Victim of Greed
By Tony Chuks Modungwo (Nigeria)
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Since I’d been going to see Biola at home, I’d never met her father. He was always abroad for holidays or on business trips. I wondered when he’d time to attend the Senate. Senator Harrison didn’t share Biola’s rapture for me. I’d made a bad impression during my first encounter with him.
As I walked through the gate one Saturday, on early visit, I saw a tall, fair-complexioned man with rosy cheeks and protruding stomach. His youthful face belied his sixty-five years. He was graying at the temples.
He was coming from the swimming pool, where he’d gone for a swim. He wore white drawers and had a small towel round his neck, his chest covered with a mass of hair as thick as the African jungle. I greeted him when I got to him.
“Yes gentleman? Are you looking for somebody?” he asked, with his rich baritone voice. I could sniff power and affluence around him.
“Yes, sir. I’m a friend to Biola,” I said with elaborate politeness.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Okafor. Chika Okafor,” I stated audaciously.
“Which Okafor? The Minister?”
“Are you a member of the distinguished Okafor family of Onitsha?”
“Which Okafor is your father then? And where does he work?” he asked sharply.
“He’s a laborer in one of the ministries,” I replied, feeling highly embarrassed.
“Laborer? You mean you’re a son of a laborer? Where do you live?”
I swallowed, shifting my weight from foot to foot as I faced his searching gaze.
"Ajegunle,” I said, avoiding his quizzical look.
“My God, that slum!” he said in a surly snarl. The rich didn’t have any respect for people raised in squalor. Luckily, I saw Biola running towards us. I needed her help.
"Popsy, he’s my guest. I hope you’re not embarrassing him.”
He was staring at me with an intensity that totally unnerved me, as if I were some monster animal from the zoo.
“Biola, dear, why did you invite this hooligan from Ajegunle to this house? I won’t like to see him around this house again.” He shot me another unsettling look.
“Daddy, he is not a hooligan. He’s a graduate of Industrial Chemistry.”
“And therefore? I want you to associate with children of decent people. The truth is that if you raise a child in a decent environment, he’ll ultimately comport himself decently. Imagine you befriending the son of a laborer? Incredible. You should mix with children of commissioners, senators, ministers, governors and the like. Not children of laborers, messengers, cleaners, what have you.” Senator Harrison was angling for a bigger catch for his daughter.
“Daddy, this is not a way to talk.” Tears of hopelessness and rage filled her eyes. “You’re being too class-conscious. I’m already an adult. I’ve the right to choose my friends. Money is just not everything.” Her lips curved into a determined pout.
“But the lack of it could make life exceedingly difficult for you,” he reminded her sternly. “Darling girl, this type of boy is not good for you. His university education notwithstanding, he’ll still be crude due to the environment where he was brought up.”
“Daddy, don’t be a bigot,” she said defiantly. “And if I get hurt – well, I’m the one who’ll have to bear that hurt.”
“Are you thinking a man doesn’t hurt when his child is hurt?”
Throughout the hot debate between father and daughter I kept quiet. I knew I had Biola on my side, but I watched the whole encounter with a sinking heart. Although Senator Harrison’s English, French and German were excellent, he preferred to speak Yoruba to Biola.
Senator Harrison had his own ideas about what was best for Biola. And from what I’d seen, anyone from a poor background was not eligible. How could I’ve been such a naive fool as to believe I could have a serious affair with Biola. Our lives were worlds apart. But I’d never given up easily before.
Senator Harrison’s insult made me make a resolution. I decided I must get rich at all cost. I was determined to prove to Senator Harrison that riches weren’t a peculiar characteristic of one family.
“You son-of-a-bitch, listen to me, get the hell out of my compound,” he snarled. “Now!” His tone was stern and unyielding. He was very authoritative.
Senator Harrison, like a thousand other fathers, had only meant the best for his daughter perhaps and really had nothing personal against me. It was simply the way things were in Nigeria. And anywhere else. Birds of the same feathers flock together.
At this point, I found the humiliation unbearable. I’d never undergone such humiliation all my life. I felt tears of anger and frustration cloud my eyes. I turned back crestfallen, and left the compound. “Arrogant, rich bastard,” I snorted as I left. I was provoked so I took a taxi to a hotel in Surulere to drown my anger with beer.
I woke up the next day with an awful headache. I sent one of my younger brothers for some pain killer tablets. I tried to recollect how I got home from the hotel to no avail. I’d been blindly drunk.
