Victim of Greed
By Tony Chuks Modungwo (Nigeria)
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As promised, Senator Harrison decided to celebrate his sixty-sixth birthday in a big way. Expectedly, family members, friends and benefactors gathered to celebrate this remarkable day in the life of Senator Harrison and relive fond memories of the good old days.
Indeed, it was an ideal opportunity for Senator Harrison to reflect on his days on earth and to take solemn but sincere stock of their gains and pains. It was a privilege to show appreciation to his creator for sundry favors and mercies.
But for Senator Harrison, it was simply a period to wine and dine. Rather, it should’ve been a moment to pause and ponder how best to launch Nigeria into the esteemed rank of developed nations and transform the lives of millions of her citizens.
“Nigeria used to be a sleeping giant, but my party’s reform programmes have kicked her awake,” Senator Harrison boasted.
This arrogant man celebrated not just his birthday, but his own wealth and power. Planes were chartered from around the country. Hundreds of cattle were slaughtered. Top politicians as well as all of the successful businessmen in the country were present; it was a crowd of the rich and the famous. This was their moment.
“We’re here to honor a man with statesmanship of the highest order, a seasoned political player. He is an articulate leader who has demonstrated clear-headedness in addressing issues that affect the nation in the National Assembly. All who have dealt with Senator Harrison can attest to his sober-mindedness as a technocrat, his high regard for all, God-fearing attitude to money and sensitive national issues ---,” Dr Williams said, when he was called to deliver a toast.
Almost immediately after Dr Williams concluded his speech, the sound of sirens exploded in the air. People ran helter-shelter to clear the road in panic. A mobile police van appeared, followed by a bulletproof, black, Concord Mercedes with tinted windows. Some fierce-looking “kill and go” (as the mobile policemen were called) men jumped down from their van, brandishing serpentine horsewhips.
The motorcade came to a gradual stop. A secret security agent opened the door of the Mercedes and a huge man wearing expensive lace material stepped out. He’d a long, big gold pendant hanging from his neck. His wife, who wore the same expensive lace material, followed him. Apart from two gold rings on her left fingers, she wore a big diamond ring on the fourth finger of her right hand. Three gold chains of different diameters hung on her neck. Her body exuded the fragrance of an expensive perfume.
This was Dr (Chief) Koko, the President of the Senate and his wife, Chief (Mrs) Koko. Immediately, Dr (Chief) Koko walked towards him, Senator Harrison walked briskly to welcome him to the party. The bandleader coined a new song in praise of the new arrival. Two special chairs were quickly created for them at the high table.
After they were seated, he sent his orderly to bring a bulging briefcase from the car. By this time Senator Harrison was dancing with his family. His wife reluctantly joined him. Biola joined, but was taking it easy because she was heavy with pregnancy.
Dr (Chief) Koko ordered the briefcase to be opened. The orderly flung the lid open to reveal bundles of two hundred naira notes. He walked majestically to the dancing floor and started throwing bundles of money on Senator Harrison and his family. His orderly carried the opened briefcase for him.
Spectators watched with mouths hanging open. What they saw earlier was child’s play. When he finished with Senator Harrison and his family, he moved over to the bandstand and emptied the remaining bundles of money on the musicians. The musicians sang and danced with so much hauteur afterwards. Dr (Chief) Koko returned into his seat, sipped his wine, and whispered into his wife’s ear.
About ten minutes later they stood up to go. People struggled to give way and the mobile policemen had a field’s day thrashing people with their horsewhips. Soon sanity returned to the place.
Dr (Chief) Koko always availed himself of pleasure and privileges his office gave and wasn’t interested in taking into account the consequences of public evaluation.
“These are men holding our country hostage,” one man complained.
“Old boy, look at this wasteful and ostentatious display of wealth by a minority, who have access to the nation’s treasury,” another man replied.
“This reckless spraying causes the high increase in armed robbery within our society, because this unnecessary display of wealth increasingly frustrates the hungry, the homeless and the unemployed. They’re only showing the have-nots that they are responsible for their misfortune,” the first man said.
During the party, Senator Harrison took the electoral clerks and supervisors who had sneaked into the party to a special room inside his house, where they held a secret meeting and he gave them huge sums of money.
As I was leaving the party venue to my car, I heard another man saying, “This is an example of gross indiscipline among the high echelons of our land.”
Two months to elections, there was a state of alarm over Mrs. Harrison’s health. She’d persistent headaches, high blood pressure and general weakness of the body. She consulted her doctor, who prescribed some drugs and recommended that she rest. After taking the drugs for two days, coupled with rest, she began to improve. She ate well and took a walk regularly to exercise her legs.
The improvement was only temporary, and a few days afterwards she began to feel weak again and her blood pressure went up. She had lost weight, felt listless and couldn’t walk straight. Biola, who was called from her office, rushed her to the hospital.
“Chika, I am worried about my mother. She is very sick. She has lost appetite and she’s very weak,” Biola complained to me, when I went to meet her in the hospital.
“What did the doctor say is actually wrong with her?”
“She has hypertension.”
Pastor Jeremiah, whose followers believed was capable of miracles, was summoned. I didn’t believe these claims but I didn’t want to be an obstacle to what some people believed would save Mrs. Harrison’s life. While the doctors worked, the pastor prayed, but she grew steadily worse.
For days, Biola and I were always at sickbed of the dying woman. Biola was caught in an unsettling swirl of unhappiness and despair.
“Biola take it easy. You know your pregnancy is at an advances stage; you might break down,” I cautioned.
For many more days, the agony of Mrs. Harrison continued, and so did ours. Doctors and nurses treated Mrs. Senator Harrison not only with the normal deference due her, but with extra consideration accorded a human being facing a great personal ordeal.
One evening when we got to the hospital, Mrs. Harrison called Biola and me to her bedside.
