Tales The Country Told Me, By Reuben Abati

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“My friend, where are you? I have been calling your line since, you no dey pick”

“Where else would I be at this time? I am either at work or at home. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t see your calls. I am at this joint that I just discovered. Omo, the pepper-soup is something else. The fish tastes like it was brought to my plate from the very eye of the Atlantic Ocean itself.”

“One of these days, they will use food to carry you away. Just remember that you are not responsible for yourself alone. You have a family, and very soon, you’d be a grandfather. You can’t be eating all about, looking for where soup is sweet all over town. But that is not why I am calling.”

“So what’s up? Come and join me. I will send you the address and we can talk over some nice delicacies. They even have palmwine. Frothing palmwine. Tastes as if it was tapped by my great grandfather who was famous for being a champion palmwine tapper in his days. I wasn’t there, but I was told the story by my father who heard it from his own father. I come from a long line of distinguished professionals you see.”

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“I am calling you because of you”

“Calling me because of me. What kind of English is that?”

“It is your wife.”

“What about her? I still spoke with about an hour ago”

“She asked me to talk to you.”

“I don’t remember getting her upset in any way. When I am done with this pepper soup, and palm wine. I am almost done. I am going straight home to eat her food. I. know if I don’t eat at home, there would be trouble.”

“She told me you are planning to travel to Port Harcourt and she doesn’t think that is a good idea at this time. There is crisis in that state.” 

“Oh. God. God. This woman and her troubles. Okay, you tell me. What does she say is the problem in Port Harcourt? I am going there for business. You know the nature of my work.”

“She says the work can wait. It is not just Port Harcourt. The entire Rivers State. She does not want you to go to a place where the Governor and his Godfather in Abuja are fighting. Policemen have turned the state into a police zone. Deposed Council Chairmen are aggrieved. Lawmakers are in court, over who is a genuine or fake member of parliament. Everybody in Rivers State is now a lawyer quoting Section this, Section that of the 1999 Constitution. Angry youths are threatening fire and brimstone.”

“Oh my. For Heavens’ sake, there are about 10 million people in Rivers State. Why are we behaving like these white people who sit in their own countries, read one or two stories in a part of Africa, and they quickly issue a frightening travel advisory or write a whole book: Nigeria On The Brink, The Coming Death of Democracy in Africa. We exaggerate too much There are people living in Rivers State who have given testimony that there is no crisis in the state. It is just politicians behaving like over-pampered children.”

“The interim Chairman of APC in Rivers state says the state is at war. APC wants the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the state. Chief Tony Okocha should know.”

“What do you expect him to say? The APC is playing a script in Rivers. They have grabbed 27 members of the House of Assembly who defected from PDP to APC. They want to take the state through the back door and mischief. Wike is helping them. It is all politics. I can’t stop my business transactions in Port Harcourt because of some of the politicians. I have spoken to some of the elders, they say…”

“I beg, elders, we all know these elders… Well, your wife is concerned and troubled. If there is a blow out in Rivers and you are caught in-between, nobody will know that you are just a greedy Ijesha man, always looking for where to eat.”

“I am a man of courage. Nothing scares me. The logic of making money is that in the midst of crisis, you look for opportunities.”

“The only thriving business in Rivers State today is to be either pro-Fubara or pro-Wike. I hear that business is becoming more lucrative than crude oil theft.”

“You know me. I am a man who goes to where even angels fear to tread.”

“Your wife said exactly the same thing. She said you are an angel. But she does not want you to join the angels yet.”

“Oh God. Don’t worry. I know her problem. There is this Aso Ebi she wants to buy. Once I give her the money for it, she’d go for her owambe and allow me go to Port Harcourt. How can some characters fighting for their own stomach in Port Harcourt become an issue in my house in Lagos. Tomorrow, now, if I decide I want to go to Kano for business, my wife will again carry placard, and start calling friends and neighbours…”

“No. It won’t be your wife then. I will be the one to carry the placard. You don’t know this country? You want to go to where two brothers are quarrelling over the stool of the Sarkin Kano? Have you seen those tough-looking boys carrying hefty sticks about, each one defending his own Emir? If they hit you twice with those local baseball sticks, all the bones in your body will give way immediately. You know your wife won’t be able to come to Kano to rescue you. Even if anybody asks me to come and rescue you, my wife and children will refuse. You want to go to a state where lawyers and judges are part of the confusion. Let them resolve their matter first before you go and start looking for business in troubled zones. What business are you looking for in Kano? You want to go and buy kolanuts?”

“Lawyers and judges are part of the problem in this country. They are messing things up in Rivers, and in Kano. These days, I don’t even know which court ruling to believe. One judge says one thing, another judge says another thing…creating panic within the community. I thought lawyers always say that the law is meant to help modulate society and ensure order”

“The law is an ass…Have you not heard that? When judges make mistakes, they tell you to go and file an appeal in a higher court. When you get to the Appeal Court and they make a mistake again, your lawyers will advise you to go the Supreme Court. If you fail again at the Supreme Court, the Justices will tell you that it is part of their fundamental human rights to make mistakes because they are human beings and if you are not happy, you can take your matter to God.  You see, this is why we all have to be careful.”