I sat up to discover that I’d slept in my only suit. The coat I wore was torn, one of my shoes was missing and my trousers were very dirty. I guessed I must have fought or had an encounter with thieves. Feeling disgusted I swung my legs over the bed, and then clutched my throbbing head. After a while, I checked my pockets. All the money I went out with was gone, also was the gold wristwatch Biola had bought for me. I concluded I was robbed.
My mother came in and looked at me with angry eyes. “Where did you go yesterday? Imagine how you look? Is this the kind of example you are supposed to show to your younger ones? Imagine going out to get drunk and losing self-control? Your father was very angry. He wanted to push you outside if not for my pleading. Chika, you better change. You’re no longer a small boy,” she said reproachfully. I listened to my mother’s chastisement, still holding my head. Drinking alcohol was against the doctrines of my father’s church. When my father came back that evening from work, he refused to respond to my greetings. He just walked past me.
The next day, after I’d my bath and changed my clothes, I went to Kola’s house. I knew nothing about Senator Harrison other than what Biola initially told me. Kola was an honest, truthful and loyal friend so I decided to learn more about Senator Harrison to enable me make a decision on whether to continue or beat a retreat. He was from the same town with Senator Harrison. He was someone whom one could share one’s innermost secrets without fear of betrayal.
He was a Sales Manager in a big pharmaceutical company. He read Bachelor of Pharmacy degree in University of Lagos and Master of Business Administration degree (Marketing) in University of Ibadan. He was lucky to have graduated when graduates had many jobs to choose from. He was imposingly handsome. He was tall, dark-complexioned and slim. He knew how to dress. He was a reformed womanizer.
He’d a two-bedroom flat in Spring Street. A street strictly meant for the wealthy. He lavishly furnished the flat. He’d all it took to be a playboy. And this was what he was, before he married Toyin and retired. Before then, he was crazy about beautiful, sophisticated ladies. Because he’d what it took, he attracted them the way stale meat attracted flies. Wishful girls sought after the handsome and wealthy bachelor.
They were dying to go to bed with him. Unfortunately he maintained interest in a girl only if she didn’t succumb for sex. But ultimately they all succumbed. He met the girls in frequent night parties he held in his flat, or at nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and friends’ parties.
It didn’t matter to him their social status or where they came from whether they were single or married, rich or poor. Some of his girls belonged to renowned families with lots of prestige, money and connections. Others were less socially eminent, and less wealthy. By and large they were all the same to him.
His parents looked on with growing apprehension as he went around creating emotional havoc among Lagos young and beautiful women.
Many girls usually met in his flat but none of them ever asked, who the other girls were or what they wanted. This proved the extent girls could throw away their fastidiousness and their sense of decency in order to capture a man of their dream. Kola compensated them with generous cash gifts, sporadic shopping and social outings. If anybody wanted to be a playboy, he must be loaded with money. At a point his carefree life started to bother his parents so they pleaded with him to marry. They believed his association with women would reduce if he got married. He always obeyed his father, so he accepted.
“I’m confused who to marry. I know that not all that glitters is gold. I know many of my girlfriends are not better than professional whores. I believe, however, that there must be a good girl among them,” he told me. So he decided to find out.
He started his annual leave, but didn’t tell any of them. He stayed at home from morning till night. When the girls came on their usual visits, he told them one after the other, “I’ve lost my job and unfortunately I’ve no savings.”
Many of them were shocked. Their regular sources of finance were gone. He didn’t take them out as usual. Some of the girls never returned again. “Who wants to befriend a liquidated guy?” one of them had said.
“If you hadn’t lost your job we should have gone to the Shalamar Concert,” another told him, on a different day.
The number of his female visitors dwindled. And, whenever, some of the remaining ones came they stayed for a short time saying they had appointments. Kola kept mental record of the way each girl behaved.
He’d an accumulated leave of two months. At the end of a month, he drove his car to a gasoline station and packed it. He paid the manager of the station to get the car watched. He covered it with a tarpaulin to avoid easy detection.
When the manager wanted to know why he wanted to pack the car there, he told him, “I’m traveling abroad and I’m afraid to leave it in my compound because of thieves.”
He told his remaining girlfriends that, “I’d an accident with my car on the expressway when I was going to attend an interview, and the car was damaged beyond repairs.” They sympathized with him. Others absconded, leaving three.
Omosola came for another one week and stopped. This left Helen and Toyin.
Helen was breathtakingly beautiful but she’d ungovernable temper. Her long, beautiful legs were the focal point of every male’s eyes anywhere she went. She once destroyed Kola’s stereo when they had a misunderstanding.