“I am very weak now and I feel weaker as the minutes tick away. I might not survive this sickness. Biola, it’s a blessing to see one’s child happy. She is my only child. The happiness I’ve been seeing on your face is worth everything to me. The most wonderful thing is that you are pregnant. Try to remain happy. Don’t let my death make you sad. Make what you’ll of the world. I’ve lived my life try to live yours. Always try to be polite and courteous with everybody, so that you get along with people.”
She turned to me and said: “Please take good care of my daughter. May the Almighty God sustain your marriage,” she said not long before the end of her unhappy life. Her voice was almost inaudible, and her strength was fading rapidly.
Biola and myself embraced and cried together. The terrifying fact that Mrs. Harrison was dying crushed us.
“Chika, what am I going to do without my mother?” Biola wailed, closing her eyes in a gesture of unutterable weariness.
By midnight, her mother’s respiration suddenly became difficult.
“Bring the oxygen cylinder quickly,” the doctor shouted.
Even with the oxygen mask on, she soon started to tremble and the end followed quickly. Biola fainted. Because she was heavy with pregnancy, there was panic. The doctor quickly took charge and revived her.
During the first week of Mrs. Harrison’s hospitalization, the doctor had told Senator Harrison that there seemed to be some improvement in his wife’s condition.
“Do you think I can go for a week-long political campaign?”
“No. Please wait for her condition to be more stable,” the doctor advised.
Despite the doctor’s advice, he’d made up his mind to travel, and so he left. When Mrs. Harrison went into rapid decline, Senator Harrison could not be reached by telephone. When Biola eventually reached him after three days, he seemed not to appreciate the seriousness of her condition. Before he returned, Mrs. Harrison had died. The cause of death was listed as hypertension resulting in cardiac arrest.
The death of humble Mrs. Harrison at the age of sixty was a great shock to all that knew her, especially the university community, where she had taught for many years.
Biola temporarily moved to her father’s resident to help attend to sympathizers. It was decided that Mrs. Harrison should be given a quick burial because of the approaching elections, in which Senator Harrison was a candidate.
Two weeks after her death, an expensive casket bearing the remains of Mrs Harrison, carried in a hearse, accompanied by the mourning family was taken to St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Ikoyi for requiem mass. Clusters of people gathered along the street to watch the funeral procession pass.
The requiem mass was conducted by the Archbishop of the diocese, assisted by bishops, priests and mass servers. The requiem mass was held in the presence of royalties and other important dignitaries.
“The death of such a lovely mother and wife such as Mrs. Harrison is bound undoubtedly to have a crushing and if not managed well a destructive psychological effect upon any normal mind, but we should remember that it is God that giveth and he taketh, so glory be to God,” the Archbishop said.
I took out my handkerchief and cleaned tears from Biola’s eyes.
“Mrs. Harrison played the part of a conscientious lady. She had made substantial donations to schools, hospitals and sponsored charities. Innumerable orphanages and institutions for the blind depended on her benevolence. She’d compassion for the poor, the disabled and the destitute, those who couldn’t help themselves. There is no doubt in my mind that she is right now at the right hand side of the Lord Almighty.”
“It’s a dreadful thing to have to live through this anxiety,” Biola said. She wept long and copiously.
Before the body was taken to Ikoyi Cemetery for internment, she was laid in state for two hours in Senator Harrison’s compound. Hundreds of people shuffled past the open casket. She looked so beautiful and peaceful.
The graveside ceremony was very brief and Mrs. Harrison was laid to rest at five thirty. During the burial, Senator Harrison looked calm, showing no outward emotion. A much more intense emotional reaction came from Biola who cried and trembled as the remains of her mother was being lowered into the earth not far away from where Tunji Harrison lay.
Senator Harrison’s womanizing immediately after the burial of his wife was a shock to many. He loved to flaunt his women in front of others. He equally enjoyed talking about his female conquests. Even before her death, Senator Harrison had never put his wife first. His love affairs came first, and he did little to conceal his infidelities from Mrs. Harrison.
To his displeasure, his personal affairs continued to be of endless fascination to members of the press.
“Does this sort of behavior seem fitting for a man who was supposed to be in mourning?” asked an Editorial of the People’s Voice after it was reported that Senator Harrison was seen with some girls and his friends in his house two days after his wife was buried.
The news report had it that two days after Mrs. Harrison was buried, a Mercedez convertible pulled into Senator Harrison’s driveway and three men climbed out. It was Senator Harrison, Dr. Williams and another of his political associates. Within ten minutes of their arrival, another car, a buick, drove up and three young girls jumped out – all in their twenties, all remarkably beautiful. They quickly joined the men inside and never left the apartment till the next morning.
This news annoyed Biola. Her anguish quickly turned to anger. A weary but combative Biola accused her father of not treating her mother fairly.
“You paid more attention to your politics and your chains of women while my mother needed you on her dying bed. I am ashamed to have you as a father,” Biola screamed as the trail barriers controlling her emotions snapped.
“What? Biola you are talking to me this way?” her father asked surprised.
I coaxed a reluctant Biola to stop further confrontation. Amends were made before we left for home, but the damage had been wrought.
Biola became more angry when her father informed us a month after her mother’s burial of his intention to marry Mrs. Grace Ade; the widow of the former governor of his state, whom he first met two years earlier at a dinner party given by the present governor of the state, Dr Ken Segun. Senator Harrison’s romance with Rita, a 26-year model, had faded, as had a subsequent relationship with Mercy Okoye, an actress.
He had bought an apartment for Rita in Ikoyi, where all the rich in Lagos kept their mistresses. It was the ideal area because there was very little traffic with nobody to spot him on the street.
Mercy Okoye was another man’s wife; she disappeared with Senator Harrison during a dinner party in Dr. Babs’ apartment. Her husband divorced her because of the embarrassment she caused him, mentioning Senator Harrison in the process.
Mrs. Harrison, while alive, didn’t show much concern how many women Senator Harrison kept as long as they didn’t interfere with her personal life. She did everything she could to hide her marital discord from her friends. After her son’s death, she lost interest in sexual relationships. She and her husband shared the same house but not the same bed. At intervals she would retreat and mope for long stretches, very aloof from everyone and glacially cold to her friends. Whenever she was invited to somebody’s house, at the last minute she’d feign illness or make up some other obvious excuse why she couldn’t go.
The wedding between Senator Harrison and Mrs. Grace Ade was set for the exact day that Mrs. Harrison’s death would be plus two months. All necessary arrangements were made – invitation cards sent out. But three days before the appointed day, Senator Harrison called it off.
Senator Harrison claimed that the lady got greedy and demanded a sizeable control of his estate, which he declined.
Before Biola died, she and her father were barely communicating with each other.
Before the elections, there were recurring moments of tension. Metaphysicians, spiritualists, seers forecasted political earthquakes of unequalled dimension. Journalists wrote of impending Armageddon, if the election was rigged. Senator Harrison laughed. “Let them go to hell. Rigging is inevitable.” The will of the people was irrelevant.
Some of the wealthy politicians, whose political antennae were actually sensitive, sent their families abroad. But why should violence frighten these men, when they cause it, I wondered. Senator Harrison refused to send his wife abroad. Biola was so heavy with pregnancy that she couldn’t go on a long flight. Even if she was willing the airways had warned they would no longer carry pregnant women. Many had delivered on the air.
“Don’t worry, Chika,” Senator Harrison said. “Nothing is going to happen. Even if things go wrong, we shall escape in my private jet.”
A few days to the election, Biola gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. I was full of joy. It was an omen of hope. “This is a sign of great victory awaiting me at the polls,” I told my friends.
One early morning, Biola cried out and I woke up from sleep. I’d just returned from Coastal State, where I’d been campaigning for the upcoming elections. I was tired. Her tautened belly was moving. Her face contorted with pain.
“What is the problem?” I asked.
She held up both hands as if to ward off my words and replied, “I’ve pain around my waist.”
I quickly dressed up and helped Biola to change from her nightgown. I supported her to the car.
“Open the gate,” I shouted to the gateman.
The gate was quickly flung open. I eased the car out of the garage and headed for the hospital. My mind went down the memory lane.Three months we arrived from our honeymoon, Biola started to have morning sickness. She felt a twinge of discomfort in her midsection and most mornings alarming jolt of nausea always invaded her stomach. Soon her breasts began to show signs of pregnancy. Biola set about preparing for the birth of our baby.
I allowed myself to indulge in the momentary fantasy that a son or daughter of mine would soon be born. I hoped that child would be a blessing, a child, who would compensate for the many humiliations and dangers, which had plagued my life.
“Chika, I ache to bear a child for you, so that there will be something to show for the overwhelming passion I’ve shared with you,” Biola said cheerfully, when it was confirmed she was pregnant.
In the car, the pain mounted. Her belly was in constant movement, like a battle was taking place inside. As we got near the hospital, she screamed and rammed her fist into her mouth.
“Sorry. Please bear it. We’ll soon be in the hospital.”
Pain soared. She turned, turned and turned on the seat, crying without a sound. Immediately, we got to the hospital, nurses rushed out to take charge. “Get out of the way,” yelled a paramedic as he came through, pushing a stretcher. She was taken straight to the Labor Ward.
“Ma’am, please lie back. Don’t be afraid. Just close your eyes. Take a deep breath. It’ll soon be over,” the nurse assured her.
Suddenly, a sharp stab of pain assaulted her. Her hands went to her stomach, its swelling, bulging under the big hospital gown, she was now wearing. Her belly was so enormous, that she was unable to bend and button her strapped slippers when we were preparing to come to the hospital.
“You might be carrying twins,” I joked.
“I don’t mind.You’ve proved to be the loving man of my fantasies. I’m in love with someone who is extraordinarily warm and affectionate toward me. A man who had all these years remained unfailingly loyal. I know our children will be surrounded by love,”she had replied.
After two hours of labor, the baby still hadn’t made an appearance. There was little I could do except hold her hand, when the spasms became excruciating. “Thanks Chika, for being by me,” Biola said, as she gazed at me through pain-racked eyes.
“Everything looks fine, ma’am. Just keep pushing. It shouldn’t be too much longer,” the nurse urged with a reassuring grin.
Biola gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby boy. Biola was ecstatic. A month after birth, Chukwugozi was taken to St Paul’s Catholic Church, Ikoyi for baptism by Bishop Osifo. With the birth of Chukwugozi, the mood of our marriage took a distinctly upward swing. A baby often reunited a couple who had been having problems. We hired Iyabo as the nanny to take care of our son.
During campaigns, I held many rallies, where I addressed multitude of people. Initially, I slouched when I spoke and often kept my hands by my side. I tended to talk on and on, usually much too quickly, never knowing how to make a point or when to take a breath. Drawing on her theater training at college in U.S., Biola slowed me down, helped me modulate my voice and gave clearer expression to my thoughts. She demonstrated how hand gestures could make me appear more relaxed. She taught me the benefits of body language.
Considering my rather limited political credentials, within one month, I had performed superbly. By this point, I had learned how to hustle a crowd, force myself into a platform in front of thousands of screaming spectators, shake hundreds of hands without collapsing of fatigue.
Senator Harrison, master manipulator and strategist arranged for a prominent musician to record a campaign song for me. He equally masterminded the whole campaign, just as he had masterminded my initial entry into politics though he managed to organize it from behind the scenes.
“I’m the fresh air in the polluted political firmament of this state. I represent integrity, industry, transparency and honesty when it comes to governance of this state. I’ll need your cooperation, when I’m elected into office, to wage a war against poverty, unemployment, insecurity, poor health service, dearth of basic amenities among others,” I promised my audience.
