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By Chika Onuoha


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Copyright 2004 Chika Onuoha All Rights Reserved.



That evening Lekwa and other children gathered to listen to Mama Oha’s stories. Though her real name was Nwanyioma, they called her Mama Oha as a sign of the deep respect they had for her; the nickname meant ‘mother of all’. Some reasons had given rise to that substitution of her real name. Mama Oha’s life was a model for all the women of the oil-rich land of Ulitofia in so many ways; apart from being a woman whose life exuded grace and succor to her generation, she was the eldest woman in the whole of Ulitofia. Whenever the younger women gave birth to babies, they usually took their babies to her so that she would name them. This was not a tradition, but Mama Oha had so much endeared herself to her people that her words were often taken as prophesies. The women believed that those names she gave their babies were unimpeachable predictions of the destinies of their babies.  All that she did was to look the babies straight in the eyes for a short while to know what names to give them. The women always smiled back home when their babies were given names such as Ego, which meant wealth Echioma- bright future and so on. In fact, it was strongly rumoured that some Ulitofia women secretly worshiped Mama Oha, saying that she was a deliverer sent from the ancestral world to be the keeper of all women of all tribes and colours. A widow, she was a sprightly 135 year-old woman. She lived in a lonely mud house with an old courtyard littered with dry leaves as you walked towards the Uli cave at the east end of the land of Ulitofia. This cave was believed to be where Tofia, the first man to settle in the land hundreds of years ago lived with his wife and three children. Therefore, the people of Ulitofia were the descendants of this man called Tofia.

          It was in this solitary courtyard that Lekwa and other children gathered every fortnight to listen to Mama Oha’s wise old voice. She had won the hearts of the children with stories about the lives of the ancient people of Ulitofia. The children liked such stories most, but every story day was not for folklores. Mama Oha knew all about the activities of the colonial government, how they burnt down local shrines, decoyed and brainwashed their sons with some western ideas in small rooms which later metamorphosed into big churches, and how they conscripted their men to go and fight against their fellow whites in the first and second world wars. She could also vividly recall the account of the government’s invasion of Ulitofia land so many years ago, shortly after the country’s civil war. The way she recalled dates of the events was awesome and savoured a kind of ancient wisdom that could only be imagined.

          That particular evening she wanted to tell the children something about the government and oil business in Ulitofia. This was a story she always remembered with a suffocating feeling of loss. It was a tale that seemed to have forever changed the people’s destiny. Everybody in Ulitofia had been affected, the young, the old and the unborn alike. The certainty of tomorrow truly depended on nothing.

Mama Oha fingered her head gingerly and then hissed as she began to say something. Her voice was distant and cold. ‘It is terrible. The land is such a horrible place. Our people are suffering. I will soon join our ancestors and things have not changed. It is sad to think that even when we are no more, the land will still remain a hopeless place. I wonder how you, the little ones, will survive. The country is dark and full of evils. It is unfortunate.’

Lekwa looked at the boy sitting close to him. It was difficult to surmise what she was talking about that evening. The children gaped in confusion. But Mama Oha kept on talking, looking sternly at the little girl sitting in front of her as though she was the only child sitting there. ‘...Well, if not for the likes of Keku, our people’s efforts would have yielded fruit. Keku is a traitor. He is a big disappointment to our land. You little ones may know little or nothing about that evil man. Our people have fought tirelessly against exploitation, but it is this same Keku who….’, she stopped and swayed her head persistently.

          Very few of the children had an idea of what this esteemed storyteller was now saying. Lekwa knew that Keku was a controversial chief whom the people accused of being the eye of the government in Ulitofia. He had heard his father call Keku all sorts of bad names, saying that Keku loved money more than his kinsmen.

          Mama Oha continued. ‘I know Keku is a rich man, but money is not all that makes a man. He has lost his integrity among his people. He is one of the chiefs. Hmm, who knew he would turn into what he is today? He is not worth being called a chief.’ She then sighed and twisted her mouth.  

‘Please, tell us how the soldiers came to our land. They are everywhere,’ a small boy who was sitting behind Lekwa requested.

‘Ah!  They are government soldiers. It was the government that brought them here. The government besieged our land in a subtle way. They first told us they had found something good in our land. They had found oil all over the land, even inside our rivers. When they started this oil business in our land, they promised us good roads, hospitals, electricity and everything you can imagine. Years passed but we did not see anything. They later built the big useless road that runs across the land. The road only served to facilitate their business. Things continued that way for a long time. Then one day our people rose up to demand that justice be done. We wanted the government and their business partners to give us our own share of the wealth accruing from the oil business. We all spoke with one voice. It was as though everybody were woken from a deep sleep. Our people were ready to go to any length. Do you know then what happened, children?’

‘No!’ some of the children responded while others just looked on, engrossed by the story.