Toyin couldn’t be described as beautiful, but she was attractive. She’d a superb figure. She was slim, tall and fair complexioned. She dressed in cheap but well-fitting clothes. She was about twenty-one years old.
Helen’s visits towards the end of his leave became more irregular, but Toyin made hers daily. She spent her meager salary buying gifts for Kola. Kola told her to stop but she refused. She was a clerk in one of the oil companies. She knew Kola liked drinking, so she always bought him bottles of brandy. She always cooked for him and washed his clothes before she left. She begged Kola to take life easy because with his qualification he would secure another good job.
Kola gave her a lift one day and that was how they met. He gave her his complimentary card and she promised to visit him; and she did.
At the end of his leave, Toyin had distinguished herself. Kola made up his mind to marry her. A day to his resumption, he went to the filling station and collected his car. The following day, he resumed in his office.
Some of the girls saw his car plying the streets, but couldn’t believe their eyes. “Is this not Kola’s car?” they asked themselves. If not for the registration number, they would have thought it was some other person’s car. If there was anything girls knew how to do very well, it was to memorize their boyfriends’ car numbers.
They later learnt he’d resumed in the office, where he told them he’d been sacked. They couldn’t understand what was happening. Some went to Kola for explanation. It was then he told them, “It’s a test of your sincerity and the love you’ve for me. I was never sacked and I never had any accident.”
They wept and begged to be given another chance but Kola declined. He engaged Toyin. Plans for their wedding started immediately. He sent invitation cards to even his former girlfriends.
I was, however, afraid if the wedding wouldn’t be interrupted by one of his jealous former girlfriends. I’d once attended a wedding, which was brought to abrupt end by a former mistress of the bridegroom.
I was going through the book section of King’s Supermarket one sunny afternoon when I ran into Christie. She was the first to see me. I was eight months old in Lagos.
"Hi Chika! So you’re in Lagos?” she asked.
"Sure. This is where the action is and I like being where the action is,” I replied, smiling. “How are you?”
“Fine, thank you. Have you got a job now?”
“No,” I replied. “I am still searching for job. How about you?”
“I started working the following month I finished my service.”
“‘It’s understandable. Any man who wouldn’t give you a job wouldn’t give anyone else. With your exceedingly beautiful face, charming voice, superb physique and disarming smile, any man who could resist your charm must be made of stone.”
She smiled, revealing her snow white, good set of teeth. Blood rushed to my head and made me dizzy. And my heart increased its pulsation.
Christie had been making me feel this way since our days in the university. We attended the same university. She also read Industrial Chemistry. There was no doubt that she was a Monday creation, when God was fully rested after the Sunday break, because she was a combination of beauty and brain, a rare combination. She gained a lot of attention from the male sector of the school. Unfortunately, Christie snubbed all of us. She refused being my lover, but accepted being my friend. I was happy, however.
She was addicted to expensive clothes and cosmetics. She was from a poor family so she depended mainly on wealthy, old men lovers to maintain her exorbitant taste. This was the major reason why she rejected us. We had no money to lavish on her.
“If you’re not in a hurry, let’s go and eat some snacks,” I suggested.
She accepted. I led the way to the snacks bar. I bought a meat pie and doughnut for her, one sausage roll and a meat pie for myself. I also bought two bottles of Fanta. I carried them to meet her where she’d already taken her seat and reserved one for me.
As we ate, I was continuously looking at Christie. She caught me a number of times gazing at her. “Christie don’t you think you should reconsider your decision about having an affair with me?” I finally asked.
“I’m sorry. It’s too late,” she replied.
"I shall be wedding soon,” she said, “Arrangements are already at advanced stage.” And a smile of satisfaction touched Christie’s mouth.
I felt depressed. “Who is the lucky man?”
“He’s not someone you know. He is the Executive Officer of House of Furniture and Design Limited in Sule Street, Lagos. He has Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and Master of Business Administration degree. He schooled in London. When he returned to Nigeria, he went into interior decoration business. The furniture his company designs and exports had been world-acclaimed masterpieces. He sourced all his materials locally because Nigeria has the best wood in the world. Furniture making and interior decoration is a real money spinner in the country today.”
“Am I invited to the wedding?”
“Oh yes. If I know your address, I shall send you a card.”
I quickly gave her my house’s address. It looked God created some people to be lucky all their life, I said to myself.
"I must be going. I want to go to the salon this afternoon. I’ve a date with Ken this evening.”