“The politicians are quick in making tall promises, but short in delivery,” I heard a man in the crowd shout. I pretended not to hear him and continued.
“I see needless suffering of the masses in this country. God in his infinite mercy has blessed this nation with abundant human and natural resources, but people are being retrenched and the same government talks of poverty alleviation. Since independence, our national revenue has never had it so good. Crude oil, our main source of revenue, has hit the highest price in history. What justifications can the present regime with such enormous wealth, as oil producing state have to retrench workers? My first duty, if elected the Governor of this state is to ensure that people of this state have a decent standard of living. What’s the advantage of having democratic government, if the people are starving, unhappy and have no cause to thank God for being alive.”
At the end of my speech, the applause was thunderous. I then moved forward to the edge of the stage and engaged in a conventional question and answer session. Some people with tears in their eyes reached out for my hands, as I crouched at the edge of the platform. It was a lachrymose sermon. Most of the people bore signs of physical exhaustion and malnutrition. Their faces bore the signs of depression and melancholy.
As I traveled the length and breadth of Coastal State, there was always the nagging thought that, at any moment, the thugs of the opponents might attack me. To make this less likely, two identical cars made very trip, traveling about two hundred meters apart. This confused potential assassins. They couldn’t determine in which of the cars I was traveling.
Once, my convoy was ambushed. My first campaign manager, sitting by my side at the back seat was hit by bullet in the stomach. He died instantly. His death only increased my resolve to win at all cost.
A few weeks to the election, I stopped public rallies and concentrated in planning strategies with top party executives of the state to ensure my victory at the polls. I visited Coastal State, every weekend from Lagos to hold meetings. On this particular day, my new campaign manager came to meet me immediately my convoy came to a stop in from of the hotel, which was the venue for the meeting.
“You’re late, sir,” he said. “I was beginning to worry.”
“We ran into traffic jam. Is everybody here?”
“Just about, there are two people left.”
About a dozen cars stood at the hotel’s car park. A group of men were entering the bar. There was activity, but not too much.
“Joe, see to my guests. Take their drink orders, they’ll be thirsty by now. Hurry up.”
In the private suite, a small group was already waiting. I went straight to the State Chairman of the PNP, Chief Koro, extending my hands. “Chief Koro,” I said, “welcome.”
Early hours of the morning, we were still at the meeting. We spoke in voices, hardly above a whisper, in case the room was bugged.
“Well, I think we’ve made some progress today,” I addressed the group. “We’ve spent close to six hours here in crucial deliberation. Let us meet in a week’s time to put finishing touches to our plans. A trailer carrying bags of rice and some other essential commodities shall arrive within the week for distribution to our party faithfuls.”
I shared out envelopes containing various sums of money, depending on the ranks of those in attendance.
“There are more from where this came from,” I promised them.
“We’ve spent so much time discussing some strategies, how about guns? We all know that our thugs need guns to protect themselves, and us,” one of the party executive said. “What we have presently is not enough.”
“You all know I don’t like guns,” another party executive protested.
“No one here does, but we’ve to be realistic,” the first man said. “We shall use them as little as possible but we have to have them.”
“We import guns and sell to other politicians, so that’s not a problem. I shall be coming with enough guns to go round our thugs next week,” I promised.
“How will you transport such large quantity of weapons from Lagos, without detection by the police,” the second party executive asked.
“My chief thug shall bring them in a coffin, carried by an ambulance, with its siren blaring,” I explained.
On getting home that evening, Biola was happy.
“How was the campaign?”
“It was fine. It’ll soon be over. Election is two weeks from now.”
She came closer and kissed me. Like a man, truly in love, I felt delicious warmth radiated toward my throat.
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m feeling fine. The baby has been sleeping, he might wake up any time from now.”
I left her, picked up the remote control and switch on the television; I wanted to listen to the National Television Authority’s (NTA) news at nine o’clock.
“Good evening viewers. This is the headline of the news today. At two o’clock today, the thugs of PNP and CPP clashed in Treasure State, leaving ten people dead and one hundred people injured. The anti-riot policemen have, however, been able to quell the fighting. Now is the news in detail.
“Throughout the electioneering campaigns, thugs of different parties crashed frequently. The thugs obeyed their masters without hesitation.
“Today in the capital of Treasure State, the thugs believed to belong to PNP and CPP clashed, leaving ten people dead and one hundred others injured. One eyewitness claimed, the number of the persons dead was more than ten...”
Almost in all the states in the Federation, many politicians became victims of tyranny by illegal arrests and lock up by the police. Politicians, like in previous elections, engaged in character assassination, murder, arson, whipping up of tribal and religious sentiments.
During the last week of campaigns, the violence rose to a crescendo, many houses and cars were burnt, and opponents were assassinated.
I went back to Coastal State, to put finishing touches to my strategies to win the gubernatorial election as I promised the party’s executives, the previous week. This time, we shifted venue to another hotel, some distance from the center of town, for privacy. This was a mistake.
The meeting was in progress, when thugs we suspected, were sponsored by the Conscience People Party attacked us. I felt a tickle of inexplicable fear run through me, when I arrived at the venue, I shook my head as if to shake the fear away.
About twenty of them were with guns. Ten others had other dangerous objects; cutlasses, clubs and daggers. Immediately they arrived, Buddy, my chief security man and I, stared at each other, as if questioning our senses.
Buddy recovered quick and shouted, “Go. Go right now!” He pulled his gun and opened fire. Other thugs I’d earlier given guns, joined him.
“Run,” Buddy shouted, as he tired to ward off the invading thugs with his AK 47.
A bullet zipped pass near my ear. I turned around with my pistol in my hand. I released three shots. One of the invading thugs fell down. “Have I killed him? God forbid! Is this what politics is supposed to be? Hunt fellow human beings like animals in the bush?” I was muttering to myself, as I took off like a bat out of hell.
