The Fear of Monkeys - The Best E-Zine on the Web for Politically Conscious WritingThe Squirrel Monkey - Issue Ten
The Fear of Monkeys
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The Squirrel Monkey, photo from Christian ArtusoThe Squirrel Monkey weighs up to about 1 kg. They live in primary and secondary forests and cultivated areas. Disturbed habitats are advantageous because of their greater supply of preferred food - insects (such as grasshoppers) and fruit. They rarely travel on the ground and are most active in the morning and late afternoon. They have large group sizes (40 - 70 individuals) in continuous forest. They are non-aggressive and egalitarian - neither males nor females appear to be dominant. Females are usually the ones who disperse to another troop. The Central American squirrel monkey has always been restricted to the Pacific lowlands of Costa Rica and Panama. They have already declined drastically due to clearing of forests. Currently, deforestation and habitat fragmentation due to agriculture and tourism development are the major causes of decline. Insecticide spraying, the pet trade and electrocution from electric power lines have also adversely affected these squirrel monkeys.




Tunji Ajibade

You would have known from the start if you had asked me, Your Excellency. Of what benefit would it be to me if I lost all I achieved within Chief Rafa's political machinery? The chief himself said he started out at my age, sixteen, and now he has achieved everything a politician could ever dream of though he doesn't have any education. Well, he has certificates that said he passed examinations all the way from primary school to the University. One certificate even shows he has a doctorate degree from the University of Sinterio. Now, Your Excellency, don't ask me where that is because I don't know.

One of our new generation universities also conferred a honorary doctorate degree in Politics on the chief not long ago. You were there. I was there too and I had watched as Chief folded and re-folded his flowing agbada, while he walked to the rostrum to collect his degree certificate. I knew it was the reason he was given honorary degree, his political sagacity, of which Your Excellency, are a beneficiary. I knew this even if you hadn't come to our state to seek for his assistance in your bid to secure the ticket for a second term at the last presidential election. Chief, though uneducated, and I that you want to have back in school by all means, brought you to power. And to think I started out my political career at age twelve, which was four years previous to the last presidential election.

I wonder if you would have met me that morning exactly three months ago, the morning you came and took me away from Osimisi, if I had gone to aatan like everyone else. But I went to aatan the morning I was invited to Chief Rafa's house for the first time four years ago. I was with Kotiri that day. You don't know Kotiri, Your Excellency. He used to be my best friend. We always made it to aatan first thing in the morning, though there were days when we didn't have a thing to release. But we enjoyed squatting among black mounds of shit spread across the bare ground, talking, and taking swipes at flies that hover over our heads and our open mouths. They seemed determined to be swallowed, those flies, and they never failed to come. They would leave piles of garbage nearby to greet us once we arrived; it made no difference that I didn't release a thing, and that only Kotiri did. Or that Kotiri didn't, and I did. There would be laughter on days when we both did; Kotiri often started it.

"Your thing smells like dead rat," he said that day, his face all squeezed up where he squatted, pushing to release a thing.

"What of your own that smells like soup that is five days old?"

I have always wondered how flies were able to settle on Kotiri's thing; I imagined it should cook them because it was always hot, emitting steam like the mouth of our Integrated Science teacher, but less than the smoke from the mouth and nose of Zoni, Chief Rafa's right-hand man. I imagined Kotiri's belly was a boiling pot of soup, like the pot of soup my mother always placed on fire only in the first five days after she received her monthly wages.

"What did you eat last night?" Kotiri asked.

"I soaked garri."

"Ah, now I understand."

"What?" I asked as I stood up. My shorts was down at my ankles. There were those tinkling touches on the naked halves of my buttocks. I knew the flies had taken to my buttocks, like they became aware at that moment that I came along with them. Their attention had been on the feaces down in between my legs all the while.

Kotiri's teeth were bare, his lower lip free from them (he habitually had it tucked in-between his teeth), his eyes lit, in that way I knew.

"Why do you smile?" I asked. I didn't turn around to face him, my eyes being on a piece of paper I picked up from the ground. I dropped it. Someone had used it, and it had dry traces of thing on it. I picked up another. One side of it was clean. I tore it. Flies fled from my buttocks when my hand arrived to wipe them clean.

"See kraw-kraw on you buttocks," Kotiri said. He called it kuo-kuo, and he had fought many a battle each time anyone made fun of him. It had also led to mother-to-mother war of words each time Kotiri beat up a child that mimicked him.

"What are you doing inside, giving birth to a baby?" I had shouted at Kotiri when we returned from aatan to his parents' shack. He had entered the house to pick a bowl. We wanted to go and buy our breakfast, after which we would go and play football. He walked out of the house in shorts and his I luv Wacko Jacko T-shirt. His mother bought the T-shirt for him from Bend-Down market, at a roadside in town where imported, fairly used clothes that smell of disinfectants are spread out on the ground, and people bend down to pick their choice.