“Is that his name?”
We stood up and left the supermarket. I followed her to the bus stop; where she boarded a taxi for Independence Avenue.
Two weeks later, the long expected invitation card arrived. The quality of the card convinced me that Christie had caught a big fish. It wouldn’t be advisable to miss the wedding, I told myself. The D-day was just a week away according to the card.
I sent my suit that day to the dry cleaner and paid for express service. When I collected it four days to the wedding, it was looking swell.
Hence I was closer to Christie than Ken; I attended the Spinster’s eve. The party was super-cool. Girls were surplus. Many of them danced alone because of shortage of boys. I’d attended parties in my life, but this one would ever remain evergreen in my memory. I left the party at five thirty.
I slept only for a few hours, before I woke to prepare for the church wedding scheduled for ten o’clock. I arrived in the church before the bride and bridegroom. I went to the front row pew and sat down, I wanted to take photographs as the service progressed.
About thirty minutes after my arrival, the bridegroom arrived in a convoy of expensive cars. Few minutes later, the bride arrived dressed in fascinating wedding gown.
I found it difficult to decide who was more beautiful between Christie and her Chief Bride’s maid. Everything about the wedding was marvelous.
The church service was soon in session. People were singing happily as if calling God to come down. Indeed, it was as if God Himself were there. I looked around the church. It radiated with different colors. There were hundreds of guests and throng of reporters. Creams of the society were there. That day I’d wished my wedding should be like that and it was. But mine was even more colorful.
At a point, the Bishop conducting the service asked, “Does anybody have any reason, why these two should not be wedded? Speak up now or forever remain silent.” This was the point I dreaded most in all church weddings. One nut could just end a beautiful day.
A young lady stood up. She was carrying a small child by her side. My heart missed a beat, did a somersault and increased its beating rate.
“I am his wife, my lordship,” the lady said. “I’ll not allow this husband snatcher to take my husband from me.”
“By Jove!’ I exclaimed. “Oh why should this lady ruin such a beautiful day like this,” I shouted aloud.
I saw Christie faint. Ken lost color. Many people started to leave the church. I stood up and dashed out of the church with my camera hanging on my shoulder.
Christie was a daughter of a poor family. Her parents lived in the village in the south eastern Nigeria. The general ethical decadence of the society had not left the women unaffected. They shared with the men a consuming passion for wealth. Christie’s desire like most women of her ilk was boundless and incapable of complete satisfaction.
I later learnt that Ken met the lady two years before. Though the lady was madly in love with Ken, he’d no intention of marrying her. The lady got pregnant thinking this could change Ken’s mind, but it did not. Actually, before Ken met Christie, he wasn’t capable of loving any woman for long. Grapevine had it that Ken’s weakness was that he hunted for girls, the way cat hunted for mice.
However, Kola was lucky. None of his former girlfriends messed up his wedding. It was one in town.
Kola and Toyin had just returned from the church, when I arrived at their apartment. It was surprising how some guys changed their ways of life after marriage. He was no longer prone neither to wild partying nor gross indiscretion. He would return from his office in time for dinner except when on tour. Knowing what a womanizer he was, I didn’t think he’d make a good husband.
Kola and Biola were such a nice couple, but still childless, despite all their efforts. Kola was closer than a brother to me, and I felt he deserved a better luck. And Toyin, well, she was just an angel in all ramifications.
Toyin went in to prepare lunch, while I sat with Kola in the sitting room discussing and sipping Remy, his choice brandy. I lit a cigarette.
“Chika you haven’t changed? Most countries in the world have banned smoking in public places such as offices, bus stations, airports, sports venue et cetera to reduce tobacco-related deaths. Professor Olukoye Ransome-Kuti, our former Minister of Health, encouraged the government to ban smoking in public places but people like you never allowed it to work. Our policemen lacked the will power to enforce the ban. Cuba is the world’s best-known cigar producing country, but the country has banned smoking in public places. Castro the President even gave up cigar smoking in 1986. Chika quit this bad habit before cancer kills you.”
“Cancer is not for me.”
“Apart from cancer, cigarette smoking has been implicated in a range of diseases like coronary heart diseases, bronchitis and emphysema. Smoking is dangerous to your health, give it up,” he advised.
“I’ve almost forgotten you’re a pharmacist. I’ll think about it. You know, bad habits are hard to break.”
After these preambles, I told him why I’d come to visit him.
“Kola, I had the disgrace of my life yesterday.”
“What happened?” he asked anxiously.
“I went to visit Biola at home and I ran into her father. When he learnt of my humble background, he warned Biola, he wouldn’t like to see me around his house again?”
“You mean you went to Senator Harrison’s house? My God!” Kola exclaimed. “He is an egocentric man. He has gone mad with accumulated arrogance. “He has no regard for the poor. I don’t know why God usually give money to punks,” he said indignantly. He set his drink down on a side stool, evaluating his position.
“Under which party’s platform did he become a Senator?”
“People National Party (PNP). The party is a conglomeration of dubious individuals, people who have been discredited and disowned publicly for their multifarious misdeeds and crimes against humanity.”
“How did he get elected? Your people must be crazy to have voted for such an egoistic man as your representative to the Senate.”
“Who voted him in? He rigged himself into the Senate. Many people were of the opinion he would lose his deposit but he simply laughed at them. ‘I don’t need your votes to win,’ he told them.” He took another sip of his drink.
“Only two parties were active in my area. The others were non-existent. Chief Duro was the candidate of the Conscience Peoples Party (CPP). Though, Chief Duro was rich his party was made up mainly of peasants. They’d no money to sponsor massive rigging. Chief Duro was a man of high moral standards and cherubic innocence. He contributed immensely to the uplifting of the standard of life of our people. He was a successful businessman and philanthropist. He studied law in the University of Nsukka, in south eastern Nigeria. He always donated generously in development launching ceremonies of all the villages in our area. He’d given scholarship to a number of indigent students in higher institutions.”
“How about Harrison?” I stubbed out my cigarette. The way I picked up bad habits surprised me. The problem was that I always found them difficult to break. I’d tried several times to stop smoking without success. The same with alcohol. Anytime I got drunk, I swore I would never drink again, only to get drunk soon after.
“Nonsense. He only came home after many years when he wanted to contest the senatorial seat. He couldn’t even recognize his father’s compound. He was shown his father’s house by a Good Samaritan. Being that the house wasn’t befitting, he quickly built a story building in less than three months. He left home when he was a small boy to live with one of his uncles in Lagos. Till he grew up and got married, he never came home. He didn’t even come when his father died.”
"How did he become rich?”
“He was one of Nigeria’s first set of 419ers (The advance fee fraudsters). He deceived many foreigners who had interest to do business in Nigeria and duped them of their money. He usually promised to help them establish in Nigeria but always abandoned them after collecting some money to process the document of registration of the business name. I learnt he even duped a prominent bank in Brazil. He became a billionaire by the time; he converted the millions of dollars he collected under false pretense from these unsuspecting foreigners to naira. He employed telephone, email and internet to carry out his nefarious act. He arrived in Lagos in 1940 with nothing in his pocket. Worth a fortune today, of course.”
“But those foreigners must be big fools. Why should they fall for such a scam?”
“Senate Harrison is an experienced con man and like all of them, he always zeroed in on people’s vulnerable areas. He pressed the buttons of their weaknesses, and he had them running in circles. And greatest of the weaknesses is greed. You don’t understand the extent these fraudsters could go to deceive their victims. I will give you an example. In 1980, Senator Harrison and his cohorts invited a fifty-year-old Briton to Nigeria. He was enthusiastic because he’d come to seal a multi-million naira oil deal.”
“Was Senator Harrison working in an oil company?”
“He never worked anywhere. He has been self-employed. Let me go back to the story. As the aircraft from London touched down at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Cameron was a happy man. He felt he would soon have a stake in the nation’s lucrative oil business. Unbeknownst to him, he was walking into the dangerous embrace of Nigerian scam artists, headed by Senator Harrison.”
“The Briton must be very ignorant. Oil business is handled by Nigeria National Petroleum Company, so why did he have to go to individuals who were not staff of NNPC?”
“The bureaucracy there is too much. And these foreigners are always in a hurry. To make sure the Briton was properly trapped in the game, Senator Harrison and his team of fraudsters met Mr. John Cameron at the airport. He was driven to a hotel in Ikoyi in a tinted Prado Jeep in a convoy of other expensive cars for a grand reception. He was booked into the V.I.P. suite of the very expensive hotel. Mr. Cameron was highly impressed. He was convinced he was about to clinch a deal that would change his life completely.
“The next day, they drove him to a well-furnished office, where they held a crucial meeting. After, the meeting, Mr. Cameron handed over to Senator Harrison, nine hundred thousand dollars to process the contract documents and company registration. That was the last time he saw Senator Harrison and his accomplices.”
