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The Guilty Patriot

By Uche Egboluche (Nigeria)

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Otunba yawned and straightened himself on the sofa with two wraps of 200 naira stashed tightly between his fingers. From the veranda, he gazed into the space. Suddenly, he dropped his head and stared blankly at shoes arranged beside the door mat.

“So, it is short of two notes,” he wondered with a deep sigh as he would to his colleagues on the queue at the Pensions Board of Nigerian Telecommunications, NITEL.

He stared at the money in his hand as though he were addressing it.

“I will take it up with director,” he said. On his bed throughout the night, Otunba rehearsed what to discuss with the director.  He must not be seen as keeping an eye in the work of the director.

Otunba retired 12 years ago as NITEL director. He still remembered the policies that halted the agency. Severally, he had confessed before Fada Emeka but the guilt still taunted him. He had since taken to activism, crusading for committed civil service.

“In other climes, public servants are the oil that greases the economy,” he wrote in his column in The Sun, with the agility of an old man desperate to make amends.

Human faces could scarcely be told when Otunba stepped out of his residence at Wuse, strolled down Aswan Street. He occasionally lit his torchlight wherever the dogoyaro trees intervened between his vision and the street lights. Early morning Mass had become a routine since his retirement.

“Thank you our Mother,” he whispered, genuflecting before a statue dedicated to Mary, Refuge of Sinners, at the entrance to Holy Trinity Church.

“Nigeria cannot survive with leaders who eat public money,” Fada Emeka raged in what he called a socio-political sermon. The parishioners had come to appreciate the old priest’s homily, and would always wish the pot-bellied politicians could also come for morning masses.

Otunba carefully folded his huge rosary with black beads and metal crucifix in his pocket and hurried out of the Church.

“Mm hmm,” he responded reluctantly to greetings echoed from clusters of people in front of an office with the inscription, “Executive Director, ED.” And neatly pasted underneath it was a white paper boldly written, “Be Fast - Others Are Waiting.”

Otunba kept to himself as a woman in ill-fitting blouse, threadbare wrapper and scarves tied around her head, narrated how she had slept three nights in the office yet to receive her call.

Na Masakka I come from. I no get moni to dey come everyday. I hope say my pikin go call today,” she said in Pidgin English. ‘Grrrrrrrrr,’ the cacophonous sound of the telephone intermittently ordered their activities to a standstill. Even crying babies held their breath as if waiting to answer their call.

 

Otunba had barely said the Angelus when a dark man in his 40s dashed in. His
Gud moni, gud aftun” rented the air in a chaotic manner, as if it was the visa to see the ED.

“Number 23” rang a tiny voice from an adjoining office.

“Yes,” Otunba answered calmly while groping on a metal tally in his hand. Springing on his feet almost immediately, after an exasperating wait, Otunba made for the office.
He looked every inch a wealthy man. His grey hair told the story of a senior citizen. His days in service were regarded as a harvest season. Now in his 70s, he had given to religious life.

“Welcome,” the ED said looking absentmindedly.

“I’m a pensioner.”

“Go ahead; I’ve a meeting to attend.” The director said now with a swift look at Otunba with both catching the other’s eyes.

“Our allowance was cut 2000 naira each.”

“It’s a service charge.”

“For what again,” Otunba hooted loudly with his mouth shaped like a narrow tunnel.
“For service,” the ED replied, resolute to clean up his name, and ready for further explanation.

 “It would have been 20 percent but I reduced it,” he said, now searching through heap of files on a shelf behind him.

“... each pensioner shall hereby part with 20 percent of his allowance for miscellaneous expenses;” he read from a file, “Awoniyi Otunba Awoniyi, 1980.”

“Yes, that’s my name.” Otunba cut in anxiously.

Surprised, the ED replied:

“Then you authorised it, you’re the signatory.”  

 

 

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