‘The government people did not want to reason with our people. They rather sent armed soldiers to come and arrest anybody they saw. That was the very day trouble started. Our people were willing to die to defend their ancestral land. Ulitofia people fought the soldiers with machetes and arrows, but the soldiers shot from a distance. Nine of our men were dropped dead, including my husband; he was killed alongside other men. The next day it was announced over the radio as a victory over government enemies. You can imagine. Since then a lot has been happening, children. If you look around, you will see what I am saying. The fight for our rights has continued day after day. Something must be done now; else you younger ones will grow up to feel cheated and low in your own land. The government we have is a bad one. They rule with guns. They do not want to listen to anybody. …’

          Lekwa felt sad at home. Something heavy weighed him down. He could not think about anything in particular. He could now understand why so many things were happening around him. A lot of things had gone wrong. There was always this air of strife blowing over the country. And each time one got closer to people, one could hear them talking about injustice and favoritism in high places. Lekwa wished he were in a position to right the wrongs he could now perceive. But right now, there was nothing he could do. It was the realization of this fact that made him weaker. Then he felt a sudden upsurge of strength rising up right inside him. He thought harder, biting his lips. Unfortunately, at the moment, there was absolutely nothing he could do to remedy the situation. At ten, he was still in Primary Four. In two years from now, he would enter the secondary school. Yet with that level of education only, he would not be in any position to challenge the ills of the present society. He had always known that a good education was among the chief ingredients that could bring light to the dark country. But people said that the government of the day was one that had no respect for anybody, whether educated or not. They could do anything as long as they had the gun. All the same, he knew that it was important  that he must concentrate on his studies; somehow, he believed strongly that if all the children would acquire a sound education, nothing would stand in the way of truth. He remembered Asinulo and all that the people said about him. Asinulo, a son of Ulitofia was a physical personification of the benefits of a good education. People said that government was afraid of Asinulo. He was the leader of U.A.F, which stood for Ulitofia Action Force, a militant youth organization that championed the fight for the rights of the people of Ulitofia. Asinulo had traveled round the globe, and had eaten with so many white leaders who were his friends. The people of Ulitofia strongly believed that Asinulo his wealth of knowledge would lead them out of exploitation and abject poverty.

          It was school day the next morning. Before 7:00 a.m., Lekwa and Nonye were already on their way to school. Nonye came from the neighbouring compound. Two of them were in the same class.  This saw to it that they went to school and did most things together.   Ulitofia Community School was about one and half kilometers away from home. They walked faster in silence. When they came to a place, they diverted and followed a narrow route that led them to the big tarmac road. That was the same road that Mama Oha had said was a big useless road. Whether it was useless or not, the boys enjoyed walking on it, especially in the afternoons. Sometimes when they were returning from school, they could see their shadows clearly depicted on the road. This was an exciting experience, especially when they discovered that their shadows were shorter and fatter than they were in reality. After a short distance into the tarmac road, Nonye asked his friend, ‘Is it true that the government hates our people?’

‘Yes,’ Lekwa answered without thinking. He then added, ‘Father says that always. He says that the government people do not care for their fellow countrymen and women. And you know Mama Oha said the same thing the other day.’

‘Yes, Mama Oha said a lot of things. I never knew our people are being treated badly by the government. That is really bad, ’ Nonye complained.

‘See, father has told me more,’ Lekwa hinted Nonye.

 ‘More?’ Nonye’s eyes dilated in wonder.

‘Yes. Father told me everything that has been going on in the land. He said the country depends on our land for survival. I mean Ulitofia land. They government makes a lot of money from the oil in Ulitofia. But our people cannot feed themselves. Is not that evil?’ Lekwa narrated.

‘It is, my brother. And there is  no development in this part of the country,’  Nonye observed.

‘All we see are big machines and oil pipelines crisscrossing the whole land. Father said it is through these pipelines that the government and their foreign business partners suck our land dry,’ Lekwa added.

  Nonye shrugged. They walk along in silence. Nonye soon broke the silence. ‘I know why everything is so bad in the country.’

‘Do you?’ Lekwa replied.

‘Yes. It is because we do not have democracy yet in the country,’ Nonye said.  

‘Democracy?’ his friend did not seem to understand.

‘Yes. Oh, have you forgotten what our teacher told us in school sometime ago? He said democracy is the best kind of government. He said in a country where there is democracy, people elect their leaders and say their minds without being shot. Not like in our country where soldiers are in power!’

‘All right, I now remember. But do you think that will ever happen in this country? I mean, do you think the people can be given the opportunity to choose their leaders?’ Lekwa said, sounding pessimistic.

‘I believe it is possible!’ Nonye assured him.

Lekwa thought for a while and then said, ‘I pray so. But you know Mama Oha said Chief Keku is working against our people.’

‘That does not mean anything. Our people will win eventually. One man cannot defeat a whole village,’ Nonye said, very convinced.

          It was a quite Friday afternoon that Nuruma waliked in; he was Lekwa’s uncle. He lived in Lagos, a city known for business and tall buildings. People said that Lagos was a city of great opportunities, but whenever young graduates went there to look for jobs, they always came back home saying there were no jobs there and anywhere else in the country. Nuruma did not visit home often. Whenever he managed to come, he would spend only a night with Lekwa’s family and disappear the following morning. Having spent so many years in the city, Nuruma now complained that life in the village was very boring and dry. But Lekwa was always happy to see his uncle because each time he came home, he would buy him a new pair of shoes or shirt and also entertained him with news about what was going on in the city.