“What did he do?”
“He waited for a week in the hotel suite for them to return. He thought they’d bring the Contract Agreement for his signature. He made several calls in an attempt to get in contact with them, but the calls never went through. They had disconnected the phones.”
“But this is wicked.”
“He became anxious. He trusted them and never knew he could be abandoned. With the cost of living in an expensive hotel, he ran out of money after one month. With his bills mounting and no money to pay, the hotel management kicked him out of the hotel.”
“How did you know all this?” I asked incredulously.
“I met Mr. Cameron about a year ago and he told me the story himself.”
“Where? Have you been to London?”
“No. In Lagos here.”
“You mean he’s still in Lagos, since 1980?”
“No. He came back in 1981.”
“He must be a lunatic. He came back to Lagos, after what he went through?”
“He explained that fraudsters were in every country in the world, that it wasn’t unique to Nigeria.”
“How did he leave this country in his first visit?”
“The British Embassy took care of his return journey.”
“He was lucky. But how did you know that Senator Harrison was involved in the scam?”
“Mr. Cameron described him vividly and I’ve long known he was into the advance fee fraud business.”
“Why is Mr. Cameron back to Lagos?”
“He’s now a link for other Europeans who want to establish business in Nigeria. He has also registered a company that is involved in the importation and sales and servicing of computers.”
“What have your people benefited from Senator Harrison being in the Senate?”
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But he isn’t representing anybody. He is only representing himself. Since he rigged himself into the Senate, he only went home once, when a chieftaincy title was to be conferred on him.”
"For being able to buy our mercenary Clan Head. He was described as an illustrious son. Some of these old people have outlived their usefulness. They are only interested in feathering their own nests at the expense of our communal interest.
“On the day the chieftaincy title was conferred on him, the village was thrown into festivity but the whole affair ended in tragedy. Senator Harrison had built a five million naira palace for our village king for finding him worthy of the title. The furniture for the palace was imported from Italy. He hired ten luxurious buses to convey guests from Lagos to the village, because there was no airport near our village. I didn’t want to be told the story of what happened, so I was in the ceremony.
“The traditional rites were performed before the entertainment. By tradition, Senator Harrison went into retreat a day before, fasting and praying for a peaceful conferment of the title, which at times could be marred by violence. Two prominent musicians featured in the ceremony. One plays highlife music and the other was a juju musician. An entertainment company was paid to make all the arrangement, provide the drinks and the food.”
“It looks Senator Harrison is extravagant,” I said. “The ceremony must have cost a fortune.”
“Why won’t he be? He didn’t work hard for his money. After the very important guests were seated at the high table, the highlife musician started to play his evergreen tones arousing nostalgic feeling among the guests. Many of them couldn’t resist the urge to dance, so they trooped to the floor to dance.”
“Was Biola at the ceremony?”
“Yes. She was there. The juju musician soon took over. He sang in praise of Senator Harrison. He came with his wife to the dancing floor, followed by Biola. Some of his guests joined him. As they dance, his distinguished guests tried to out-do themselves in lavish spraying of money on Senator Harrison and his family, in the presence of the hungry, the homeless and the unemployed, who came to watch the ceremony of ceremonies.”
“Before Senator Harrison went to his seat, he walked to the platform, deepened hand into his flowing garment and threw handful of money on the performing musicians. People watched with their mouth hanging open,” Kola said.
“Were the poor people entertained?”
“Yes. And this was when the tragedy occurred. In an attempt to get served many of the poor villagers were knocked down in the mass of rushing and pushing when it was time to serve them. Some tripped and stumbled into the ditches. Some others fell on the ground and felt feet on their backs and heads, their noses and mouths were ground into the dirt. Over the mutilated, suffocating bodies, hundreds of feet relentlessly trampled.
“By the time police arrived at the scene to restore order, four children, two women and a man were dead. The village hospital was jammed with the wounded. Many people who witnessed the incident were stunned. ‘The hunger in this country has reached alarming proportion, see how people trample their fellow human beings to death because of food,’one man complained.” Kola face looked sad.
“The dancing and feasting went on as if nothing had happened. Political opponents took the disaster as an omen that God was against the wastage of funds, when the populace was hungry. Some other people used the tragedy to underscore the heartlessness of Senator Harrison and the contemptible shallowness of his mind.
“The next day, all the newspapers reported the big ceremony.” He stood up and brought an old copy of People’s Voice and The Nation.”
Chief Duro, one of the leaders of the Conscience Peoples Party, owned the People’s Voice while The Nation was a government owned newspaper.
The Nation carried a whole page of pictures showing highlights of Senator Harrison’s chieftaincy ceremony and another page carried full story of the occasion. Almost all the other pages carried congratulatory messages from well-wishers and political colleagues.
The People’s Voice carried a short story of the ceremony and decried the unnecessary extravagant display of wealth by Senator Harrison and his guests who attended the occasion and the lost of lives of the poor villagers. And on the same page, it carried a story that the country was seeking for IMF loan.
“Do you support the move?” Kola asked me, when I finished reading the newspapers.
“How can I? IMF and World Bank were established to serve imperialist purpose. If we get the loan, they will soon be governing this country. They will tell us things we should or shouldn’t do.”
“I am worried the rate our politicians are squandering the riches of this country. Imagine the amount wasted on the day of Senator Harrison’s chieftaincy title conferment,” Kola said.
“There is no doubt that the capricious practices of the politicians worries me. If they have not looted the treasury and made the nation insolvent, the rate of unemployment would have been less,” I said.
“Senator Harrison and his ilk are the problem of this nation,” Kola said. He was tense with indignation.
“His ambition was unmistakable, but it was an ambition totally devoid of any purpose for the country. The objective of being in the Senate is selfish.”
“But how did you know Senator Harrison rigged?”
“Ah! That was obvious. I’ve not heard anybody claiming to have voted for him. Chief Duro, his opponent was kidnapped a week to the election and was released a month after. By then, the time to file election petitions had expired.”
“But why didn’t Chief Duro’s party do something?”
“What could they do?” What can a collection of peasants do when the case involved a billionaire backed by a powerful party? They lodged a complain with the police.”
“That’s right! What did the police do?”
“What do you expect them to do, when the police boss was appointed by the government in power-PNP. They told the complainants to go home because they had no evidence.”
“Didn’t they investigate?”
“Investigate what? It seems you’re deaf.”
“What did Chief Duro do when he was eventually released?” I lighted another cigarette.
“It was too late. He only promised to revenge.”
“I don’t know. “Kola sat back and took a seep of his brandy.
“What is Senator Harrison’s qualification?” I asked.
“He has LLM in Law. He first went to University of Ibadan, but was quickly expelled for taking part in student demonstration. He later gained admission into University of Lagos, where he studied Law. He was an excellent student. Despite his academic brilliance, he failed in his brief attempt to practice law. He took some cases in Lagos on behalf of some poor workers accused of minor crimes, all were found guilty. After this dismal performance, he became an advance fee fraudster, which made him rich. During the early period, he began to study French and German in evening classes. These languages helped him gain the confidence of his victims.”
“Was it because Chief Duro was kidnapped that made you conclude Senator Harrison rigged the election?”
“Of course no, he even started rigging right from the time of the registration of voters. He bribed the officials and got many illegal aliens registered. Otherwise how could one explain our senatorial district alone having thirty million eligible voters? Last year our population was estimated to be fifteen million. On the day of the election his trained thugs disappeared with many of the ballot boxes of the areas he wasn’t popular. Agents of CPP were driven away from the polling booths by his thugs and forced voters to cast their votes for their master, while the police looked the other way.
“In other places, he bribed electoral officers to alter election figures. Figure like 21 was easily change to 121 or 221 depending on the disposition of the officer. This was discovered because in some areas the number of votes recorded exceeded the number of registered voters.” Kola walked to the bar to pour himself another drink.
“I hope you have not allowed unsubstantiated rumor prejudice your judgment, because I learnt from Biola that her father did extensive campaigning and that was why he won?”
Kola erupted in laughter. “Unsubstantiated, indeed!’ He laughed with absolute abandonment, throwing his head back, opening his mouth to the fullest possible extent, shaking his whole body and often stamping with one foot.
“Rubbish. What would she have said? Have you ever seen a person accepting that his mother is a witch? One of senator Harrison’s friends actually helped him write a carefully worded fable designed to deceive our people, but it didn’t work. In fact his late father was a notorious thief in our area. Something in the gene. A hibiscus plant cannot produce a rose flower.” I gave a nod to acknowledge the important fact.
He stood up, went to his shelves, opened one and brought out a file. He gave me some typewritten sheets of paper. The brandy didn’t impede his memory a jot, I noted. It was the full text of Senator Harrison’s manifesto. It read thus:
Good day my good people of Chroma. Standing before you today is your humble son, Babatunde Harrison. I am seeking your mandate to represent you in the Senate. I’m an indefatigable fighter of human rights. My major aim is the betterment of the life of my people, who I love so much.