“Go. Please go!” Buddy still shouted. “Don’t let them kill you, that is their plan.” I saw his right arm was bleeding.
I turned and ran away in a zigzag manner out of the hotel to my Hallmark Jeep; which was bulletproof. As I drove off, I continued to look at the rearview mirror, wondering why I had been such a damned fool to venture into the turbulent Nigerian politics. Being shot at was not my idea of fun. Kola was right. Politics in Nigeria was war. This was why it had become a game of retired soldiers, who’d been trained to fight war and knew the tactics.
The next day, the People’s Voice wrote that ten men died in the encounter. I was accused of sending my thugs to kill Conscience Peoples Party members who were holding an innocuous party meeting. What a political propaganda.
“Once one have declared one’s intention to run for any elective post in Nigeria, the first thing one needed to do was to increase one’s personal security,” Barrister Dums once said. He increased his security guards at the gate. The guards complimented by plainclothes policemen inspected the visitors and kept notebook records of all who came and went.
Undaunted by persecution, fearless of the opponents’ threats and violence, undeterred by attempts on his life, Barrister Dums had continued his message for the emancipation of the masses.
“Most African nations have gained political independence, but the people are not free. They became emancipated from colonial masters only to be subjected to pathetic oppressive rule by their fellow countrymen. A true leader is someone who is ready to serve others. He leads by example. He should be the mirror through which his followers see themselves. His guiding principle should be others first, self last,” he told his audience in one of his rallies.
He succeeded in swerving the public opinion over to his side. He took advantage of Senator Harrison’s tactlessness, to stir up the press against him. He took care to treat all Nigerians with whom he came in contact with utmost simplicity of manner. All these drove Senator Harrison to frenzy.
Senator Harrison had sent his thugs many times to assassinate Barrister Dums but he always escaped. In one of the attempts, while the assassins were trying to gain entrance into the compound, Barrister Dums scaled the wall into a neighbor’s compound. His security men were able to kill two of them.
“Barrister Dums is getting too popular, I must get him assassinated, ”Senator Harrison told me, his gaze meeting mine for a single meaningful moment.
Barrister Dums, thirty-five, was a rising star on the political scene whose vibrancy and charisma the people could not resist.
“That might cause political unrest,” I warned him. “People seem to like him a lot.”
“I’ll do anything to break any political unrest. When there’s killing to be done, I get someone who kills for a living.A professional.They are more capable. It pays to be alert when you’re in politics. He is far too dangerous to be ignored.” Flushed with money and power Senator Harrison felt he could do anything.
Inevitably, Barrister Dums became the assassins’ constant target. One Sunday evening, he was in his study, writing his speech for the next day’s rally, when a bomb exploded in his compound. A wall of his house collapsed, killing two of his plainclothes policemen and one security guard. His wife and one of his daughters sustained minor injuries. They were rushed to the hospital for treatment. The rally was postponed. Barrister Dums calmness and self-control won him more admiration.
“People like Barrister Dums have to be stopped. You know that, I know that. If he’s not, he goes on with his incitement, screwing up the country. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder,” Senator Harrison said, when the assassination attempt failed.
“If you kill Barrister Dums, can you withstand the political heat, it’ll generate?”
“I’m capacity of handling any situation,” he boasted.
In December, when it was a week to the election there was a launching of state campaign against HIV/AIDS, in the State Stadium in Owambe State. Many prominent citizens from within and outside the state were invited to donate money to combat the rapid spread of the deadly disease in the state. The Minister of Health represented the President. Senator Harrison was the chief launcher. He sat with his wife in the chairs meant for very important persons (V.I.P.). Barrister Dums and his wife sat in the front row. I sat in the fifth row.
The Master of Ceremony introduced the special guests, after which he called the Minister of Health to deliver the President’s message. Immediately after the speech, there was some movement as the Minister was being escorted back to his seat, a young man, about twenty , walked down the aisle from the rear. He stopped at the front row, beside Barrister Dums. He looked at the young man questioningly.
In response, the young man drew his revolver and fired two shots, which struck Barrister Dums in the chest.
From where I sat, I saw the whole action vividly. Women started to shriek. Barrister Dums looked directly at where Senator Harrison sat and murmured something inaudible. His shirt and coat were bloodstained. He slowly slumped. His poor widow stood as though cast in bronze and was unable to weep.
There was a great confusion. Many people ran out of the stadium. Others trampled on those that fell down in the stampede. Some other people were trying to lynch the assassin. The police rescued him from the crowd and took him away for interrogation. He was bleeding all over. He’d equally stared death on the face. It was like something out of a horror movie.
The national anthem was quickly played and people dispersed. Within twenty-four hours, the story, embroidered with a thousand colorful details, was all over the country.
Billy was a young man,about twenty years of age. His father was an armed robber who met his death at the age of thirty at the hands of a police officer when he went on a robbery operation. He was eight years old when his father died. His mother was a prostitute. He was a product of one-parent upbringing, poor schooling, adverse peer pressure, and the slum of Ajegunle. He was a career criminal.
The rules between him and Senator Harrison were fully understood by both sides. Billy was to kill anybody Senator Harrison wanted without fear that his name would be mentioned. Billy would get half a million for his trouble. One who was caught breaking the law was a criminal. Wasn’t it?
Billy had a skill of getting in and out of places without being detected. This skill had made his apprehension by police a demanding enterprise. Together with other delinquents he had robbed, stole and assaulted their way across Lagos since his mid-teens. He was treated by his peers with considerable respect.
Several people who had come across him ended up traumatized or dead. The police suspected him of five murders. The problem was the cases could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. He always hired an intelligent criminal lawyer; he’d identified quite early in his career.