          Nuruma and Lekwa were sitting under a tree shade towards the center of the courtyard that evening. ‘You are now in Primary Four. Am I correct?’ Nuruma asked Lekwa, rubbing his small head with his rough palm.

‘Yes, uncle,’ the boy’s voice was comparatively tiny.

‘Next year you will be in Primary Five. Then in two years from now, you will enter secondary school.’

‘If I pass the Secondary School Entrance Examination.’

‘Ah! You will pass. If you work hard, you will make it. I know you will pass,’ Nuruma said rubbing Lekwa’s head again, but this time more fondly. He then continued, ‘I know you would like to go to the university.’

     ‘Yes, uncle. Then I will leave the village and go to the city.’

     ‘Would you like to come to Lagos? There are two universities there,’ Nuruma asked.

    ‘No. I will not go there.’

     ‘Why? You know Lagos is a big city, full of any good thing    you can think of.’

    ‘But people say Lagos is full of troubles too. I will not go to such a place,’ Lekwa insisted.

      ‘That is not true. Troubles are not peculiar with Lagos. There is no peace anywhere in the country. It is the same thing if you go to Benin or Jos, everywhere.’

     ‘What about the Area Boys? Are they everywhere too? People say they are bad elements. They hang around the streets of Lagos and snatch people’s bags.’

 Nuruma did not speak again. He rather murmured something to himself and looked away. Then he tapped his right foot twice on the ground. Lekwa watched him. It was as though Nuruma was meditating over something. At last he said, ‘Education is important. It is the only key to a better future for the country.’

Then turning to Lekwa, he told him, ‘You must try and get  a good learning. Our people are in need of those who will give them direction.’

           That statement left something heavy on the boy’s shoulders. It was as though his uncle had read his mind. Then he thought he could not have understood him. And he did not actually understand whether Nuruma was talking about deliverance for Ulitofia people or the entire country. Of what relevance was a little dream to the recklessness of the society? Maybe, Nuruma was being a little emotional about things. Then he began to speak again. ‘Our people have put their hope in Asinulo.’

 Lekwa was listening with keen interest.

‘I am sure you do not know this man called Asinulo. Do you?’ Nuruma asked.

‘But I have heard much about him.’           

    ‘Asinulo is the hope of the people. He is leading our people in the fight to press for our rights in the face of the wicked government. I know he will succeed.’

     ‘Will he?’

      ‘Yes. Why not? He is well connected.’

Lekwa, for a while basked in the possibility of an eventual victory for his people. But on second thoughts, he tried to embrace reality.

‘But the government people are not afraid of anybody. They will try to stop Asinulo. They may shoot him.’

‘Shoot him?’ Nuruma asked, laughing derisively. He then told Lekwa, ‘Nobody can do that. The government people are afraid of him. See, Asinulo is a London- trained lawyer. There are people in this country that the government cannot touch for whatever reason. Asinulo is one of them.’

          Lekwa found it difficult to believe what Nuruma was saying. How could the Government be afraid of anybody? He had tried to imagine. But Asinulo was still determined to make Lekwa believe him.

‘See, Asinulo is not only fighting for Ulitofia people. He is totally against the heartless military government that is in power. His dream for the country is a place where the people are not denied their fundamental human rights. He is a strong advocate of democracy. Once he came to Lagos to charge the people to rise up against oppressions in the land. That day, people gathered around him, cheering and praising him. Everybody hates the military government. A military government is not accepted anywhere in the world.’

‘Did Asinulo really do that?’ Lekwa wanted to be sure.

‘Yes. I saw him address fellow countrymen and women. I never knew he could speak so powerfully. The people were driven mad by Asinulo’s revelations of the evils that are going on in the country. Oh, there is no justice in the land.’

          Lekwa’s heart jerked. He thought his uncle would soon cry. Nuruma sighed and swayed his head persistently in the air. Then Lekwa remembered something. ‘But there are some of our men who would not like our people to succeed in their struggle. Chief Keku is one of them. Mama Oha told as that he is a bad man. Is it true?’

‘Yes, Chief Keku is a bad man. He betrays our people but he wil pay dearly for his evil works when the time comes.’

‘ Is he educated too?’

‘I do not know. I am sure he is not as educated as Asinulo. But he is rich. Of what value is wealth without a good name? It will not be well with him.’

          Lekwa wanted to ask another question, but he suddenly suppressed the urge. He bent down and began to make a zigzag mark on the ground. Nuruma watched him. ‘I hope you will  remember to wash your hands before eating this night.’

           Lekwa stopped and looked shyly at his uncle. 

‘Why do you write on the ground with your finger? It is a bad habit. Have you not been taught that in school?’

           Lekwa did not say anything. He looked at the mark he had made again. It did not make any meaning to him.

‘In our own time, we were taught so many things about personal hygiene in school. I wonder if they teach you that these days. Things have really changed.’

          At that moment Lekwa pulled the edge of his shirt to wipe his hand.

 ‘Do not do that. Go inside and wash your hands,’ Nuruma angrily instructed him.

           Lekwa stood and ran inside the house.

          That night, Lekwa could not sleep. He tried to think about so many things at the same time. The land was so cool and quiet, yet the people’s sufferings sounded from hill to hill. Who could fathom what was going on in certain places like the detention camps where they said fellow citizens were being incarcerated day and night? Lekwa remembered the far north, the place of dry weather and beautiful rolling hills. Again, he thought about his people, the very people whose God-given wealth had brought nightmare. He was thinking about this till he slept off.

          Odogwu called him. Odogwu was dark, tall and solidly built on the ground. He was perhaps in his early forties. Lekwa ran forward to know why his father called him. It was a Saturday evening. ‘We will go and see how the yams are doing in the farm,’ his father hinted him. Lekwa knew exactly what was needed. He ran inside the house and came out with a long knife and a bunch of long fibrous ropes made from local bamboo trees. Odogwu would use the ropes to stake the yams up.

          ‘I am ready, father,’ he announced.

            Lekwa walked behind his father as they followed a narrow, winding path. Lekwa could guess rightly the particular farm they were going to that evening-Odogwu had two pieces of land; one was near the river while the other was at the foot of the hill as you approached the boundary between Ulitofia and another village. The one at the foot of the hill was Lekwa’s favourite farm. Whenever he went there with his mother, he liked climbing the hill and from the top threw down stones to hit the lower plain at a particular point. It was in this particular farm that Odogwu usually planted all his yams. The soil there was thick and reddish and therefore, portended good for yam production. It was this farm they were to visit that evening. The one near the river was where Ruma cultivated vegetables each year. The place was always covered with green vegetation all over. Other crops like cassava, okra and melon were also cultivated there. Odogwu, like any other Ulitofia man, did not have enough land to cultivate on. Many households in Ulitofia had lost their lands to the government. Whenever oil was struck on any piece of land, the land would automatically become government property. Odogwu had always feared that one day some Ulitofia families would be forced to leave the land to go and live in distant villages.

          They walked along. The came to a large mass of land covered with well-fed cassava plants growing on big, straight ridges. Lekwa’s eyes ran through the green land. The way the cassava stems stood embracing one another was quite awesome and signified a future of bountiful harvest. Lekwa had   thought that the land belonged to the government. But he wanted to be sure. ‘Who owns this land?’ Lekwa asked his father.

‘Which land?’ Odogwu asked, turning to his son.

         ‘I mean this one,’ Lekwa pointed to his right.

         ‘Oh, it belongs to Chief Keku.’

          The young man was shocked. He looked at the land again. How could one man have such a big land? He asked himself. Then he remembered what that name stood for -betrayal. His earlier consternation suddenly crystallized into a threat. Lekwa looked away.

          On approaching the farm, Lekwa pulled a blade of grass, examined it and threw it away. But just before Odogwu stepped into his farm, he sighted a signboard standing to his left. He stopped. He examined the signboard closely. Odogwu could not believe what was written on it. It was a stern warning, all written in capital letters ‘KEEP OFF GOVERNMENT LAND!’. Odogwu stood stock still, trying hard to understand what was going on. Lekwa came forward and stood beside his father. He was oblivious of what was going on. Odogwu had lost his land to the government. He had just become the latest victim of that subtle government policy, and he dared not step into the land again, for whatever reason. What was a man with only a piece of land left for him to cultivate on? Was this not the easiest way to strangle a man to death? Those thoughts besieged Odogwu’s mind. He bit his lips. But irrespective of how Odogwu felt he dared not step into that land again. Contravening such an order was like bargaining for one’s death; there could be someone with a gun hiding somewhere, ready to shoot. Odogwu released a heavy breath that startled Lekwa.  ‘Let us  go home,’ Odogwu told his son], his face beaming with rage.

          Conditions progressed from bad to worse in the country and in Ulitofia in particular. But oil exploration in Ulitofia was booming. This meant more lands for the government. This time around, it was not only Odogwu’s land that had been taken. More families had just been dispossessed of their lands. Everything was happening so quickly. A few days later the government sent more soldiers to Ulitofia to reinforce the already existing security there. All government interests in Ulitofia must be protected. The soldiers were often seen circling round oil installations and other related complexes. Sometimes, they stopped and harassed village women who were returning from their farms. They looked dirty and uncivilized in their Khaki uniforms. Lekwa did not want to be like them, working for a government that had no feelings for the people. He had not heard about Asinulo for sometime now. Some people said he had gone to a distant country to cook himself in preparation for the final battle with the government and all who oppressed his people. But some said he had become tied of fighting for his people and therefore, had gone into hiding. Lekwa was confused because he did not know who was saying the truth about Asinulo’s whereabouts. He had tried to imagine why Asinulo should be missing now that the wickedness in the land had snowballed. The people would eventually be crushed and that would spell a final doom for a whole tribe….

          Odogwu suddenly became a changed man. He could be seen always in a thoughtful mood. He no longer looked anybody straight in the face, even his wife. Whenever someone visited, they went inside and talked in low voices. And the men who visited him these days usually left the courtyard in strained faces.

          One evening, heand some other Ulitofia men were summoned to Chief Idoko’s palace for an important meeting. Chief Idoko was the paramount ruler of Ulitofia. The men who had been summoned for that meeting were mainly titleholders in Ulitofia. But there were men in the land who, though were not titleholders, formed the nucleus of Chief Idoko’s machinery of government. Odogwu was one of them. He was neither a chief nor clan head. Lekwa had always felt that in the future his father might be made a chief as the ruling class always sought for his opinion. But one day, his father had told him that what mattered in the life of a man was not whether he was made a chief or not, but what positive impact he could make in his society for the benefit of all.

          The night was growing deeper. Lekwa and Ruma sat outside waiting for Odogwu. Odogwu finally walked in. He responded to Ruma’s greetings uninterestedly and walked straight into his apartment. He soon came out again and sat on a low wooden chair.

 ‘How did the meeting go?’ Ruma inquired.

           ‘We have agreed that enough is enough!’

        ‘Was anything said about those whose lands have been taken by the government?’

       ‘That was exactly why Chief Idoko called the meeting. You know they have taken more lands from our people in the past few days. ’

Ruma thought for a while. Then she said quietly, ‘But our people cannot fight the government. Things have to be sought out amicably.’

         ‘Amicably? Did you say amicably? Do you think the government people are ready to negotiate with anybody? Ah! You do not understand anything. Well, if the bird learns to fly without perching, the hunter must learn to shoot without missing.’

       ‘Hmm, I am afraid….’

       ‘See, woman, it is better for one to die for something than to live for nothing. We must put a stop to this embarrassment. Where shall we people plant our crops in the next farming season? Shall we fold our hands and watch the government take all our lands? That will not happen. Ha, ha, ha. We must fight now.’ Ruma looked fearfully at her husband.

‘You mean the meeting at Chief Idoko’s palace was all about planning to make more troubles with the government?’ she asked him.

Odogwu did not respond. He sighed and looked away. He did not wish to be reduced to a woman by Ruma’s soft words.

‘My food, woman,’ he said later.

 Ruma went inside to bring her husband’s food.

          Lekwa in his world, still believed in the future. Despite the pain of the moment, he had inwardly resigned to faith. And this hope for a better future had provided him with a form of escape from the realities of the moment. Lekwa’s dream for a cozy future was not dependent on whether or not his people succeeded in their struggle for their rights. His world stood somewhere beyond manipulation. He had come to see himself as a child of destiny. His quest for good education was meant to place him on the right footing. He would fight for his rights and defend his people. If his people knew their rights, they would not have been easily lured into exchanging their inheritance with mere promises. No damn government could dictate for one in one’s own house. Sometimes Lekwa was maddened by certain thoughts. Oh, education. He would one day provide succor to the old folk who were just waiting to die.

          One evening, a young man was seen beating his tom tom and moving round the land announcing a general meeting of all Ulitofia sons and daughters. This was a directive from the palace of Chief Idoko. The meeting would be held the following day at the village square called Mbaraukwu by eight in the morning. Such a meeting was not common in Ulitofia. Whenever a general meeting was announced at Mbaraukwu, the atmosphere in the land would be charged with palpable tension. It was later in the night that something began to filter through. The meeting was a crucial one. The people must unite to pursue a common goal. A better Ulitofia was for the benefit of all.

 ‘Will Asinulo be at the meeting?’ Lekwa inquired from his father.

           ‘Well, I do not know. Why not? If he is in the country, he will definitely come. He is championing the struggle. He will surely be there.’

      ‘But they said he is no longer interested in the struggle.’

      ‘Who said so? That is a lie. Asinulo will stake his life for his people. Some people can tell big lies.’

Lekwa was incandescent with joy. He could see that the vision of total emancipation of his people was coming to fruition. If only the people would speak with one voice this time around, God perhaps would hear their cries and send a deliverer who would lead them peacefully to the Promised Land. Once, Lekwa he had read in the Bible the story of how David delivered a whole tribe from the bondage of Goliath. If Nuruma could insist that one man was not enough, then what would he say about this young David? And then, like an awakening, Lekwa remembered something-David slaughtered the giant but the people of Israel mobilized and pursued their enemies. This was the kind of co-operation that would work for his people. That night he slept soundly.

          It was time for the meeting the following day.  A lot of people from far and wide streamed to the venue of the meeting. Lekwa and a few other children had gone there too. The matter affected everyone. It was a holiday period therefore; the children would not miss school. If not for any other thing, Lekwa wanted to set his eyes on Asinulo, the man whose popularity in the black continent had grown in leaps and bounds. All the Ulitofia people were proud of him.

          On approaching the venue of the meeting, Lekwa discovered that a lot of people had already gathered and blocked his way.  He would stand and watch from a distance. This was really a great meeting.       

Then Lekwa heard that Asinulo would not be in the meeting. They said he was out of the country. It was said that Asinulo had gone to meet with some of the white leaders in Europe, but had promised to identify fully with the outcome of the meeting. Lekwa’s hope of seeing Asinulo for the first time had been shattered. He felt weak. He would not continue to stand there. He turned and ran back home.