My detractors might tell you many false and malicious stories about me. Pay deaf ears to them because they are embittered and nefarious people anxious to dent my public image.
Service to my people is my ambition. I promise to make farming easier and more profitable by soliciting for inputs from the government for you. I shall ensure that a government secondary school is built in this senatorial district. And also a standard hospital will be built to take care of the sick people and treatment shall be free. The Rural Electrification Board shall electrify more villages. Those enjoying REB now shall be connected to National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). All our roads will be tarred. Those tarred already, will be regularly maintained. Dry pipes shall be a thing of the past. Clean pipe borne water is not a luxury in this modern life. I shall make sure that government sinks boreholes in most villages.
My good people vote for Harrison for action, vote for PNP for progress.
“But this is a fine manifesto,” I confessed.
“There’s no doubt about that. But which of the promises has he fulfilled. He just liked the privileges not the responsibilities. Our politicians know how to lie to the populace. He is amassing more wealth, and engaging in all type of businesses in this world. He’s a man who places self ahead of national gains. I wonder why God has not perished all the wicked people?”
“He’s giving them a long time to repent,” I replied. “Most of our politicians tell sweets lies, knowing that sugar catches more flies than vinegar.”
“Senator Harrison will never repent. Since he became a senator he’d taken his legislative functions as part time, while he spent most of his time transacting his own businesses, which varied from seeking all sort of contracts to smuggling. I’ve never seen such a greedy man all my life. He has no respect for the oath he took. To discharge his duty to the best of his ability, to protect and defend the constitution of this country, and also, that he will not allow his personal interest to influence his official conduct or any official decision and to abide by the code of conduct as contained in the constitution,” he said in disgust.
“But how many people have ever respected that oath?” I asked. “It’s just for formality,” I said, sipping my brandy and staring at Kola.
“He deliberately refused to declare his asset. In place of his duty, which is to monitor that the laws of the land weren’t unnecessarily abused, he preoccupied himself with making money and seducing innocent girls. A man formerly slim, and narrow-chested changed as though by magic, into a robust man with sagging stomach and kwashiorkor-like cheeks. People like him and his cohorts hold our country back from true democracy. In other parts of the world, elections have rules, but in Africa, especially in Nigeria, they don’t.”
“You seem to hate him so much, Kola?”
“No. This isn’t a matter of hatred. I’m only telling you the truth, so that you’ll know the type of man you’re gambling with his only child. He is thoughtless, self-centered, corrupt and insincere. He has no conscience at all.” He set his drink down on the side stool near his chair, lamenting my involvement with Biola.
“You call my affair with Biola gambling?” I leaned back and lit a cigarette. I was the only person allowed to smoke in Kola’s flat.
“I’m sorry. But that’s what it is. Gambling. Even Biola has a voracious sexual appetite and pay men to take her to bed. You better be careful that she doesn’t capture your heart.”
In my quest for wealth it pleased me to be acquainted with important people. This bothered Kola. He saw it as a sign of weakness, and he didn’t want to see weakness in his best friend.
“I believe in pleasure! I believe in love and pleasure. They both go together. We are in this world for such a short time, and I want to get as much as I can out of my time. It’s as simple as that. Doesn’t it make sense to you?”
“No. It doesn’t.”
In Africa’s macho society, the traditional role of a man was the paying of family’s bills. When the woman was richer than her husband, and paid the bills, the man was regarded as a weakling even though the woman didn’t mind. I knew the difference in our backgrounds made Kola conclude that I was gambling.
Toyin, called us to the table and that ended our long discussion. “Any time two of you sit down, you just continue to argue. I don’t know what you see to argue about every time,” Toyin observed with a glint of amusement in her eyes. “Please come and eat your lunch.” We drained our drinks and moved over to the dinning table.
“Your husband and I have our differences, as you’ve observed. But I like to think they keep our friendship more lively.”
After the meal, I thanked Toyin for the well-prepared dish and Kola for his information and left. Kola escorted me to the door; he shook my hand vigorously, saying, “I wish you luck in your current mission.”
I turned over in my mind the information I just received, I decided Senator Harrison was not the kind of father-in-law I would like to have neither did I want a nymphomaniac as wife my love for money notwithstanding. I decided not to visit Biola again either at home or in the office. Kola was smart, upright and dependable so I believed all he told me to be true. Though it was frustrating to see that the money for which I lusted had become an illusion, after all.