search of employment. For one whole year he was writing and answering aptitude and verbal test of different organizations without them offering him any job. Some of his friends who graduated a year or two earlier than him were still in the business of job application. After each test, they will congratulate him for impressing them. They would tell him to expect their call for job resumption, but they never did. It was series of broken promises.
Chimezie would wake up every morning, collect money from my mum and leave the house for job search with other millions of graduates in the country. You need to see him during those days. His bent shoe with deflated sole, how tired he looked on coming back. What will I say of the time and money he invested in sending and applying for jobs through the internet and post offices? I began to wonder if there would be any hope of getting a worthwhile job for those who did not get to the tertiary level of education, when Chimezie with his intelligence and good grade from University was finding it difficult to get employment.
With bitterness he returned one saturday that he went for a Nigerian Immigration Service job. He had paid the sum of one thousand five hundred naira to purchase the job form. I had wondered where on earth governments collect money from jobless ones they were supposed to give job in order to give them job. This was a job opening that the government was sure it was for about five thousand personnels but the government deliberately sold more than two hundred thousand forms to the teeming job seekers in their various states. Maybe to mock them at their calamity and rip them off of the little they had managed to get out of their struggle. On that said day of Immigration service job test and assessment, Chimezie woke up early in the morning to get ready for the job assessment. After taking his bath I was expecting him to dorn the new black suit that Mum bought for him when she went to Aba for a conference of secondary school principals.
Aba in Abia state of the eastern Nigeria is famous for clothing business. They are good in making clothes, shoes, bags, waist belts; in short they are good in anything leather and textiles. They make quality products that can beat leather and textiles work from Rome, London, Paris, Dubai and New York. They can also make lesser quality products that can beat designs from China, Taiwan, Belgium and Korea. The quality of their products depends on the request and taste of their consumers.
Rather than adorning the new black suit, he was in a white short, white T-shirt and white sneakers like a prisoner of hope. He was meant to do the aptitude and fitness tests that same day. He took a biro and a sheet of paper for the aptitude test and headed straight to the stadium where the tests would take place. When he got to the stadium he saw a sea of fellow applicants all dressed like him both males and females. He was lucky to have gotten to the venue of the test before 8’o clock that morning, so he was allowed into the stadium. Immediately it was 8 o’clock the officials for the job tests closed the gate of the stadium against the late-comers such that the late comers were held up at the gate. In less than an hour, a greater sea of job applicants formed at the gate, pleading and agitating that they should be allowed to go in and join their colleagues already sitted in the stadium. The job officials wouldn’t give ears to their pleas and their agitations. Some radical applicants among them started hitting the metal gate with high sounding materials while others took to shaking the gigantic gate that looked like the gate of heaven. The tension at the gate grew the more when some out of the crowd shouted at the officials.
“So this is how you soulless people have conspired to eat my one thousand five hundred naira for nothing. It can not work! I said it can not work! There and then the desperation grew to its peak. The noise became louder, the gate shook harder and some applicants were desperately trying to scale the stadium fence. When the officials saw the level of their desperation and what they were bent on achieving, they reluctantly opened the gate for them to enter the stadium.
Chimezie wondered why they decided to enter the stadium all at once. Why they couldn’t organize themselves like learned people, like well cultured ladies and gentlemen, like University graduates they were. There were casualties. Not less than ten persons were stampeded to death right before his eyes and so many others were greatly injured. He saw how the gate suddenly opened for them, the shout of joy that escaped from their mouth as everyone of them at once made for the gate like gravely starved dogs reaching out for a piece of meal. Some were pushed down at that instance and were unintentionally marched on in the heat of the rush. A good number of them were injured while some were stampeded to death instantly.
It didn’t take long before the answers to Chimezie’s puzzle started trickling down into his head. Firstly, these applicants had paid heavily for this job test, so they could not afford to watch their money go down the drain as the fee was a non refundable, all of them needed the job badly.