In the past, he never killed honest people but members of Lagos criminal community who were in competition with him, which in fact invariably made the police not to be so much interested. But this time, he had fucked up, by killing a popular politician.
Billy had finally ran out of luck. Even his lawyer had told him that. He promised to try his best to save him from death sentence but going to jail was inevitable.
“If you’re lucky, you’ll get a life sentence. Awful long time.” The lawyer said.
“I can’t say how distressed and indignant I’m about the murder of Barrister Dums,” Senator Harrison told journalist from The Nation newspaper. “I hope the police will immediately commence investigation to uncover those having anything to do with this regrettable incident.”
The policemen who covered the event were all charged in the room. Ten of them of various ranks lost their jobs and twelve were suspended for negligence of duty.
“Another patriotic politician who was willing to devote his time and energy to help alleviate the poverty of the suffering masses has been sent to his early and untimely grave,” one man complained.
“The perpetrators of the previous dastardly and heinous murders are yet to be brought to book, that’s why more assassinations are being carried out,” another man said.
“PNP is a sinister place, where blood-thirsty tyrants are hatching their terrible plots against their opponents and even some of their own members,” the first man added.
The youths of Owambe State on hearing the news of Barrister Dums assassination started preparing for a retaliatory pogrom. Frantic with fear, the PNP top leaders wigs spent the night packing some of their essential belongings. Before dawn the next day, most of them had left Owambe State to hide in different parts of the country. I left with Senator Harrison and Mrs Harrison right from the stadium to a hotel in Sango Ota, tightly protected by our thugs.
The Inspector General of police sent five thousand policemen into the streets of Owambe State to protect people and some government properties. He ordered them to use every possible means, force, if necessary, to prevent possible pogroms.
The anger of the public wasn’t hard to understand. In their mind, Barrister Dums was closely associated with the welfare and development of their area. To kill him was to destroy whom they held most dear.
The nation shuddered under the impact of assassinations and political violence during the last week of campaign.
“People responsible for this dastardly murder should receive their deserved punishment,” a woman weeping profusely, shouted as we were escaping from the stadium.
The presences of policemen in the streets were ignored completely by the youths. Huge crowds swarmed from different parts of the state to the capital. At two o’clock the next day, there was shooting at the city center. Some youths had attempted to burn the State Assembly building. Five people were killed; fifty wounded.
Many of the policemen, that liked Barrister Dums, were bitter. Some only reluctantly obeyed orders some refused to fire into the crowd at all. When their leader insisted, one constable turned and shot him instead. There was anarchy in the capital.
Barrister Dums was listed among the ever-growing diary of victims of political killings of which nobody had been convicted.
Giving the timing, suspicion was, entertained in many quarters that the killing had political motives. Some of the executives of Conscience Party were arrested.
Mrs. Dums cried out that the police were headed the wrong direction. “The murder of my husband was masterminded by his opponents in the other parties.”
The resident of Barrister Dums’ parents in the village was a beehive of activities. Sympathizers visited the parents to condole them.
The police waved off Mrs. Dums accusation as a result of emotional trauma expected of a person who had just lost her beloved husband and breadwinner.
Everywhere I went I heard people discussing the death of Barrister Dums.
“The spate of political killings is on the increase and this doesn’t augur well for our nascent democracy. This is a bad omen for this coming elections,” one man complains in a gasoline station, where I went to buy fuel.
“If the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of a nation could be murdered in cold blood in his house without tracking down his killers, tell me, who is safe in this country. It’s obvious that nothing meaningful will emerge from the ongoing investigation into the young man’s death. Indeed, nothing meaningful has ever come out from similar investigations in the past,” another added.
What made it particularly difficult to deal with Senator Harrison was his totally unpredictable nature. At times he proved quite thoughtful, some other time he was not. He was a man of contrasts and extremes, he was deeply divided by the most basic human emotions; love and hatred; kindness and brutality; sensitivity and callowness.
While his political plans seemed to be going awry, he soon proved that he was susceptible to excesses of fury and the need for revenge. I couldn’t figure out exactly why he hated the press. His war of independence with the press seemed unending. He remained constantly on edge and antagonistic when it came to the press. He continued to resent them as deeply as ever.
People’s Voice newspaper covered the assassination of Barrister Dums extensively. In some editions, it was almost obvious that they held Senator Harrison responsible. I was in the office, the very week of election, to check how business was going, when Senator Harrison walked in. Men who were desperate tended to be careless.
“I’m going to teach Dr. Ogunmola some lesson,” he fumed.
“Who is Dr. Ogunmola?”
“He is the editor of People’s Voice.”
“The newspaper has been publishing libelous stories about me.” He didn’t care that he was doing his job of informing the public.
“Why not suit the newspaper for libel?”
“I’ve not got the time to waste with that hopeless newspaper.”
“But if you make your living in public office, you’re the property of every tax-paying Nigerian. Your life is an open book.”
“Journalists are too intrusive. You can’t blame me for hating them. No matter what I did they crucified me. That idiot print malicious stories without bothering to check that it’s true. Malicious gossip sells newspapers which make money for newspaper proprietors and name for the editors.”
Just as we were talking six of Senator Harrison’s thugs matched into my office. They stood at attention and saluted him.
“I learnt you want us, sir,” the leader spoke for the group.
“Yes. I’ve a job for you.”
“Alright, sir. We’re always at your service.”
“Go to 5 Unity Road and beat some sense into the head of Dr. Ogunmola. He has been writing all sorts of nonsense about me in his newspaper.”
“Yes, sir, your wish is our command,” the leader replied. “Boys, let’s go.”
Senator Harrison rang my secretary.
“Call the leader of the boys back,” he ordered.
“Take this five thousand naira and keep the boys in the mood. Come back here to inform me of the outcome and collect more money for you and the boys.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” He stood at attention, saluted and went to meet the others waiting in my secretary’s office.
After about one hour, they filled into the office looking unruffled.