“What a country!”

“What a people!”

“When will we ever get it right in this country? The people are complaining of hunger and wages. The leaders want new presidential aircraft. University teachers are threatening to go on strike over unpaid wages. Prostitutes are telling their customers that the dollar has gone up against the Naira….”

“Wait. Wait. I think I am running out of credit. My phone is saying you have one minute left. I think they  do this you have one minute left, just so someone can buy credit and help them make more money. These telcos. Please you will have to call me back…”

“Hello”

“Hello.”

“Can you hear me?”

“I moved from where I was. Let me change my location… Can you hear me now?”

Okay, I think it is better. These telcos. Well, let’s thank God. You remember those days when we used to climb on top of a tree or look for a mountain top before we could get a phone signal, or those days when we used to queue for a whole day at P and T to place a call to someone in London or the US.”

“We are in the age of Artificial Intelligence, bros. We need to do better. Let me even run something by you. I met some oyinbos. We are thinking of doing business in Zamfara. Gold mining, especially now that the Nigerian Government is beginning to focus on gold for Central Bank Reserves, Foreign Reserves and for addressing shoring up the value of the Naira. You saw the Minister of Steel Development presenting gold bars to the President the other day, product of artisanal mining of gold. I am trying to think ahead. We can get into that line of business.”

“Razzmatazz. What did I call it? Razzmatazz. Photo. Is it from artisanal mining and alluvial deposits Nigeria will join the league of gold mining countries? We have been prospecting for gold in this country since 1913. There was something like a small boom in the 1930s. In the 1980s, Nigeria formed the Nigerian Mining Corporation. Section 44(3) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining law of 1999 vests ownership of mineral resources in the Federal Government. But the big problem in this country is illegal mining.”

“That is precisely what the Tinubu administration is trying to do. Close ranks with artisanal miners, bring them into the fold, provide a framework. It is called a National Gold Purchase Programme that meets the London Gold Market Standard.” 

“There is no framework that they are going to come up with that is new. When Mrs Oby Ezekwesili was Minister of Steel and Mining, she designed a framework for mining development in Nigeria. Dr. Kayode Fayemi as Minister of Steel further fine-tuned the road map. Go to the website of the World Gold Council. This is serious business, not a business for small-time miners. Do we have the technical capacity? Do we have technical partners? What lessons are we learning from the example of Ghana, a country that was originally known as Gold Coast? Before you join the Gold Rush, do your home-work.”

“I try to look at the positive side of things. Nigeria has just sold about 70 kilogrammes of gold to the London Bullion Market, making about N6 billion. We have to start from somewhere. The country has about 600, 000 tonnes of gold reserves. There are possibilities here. Besides, going to and fro Zamfara will become very easy, very soon, now that the state Governor is building an international airport to promote trade and tourism.”

“Tourism in Zamfara. You want to go and get yourself kidnapped. The bandits of Zamfara are so daring, they can even kidnap aircraft and all passengers.  I don’t think the Governor is serious. Has he paid civil servants and pensioners before embarking on a white elephant project? I think he must have heard that when you try to build an airport, you can award big, big contracts.”  

“I am already talking to my Chinese contacts”

“Just be careful with these Chinese people.  One Chinese investor has just seized Nigerian properties in the UK”

“If you go and check the case, I am sure you would find that our people are the problem. We don’t ever respect terms of contracts. We gamble with everything and when our partners move against us, we would start shouting sovereignty. In any partnership, trust is important.”   

 “Just be careful. By the way, have you heard that the Governor of Sokoto after deposing 15 traditional rulers is also planning to remove the Sultan of Sokoto. I saw a statement by the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) warning Governor Ahmed Aliyu not to try it because the jurisdiction of the Sultan goes beyond Sokoto.  He is the spiritual head of all Nigerian Muslims.”

“I keep wondering why Governors no longer respect traditional rulers. Tension everywhere. I just hope that one day, one Governor will not wake up on the wrong side of the bed and make an attempt to depose a traditional ruler and cause real mayhem in the country.”

“Na wa. Are you going for Chivido?”

“What is that”

“The wedding of Chioma and David Adeleke. I hear all the billionaires in town will be there.”

“So, are you a billionaire? Why do you want to go to a billionaire’s wedding party? You don’t have important things to do with your time?”

“I have just been following the story, and the gbas gbos between Davido and his baby Mama, Sophia.”

“Look, let me wash my hand. As old as you are, you go about monitoring society gossip. Go and get busy my friend.”

“Wash that your hand very well. No carry cholera from pepper soup joint go house oh.”

“Comot my friend. Old man wey sabi gossip.”

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