Secondly, they knew that getting a job in the Nigerian Immigration Service is a ticket to a comfortable life, at least their three square meals and their basic needs are covered by the virtue of the salary they would be paid. University graduates are being grossly underpaid and abused in work places because employers of labour have many job seekers pestering them. There are many job seekers who are ready to do almost anything just to get the peanuts they pay as salary. The level of poverty was very high that some university graduates have their gross earning as little as seven thousand naira, less than thirty dollars in a month for a job as sensitive and tedious as teaching.
Thirdly, these applicants saw how reluctantly the officials opened the gate for them and how hard they worried them before they did. They couldn’t risk having the gate shut against them again. Who knows if the gate would be shut again in a few seconds and never open again, so they all rushed in at once.
Finally, it was like a jungle where everyone was on their own, fending for theirselves and striving to get among the selected few. No one had time to organize the other person, seeing that some of their colleagues were already sitted for the tests. These were some of the reasons why they couldn’t organize themselves to quietly enter so as to avoid the deaths and injuries recorded.
As Chimezie was sitted patiently waiting for the commencement of the test a young lady by his side decided to keep them occupied with the tale of her job hunt. Her name was Ini. She told them of how he went for an interview at a famous international school in Enugu where she was told she was qualified for the job but would be ready to start as soon as she sleeps with the principal of the school. She said she looked at the man in question, the man was very disgusting with his over grown and untrimmed beards with dots of grey hairs that told his age. His clothes were ruffled and the colours grossly mismatched. He was putting on a yellow shirt with unduly long red tie that went below his belt. His trousers were green and his shoes were black and slightly bent. When she came close to him she perceived a strong odour of a carried over sweat. On a very good day, she would rather die than sleep with man but due to the challenges she faced and how desperate she was to get out of the pit of poverty she was wallowing in and be able to take care of herself. She consented to sleep with the man as it would only be once and the job would be hers.
On the said day, she went to see the principal in his office after school had dismissed. As she knocked lightly on his office door and heard his coarse voice say “come in”, she felt her heart flying out of her mouth as if she had not prepared her mind for what she came for. Ini opened the door, stepped into the office spinelessly. The principal removed his eye glasses and perused her like a book written with a very tiny letters.”You are here finally” he smiled to himself as if he had won a trophy.
“Take a sit, it won’t take all day. I will try to make it as brief as possible,” he assured her mischievously searching for her face. When he was through proof reading the letter he just wrote, he got up and smiled to himself before he sobered up and said to her as gently as he could, “come over here”. He was gesturing her to his table. When Ini got to the table he told her to turn around, he was taking a closer look at from head to toes as if to size her well proportioned body. The next thing she heard was, “you can now begin to take off your clothes”. Lustfully, he watched her shyly take off her clothes. He reached for her nubile breasts and caressed it gently and roughly at the same time. He nibbled at her ears and neck before he grabbed her buttocks as if to assert ownership. She could feel his fully erect rod shooting out in between his legs and was touching her waist, hip and buttocks as he fondled her. She was conscious of the fact that she was doing this not because she loved it but because she needed the job. So she didn’t let go of her self as she would do if it was someone she loves. Before she knew it, he went down on his knees, grapped her buttocks again and quickly poked his slippery tongue into her rectum not minding if there were some left over there, it tickled and titillated her and made her shrink her rectum tighter. She had never experienced such a tickle in her entire life. He further caressed her soft buttocks before he made her bend over the table to receive his thrusts that started slowly and gently, but later became more intense and deeper. At that moment she wished it was Obinna her boyfriend and not this filthy old man. After some minutes, he climaxed and collapsed on her back as he went his rod went frigid. He was reluctant to slip out of her. He would have gone for another round if Ini had allowed him. When Ini got home she headed straight to the bathroom, scrubbing her body as to wash away every touch from the principal. She was torn between two feelings the feeling of guilt because she had gone against her conscience, and the feeling of joy for having secured a job for herself finally. It was as if she was raped in exchange for a job.
Little did Ini know that the job was not in the hands of the principal who just took advantage of her. It was much later that she learnt that it was only the Board of directors of the school could employ a person and not the principal. She hated herself for failing to sex-for-a-job trap as she cursed the principal.