“We are back, sir,” the leader announced.
“So fast?” I asked.
“We do our job with dispatch, sir. When we left here, we stopped at King Supermarket, where I bought a bottle of hot drink each for the boys. We drove to my house where we drank and smoked marijuana. Before we left, we were in murderous mood.”
“Did you see him?” Senator Harrison asked.
“Oh yes. Dr Ogunmola was trying to drive out of the compound, so we blocked him with our car. Immediately, we jumped down and forced him out of his car. He shouted. But before people could gather, I smashed one of the bottles of the hot drink on his head. He slumped. We rushed into our car and drove away.”
“Is he dead?” I asked.
“We didn’t wait to find out,” the leader replied.
“That’s very good for that bastard. If he survives this, he will learn his lesson,” Senator Harrison said.
For Senator Harrison, who’d been at the brink of the abyss due to Barrister Dums’ assassination to engage in another act of violence, was evidence of his incorrigible arrogance.
He was a powerful man who didn’t mind hurting people, or at least didn’t worry about it. This was one of the secrets of his success. He didn’t seem to care what people thought, so far he got what he wanted.
The next day, following Barrister Dums assassination, People’s Voice published an interview he granted the newspaper before his untimely death.
“Why are you in politics?”
“To change things.”
“Many people have said the same thing before and were unable to make any mark. Do you think you can?”
“Yes. I must act instead of talks.”
“What about getting yourself in trouble?”
“I’ll certainly try not to. But sometimes one has to stand up for what one believes.”
“Why delude yourself? You can’t change things in this country, or your senatorial zone. Nobody can.”
“The system is too profitable to crooks. And it’ll go on indefinitely if it’s allowed to go on without any challenge.”
“Don’t you think that people will believe you’re mad for embarking on this mission impossible?”
“I know. People have said so before. The corrupt leaders sicken me, all of them. They don’t know how they sicken me.”
“Have you recorded any positive result yet?”
“We are getting somewhere. It is gradual. You can’t just turn everything around overnight.”
“The result of your mass mobilization could be terrible. When you whip up passion among the ignorant, you could be building a time bomb, with your educational background; you should understand what mobs are capable of doing.”
“Rebellion is not my intention. Education is. Political re-orientation.”
“You speak like a lawyer.”
“Well, I am a lawyer.”
“Citizens of this country have been shocked by the audacity and brutality of armed robberies nowadays. What do you think is the cause?”
“Given the financially difficulties in which this nation has been plunged for some time now by the PNP leadership, there is no other means of survival for some people than violent crimes.”
“With the elections around the corner what is your prediction?”
“I vehemently believe that the PNP is incapable of solving the problems of this country and this fact has become very clear. So the people of Nigeria will vote them out of power. They have only been able to loot the treasury with such callous artistry unparalleled in the history of this country.”
“Have you ever heard of the defeat of any incumbent leader in Africa in an election?”
“Yes. In Sierra-Leone in March 1967, the incumbent government was defeated in an election by the opposition party. President Kennedy said that, ‘Those who make peaceful change impossible makes violent change inevitable.’ If they refuse to go peacefully, they shall be booted out by a massive revolt. What our people want is good leaders who will satisfy their yearnings and aspirations.”
“How do you see the problem of insufficient food in the country?”
“Agriculture is a goldmine. If we put but half of our arable land under cultivation, we can boost our agricultural production beyond our imagination. One immediate result would be, a dramatically changed face of our rural areas and the arrest of the rural – urban drift that has made planning difficult. I have no doubt that this will substantially reduce food insecurity in this country. There are high hurdles for us to scale through, if this country must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other developed nations. But with the right approach and undying resolve to prosper, the goal is achievable.”
“Barrister Dums, we wish you success in this difficult task you have embarked on.”
Due to Conscience Peoples Party constant enlightenment campaigns, many people became increasingly aware of national issues. Their campaign rallies were always well attended. The masses loved what they preached. The enlightenment apart from rallies was carried on just anywhere.
I was in Millionaire’s Inn, one evening to have a drink, two men who sat next to my table, were engaged in serious political discussions. I listened avidly while pretending not to hear.
“The government of PNP has nothing to offer this country, but enslavement of the people by the political leeches. The present government uses its policies to increase the wealth of the rich and unleash brutal and wholly unnecessary tyranny on the common man.”
“We must follow Conscience Peoples Party’s process of induction into new political values and styles qualitatively different from those of PNP. We need meaningful attitudinal re-orientation. Better life for the masses is attainable. The present government lacks the determination to provide the basic necessities of life.”
“The problem in this country is the ignorance of the majority. We want a country, where people can freely and fearlessly express their opinions and their wishes in the newspapers or anywhere without being imprisoned.”
“When we obtained our independence, this country possessed legal, political and economic systems that were characterized by a dualism – between European models and African practices. Now it’s the American system. While I believe we should keep the political values and norms that retain their utility, we should Africanize all other aspects our society.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“We should reject slavish copying of political institutions from either side of the iron curtain. Transplantation of constitutional rules from Europe and America is done under the wrong assumption that if they work in America and Europe, they’ll also work in Africa. All ideologies have failed in Africa because none had been designed by the Africans taking cognizance of the cultural heritage of African societies and implemented exclusively by the Africans. There’s need for the emergence of black power.”
A nation is supposed to look to the future with confidence and determination after independence but in most African countries today, there is always an internal power struggle. This makes the nations a lot worse then pre-independence era. The question now is what purpose has the independence served?”
“Why should nations become emancipated from colonial masters only to be subjected to devastating and pathetic oppressive rule by their fellow countrymen? And when these tyrants die, except by a military coup, they’re described as pan-Africanist and anti-imperialist. Nobody mentions that they were bullies and bare-face tyrants, who had put many people to death.”
