Summary of each chapter…BY KUNLEXIC
Chapter 1 (january 1967)
Okoh Ameh and Terkura Atsen were friends (6months). They were working at Provincial Hotel, Makurdi. Tekura told his friend he will own a bigger hotel as well other businesses. Terkura was ready to sacrifice material enjoyment an merriment. He was saving money as he was determined to go back to school. Unlike Terkura, Okoh was not interested, he was due for promotion and will be getting married soon.
chapter one also captures Mr. Eze who was a regular guest at the hotel. He was travelling from kano to Onitsha but lodged at the provincial hotel. Terkura assisted him to clean the car and he gave him so money. He expects to be back in the Hotel next week
Mr. Eze was killed in a riot in Kano. Terkura and Okoh were informed by Mr.Gordon Finlay, their expatriate manager. Terkura was influenced by Mr. Eze business skills. The man claimed to have travelled the entire length and breadth of the country by road, rail and air and have also visited some West African countries. Mr. Eze dream was to visit the Uk and America. He spoke several Nigerian languages.
Terkura and Okoh discussed about the civil war. Ojukwu was reported to be bombing Otukpo on a daily basis. Discovery of oil in the eastern region is the major issue and have led to discord and after an “Aburi concord”. The Ibos were now unsafe since Ironsi’s overthrow. They have been finding their way from the North through Makurdi to the East. Terkura believed the Ibos were the most educated and most travelled Nigerians, they are great teachers but their arrogance he will condone to get knowledge from them.
Terkura requested Okoh should stand in for him as he was going to his village to discuss his future with his father.Okoh accepted but was apprehensive Terkura could be conscripted into the military on his way home. Terkura was optimistic that such will not happen
Terkura went to Tar-Mbalim on friday, 28 july 1967. Without prior notice no one was expecting him.
His parents (Mathew Atsen and Margareth daughter of Ekekiel Onah) gave birth to seven children.
The first was born in 1939 but died in the second year.
Msendoo was next, born in 1942 but now married.
Terngu (1947, now teaching at Roman Catholic Mission school in Adikpo),
Mwuese (1949, now married to a soldier at the war front),
Ngodoo (1951, now in secondary school) and
Mimidoo (1953, about to enrol in secondary school).
Terkura and Terngu were males others were females.
Mathew Atsen has been a catechist before he got married at 21years while Margareth was 18. Father Martin Wolfgang was the officiating priest. Mathew Atsen was also a farmer and lived in the church quarters.
Margaret wanted Terkura to marry Torkwase who was described as beautiful and hardworking but Terkura wasnt ready. She even sent him message before now through Tarker’s son but Terkura lied he got no message.
He was served pounded yam with goat-meat stew and okro soup by Mimidoo but the food was prepared by Ngodoo. The family believed he was being deprived of such delicacy despite the fact he was working in a big hotel.
Mathew was with father Mckinnon who had taken over from Fr. Wolfgang after the latter was expelled following the outbreak of Hitler’s war when mimidoo came to inform him that Terkura was home.
Mathew was sad because his son did not wait for him to have their meals together. Terkura went to see his friends as reported by Iorfa to Mathew. Terkura woke up his father and narrated why he came home. His father was happy that his son was interested in going to school but asked how he plan to fund his education. He replied that he was saving some money and also expect to get scholarship from the government. First he planned to enrol for a higher school certificate before applying for admission into the university in the next academic session
Saturday April, 27th 1968
Ameh Okoh returns home (Ukporo) for his wedding ceremony. He was adorned in his best clothes and boarded a train named “River Imo” enroute Otukpo. He noticed that the train was devoid of the Ibos. This was unusual but he was aware that that all the Ibos have fled to the now declared and struggling Republic of Biafra. He thought Nigerians were one and there should be no blood spilling. From otukpo he took the last seat of a taxi going to Ukporo, and he saw this as a good omen. He was met at Ukporo by his brother Adole who helped to carry his luggage as they trekked the last 1km home. He could have arrived a day before the wedding but there was no one to stand in for him at work. His friend has left the Provincial Hotel. His duty was just to show up as his family has put all preparations in place.
He had seen his bride (Maria) just 3times before and was satisfied with her. She was 19, fair, tall, with good facial features. She just completed her standard six and was a perfect match for Okoh who is 24. 3decades ago at her age she would have been married to an old man. All that was needed was that her father found the man worthy even if he has other wives or children that were her age mates and her thoughts on such issues will be better kept to herself. Fortunately, she doesnt have to worry about that as Okoh was her man. Her father (Ochai Ojobo) was a palmwine tapper.
Okoh’s family was led to Ochai Ojobo compound by his father, Retired Sgt. Ameh Onyilo, who was once a war veteran and was willing to return to the warfront if the Biafran struck at any part of idomaland. The marriage was conducted and was filled with long speeches reiteraring the responsibilies of husband and wife.
Sunday April 28th 1968
Okoh’s mother, Eyum, advised the couple to abide by what they were told at the wedding. Okoh noticed his mother was doing well than his father’s other wives (Onyema and Enewa) who were working at the farm. His mother was a petty-trader and things were definitely good as she enjoyed monopoly due to the Ibos’ departure.
With the assistance of Okoh’s siblings the couple’s properties were loaded onto a van. When they got to the railway station at otukpo, the touts at the station assisted them to load their load unto the train named Lake chad ( after 3hrs of waiting for the train).
They were alone in a cabin for sometime until Owoicho joined them in the train. Owoicho was Okoh’s mate in Methodist Senior Primary School, Ukporo. He intruded their privacy as he chatted about conscription into the army and the Biafran war. He assisted them to offload their load when they got to Makurdi terminus. Owoicho continued his journey to Jos. He was on a business trip. He believed the departure of the ibos has created opportunities for him to explore the business world
The one room apartment Okoh lived in was filled up with foodstuff, utensils, buckets and basins that they had brought from Ukporo. When had finished putting everything in the room as they deemed fit, they found out that the ten-by- twelve feet room was quite cramped, leaving very little space to manoeuvre. Maria conceived that night.
Okoh’s house comprised of seven single rooms occupied by seven different families. Mr. and Mrs. Adebayo Akande and their two children lived next room to theirs. Mr. Adebayo was a car mechanic and his wife was a petty trader. He arrived Makurdi in 1959 and returned home to marry in 1963. Two of the other tenants were Idoma, three were Tiv and the other was Jukun. All were married except Okoh, who had now corrected that anomaly. There was a well in the house and a general kitchen but Maria preferred cooking beside her door and sometimes in the room with the kerosene stove that Okoh had brought upon taking residence in the house earlier in the year.
Mosquitoes abound in the marshy environment and they would not allow anybody a moment of respite unless an insecticide was applied. This was one of the things Maria had not bargained for. Neither had she bargained for the fact that half the nights, her husband would be spending the time on duty at the provincial Hotel. She, however, considered this a necessary price to pay for the success of their marriage.
On the 27th January, 1969, Maria was rushed to the Maternity Unit of the Provincial Hospital in labour pains. Madam Fumilayo Akande who accompanied her registered her. She was deliver of a baby boy. Okoh wanted to name the child Monday but his father, when he visited a month later, would have nothing to do with the name and named him Ifenne
Three months after the birth of Ifenne, Okoh found alternative accommodation for his now enlarged family and they moved into a larger compound where he paid for two rooms, one to be used as bedroom and the other as a parlour. The new home was located on the higher grounds of High Level, away from the flood-prone and mosquito infested areas of the riverside
River Imo, the train that had taken Okoh to Otukpo for his marriage ceremony was the same train Terkura took on his way to school. He had received his admission letter to the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, reputed to be one the biggest university in Africa, to undertake a course in political science. He had spent the year 1969 at the Provincial College, Yandev for his Higher School Certificate and had applied to ABU on the basis of his average performance in the HSC examination. His name was published in The New Nigerian newspaper and the letter of admission was sent to him in Tar-Mbalim.
