Thursday, 2 August 2012

Excerpt of Victim of Greed

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 of Biola,” I said with elaborate politeness.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Okafor. Chika Okafor,” I stated audaciously.
“Which Okafor? The Minister?”
“No, sir.”
“Are you a member of the distinguished Okafor family of Onitsha?”
“No, sir.”
“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 wealth wasn’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 clouds 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.
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 glitter 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 source of finance was 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 annual leave for two years. It amounted to 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 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, “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 remaining 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 eye 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 gasoline 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.
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’ll 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 for 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.  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 complaint 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 changed 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 with narrow chest 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 interesting.”
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.

No comments: