Free writing, to me, was not just a technique to increase proficiency or make someone become prolific; rather it included a therapeutic way of expressing emotions. And so that evening I began to write freely, to find solace in my written words, to find patterns, to get a cathartic experience, to discard the bottled emotions of Aminah.
I was just writing about the brown eyes of Aminah, about her lush eyebrows, and dimpled cheeks when Uncle Luqman‘s car sounded, and I heard the car entering the garage. A few minutes later, he came into the door and asked how I was. He sunk into the loveseat, his grey blazer placed on the armrest, and his blue tie coming untied over his white shirt. After taking off his black shoes, leaving his feet in socks, he heaved and started to walk away towards the dining area and kitchen which also led to his room. But then he stopped and returned to the sitting room, and looked at me as if trying to recollect something. His dark complexion made the grey strands in his hair more manifest than ever, and the two slanting tribal marks on both sides of his cheek, somehow, looked tinnier.
“Khalid, I meant to ask you yesterday but it escaped my mind. Have you scheduled the interview for your mom?” He asked.
“Not yet, there is a document I need to get from school. I was to go and get it today, but I was just tired so I left work early and came to sleep”.
He asked me how I could be tired at such a young age. And back on the sofa, briefly talked about the struggles he went through when he just got to America and how at his early twenties in Nigeria he never got tired. I listened to his story for the zillionth time, and at the end, he said I should not waste time in scheduling the nonimmigrant visa interview for my mother as the American Consulate in Lagos was bound to be always on jam-packed schedules.
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It was true that the consulate at Lagos was usually crowded by both fed-up Nigerian youths and not so youthful men and women desperate to escape the harsh realities they faced on a daily basis. But the ‘always’ was an overstatement. It wasn’t always like that, and Uncle Luqman himself was a living testimony of that. He wouldn’t cease to bore you with the talks of how, growing up at Iwo, he had never thought of living permanently in America. Yes, he had once said to me over food at the dining while shaking his head that he had always thought of studying overseas, but living as a permanent residence never crossed his mind. Uncle Luqman was my mother’s big brother. He was among the Nigerians who immigrated to America in the time period which modern historians termed the second-wave of Nigerians migration to America. Although, some might equally argue that the time he traveled was indeed the first wave, citing the fact that the preceding wave was purely for academics, and that those Nigerians, for the most part, did not end up staying in America. In any case, the time he traveled coincided with the beginning of Nigeria’s second republic.
The second republic marked the end of the series of military rule which had been in place since the January 1966 coup. The then head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, had conducted an election which swept Shehu Aliyyu Shagari to power in 1979. Upon the resumption of democratic rule, the Shagari government disappointed the people of Nigeria as government officials and politicians went on a looting and embezzlement rampage; thereby decimating and destroying the country’s economy. Public funds were constantly and largely diverted for personal use, and almost all sectors in Nigeria collapsed. Even the Ghanaian immigrants, who, during the times of Nigeria’s oil boom and economic progression had propelled into Nigeria en masse in search of greener pasture, were then told to return to their country: a gloomy episode in Nigerian history infamously known as “Ghana Must Go.”
Because all the sectors in the country were already on their knees and had been sucked dry by the vampire politicians, the Nigerian international students who had been sent abroad on scholarships funded by the government were therefore left in the cold. Their tuition fees were not paid, not to talk of pocket money. My uncle recounted to me his personal experiences during his study days at Colombia University, and how Nigerian students were kicked out of school, and left stranded all over the country. At this juncture, stranded students devised several means to keep up their funding, and some means were more ominous than others. Some started scamming ordinary Americans and companies in fraudulent transactions, and others became involved in duping banks for student loans through the use of fake social security cards. Being that some American banks and multinational-corporations (especially the oil companies) were actively (albeit secretly) involved in the looting processing in Nigeria, either through creating safe havens for the stolen funds, or by taking advantages of Nigerians by stealing oils with the permission of their elite Nigerian friends, these incidents of stranded Nigerians stealing from American institutions seemed to go along with the Yoruba adage, Ole gbe, Ole gba. Thief stole it, thief snatched it.
Determined not to drop out, Uncle Luqman started working off the books, and had the support of his white girlfriend who came from a rich family in paying tuition. He would later marry the girlfriend named Summer, and then four years later the marriage would dissolve in an ugly divorce.
One night in the living room, alone with him, I had asked him why they divorced. He had stared at me for long, set down his glasses and put down the New York Times newspaper in his hand. “That woman’s wahala was just too much for me”, he had responded.
“Didn’t you love her?” I had countered.
“What do you mean if I didn’t like her?” He had inquired with a slight tone of anger.
“I meant did you marry her so that she can give you papers?”
“Oh, no, I didn’t marry her because of paper,” he had replied. “I married her because I loved her, but marriage proved to be much more than just loving someone. It was just too much to bear. She can kill you with nagging. You get home from work twenty minutes later than normal, and then she wanted to know where you were. Ah! You see, when we started dating, I was in heaven because I was going out with a white woman. I had friends who came here with part of their American dreams being to father biracial children. Anyway, Summer was too much for me. If I was on the phone, she wanted to know who I was speaking with. And speaking Yoruba on phone was another problem. She made this world stressful for me. I thank God we didn’t have children together, she would have been part of me for the rest of my life!”
It was annoying to me, now remembering his words that night, how egocentric Uncle Luqman sounded and how his sense of self was over-praised. In all of the reasons he gave for the divorce, not one was against him. It was as though he had been the angel, and Summer, whom I had never met, had been the devil. True, I did not know Summer, but I knew human’s reflex to point to the other as the evil, and to portray the self as the righteous victim. It was a matter of heuristics. All in all, after the divorce, Uncle Luqman came home to marry a Nigerian wife, a Yoruba woman of Oshogbo extraction, who would later become Titi’s mother.
The year he came home for marriage was the year my father left this world. I was told my father was an investigative journalist who wanted to look deeper into stories in the hope of unearthing corruption and conspiracies. And it was this curiosity and unrelenting sense of devotion to his job that earned him his death. I heard, evasively from people’s mouths, that he was assassinated in Lagos during a very tepid time under the rule of General Ibrahim Babangida. Some said it was because he had found out the people behind the letter-bombing of Dele Giwa, and that on a night when he was returning to his Lagos’ residence from the newspaper company where he worked; he was ambushed and swiftly killed. His corpse was left untouched for weeks, flies roaming all over, and maggots swimming all over him. Other rumors said he was killed among other protesters protesting against the unlawful detention of Kenule Saro-Wiwa, who he had just started working with. For reasons indiscernible, I liked to believe the second version. Perhaps my leaning to the second version was because of Saro-Wiwa.
Saro-Wiwa, unlike my father, would not meet his own death at the hands of Babangida, but through the handiworks of General Sanni Abacha; he would later be placed on a stool, a rope would be knotted around his dark sturdy neck, and he would be left to strangle, the brown of his eyes turning, until oxygen refused to enter into him, until the very essence of his being, ruh, would vacate his body. He basically was killed because of his activism and his demands that the Federal Government treated his people, the Ogoni people, with dignity and fairness regarding the oil derived from their lands. He also angered Shell and other Oil Companies because he asked them, on behalf of his people, that they clean up their messes, and compensate the people whose lives and livelihoods had been destroyed as a result of their activities of digging and refining oil. The regime of Abacha weren’t going to have him running up and down clamoring for human rights, so they roped him and other eight prominent members in the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and accused them of inciting the murder of four Ogoni chiefs.
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One night, I watched the proceedings of their case on YouTube. In the court room, Saro Wiwa and the eight Ogoni men; looked really high-spirited, they did not look like criminals begging for their lives. Rather, they were calm and collected. Saro-Wiwa was in a sky blue tie and dye kaftan, his smoke pot delicately centered in his mouth as he stood up to answer the judge. He murmured that he denied all the charges against him, adding that he did not trust the court to be fair. The Judge, in a thick Northern accent then said to him, “We want you to answer YES or NO answer, Mr. Saro-Wiwa.”
“Yes or No,” Saro-Wiwa replied.
“Yes,” the Judge affirmed.
“Yes or No,” Saro-Wiwa replied again. By now, the other eight Ogoni men were in hysterics, laughing at the judge, the prosecutors, the Nigerian judicial system, and the Nigerian government, and the United Nations all together.
“We are not playing here,” the Judge said in an angry tone. But, really, wasn’t he the one that asked him to say ‘YES or NO’?
The reason for my father’s death cannot be asserted but one thing was clear: he was murdered by state sanctioned violence, a very common phenomenon during Nigeria’s military dictatorship. We were living in Iwo, and I was two years old then and my mother had just given birth to Khadija. Growing up, I had often heard my mother, recount the last time she saw my father. It was the evening of the day Khadija was being named. He had received a telephone call from his office in Lagos about a story he should look into. My mother would, in an almost poetic tone, talk about the blueness of the ankara buba and sokoto he wore that evening, and the yellow flower designs on them. I resembled my father, this I got to know through his photographs. He was of a dark complexion as me, and had big eyeballs just like me. His hair defied lining and, if left untouched, might meet the eyebrow. My mother had begged him not to go to Lagos that evening, even citing a disturbing dream she had had three days before as a warning, but my father being a pragmatist and a non-believer in the metaphysical world (this I would later learn from his writings), had chosen to do what the Yorubas called ori kunkun – stubborn head; and refused the pleas of my mother. Perhaps he would still be around had he listened to his wife.
This story is from a chapter of Tohib Adejumo’s yet to be finished work. Let’s know what you think.
In the meantime, you contact this bookshops for his latest book, Beneath Her Headscarf: Abuja
1. Adam Pages, Machima Plaza, No 2, Mambolo Close, Off Sultan Abubakar Way, Wuse 2, Abuja. 08033441618
2. Cassava Republic Store, 62B, Arts & Craft, Village, opp. Sheraton Hotel, Abuja. 08089019374
1. P.A.G.E Connoisseurs, 82, Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos. 08154582178
2. RovingHeights, 1, Pedro, Gbagada, Lagos. 07032038633
Chapter One Books, opposite National Orthopedic Hospital, Dala, Kano 08069172887
Write Treasurez, GRA, Port Harcourt. 08066604913
AMAB Books, 1, Himma Schools Road, beside NNPC Mega Station, Minna. 07030953111
Ibadan: Na Dih Roh Books. Contact on WhatsApp: 09097273962
Peace be with you.