          The meeting was about to begin, but there was still no sign of Chief Idoko. But the smaller chiefs had seen it that all titleholders in the land had taken their seats. They sat in a semi-circle, facing the crowd. Chief Keku was there too. A young chief whispered something to an elderly one and both nodded their heads as though in agreement on something. Soon, Chief Idoko walked in. Everybody, including the smaller chiefs, stood up to welcome him. Despite the unfaithfulness of one or two members of his cabinet, Chief Idoko was still in firm control of the affairs of the land. When it was time for him to address his people, there was dead silence.

         ‘Cha, cha, cha Ulitofia Kwenu,’ he opened his speech with salutations.

       ‘Yaa,’ the people yelled in response.

        ‘Kwezue nu.’


        ‘My people, we have gathered here today to critically deliberate on a matter that affects our collective welfare. You all know our condition in this land today. Ulitofia has become an object of ridicule among her neighbours. You all have seen what misfortune the oil in our land has brought us. Our rivers have been soiled by oil spills and our lands are no longer fertile. Yet the government people are not sympathetic. You all know how they  promised electricity, hospitals, free education for our children and so on when they first landed here with their foreign business partners to explore the oil in our land. Now what has happened to those promises after so many years of business in Ulitofia? Things have turned the other way round and what was meant to bring us joy has brought us sorrows. Many of our people have been dispossessed of their lands. This is bad. What shall we do my people? I must hear from you people,’ Chief Idoko  said and sat down.

         ‘We must shed blood,’ a young man rose up and shouted emotionally. All eyes turned towards him. There was a confused noise as some people voiced their support for the young man. Someone beat the tom tom to call the assembly to order. When peace finally returned, an elderly man whose weight was resting on his long dry wooden staff stood up and dramatically stepped out to add his own voice; his voice was dry and distant.

       ‘Ulitofia, mma mma nu,’ he greeted.


      ‘Mma mma nu.’


         He paused for a moment and tossed his head towards the ground as if he wanted to remember something. Then he began to speak. ‘My people, my heart is bleeding because we have disappointed our ancestors. We must be blamed for our predicament.’ He paused again and swayed his head persistently in the air. He continued, ‘One who brings home worm-ridden firewood has invited the lizard for a feast. When an Iroko tree falls on the ground, a woman will climb it. My people, our ancestors will not forgive us if we continue to let them down. It is unfortunate that we allowed ourselves to be deceived. Now we are paying the price. But things must not continue like that. The government people have to leave our land immediately! That is my own suggestion. Ulitofia is our heritage. Who has seen such a thing? They must leave,’ he concluded.

Chief Keku stood up and passed his greetings. Ignoring the cold response that followed his greetings, he went ahead to make his point. ‘My people, we are licking hot soup in much haste. Have we forgotten that it is the patient dog that eats the fattest bone? I still want to suggest that we exercise a little more patience. The government will fulfill those promises. Let’s give them a little more time. Violence will do us no good. Let’s remember that….’

       ‘Sit down, Chief Keku!’ someone shouted from the crowd.

        ‘Yes, Chief Keku, take your seat. You evil man,’ another voice supported.

          At this point another confused noise set in. Many hands were pointed to Chief Keku as more verbal blows went to him. Someone beat the tom ton again, but there was no sign of an end to the vibration of voices. The smaller chiefs were now accusing one another. Chief Idoko stood up and signalled for peace, but nobody listened. Chief Keku could no longer bear the heat of the accusations against him, and fearing that somebody might rush forward and throw him to the ground, he hurried out of the meeting. Few other men joined him. They were his cohorts. The crowd booed them.

          Lekwa was angry when he learnt that the meeting ended in chaos. That feeling of doubt that usually gripped him was stronger now. He wondered why one or two people could hold a whole land to ransom. He felt such a strong irritation against this man called Chief Keku. Later in the evening, Lekwa heard his father threatening, ‘Chief Keku and his men have done a terrible thing. They will pay dearly for walking out of the meeting. The crown and the people of Ulitofia will not condone this insult!  But beyond this mere threat, Lekwa had hoped that the meeting would be an opportunity to make all the bad elements in the land face the music. He wanted a definite action that would teach Chief Keku a lesson. He wished he could manipulate the long claws of nemesis. At least, that would be enough to settle things. But his courage soon melted as he thought about life in detention.

That night it was cool and breezy. Odogwu, his wife and Lekwa were sitting outside. The moon was up, and with the gleaming light that battled the darkness; you could see someone entering the courtyard. Odogwu sighed and learned back into his chair. To think about the meeting only served to exasperate him. A great opportunity had been lost. Not even an assurance from the angels of God could rekindle his hope for the much-desired freedom. That dream had faded away as far as he was concerned. He was weak, weak to the marrow. Everything, including tomorrow, was now an illusion. His son looked away and gazed steadily into the deepening darkness. The moon was losing its vigour. Just then, two men appeared in the courtyard. The darkness hid their faces so that Odogwu could not tell whom they were. One of them was holding something that looked like a long stick. ‘Who’s there?’ that was rather an outrage that melted Odogwu’s heart.

‘Who are you? And who are you looking for?’ Odogwu ranted back. A man must be a man in his own house after all.

        ‘Police! We are looking you. You are under arrest.’ Lekwa stood up and wanted to run.

       ‘Do not run’. We came for your father only,’ the other policeman cautioned Lekwa.

        ‘You came to arrest me, Odogwu?’

        ‘Yes. And do not ask too many questions,’ one of them warned the old man, pointing a gun menacingly at him.

        ‘Please, do not take my husband away,’ Ruma pleaded, kneeling down.

        ‘Woman, your husband must follow us for interrogation!’  The other pulled Odogwu by his trouser and questioned him, ‘You are one of those who want to cause trouble in the land. Are you not?’

     ‘I? Who said that?’ Odogwu beat his chest, as he made no effort to resist the pull.

‘Were you not at the meeting held at Chief Idoko’s palace some days ago?’

‘I was at the meeting, but we meant no harm.’

‘Shut up, you devilish man. Are you the only man whose land has been taken? Don you not know that the government owns you and whatever you think you have?’

           The one holding his trouser dragged him away, into the darkness. Lekwa ran to his weeping mother and held her wrapper.

 ‘Do not cry, mother’, Lekwa sounded brave. He cuddled his mother, as his father would have done. In deed, the boy could now see the real world as it was; a cruel and bloody place.

          It was not only Odogwu that had been arrested; it was all the people the meeting at Chief Idoko’s palace. Chief Idoko was arrested too. It was the following morning that news about the night arrests began to go round. People said that] all the men were handcuffed and driven away in a big black police lorry. Nobody knew exactly where they had been taken to. But someone said they had been taken to a detention camp in the far west where they would be tortured for days before prosecution. This was a rumour that left everybody with a heavy heart. Lekwa went inside the house and began to sob bitterly. What would life be should his father be tortured to death? Then he would become a fatherless child, a child with a jobless widow to pay his school fees. Where, then, would he anchor his hope for the kind of future he dreamt about? But right now, what mattered to him was to see his father and feel his warmth again. Not even the wildest dream could replace the cozy joy of seeing the man in firm control of the family affairs once again. He realized that if the center of the home were missing, things would fall apart. His father was the center of his life. He cried and asked the Creator of mankind to come to his rescue. He needed an urgent answer to his prayer.

          Two days passed. Asinulo returned home. A group of Ulitofia men quickly went to tell him about the mass arrest. He stood up and shouted, ‘this is an abomination! Ulitofia people will not accept this. Never! Never!’ Later, Lekwa heard that Asinulo’s A.U.F boys had gone into the forest. They would be operating from the bush. It was rumoured that these young men had fortified themselves with charms. Asinulo too, had disappeared. There seemed to be something clandestine going on. People said the targets of those dreadful boys were government officials and foreign oil workers in the land. Lekwa winced with cold fear. All he wanted was his father back. Late that night, there were deafening sounds of gunshots that rent the land. When the day broke nothing was heard. But there was this thick cloud of anxiety that covered the entire earth around Ulitofia.

          It was night again. Lekwa and Ruma were sitting inside their house. A lamp was burning on a low wooden table near the window. These days, it was  risky to stay late outside. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Lekwa’s heart jolted. Ruma turned her eyes fearfully to the door. The knock came again with a very familiar voice following; ‘It is me Ruma, open the door.’

 Lekwa rushed to the door. ‘Oh, father,’ he said as he jumped into Odogwu’s arms.

 Ruma stared steadily at her husband without uttering a word. Her astonishment made her feel dizzy. ‘Are you back?’ was all Ruma could ask.

     ‘Yes, woman, I am back. Let me have some food.’

    Ruma turned and left quickly for the kitchen to prepare food for him.


The day began on a very low note. It was a cold Saturday morning and Lekwa had just finished sweeping the courtyard.

 ‘There is no water,’ Ruma told her son, who immediately took a bucket and went to the stream to fetch water. On his way, he met some boys who were also going in the same direction. He walked past them because the boys were joking and walking slowly. He reached a place where he saw a policeman with a gun in his hand standing near a bush He did not want to look towards the policeman’s direction. He feared the policeman could stop him and ask him useless questions. In fact, he now hated to see the faces of those policemen. They were mere government agents who would do anything to please their masters. They were the same people who had maltreated his father. How would he not be suspicious about them after hearing from his father how the policemen humiliated them? Odogwu had not stopped lamenting how those policemen dehumanized them. He had narrated to the people how they were first taken to an unknown forest and treated to some excruciating tortures to compel them to produce certain secret information about the land. He said all this happened before they were taken to a police station near the city where they were put in a very dark room without food for many days. This now made Lekwa hate them with an even stronger passion. And the way the policemen watched people carefully betrayed their queer allegiance to their mission in the land. The policemen and soldiers who patrolled the land did not apparently have human feelings, like their masters. They seemed to value the oil in Ulitofia and whatever was of interest to the government more than the people. They were real mercenaries. Lekwa continued looking away as he walked along in silence.

          On his way back, he met a small group of villagers in a state of confusion. From the way they talked it was clear to him that something had happened again.

‘This country is a terrible place, my brother. Who says we will survive all this?’ a young woman said.


 Lekwa did not want to stop and inquire whether other people had been arrested. He walked along foundering under the weight of the bucket on his head. He quickened his steps. He had hoped to hear from his mother or father what the matter was when he got home. He first met his mother as he walked into the courtyard. She too was looking troubled.

‘Lekwa, my son, you are welcome back.’

        ‘Yes, thank you, mother. Is anything wrong? I guess something is happening.’

         ‘My child, it is a bad news. New soldiers  seized power in a military coup last night. It was announced a few minutes ago. They said there is now a curfew throughout the country.’

          ‘Curfew?’ Lekwa did not know what curfew meant.

            ‘Yes. Nobody is expected to move about after six in the evening and before six in the morning. It is terrible that this has happened again’

Lekwa remembered the policeman he saw on his way to the stream. Oh, could that have something to do with the news? He thought. Then he dismissed the idea. Policemen would not have anything to do with that kind of thing.

        ‘Haa, these soldiers, eeh! They want to remain in power forever.’

       ‘They are wicked,’ Lekwa almost shouted.

      ‘Ssh, do not say that. The walls have ears,’ Ruma cautioned him.

‘ I am not a coward, mother.’

‘Shut that mouth!  Now, come inside. I see you do not know anything yet.’

 Lekwa obeyed.

          Perhaps, this was the right time for the country to collapse. At this point, the country’s politicians could no longer sit down and watch the country ruined by soldiers who ordinarily should have no hands in government. They had begun to mobilize against the new junta envisaging that all that the soldiers did was a strategy employed to keep the country under a prolonged military dictatorship. Again, the country’s labour union was ready to take the bull by the horns. They had decided to take the center stage in the new wave of protests at different quarters. The labour union’s demand was straightforward. They had given the military government three weeks to call for general elections that would usher in a democratically elected government.  They had vowed to pull their members throughout the country out of work if the government failed to meet their demands. How could the country remain in darkness? How could the pride of Africa be made a place that bred fear and hopelessness? No! They labour union made its demands pretty clear- they wanted a free and just society like Kenya, America and all other democracies. It was as though an unseen spirit was instigating them.

          But the government dismissed the labour union as mere agitators. They had vowed to crush any group or individual that stood in the way of the government of the day. At the climax of the agitations, some politicians matched to Lagos calling on the soldiers to quit power immediately. They were shot at and six of them died on the spot.

          Those who went to the cities said government soldiers had flooded all the streets of the country, ready to shoot.

Meanwhile, many people had already been caught in Ulitofia for breaking the curfew.

          One day Asinulo appeared from nowhere. He gathered the people together and told them that the stage was now set for the last battle; the particular battle that would bring about the much - needed liberation for the people. The people jumped up in excitement, chanting war songs and swaying their knives in the air. The day the real war would begin would be announced later.

          It was remaining only three days for the labour union’s ultimatum to the government to elapse. Everybody now talked about the proposed strike, the nationwide strike that was meant to paralyze the government and bring the country to a standstill.

          And this was a difficult period for Lekwa. He could see a bloody time ahead. In the evening a few days later, Nuruma came home. The last time he had come home was during the Christmas period. Lekwa ran toward to welcome him.

 ‘I can see you are doing well,’ his uncle asked, holding his small hand.

 ‘What is happening in Lagos?’ Lekwa inquired.

        ‘Wao, a lot is happening there. I am sure you have heard about the coup!’


        ‘And the strike too? It will commence soon if the government fails to live up to the demands of the labour union….’ Nuruma paused and asked Lekwa, ‘Have you heard about Asinulo’s arrest?’

‘Has Asinulo been arrested? When?’ The boy asked in utter surprise.

‘Asinulo was arrested yesterday in Lagos. He was arrested at the airport on his way to England. The government has charged him with treason. They said he would be tried soon. I know most people here have not heard the news. It is terrible, my dear.’

The news hit Lekwa like a storm. Oh, Asinulo-who then will lead the people into the Promised Land? Lekwa’s mind reeled sorrowfully. He did not eat that night.

          Upon waking up that morning, Lekwa looked at the clock hanging on the wall facing his bed and discovered that he would be late for school if he did not hurry up. He rushed out, went behind the house and soon came out with a bucket half-filled with water.

‘Lekwa, my child,’ his mother met him carrying a bucket.

         ‘Good morning, mother,’ he greeted his mother.

          ‘Good morning. Where are you going to?’

           ‘To take my bath. I am almost late for school, mother.’

         ‘To school?’

         ‘Yes, mother.’

     ‘But you cannot go to school today. Have you not heard about the strike? It has started today. Your school is affected.’

It was then that Lekwa remembered that the strike was meant to commence that very day. But he never knew teachers too would join in the strike. He stood still there for sometime, not knowing what to do. If the strike would prevent him from going to school, it was a real bad omen, for the school had been a place of hope for the children. He could now see his dream of a better future with good education surrounded by a cluster of screaming disappointments. Where, then, was his hope? Would his dream not see the light of day after all? Tears began to run down his cheeks. He dropped the bucket in his hand and went inside to cry. He was crying for those dreams that were now illusions.



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