Monday, 15 December 2014

The House My Father Built 6

The House My Father Built_front


And so it was, at last, that I had entered into my possession, as the late Prince himself would have put it. The journey had begun twenty years earlier when my father died, although I had to wait another ten years for the terms of his will to be satisfied before I could lay claim to it. Naively, I had assumed that the tenants would leave of their own accord when I called on each of them in turn, and that the courts would quickly deal with any stragglers. Even at this distance I still clearly recall the Alhaji smirking at my English accent as he heard me out in his parlour. He knew the score. He also knew that I was unlikely to stay the course and he was almost proved right.

But I was also lucky. I was lucky that two of the tenants did indeed comply with the one year rent-free I offered them, lucky in a job that enabled me to travel back and forth at will, lucky in the nation’s on-going tragedy – Abiola, Abacha, Saro-Wiwa: the three faces of our collective dilemma – which kept the country centre-stage. I was lucky, finally, in having to fight for it, which was the measure of what it meant to me – and with it the country I desired to make my own.

Childhood was an unreliable guide, made more so by my privileged upbringing where the gutters didn’t overflow and there was more than one bathroom with running water. Now I had to see the country for what it was: the Alhaji laughing on his way out of the magistrates’ office while I waited three hours for the next date; Baba Ibadan ordering me to ‘sign, my friend’ at a police station which specialised in torture; Prince hiring suspected killers to dispose of me. As Prince himself used to say, ‘Move by faith and not by sight,’ which I thought a good philosophy, even if he didn’t seem inclined to follow it himself, as I would invariably remark whenever he uttered it, whereupon he would burst into laughter, revealing his missing front tooth.

But all that was a long time ago now, longer than the time it took me to dislodge the Alhaji and Ngozi and Pepsi, and longer again since my father died, the man who had willed me the house he built that made it all possible. I have written about him elsewhere. I had my problems with him; he had his problems with me. One of them was that I wanted to be a writer, not a physician, an incomprehensible decision which kept us estranged for years. The irony was that Nigeria was all that engaged me as a writer, which was why his gift was so apt, even if he hadn’t imagined it that way.

© Adewale Maja-Pearce


Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

Monday, 8 December 2014

The House My Father Built 5


The House My Father Built_front

We were all gathered in the charge room, Prince and his friend on one side, me on the other. The officer sat in front of us with a woman detective beside him. He read my petition then turned to me.

‘So what do you say happened?’
 
‘This man has refused to pay me any rent for almost four years now and when I finally told him to go, he threatened me.’
 
He nodded and turned to Prince. ‘And what is your own?’
 
‘OC, it is not that I don’t want to pay, only that I don’t have any money now. I am a politician. When my aspirants…’
 
‘Can’t you even pay something?’
 
‘Like I said, I am a politician and I have my aspirants…’
 
As he spoke, the charge officer turned to the woman detective and said something to her, then looked back at Prince.
 
‘Eh heh, what were you saying?’
 
‘My aspirants have promised me a post once they win the election.’
 
‘I think you should try and pay something,’ he said. ‘As you see me here, I also have to pay rent. Even this year, I had to beg my landlord to give me some more time to balance him, but I had to first give him something so that he could hear me.’
 
‘Like I said, OC, once my aspirants…’
 
As he spoke, the officer leaned over to the woman and said something and she replied.
 
‘He’s not listening to me,’ Prince said, giving up.
 
‘I think it is a matter of self-respect,’ the officer said. ‘Everybody must pay their rent.’ He shook his head in bafflement and wrote on a sheet of paper and handed it to Baba Ibadan, who beckoned us all to follow him, including the woman detective. On our way out, we collected a wretched-looking young man in handcuffs. At first, I thought we were going by police van, but we left the station and crossed the main road and stood waiting for a taxi. It was about 11 o’clock and people were going about their normal business, hustling in Lagos, as The Poet would say. Suddenly, the man in handcuffs legged it. Baba Ibadan and the woman detective tore after him. Prince laughed and said something to his friend. It was surreal. Here we were, standing on busy Western Avenue not far from where Pepsi was killed by a runaway bus, and there was nothing in the world to prevent Prince himself from taking off. He wasn’t even handcuffed.
 
Baba Ibadan and his colleague caught their quarry and we hailed a taxi. Prince and his friend squeezed in the front; the rest of us squeezed in the back. The price hadn’t been discussed but, as usual, I would be paying. There was some initial confusion about which of the four courtrooms we would still find a magistrate sitting. It turned out to be the other one in the same block where I had been coming and going with the Alhaji and Pepsi, with the same spreading almond tree in the middle, the same old man sitting under it and the same charge-and-bail lawyers looking for custom, one of whom quickly latched onto Prince.
 
It seems that the court had to be reconvened because the magistrate was getting ready to leave for the day. While we waited, the man in handcuffs, who was sitting on the concrete floor, made a drinking gesture. A shop nearby advertised ‘pure water’, so I bought two sachets and gave them to him. The woman detective smiled in approval; Baba Ibadan said that the man had raped an eight-year-old girl left in his care by his master. I don’t know what became of him because our case was called first. Prince stood in the dock, just like the tout who had run away with my phone money and looking just as bewildered. The charge was read out: hiring suspected assassins. Even I went a little weak at that. Prince was asked whether he wanted to plead guilty or not guilty. He looked to his newly acquired lawyer, who was himself getting to his feet. The lawyer gave his little speech but the magistrate, who seemed to be in a hurry, set a date for hearing one month hence and remanded him in custody on N100, 000 surety to be guaranteed by two people with landed property in Lagos State.
 
‘Oga, bring money,’ Baba Ibadan said to me.
 
‘What for?’
 
‘Abi you no see as we dey take N15 biro put person for prison,’ he said. ‘I wan’ take am go Ikoyi.’

© Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
 
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon? A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka? From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The House My Father Built 4


The House My Father Built_front

Back home, I felt shabby. How had I acted any differently from the tenants? Later that day, I went down to see Prince. He was standing on his balcony, rubbing his belly and eyeing the local talent as he nursed a huge reefer. I told him that I was thinking of leaving Pepsi and his family where they were. I didn’t tell him that the BQ wasn’t even mine. My father had given it to the younger of my two brothers in addition to his share in the main building and I was still smarting from the favouritism he had shown him. Prince considered me for a moment and then indicated that we should go inside. When we were seated, he said that I was making a mistake; that first I had to let Pepsi know who was boss by throwing him out. I could let him back in afterwards on new terms if I still felt the same way although he, personally, wouldn’t recommend it because a man who can call the police for you will do worse the next time. He was right, of course, and so, the next day, properly mobilized, off he went to bribe the High Court judge.
 
He was pleased as Punch when he returned.
 
‘I first went to greet Sunday and then I thought to check whether the judge was around. When I got to the office the clerk asked me if I wanted to see him. Just like that. The judge looked at the file and said, “Oh, you have a good lawyer. Yes, a good lawyer.” He read through the papers and said, “Oh, this is a simple case, yes, a simple case. Just tell your lawyer that it has no merit and should be struck out. No merit. That’s all.” I thanked him and asked if I could buy bread for his children. He laughed and told me to discuss it with his clerk, who demanded for N5, 000.’ He paused and watched me, waiting for the words to sink in. ‘Can you believe that?’ he continued. ‘Just N5, 000 for a whole High Court judge!’ He paused again and shook his head. ‘Naija done spoil,’ he concluded and laughed, not altogether disapprovingly.
 
And that was how it happened. But my lawyer from the fire-on-the-mountain chambers almost goofed even though Pepsi himself was absent at the hearing. Just before we entered the courtroom Prince told him that everything was sorted and he should just say blah blah blah, no problem. As he spoke, I noticed that my lawyer wasn’t paying attention, as though to say, don’t teach me my work. When our case was finally called he went into a long spiel citing this and that from all the books he had lugged along. The clerk, realizing that he was in danger of derailing, leaned over and whispered to the judge even as my lawyer prattled on. Finally, the judge raised his hand and asked him whether, in essence, he wanted the case to be struck out, whereupon my lawyer agreed and it was struck out. We immediately notified Sunday. He was happy to see us. Another payday.
 
So it was all over. Pepsi didn’t put up any resistance this time. Prince and I sat upstairs drinking beer as we watched the proceedings. It was a melancholy, overcast sort of day, always threatening to rain but never doing so and, for once, Prince wore a singlet over his protruding belly. As with the Alhaji, Pepsi had taken the precaution of stripping the place of every fixture and fitting, including the wire that ran from his meter at the front of the main building all the way to the BQ at the back. He must have done it when we were out, perhaps in revenge for me cutting his light. Replacing it alone cost me N6, 000.
 