Terkura recieved news before the end of his first session in the university that his younger brother, Terngu was now married to Nguher, the daughter of Mathias Tyowua, the village school master. He believed this will take the heat away from him, as his mother now had a daughter in-law. He felt relaxed and light-hearted and could concentrate and assimilate easily, what he read.
Terkura Atsen was now a small time business man. He was in chief Samson Ofega house to resolve some business issues. The chief had been playing a hide and seek game for the past few months but Terkura was prepared to get his right. Though he admired the beauty of the chief ‘s home he knew he was not there to relax.
After waiting for 3hrs he was finally summoned by the chief. He explained to him that the balance of the project he completed has not been paid. The chief was indifferent. He told Terkura he was wasting time and that the matter has been settled. Terkura knew that pitted against the chief he was nothing but a tramp in comparison. The rich in the society took advantage of the poor. People like chief Ofega mattered in the society because of who they knew and not because of what they knew. Development of the society was going to suffer if there was continuous dominance of such characters.
The chief had earlier paid them 615,000naira and does not want to pay the 418, 000naira balance he had promise to pay once the project was completed. The chief had received 3million from the military governor for this same project. When Terkura told the chief the facts, he was angered and ordered him out of his house. He wasnt going to leave just like that. “…the options, not for us but for you, are these: we will sabotage your businesses, we shall burn down your warehouses…” he threatened. He told the chief that even if he kept him behind bars or even kill him, he doesnt have the others who were vicious and want blood.
Makurdi and Otukpo had replaced earlier older centres of authority and commerce, largely because of the railway line. Makurdi was also proudly called ‘the bridge town’, the bridge was completed in 1932. Terkura believed if he remain resolute his future would be a blooming one just like Makurdi and Otukpo.
While driving his volkswagen beetle car he thought of his business and work in the nation. He realized that those who should value business were the ones killing innovation and productivity and were also the ones running government down. He wouldnt have believed if he was told, but now he was consumed by it. If chief Ofega refuse to pay, Tesen, his firm was likely to be overwhelmed with debts and that would surely take him under. He wasnt however prepared to go down rather Chief Ofega would. He was bothered by his threat to the Chief. He thought about what the Chief could do next. He had lied to the Chief that there were others when he knew he was fighting with his back to the wall. He hoped the Chief would believed it as a fact.
He wanted to be successful and to him work was the elixir (solution). He wanted to be a significant person in the society, if he had been, the Chief would have been hesistant to toe the current line of action. However, he realized that becoming successful was not just about working. Many have worked but infact over-worked but have nothing to show for it. He remembered his family and the villagers working all day without much to show for it. He wasnt ready to live that kind of life again. Upon graduating with a degree in political science and after completing his youth service in Ondo state, he had set his sight on the business world. He wanted to be his home boss and employ others.
His firm (Tesen) was a modest two-room affair. Helen Tyona his secretary of two years informed him of the messages she had recieved. An official of United Exchange Bank came and dropped a note which she handed to Terkura. The foreman and cement distributor also came but they said they were coming back tomorrow. He was particularly worried about the bank, without opening the letter he could guess the contents. He was about to default on an unsecured loan. He couldnt think straight about the solution, he was flooded with images of Chief Ofega’s house.
It was unimaginable that with all the wealth and opulence of Chief Ofega, he would renege on the agreement. Terkura realized money, greed, wine and women were battles that most men had to contend with and which were at the forefront of all man’s struggles and relations with his fellow man.
He started his business after collecting a loan through ‘share-bams’. He bought 2 motorcycles, thereby launching into the transport business. Within 6months he sold off the machines and with the savings he made from them, he bought a bus that he had used to establish the transport baseline of his business. Over the years he had expanded to buying agricultural produce, oil and gas distribution, real estate and construction.
Tesen in collaboration with others had built from scratch the Ojirara and Aliade residential quarters in makurdi in a record time of 6months and government had paid the acknowledged contractor, Chief Ofega, who had held on to Tesen’s share. The chief won the contract because of political consideration despite lacking the capacity to execute it. He approached the chief then and asked him to sublet the contract to him. They both took the risk.
He recalled on his way back to the office, he had watched the traffic warden control the traffic with fluid agility. Despite being in the sun whose heat was close to 40 degree, he did the job as he should. He wondered why some men simply refused to do what was expected of them. If we all learn to do our jobs and make our bond, he thought the society will become a better place to live in and do business, but when men in society begin to break agreements, it becomes the seed through which people bring trouble upon themselves and others as surely as sparks fly from a fire.
Despite the fan whirling overhead Terkura felt hot and restless. It was a wednesday and it seemed that the days were flying faster than usual. He paced up and down the office. Earlier in the morning he had been bombarded by creditors and did well by putting up a bold face to ward them off to buy more time. He knew if Chief Ofega refuse to pay the game was up for him before he had begun. He was aware that even if he sold his assets – the five flat estates he had in Makurdi and Gboko, he still would not be able to meet his obligations.
Helen had been bombarded by irate and angry creditors who came in, ranted at her, threatened and insulted her. She managed the situation well as she remained cool. Despite the fact that the United Exchange Bank representative was soft spoken and courteous, she was sure the bank posed the greatest threat to their corporate existence.
Chief Samson Ofega recently acquired a brand new Mercedes Benz and he was the only one in Makurdi to own the model. He was in the car cladded in his overflowing ‘agbada’ with the air-conditioneron, on a trip to the governor’s lodge when he reflected on Terkura insolence. He was angry that with his status in the society- dining and wining with governors and presidents, that riffraff of a boy came to threaten him in his own house. There are 2categories of people he came in contact with: those who grovel before him and those who were partners/associates or paying his dues. It had been a long time since anybody had been insolent to him. He ordered the driver to drive to Tesen’s office.
Terkura wondered what the commotion in the outer room was all about. It was the chief who was there and was being greeted by those waiting at the reception. He accused Terkura of being insolent and Terkura was intelligent and admitted he was wrong in doing so, that it was his business which was about to fold up that made him reacted that way. The chief then asked if he was free to accompany him for a ride in his mercedes and bestow him the privilege of being the first passenger.
The Chief finally paid Terkura who settled his debts, and was left with 104, 000 as profit. He used the profit to expand and solidify his businesses in real estate, agricultural produce buying, construction, oil and gas distributing and transportation.He gave Helen a bonus of 150 naira. She used the money to pay for a plot of land in the Demekpe area that was opening up quickly as the town of Makurdi was becoming a fast expanding Urban centre with its new status as the capital of Benue.
He sent a cask of imported French wine and a specially designed Swiss watch to Chief Ofega. Through his actions the relationship between the two grew. Many wondered what bound the younger and scrupulous Terkura with a wheeler-dealer (dubious person) named Chief Ofega.
Terkura had played the role of a gadfly with chief Ofega and had done it successful. It was the only option he had anyway as an upstart. from late 1970s to 1990s, he was able to amass wealth to the extent that many considered him the richest man in the state with tentacles rooted in every sector of the state’s economy.
Okoh noticed the smell of ‘igbo’ or indian hemp. He asked who the miscreant could be, smoking by his window and commanded whoever was there to leave. He was taken aback when he discovered that Ifenne his eldest son, a mere 16year old, was the one smoking the devil’s weed without fear by his window.
He asked who taught him how to smoke and Ifenne answered that it was his friends. He was angry and would have lashed out at Ifenne if he had the strength. Okoh was weakened not only by excessive liquor consumption but also chain-smoking and wanton debauchery (indiscriminatesexual behaviour). He told his son that the son is meant to be better than the father. He asked Ifenne that didnt he warn him of bad friends but he realized its been long he sat with his family to advise them on what was right or wrong, good or evil or to warn them against acts that could affect their future well being.
Ifenne was not in school because the form mistress sent him home for not paying his fees. He had told his father but Okoh said he shouldnt be bothered. Ifenne was aware that what he did was wrong, uneviable and could land him in jail. Okoh said he did tell him not bother him but did he tell him to smoke indian hemp and Ifenne said no. He advised him if he doesnt want his life to waste just like his he should desist from smoking indian hemp. He said Ifenne could become a respected personality like governor, or president but just one more wrap could finish him.
Okoh was now discovering that his absence for long periods away from home, time spent in bars and mistresses had been spent unwisely and his family falling apart was the visible testimony of the effects of abandoning them. He wondered what the future holds for his son.
Okoh woke up quite refreshed. He was surprised at the vitality that pulsed within him, he though with his general lack of well being he might not be able to feel well so soon without medications. His financial situation stopped him from seeking medical attention despite being aware that he needed it. He resorted to self-medicationand prescriptions from chemists which he had come to have faith in.
Ifenne(16yrs), Agbo, Veronica, Innocent, Emmanuel, Ada (7yrs) and Ene were Okoh’s children. He was worried that couldnt provide adequately for them all.
Ene (5yr old) one of Okoh’s 7children asked if she could put on the TV and the father nodded. He watched as she turned the knob of the black and white TV he had bought sixteen years ago, soon after he was married. He had promised her that he would send her to school but responsibilities of Ifenne and the five other children made his wish bleak. Ene was light complexioned like her mother and was considered more beautiful than her mother.
The Okoh’s had their meals (hot corn food and Okoho soup) together after washing their hands in order of seniority. They retracted in order of seniority as the food was limited in supply. Ene was left to finish the soup up. Satisfaction was marginal.
Maria contributed all of her monthly salary of 138naira to provide for her family. Okoh’s contribution was irregular and often not up to a quater of his 295naira pay cheque. Ifenne was surprised that his father had not mentioned the encounter and left the room earlier than usual even though his favourite TV programme, The Hopefuls, was on.
Maria took her bath and returned to the parlour tying a wrapper round her chest. Her children were watching episode
14 of the popular TV soap opera. She reminded her husband of Ifenne’s school fees which Okoh instructed her to do today. She knew if she did not ask now her husband would soon leave the house as usual and would return late when all of them would have been asleep. Okoh replied that Ifenne doesnt deserve to be in school but in prison since he was now a drug addict. He said she doesnt give attention to her children, that she was only interested in money and quarrels and that soon her daughters may be caught doing ashawo work.
Maria replied that Okoh was the one that failed the family by not performing his duties as the head of the family. He said Okoh abandoned the family in favour of alcohol and women. Okoh replied he could have dealt with Maria if not for his present state of weakness for calling him a womanizer, that since apparently she would have the upper hand, he doesnt want to join his ancestors so soon and said he was leaving the house for Maria and the children to do whatever they wanted to.
Okoh had earlier in the afternoon thought that he would try to make amends and become a better family man, but when the opportunity presented itself to iron out issues with his wife, the ingrained habit of not responding constructively to his family needs took the day. Matters between Okoh and his wife had always ended up in shouting and Maria would have willingly found solutions to the problems.
Okoh reflected on the quarrel with his wife. He realized that Maria was doing her best, (though no woman can be described as being perfect) and he shouldn’t have shouted on her. He however still believed that she share the blame for what had happened to the family but can not just point out why she should share the blame.
Okoh was a regular customer of many alcoholic joints in the city, he initially patronized the up-market beer brands, but due to financial reasons he back-pedalled into the consumption of ‘ogogoro’ and palmwine. He bought more of ogogoro than palmwine because the former was cheaper. Madam Faith served Okoh alcohol.
Bar hoppers were always moving from one joint to another due to accumulated debts. They moved from Wadata to Wurukum to High level and Madikpo.
Mfa Agera was lean, a distinctive feature of those who made the ogogoro joint, the burukutu joint and palmwine joint their haven. This lifestyle had drained their earnings, income and even physically. They were oblivious of this or did not even care. Mfa and Okoh exchange pleasantries. Mfa oblivious that Okoh was not in the right frame of mind asked Madam Faith to served them alcohol that his friend will pay. She retorted that Okoh pays his accrued debts and that her policy tonight was pay before service and if he pays he can buy the whole house and her daughter whom Okoh had feelings for. Though she had pay before service written on the entrance of the bar, it was disregarded by many who believed its a relic that cannot be enforced on regular customers.
Okoh was lost in thought of how his family had crumbled. Okoh decided to share his problem with his friends at the bar. He told Mfa ( a minor drug baron) that he caught his son smoking indian hemp. Mfa reacted as if it was not a big deal that the 16year old boy is old enough and that younger lads were into it too to be strong and fearless. Okoh was shocked. Mfa also said that hard drugs do not make users mad but make them creative. He cited that Bob Marley and other reggae stars were good because of the power of igbo and that Ifenna was on a part to greatness and should not be dissuaded rather he should be bought a guitar.
Mfa’s children had dropped out of school and could do as they wish, so Mfa could not see reason why Okoh should bother himself. Bar is a place to drink away problems not to find solution. Okoh told them that they were useless and left forgetting to pay for the drink he had ordered for. Mama faith watched as he left noting his debts.
Okoh thought of Mfa Agera and concluded that a man whose food and water was illicit whisky and an ordinary electricity serviceman could not have given him any meaningful advice. He wondered how he got the job without qualification and wondered how his employers could afford to utilize the services of such useless derelicts. Okoh was being righteous because he had drank less than his usual capacity and was gutted to leave the bar.
Okoh went to the house of his woman friend Celilia who lived at Wadata. He shouted at Celilia to open the door. The door was locked but it wasn’t padlocked. Even after a neighbour next room shouted at him to live, he still remained persistent as he shouted that Celilia open the door. Meanwhile, Josiah, Celilia’s guest was lying with her. Josiah asked for permission to teach the person at the door a lesson but Celilia pleaded that he should let the man be and that he will soon leave. Josiah was proud of himself that for his sake another man was being kept outside in the rain. He was the fittest and the better man. Okoh finally gave up and the rain had soddened his clothes. He thought of going to another of his woman friends but knew he had no money. Men must have something to offer women. Wretchedly he found his way home.
Okoh went to work late the following day and was asked to go on a compulsory leave with half pay pending a look into his case. The managements were aware that Okoh’s file was filled with sheaves of past queries and reprimands.
Okoh’s health deteriorated and Ifenne was convinced that his poor health was due to the shock he got when he caught him smoking cannabis.
The situation in Okoh’s family had not been this bad. In the early days he brought home his salary as an assistant supervisor in the hotel and his family lived comfortably. But after being promoted to senior supervisor and stagnated at the rank for many years while his mates in other fields were doing better he started having self doubts about his life and reflected on where it all went wrong.
Okoh considered himself a failure after comparing himself with Terkura. Out of pride he couldn’t ask for his assistance and the thought of it galled him. These feelings gradually pushed him into a life of alcohol and women. It was a journey of no return. He did not recover and died 3 months after his encounter with his son. He was buried within the week at Ukporo.
With his father dead, Ifenne at 16, manhood was thrust upon him. He was now the man of the house. Maria his mother was diminished after 17years of marriage. Maria had lived with Okoh without ambitions and pretensions. Initially there was love but gradually it got worse and Okoh abandoned the regularity of the her bed in the last 6years of his life. Maria believed God was unfair to her because she was a poor widow with bleak future.
Ifenne and his mother Maria contributed financially for the family. Ifenne knew that it was from families like his that the dregs of society emanated, where the scum was produced, where the thieves, the prostitutes and the whole range of the downtrodden in society emerged. He knew the minute he dropped out of school, the foundation for his total decline would then become firmly laid. He would degenerate into the category of people always looking for handouts
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