Kekere also narrated his own experience. How a certain man from one of the government agencies swayed him and his friends into paying the sum of three hundred thousand naira each so that he would give them the automatic job in the agency. They sold some of their property and borrowed with assurance that they would pay off the debts gradually when their salaries start to come in. It was after the scammer collected the full payment that his phone numbers, residential and office address suddenly changed. He purposely changed every link they had of him and made away with their money without securing job for them.
“It is not hard to see why the youths are restless. The poverty rate very high and frustrating, making them to give up on hope. Government after government comes up with promises to create jobs for them but at the end of day what they have was broken promises. It wasn’t surprising why they look out for any slightest religious and ethnic disagreement that they would easily hijack and convert to a bloody crisis just to displace and dispossess some settled individuals of their positions and possessions. Many have signed in for crimes, formed militias and gangs who are easy tool in the hands of greedy and unscrupulous politicians. These frustrated youths most of the times are envious of strangers in their lands who just came from various places to their land and are doing better of than them – the indigenes of the area. This often moves them to taking advantage of the smallest provocation to unleash havoc on others in the name of religious or ethnic misunderstanding. Those who could not wait until religious or political issues crop up would outrightly resort to kidnapping and demanding of ransoms from people they kidnapped. Others dash into oil bunkering, boring big holes on the oil pipelines to have it spill so that they could scoop and sell to make a living. Of course, Man must survive.
There is kind of fury these youths get after visiting and seeing the grandeur and splendour of some cities in the country where the political office holders live and hear how much they are being paid each month. Comparing it with what they have in their poverty ravaged zones with little or no social amenities accompanied with a life full of lack and want.
Perhaps our governments have not realized that the vigour with which they pursue peace may be a waste if they don’t tackle equal right and justice first.
Maybe we easily forget that whenever we have crisis, be it religious, ethnic, political, racial, or otherwise we are simply breaking the promises we had made to ourselves to remain one united indivisible nation and world. This was the promise we made to ourselves when we formed the United Nations. We all agreed and signed treaties and charters. But what we see is broken promises,” Chimezie reasoned with Ini and Kekere.
Chimezie finally got a job in one of the new generation banks through what was known as “Gate Crashing” by job seekers. Gate crashing is all about going for job test or interview to where you were not invited. Job seekers go with every thing that may be needed for the test or interview, simply trying their luck at a job opportunity, hoping that along the line the organization may need more people than will turn up, or may not succeed in getting the caliber of personnel they wanted and so they would give you the chance to participate in the test or the interview.
The unfortunate thing in this gate crashing in the country was that the number of gate crashers surpasses the number of people really invited for the job interview or test. They are usually stopped and harassed at the gate by security men. They are usually seen sitting around the interview venues like refugees, but at these time, security men were asked to throw them out of the premises. At this point, those of them that still have some pride to protect will quietly leave the premises while the desperate ones will still stay behind till the interview is over.
The gate crashing that got Chimezie the banking job kept him waiting till 6 O’clock in the evening when most gate crashers had given up and left. Luckily the job officials called him and two other gate crashers that waited in and tested them.
“You people have already passed the job test because of your patience. We are basically looking for patient people; banking job requires a lot of patience and tenacity to balance the accounts of daily financial transactions,” the head of human resources department revealed to them even before the test. He barely worked for six months with the Enugu branch of the bank before he was transferred to Kano, one of the northern states of Nigeria.
The news of the pandemonium in northern part of Nigerian had reached everywhere in the country and beyond. It spread faster than a wild harmattan fire. People were being massacred every minute. Properties, buildings were being destroyed and carted away by the perpetrator of the mayhem. Churches and Mosques were going up in flames of fire, private houses, edifices and monumental houses owned by the government and private individuals were being razed down by some over zealous, ignorant and frustrated youths in the name of religious and ethnic crisis. People are running helter-shelter for their lives especially people of other regions of the country who were resident of the northern region. Most of those running for their dear lives do not know exactly where to run to and they ended up falling into the hands of those they were running from.