“You are right. Many African leaders enslave their citizens, making many of their countrymen and women escape to neighboring countries, while their close associates and relatives drain the nations of their wealth. The late Nkomo of Zimbabwe, once said that, the saddest thing in his life was when he discovered that people could get their freedom from colonial masters and still found themselves unfree.”
“I believe we’ve to solve this leadership problem not only in Nigeria, but also in Africa ourselves, instead of depending on the super-powers. Africa needs leaders with dynamism and reformist stance, which will be respected in international circles. We need leaders who can resist western manipulations and exploitations. Leaders who will form responsive and responsible governments with genuine national cohesiveness.”
“The image of Africa as a continent of coups, insane dictators, and life presidents has to come to an end.”
“The OAU charter which discourages interference in the internal affairs of fellow African countries should be reviewed. We shouldn’t sit and watch colonialists or power-crazy African leaders invade sister African countries, using Africans to test the effectiveness of newly invented weapons.”
“The Conscience Peoples Party doesn’t promise a land flowing with milk and honey, but we wish to create a society that has no place for selfish individualism. I know we shall not fail. It is time to raise our people from the mud and mire of poverty, starvation and vicious abuse of power,” he said reassuringly.
The Conscience Peoples Party’s member called the waiter and paid their bill before they walked out.
On the elections days, people went to vote praying fervently that their names will appear in the voters’ register, because we held replaced some of the names with names of illegal aliens we brought in from the neighboring countries.
On the day of gubernatorial election, many individuals expressed shock at the brazen manner rigging was carried out in such a way that made mockery of democratic election practices. After voting, I went around, monitoring events in some polling booths.
In the evening, people were glued to their television sets and radio monitoring the progress of the voting. The period between the closing of the polls and the announcement of results was the longest anxious moment I’d spent in my life. Voting was still going on in some polling booths, when the results were announced over the radio and television.
The result showed that I’d won the election. But my happiness was to be short-lived. Soon, my beautiful dream world would come tumbling down around me. When my victory was announced I went from Mr. Chika Okafor to His Excellency Chika Okafor overnight. There were those, however, who resisted the formal title, particularly my close friends and those who felt I rigged the election. The magnitude of the rigging of the election precipitated unprecedented riot in many areas. Some militant youths started to look for me. Through the days things kept getting worse.
“The country has gone mad, it is enough to make the citizens go mad as well,” I heard someone say, as I was escaping with Biola and our baby.
As my people were in rampage so were Senator Harrison’s people. He was believed burnt in his country home. Finally Senator Harrison‘s stamina to fight the most dangerous and destructive political forces in Nigeria was believed to have failed him. Everyone I figured had his limitations. Several attempts had been made in the past to kill him without success. At the peak of his campaign for second term in the senate a bomb was hurled at his Prado Jeep which he was driving to a political rally, but it exploded some distance away from him killing five innocent spectators.
The masses hated his nefarious influence and interference in everything, felt he was driving the country to destruction; that such conditions could no longer be tolerated; that things must change, something done to remove Senator Harrison from the scene or get him annihilated. What a tragedy! What a disaster!
I learnt later that our house was also razed down a few hours we escaped. Unfortunately, I didn’t build the house with politics money. I’d not stolen directly from the people yet. Then my mind asked me, how about their votes?
I moved from one uncompleted building to another with Biola and the newborn baby. In this difficult moment, Biola was most touchingly brave. I’d named my son Ngozi, which meant blessing. Our child had to depend solely on his mother’s breast milk. There was no way for expensive baby food. I believed he’d survive because I was brought up with my mother’s breast milk. My father couldn’t afford formula food. Experts had said that breastfeeding was the healthiest option for feeding babies and breast milk was all that was needed for the first six months. I went to buy something for us to eat one night, where there was less likelihood of recognition. Before I arrived, Biola and our son had been shot dead. Our marriage had been a comfortable, altogether suitable match. In the course of it, I’d gained a deepening respect for Biola. The sweet, accommodating and over pampered lady, I married had transformed into a courageous and dignified woman. Biola had been a pretty, kindhearted woman. I wept bitterly. I was still weeping when someone said behind me: “Hello, young millionaire.”
My face took a puzzled look. I felt as if someone had suddenly put an ice block to the base of my neck. A hungry looking man of about thirty with sunken cheeks was pointing a gun at me. Here I stood face to face with death.
“You’ve come to the end of the road,” he continued. “We starve, strive, sweat, toll for a living while others like you live soft and grow fat. You treat us like dirt. We die a miserable death. We eat filthy food, diseased meat, and rotten fish while you eat honey, cheese and butter. I’ve watched my mother and father die from kwashiorkor, and I couldn’t help, while all around me there was wealth in abundance. You even bought expensive cars and houses abroad for girlfriends. I’ve vowed to my father on his deathbed that I’ll revenge his death. I burnt your house. I also killed your wife and your son. I would’ve left the small boy, but he has your genes in him. He would also be greedy. The thing that the hawk sires will never fail to devour chicken. My mission is to staminate all people of your kind. Other people like me are carrying out this revolution in other places. You’ve taken us for granted for too long. We are out to change Nigeria. There’s no more room for people like you in this country. Say your last prayer.” I blinked, thinking the vision must surely disappear and I would find myself in bed, awaking from a bizarre dream.
I wanted the earth to cave in and swallow me up, but it didn’t. Fear trickled through my veins. I felt cold. Anyone who said he could face a violent death without fear must be a liar. I felt terribly afraid, but I brace myself for the worse.
I tried to run but it was too late. He opened fire on me. This was the most violent protest since independence in 1960 against rigging of elections. There was no doubt that it was their right to rise against a corrupt and dictatorial system, but why when it was my chance. Some Nigerians must have read of the French revolution where citizens had defied the police and other apparatus of state, took to the streets in a sustained protest and decided to try it out. But was it as violent as this? However, justices had many shapes and many colors.