As before, when Ngozi found herself similarly embarrassed, some of the neighbours offered space for Pepsi and his wife to store their belongings. The widow even said she could take in their daughter, but Pepsi’s wife declined. She was the one directing Pepsi where to put what. He once ventured an opinion but she shouted him down, ‘I said pack the plates, pack the plates,’ as if she was talking to a small boy, which scandalized Prince no end. One year later, I heard that Pepsi was dead. It happened that he was waiting for a customer at Ojuelegba, the busy intersection made famous by Fela from the time he lived there, when a runaway bus ploughed into him. I also heard that his widow and children were living at Akoka, just around the corner from the university. I thought of going to visit them but didn’t and then it was too late. Besides, what would I have said?
 
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
 
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.
 

 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The House My Father Built 3

The House My Father Built_front

By and by, my lawyer came back to say that all was now on course and that the eviction would be carried out the following week. Unfortunately, he failed to do the proper checks, otherwise he would have seen that Pepsi had gone down the same route as Ngozi and the Alhaji and filed a motion against the ‘purported consent judgement’ he had agreed to the previous year. As with the Alhaji, the matter had been heard in my absence and a date set for a hearing three months hence. Worse yet, we only discovered this when the bailiff and his boys came to evict him, but not before Pepsi himself received a beating.
 
The bailiff turned up with his boys just before dawn. I gave him money to go to the station to register the action and collect two policemen, as he should already have done, while the rest of us settled down in Prince’s parlour with the obligatory bottle of Chelsea and some reefers. Dawn was breaking when a jeep pulled up in front with Pepsi and four armed policemen. I was surprised because I hadn’t seen Pepsi leave. He must have been watching us from his kitchen window and had perhaps been doing so for a number of days. I went out to meet them and introduced myself as the landlord and asked them what the problem was. Their Oga said that Pepsi had come to complain about some ‘miscreants’ in the compound. I said that the only strangers around were from the High Court come to evict the very man who was making the complaint. I added that the bailiff was even now registering the matter at their station. As I spoke, they drifted back to their jeep, where they waited with bored expressions. Eventually, one of them said, ‘Oga, make we dey go, I never chop,’ and off they went.
 
Pepsi loitered about for a while, apparently confused as to what to do next, and then his wife came out and told him to go and wait at the junction. As soon as he was gone, Prince told the bailiff’s boys to follow him and keep an eye on him.
 
‘Can you imagine,’ Prince said. ‘Pepsi brought police to arrest us.’ He was incandescent, as well he might have been. ‘He is in trouble today. I was about telling the boys to go easy on him but because of this I will tell them to teach him a lesson. And it is his wife who is putting him up to it. Pepsi can’t go to police by himself.’
 
He entered his bedroom and emerged in a singlet and a flat cap. Prince favoured caps, which he pulled down low over his eyes.
 
‘Let me go and see what’s happening,’ he said and marched off with his springy step, his heels barely touching the ground, his back straight, his head held up: a man ready for action. I went upstairs to make my morning tea, but while I was waiting for the water to boil I saw a small crowd heading towards the compound. I got downstairs in time to see Pepsi being dragged along by a policeman. His feet were bare, his T-shirt was torn and blood was running down the side of his face. The policeman held him fast by the collar and the top of his shorts, which were filthy, as if he had fallen into a gutter. The bailiff’s boys followed behind, breathing heavily.
 
‘Why are you doing this to yourself?’ I said.
 
‘Do I know for him?’ the policeman quipped as he marched him to the back, where he stood him up against the wall.
 
‘Where is the key?’ the policeman demanded, pointing to Pepsi’s security gate, which was padlocked.
 
‘I don’t have it,’ Pepsi said as he crouched against the wall.
 
One of the boys kicked at the gate, which held fast. He turned to me. ‘Oga, bring money, let me go and get welder.’
 
I gave him and he set off.
 
Prince appeared. ‘His wife has the key,’ he said. ‘She’s refusing to come.’ He was breathing heavily, his big belly going up and down. He turned to me. ‘Come, let’s go inside.’ We entered his parlour, where he poured himself a generous shot of Chelsea and then told me what had happened. Apparently, they were all standing at the junction when the bailiff arrived with the two policemen. Prince pointed to Pepsi, who suddenly bolted, almost colliding with a car. The boys took off after him, closely followed by the policemen. They caught up with him at the next junction one hundred meters away ‘and beat hell out of him.'
 
‘It was terrible,’ Prince continued. ‘You should have seen him, curled up in a ball. The boys beat him for trying to get them arrested and then the police added their own for making them run this early morning. Afterwards, they carried him in the air and started coming until some people begged them to let him walk by himself for the sake of his dignity.’
 
‘What of his wife?’
 
‘That one? She just stood there and did nothing. Does she care?’

Aluta continua

© Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
 
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The House My Father Built 2

The House My Father Built_front


I first met Prince when he introduced himself to me as I was walking past a bungalow in the close. I had allowed him to catch my eye because I had just then embarked on the election handbook and had noticed a party flag and some posters on the front wall but the place was always deserted. It turned out that Prince was the campaign manager for one of the state gubernatorial candidates, although it didn’t appear that his man was overly serious about his political ambitions, perhaps because the eventual winner was already known (internal democracy being considered a foreign endearment, as I was discovering in my researches) and was simply positioning himself for his own slice of the national cake baked in the swampy heat of the oil-producing Niger Delta that had caused Saro-Wiwa to be hanged. There was a chair, a table and an outdated newspaper in one of the three bedrooms that passed for Prince’s office. The rest of the flat was bare.

Moreover, since it soon transpired that his aspirant never actually paid him for his services, and there wasn’t in any case much for him to do, he was forever on the lookout for other means of getting by. As it also happened, I needed someone to visit all the registered party offices to collect whatever literature they had that I could use. Moving around Lagos was difficult enough – too many vehicles, too few roads, no alternatives despite the city’s extensive waterways. There were twenty-six registered parties altogether, eventually whittled down to three to satisfy so-called national spread, meaning that they had to have a presence in two-thirds of the thirty-six states, plus the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, where they were also to have their head office. In a country with too many languages, too many ethnicities and too many religions this meant, in effect, that the minorities and special interest groups who between them comprise half the total population were excluded from representation by the so-called Big Three, much to Prince’s approval. “The minorities will have their say but the majorities will have their way,” was how he put it and laughed when I muttered something about fascism. Prince was nothing if not reactionary, in politics as in everything else.

Prince is dead now. It seems he had a heart attack in the middle of the night and it took too long to get him to the hospital. I wasn’t surprised when I heard. He would have been about sixty then, the same age I am now, and I hadn’t seen him since he had become a nuisance in his own turn, but it was perhaps a wonder that he lived as long as he did. He was just above middle height, with the physique of an athlete – he told me he had been an amateur boxer in his youth – but for his stomach, which was the biggest I have ever seen on anybody. Not that he was disturbed by what some might have considered a self-inflicted deformity. On the contrary, he lolled about bare-chested whenever he was indoors and I never had the impression that he thought it a sexual turn-off, if only because he regarded the women he openly salivated over (which is to say, almost any woman who crossed his path) as sex objects and nothing more.

'Look at that, the devil walking on hind legs,' he once said with sudden fierceness when a comely woman strolled by as we sat drinking beer on the front balcony where Ngozi had once kept her generator. His vehemence took even him by surprise because he suddenly giggled and said something to the effect that he hadn’t had a screw in ages, although he needn’t have worried on my score.

Prince was also reliable, if expensive. He liked nothing better than a clear brief, although a good number of the party offices he visited when he embarked on the first of the many assignments I gave him over the years that we were together turned out to be either bogus – a rented room where nobody ever turned up after the registration exercise, and the landlord looking for the balance of his rent – or were reluctant to part with their manifestos (assuming they had one) because Oga was not ‘on seat’. At the end of each day, he would fetch the beers from the woman down the road. ‘You can send an old man a message but don’t tell him to run,’ he would invariably quip before settling down to read all six newspapers I bought every day as I worked away on the balcony overlooking the school in the adjoining compound. By and by, I felt confident enough to entrust him with extending my Nigerian passport.

'They thought you were a Lebanese,' he said when he returned some hours later and told me how he had found someone in the office who spoke his language and all was sorted. It also happened to coincide with the day Ngozi was supposed to have been evicted and he could see that I was agitated, so I brought him up to speed. He was shocked when I told him that the Alhaji was a tenant. 'The Alhaji!' he exclaimed. 'But I thought he was the owner of the building. That is what he has been telling people.'

'Which people?'

'Everybody,' he said. 'He is a big man, you know. He used to be a socialite. Whenever he went to a party he would spray more than anyone else, although they didn’t know he was using condemned money from his office that should have been destroyed, but which he packed into his house in beer cartons. Chief Ebenezer Obey even wrote a song about him.'

Aluta continua... 

© Adewale Maja-Pearce
 
 
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The House My Father Built 1

Image preview

Over the next few weeks I will be running extracts from my new book, The House My Father Built, which has just been published by Farafina under their Kamsi imprint.

The book itself, a memoir about how I returned to Nigeria to possess my possession, is a follow-up to my earlier travelogue, In My Father's Country, published in 1987.

The third part of the projected trilogy, A Farewell to My Father's Country, will be published anon (but hopefully not with so long a gap).


'I hadn’t expected anything from my father’s will and was surprised when I discovered that he had left my siblings and me a block of four flats – one each for my mother’s children – in a decent area of Lagos. The property itself was initially tied up in a trust fund whose terms were only satisfied when I was in a position to return to the country in a meaningful way. I was forty then, ten years exactly after my first journey back following my father’s death, and lucky enough to be working as Africa editor of Index on Censorship, a Cold War journal whose mission was to bring the light of democracy to the dark places of the earth, first behind the Iron Curtain and then elsewhere. I was lucky, also, that Nigeria was caught up in a crisis, by which I mean a crisis within the larger one that has been the nation’s lot since independence in 1960. Elections had been organised after many years of military rule, but were annulled before the counting was over in order that the military might continue. At the same time, apartheid was coming to an end in South Africa, leaving what we are pleased to call the ‘giant of Africa’ fully exposed in all its wanton corruption. It was easy enough to convince a foreign foundation to underwrite my extended trips to Lagos.

'Two of the flats, along with the annex at the back, were still occupied by tenants who had refused my earlier offer of a year rent-free to help them move so I put a friend in one to keep an eye on things during my prolonged absences and settled into the other as I prepared to do battle. I had no idea at the time how fierce and long-drawn out it would turn out to be, how rancorous and tiring, how absurd and humiliating.

'The most combative – outwardly at least – was the Yoruba Alhaji in the front flat downstairs, a squat, thick-set man in his early fifties with red lips, bandy legs and a white skull cap. He thought me amusing when I politely knocked on his door and told him that he had to go in a year’s time, but that it wasn’t personal. In the event, it took me six years to be rid of him, only ending, neatly enough, with the hasty transition to democracy, which the by now hapless military was forced to organise in order to save what remained of its – and the country’s – dismal reputation.

'Because the Alhaji had rented directly from my father when the place was newly built twenty years earlier, it was obvious at once that he regarded me as something of an interloper. He was also my senior in age so that, in his eyes, I was doubly done, Nigeria being a gerontocracy in the interests of ‘African tradition’ – a useful concept to invoke whenever anyone tried to suggest the desirability of ‘Western’ notions of freedom of expression, equality before the law and other such inconveniences. He fought dirty and encouraged the other two to stand their ground alongside him, but it was partly my own doing that the case dragged for so long. The arrangement I had with the magazine meant that I could only manage two months in Lagos at one time. This meant, in turn, taking long adjournments, but then I was the only one who wanted a quick resolution in what I had assumed would be an open- and-shut case.

'The more drawn-out the case the more money I would have to part with, which suited not only whichever lawyer I happened to be using at the time (and I went through a number of them) but also the court clerk, the fellow who helped with the photocopying (always so many papers) and even the old man under the spreading almond tree in the front as though for all the world it was his office, which in a way it was. At each sitting, I would arrive at the court at nine sharp, only to see the Alhaji emerge from the magistrate’s chambers and drive off with his trademark smirk that betrayed what I thought a pointless triumphalism. Two or three hours later, my case would finally be called. The magistrate would bark at my lawyer over some infraction or other and then bring down his gavel to the spontaneous refrain, ‘As the court pleases’. I found this increasingly irritating as we fixed yet another date some months later, while the assembled lawyers on the front benches looked at me with a mixture of pity and defensiveness that I not think badly of this Third World charade that was an accurate reflection of the shenanigans being played out in the larger political arena.'

To be continued.


Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU

Monday, 29 September 2014

Between Fayose and Joshua

In the wake of the Ekiti gubernatorial election last July, I was among those who chastised Fayemi for putting physical over stomach infrastructure, as in the case of the expired Thai rice. He was too aloof, an intellectual who didn’t sit down by the roadside and drink pami with the people. I even accused him of lacking ‘common sense’, which I now regret. You can’t be both a democrat and a thug. You can’t, for instance, concede power gracefully, which was what Fayemi did because ‘I am a democrat and the will of the people is the basis of democracy’, and at the same time burn down the opposition party’s headquarters even before assuming power, which was what Fayose did, but only after slapping a high court Judge, such is mindset of the man of the people.
 
I remember a photograph of Fayose in his post-election press conference with Fayemi. He wore a pair of dark jeans and a red T-shirt with short white sleeves and the legend TOKYO in bold white lettering across his chest. But it was the round, white-rimmed sunglasses which sealed the thuggish impression, more so given that the event was being held indoors. Fayemi, by contrast, who sat across from him on the sofa, was dressed more demurely in the same dark jeans but with a plain white short-sleeve shirt and what seemed like a smile of mild bemusement while his would-be successor addressed the assembled journalists, a microphone in his right hand showing off a white wristband, which completed the ensemble.
 
Fayose, of course, was already widely known for his thuggish behaviour during his first incarnation between 2003 and 2006. ‘Where is Bode Olowoporoku, I want to kill him, I have immunity,’ he once thundered as he led his merry men to attack the then senator of the federal republic, who had been tipped off by well-wishers and miraculously escaped. Not so fortunate were four students at the College of Education, Ikere-Ekiti who took part in a peaceful demonstration to protest the imposition of a provost and paid with their lives; another was so severely beaten that his leg had to be amputated.
 
The fact that Fayose was selected to contest at all says much about the equally thuggish nature of PDP itself, which has since declined to comment on his latest outrages, even objecting to Fayemi’s call for the man to be prosecuted outside the state in order to ensure transparency given the complicity of the security forces who stood by during the invasion of the hallowed chamber. One recalls the occasion in 2004 when, piqued by the ‘loss’ of Anambra State, suspected PDP thugs burnt down government offices and two studios of the state-run radio station while the police also stood idly by, causing Chinua Achebe, the celebrated novelist, to reject a national honour on the grounds that the then president, Obasanjo, had turned his state into a ‘lawless fiefdom’. Ironically, it was Obasanjo who was later to call Fayose a ‘bastard’ but his political son had learnt well enough. They have since been reconciled, bastards, like thieves, being without honour.
 
So the consensus is that Ekiti is also about to be turned into a lawless fiefdom with the full connivance of the presidency. With Ondo now under PDP and Osun recently – and miraculously - spared the same, all eyes are now on Lagos, Ogun and Oyo. It is an open secret that PDP would love to ‘capture’ the troublesome south-west, as they once briefly did under Obasanjo, with Lagos as the jewel in the crown. Whether this ultimately matters is a moot point. As I have argued in previous blogs, one is hard-pressed to see any difference between the ruling party and the so-called ‘opposition’. Impunity is the name of the game, whatever the supposed political colouration of the party concerned, as witness both Jonathan and Fashola rushing to congratulate Pastor Joshua for breaching the building regulations which Fashola had himself earlier vowed to curb: ‘It is our job to ensure that no life is lost where the circumstances are avoidable, therefore, when people do not die of old age, illnesses that sciences can’t treat, rather they died because people cut corners...'
 
Indeed, the collapse of the building in the extensive compound that is the Synagogue Church of All Nations might usefully be taken as a metaphor for the collapsed state of Nigeria itself. Moreover, as with the victory of Fayose, who was, after all, voted in by the people who already knew of his antecedents but were willing, it seems, to exchange their birthright for bags of expired rice, so it appears that Prophet Joshua’s followers still continue to flock to his house of miracles despite the evidence of his culpability in what can only be described as murder, as I saw for myself when I drove past the place last Sunday. It may very well be that the self-declared man of God can make the blind see and the lame walk, as many insist, but this is as nothing compared to the greater miracle that is their continued belief in one who so casually dismissed the tragedy caused by his own negligence - even as he proved himself unable to raise the dead.
 
Between Fayose and Joshua, what hope for Nigeria? Both seem to have grasped the gullible, miracle-seeking nature of the Nigerian people who simply refuse to believe in the evidence of their own eyes and thereby collude in their bondage. Democracy is doubtless a good thing, and may even be the solution to our myriad problems, but it is not an imminent possibility so many years after the soldiers returned to the barracks. It might be galling to admit it, but the politicians and pastors who prey upon us have understood us well enough.
 
© Adewale Maja-Pearce


Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers. The House My Father Built, a memoir, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's
amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Adewale-Maja-Pearce/e/B001HPKIOU