It was ethnic and religious crisis which started when a local woman in transit to one of the Northern states used some pieces of paper she picked from the road side to clean her baby up. She was travelling in a bus from the eastern part to the northern part with her two years daughter. Her daughter suddenly had diarrhea that caused her to exhaust the toiletries she was with on that journey. She could not find where to buy toiletries as there were no shops around where she was. It happened that the paper she ignorantly picked was a portion of an already torn out pages of the holy book. Unfortunately, she was not a member of the religious group that she used a torn out page of their holy book to clean up her child. It was gathered from her last statement that she was not aware of the sacredness of the paper she used as she just came new to the city.
As someone who knew the sacredness of the paper saw her using the paper, she raised an alarm and people gathered at the scene. Before the woman could explain; she and her innocent baby were gruesomely murdered with wooden plank and stones around. She and her baby were crudely dispatched to the world beyond by planking them to death and then to pulp before the killing was extended to other innocent people passing by who don’t belong to the offended religion.
The safest place to run to was the barracks, the army barracks. Large number of men, women and children who narrowly escape, were taking refuge at the barracks. Their numbers were increasing on daily basis such that survival in the barracks was another tug of war. The number of refugees that gathered became hard to control and cater for. It was a case of survival of the fittest, a typical African refugee’s camp.
The news was every where and even the international media had the report on their news desk. The television, radio and newspapers were being too economical with the real number of lives being lost and the amount of barrage and destruction in the area. The mayhem was escalating from one state of the region to the other. It was really, a mini civil war but the media played down on it. People were very worried about the safety of their relatives over there. Thanks and no thanks to the availability of telecommunication facility in the country. People were calling on their relative to known their whereabout. Some were lucky to have their relatives pick up their phone calls while some had no relatives again to pick their calls; they have been brutally murdered by the irate youths either with wood, stone, machete, sickle or gun.
The experience was better told than witnessed. Dead bodies littered the streets, dead bodies laying in their own pool of blood, people dying in a very agonizing way. One could hear in the name of God almighty that helpless and defenceless victims were begging their murderers and promising to give them all their possessions if only they would spare their dear life. They pleaded with their money, breath and even in the name of Allah whom some of the murderers claim they were fighting for, but these pleas fell on deaf ears. It was only a devil that would not be touched by their pleas. How their body trembled in fear, hot tears rolling down their cheeks, a dire and desperate eyes that yearns for mercy, the horror of watching their own gruesome death and the struggle to live inspite of the wooden planks, stones, machetes descending on them. You have to believe me, life is sweet. It is when one is face with death that one appreciates the life that he or she has.
What was their crime? Their crime was only that they were born into other ethnic groups other than the one that their murderers came from. I wondered if they forgot that everybody must not come from the same region and that it was the Creator who places people where they would come to the world from. No one ever choose where he or she came from to the world. If people were to choose, no one will choose to come from poverty, disease and war ravaged regions of the world. We would all choose the flourishing, comfortable and peaceful regions of the world. Who doesn’t like a good thing? But as God in His infinite wisdom have decided that some people would come from the regions they didn’t like to come from. It’s a debt we owe God and humanity to respect and not victimize anyone based on where they come from, for any reason.
The killing of the woman and her innocent baby was not enough for them, they extended their venom to other people who did not even know what transpired. Some people from other regions that reside in the crisis zone slimly escaped to their own regions, some of them came back with machete wounds that were still dripping blood. Some with one arm or one leg and some with one ear or one hollow eye socket and other stories of their experience over there that was very infuriating.
On the eastern parks, mainly the Onitsha Park and the Aba Park, a great alarm was raised by these survivors who managed to escape. Everyone at the park and beyond gathered around them, only to see their brothers and sisters butchered to death as some died on their way back. All their labour and sweat of many years destroyed in a twinkling of an eye. Their tales were full of woes, about what they saw, experienced and lost.
Some sat on the ground with their two hands on their head and looking blankly into the empty space without saying a word. A man was rolling on the ground like a snake that its head had been sharply cut off, beckoning on death to come and take him away. He was uncontrollable, his blood stained clothes was yanking off his body. He was shouting like a mad man, complaining that he has no reason to be alive. “What again am I living for?” he was asking everyone who cared to listen. Some sympathizers held him so that he would not succeed in killing himself. He had lost his two children, his wife and his business to the crisis. My heart really moved for their predicaments.
I was at the Onitsha Park on that day trying to board a bus that would take me back to school after spending the weekend at home with my mother at Ozubulu. I saw things to a point that I got annoyed. I was almost moved to avenge on behalf of our brothers and sisters who were being killed and made refugees in their own country. Moreso, Chimezie was working and residing over there and we have not been able to get through to his phone since the crisis started. I have been doing my best to make our mother loosen up by assuring her that nothing will happen to Chimezie, her first son.
“No one has monopoly to violence and destruction in this nation”, I caught myself spitting out, out of anger.
“After all, there are so many people from the northern region that are residing here, we can start killing and destroying them and their properties too”, I added sadly. How could they be doing these to us and we keep quiet as if we are cowards, no way! We are no cowards!” I declared out of irritation.
Then I came to my senses.
“This will do no good to anyone, these northerners here are not the ones that are perpetuating the killing and destruction and even if they are ones, two wrongs don’t make a right” I corrected myself.
I know better than they gruesome murderers, I am supposed to behave better than them and not join them. I reprimanded myself.
As these thoughts were running through my mind, I did not know that the same thoughts were on someone’s mind too. He was one of the victims that narrowly survived. As he sighted a man in caftan, the popular attire of the northerners, and to further confirm the man’s identity, he had their tribal marks on his cheeks. The Northerner was going about his normal business with a show box he balanced on his head. The show box contained wares like wrist watches, jewelries, rings and earrings and other accessories. The raging survivor lifted a wooden plank that was near him and rushed towards the man in caftan as if he saw a poisonous snake. He made straight to him and hit him straight on his head. The man staggered, he hit him again and again till he dropped dead with his head splitting into different fragments as his brains splattered on the ground, blood flooding the floor.
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SYNOPSIS of the Novel Chimezie the first son of Agbanusi embarks on a tedious job search in which he keeps facing irksome situations. Later rising to the occasion and stepping into Agbanusi’s big shoes as an accountant working in a bank in Kano, a city in the northern region of the country where Muslims and Islam is predominant. The city and its people are stereotyped because of the religious crisis it has recorded in recent years. In one of the religious fracas so many lives and property were destroyed especially lives and properties of people who are of a different region and religion, the Southerners and the Christians are the worst hit in the violent attack that lasted for several days. Lives are wasted like water and humans cut down like trees. The family is again thrown into another mourning that leads to hatred, bitterness, resentments, and aversion for the people from the northerner region of the country and Muslims. As no one has monopoly of violence, there were reprisal attack killing some northerners and Muslims that were residing in their region. Weeping and wailing rising to the highest heavens. Curses rend the air as the helpless bereaved families confirm their fears. A typical refugee camps crops up both in the northern and the southern regions because many are being rendered homeless. With curfew declaration, deployment of soldiers to the streets and coming to a round table meeting of the northern and southern leaders and various religious leaders the normalcy that took to its heels started returning like the dawn. Inspite of the death of Chimezie the first son of late Agbanusi life must go on. With the mantle of leadership falling on Chike the second son who is just graduating from University of Nigeria Nsukka in the eastern region of Nigeria where he read Medical Laboratory Science. Chike goes to check his posting for the one-year compulsory National Youth service and discovers that he is posted to the same state in the Northern region of Nigeria that murdered his Brother Chimezie in cold blood. Once beaten twice shy. Chike feeling devastated on seeing his posting to the volatile region but much more he fears what her mother’s reaction will be, the trauma the news will bring her, her vehement refusal to let Chike go for the National service leads to the intervention of some people she has so much respect for. Reluctantly letting him go and handing him a couple of directives that he shall hold on to with his life. But after some days at the orientation camp Chike’s resolve is weakened, not out of rebellion but out of vulnerability and susceptibility of love. Chike falls in love with Chimamanda who later became Aisha. Aisha is everything that her mother warned him against but everything that Chike wants. As the days goes by Chike sees reasons to go against his mother’s directives, the need to break down the wall of discord and conflict between his people, the southerners, Christians and Aisha’s people, the northerners, the Muslims. He accepts the challenge to bring the change but much more to be that much desired change though it is not going to come easy.