"See your gbono," I said pointing at the fly of Kotiri's patched shorts. He bent low, a plate of food in his hand, inspecting himself. I ran as soon as he lifted his head. He ran after me, having decided I lied. His fly was open but his gbono did not show as it did in school one day and all the girls laughed at him. My feet beat up water from the puddles in the narrow path among shacks made of zincs, woods and broken asbestos. Kotiri caught up with me. As we struggled, my Yankee baseball cap fell into the puddle, a mixture of bath water and urine that flowed from an open-roofed bathroom with mat covering, tucked in the middle of shacks on either side of the path where we were.

"See what you have caused," I accused Kotiri, pulling my head out of his arms. His grip on my head felt like a pincer's hold on a finger. My faster pace was my only advantage whenever he came at me. At eleven years of age, Kotiri was fat, strong, and his belly reminded me of Chief Rafa.

He bent down and picked the cap before I did. He said, "sohi," meaning 'sorry', and we walked on, towards my parent's house, stopping at intervals for people we came across to pass. Kotiri and I learned to do that the previous day when one man rammed knocks into our heads as we tried to squeeze past him in a narrow spot among closely packed shacks.

"Una no fit show some respect to an elder?" the man had asked as his hand landed on our heads. Kotiri and I had stood there, looking up at his swarthy, puffed-up face and red eyeballs. I squeezed my mouth and nose together, the man's breath hitting me when he bent down to talk into our faces. I was afraid he would deliver a second knock, so I stood fixed to a spot, not ready to make him angrier, my feet grating the jagged edges at the base of the zinc of the shack behind me. The edge of a mat, blackened earthen soup pot and a bag full of clothes were there, showing through the jagged, rusted base of the zinc when I turned around to adjust my legs. The man with the breath stood erect and walked away, after he pulled at my ear. I had pulled my mouth away from my nose, taking a long breath. I imagined the man had just left one of the burukutu drinking spots where many jobless men start and end their day in Osimisi. Kotiri and I turned, and walked away to my parents' shack.

The heat trapped in the padlock that held the zinc door of my parent's shack to the ant-eaten wooden frame hit my hand, and I withdrew it. The morning sunlight walked on the floor ahead of me when I pulled the padlock open and pushed the door in. Mama's broom left its mark on the bare ground in our room as usual. She could sweep it six times a day, Mama. "You will soon sweep out all the sand in this room," Papa had always complained, the same way Mama complained that Papa would soon make us swim in water, since he did not mend our leaking roof.

"I will buy new zinc when I collect my next wage," Papa always said, but he didn't, because he never collected a full month's wage. He was a casual labourer at a stone quarry, and the longest he and his colleagues ever worked in a stretch was two weeks. Papa said it was because the Chinese owner of the quarry was afraid that labourers would band together and demand higher wages. So we would sit with a kerosene lamp, and he would dictate 'Application for Employment' to me which he then submitted to the company twice a month. Our mothers faired better - Kotiri's mother and mine. Both worked in a factory in town as cleaners.

I picked a bowl from the stack of food plates Mama had made me wash the previous night before I went to bed. Then I extended my hand over the old gramophone, coming up with a naira note. It was my money for breakfast. My mother kept it there for me before she left for work each morning. She didn't leave money for my afternoon meal because there was election, and there was a stay-at-home order because of the election, and she would do half-day at work. I pulled the door close behind me, its rickety joints mimicking a cricket. Kotiri, who waited for me outside, had picked the football where I kept it behind the chicken pen, away from Mama who never failed to seize my footballs, saying football was all I had in my head, and nothing more. This football was a lawn tennis ball I saw on my way home from school the previous day; I had taped layers of plastic bags around it to make it bigger. The ball had odour because the woman who sold akara used them to pack her fried wares for me at her roadside spot. I mean that road, Your Excellency, the road that passes by Osimisi on which politicians as well as traditional rulers use sirens when they travel to the capital city to come and pay you homage.

Kotiri threw the ball to me when I came out of our shack, I kicked it back to him, he kicked it high in the air, and I did a sagalo, the scissor's kick reputed to be the signature kick of Zagalo, a Brazilian player of Pele's generation. You know Pele, don't you, Your Excellency. I won't be surprised if you don't because someone once said that the more time you politicians spend in office, the more ignorant of basic information you become. It is beneath you to be bothered about simple things, he had added. I hope you can describe the colour, pictures and sizes of each of our national currency denominations. I remember a time one ten year old boy asked our Finance Minister on a live TV phone-in programme why Arabic was written on our currencies though ours is not an Arab nation. The minister had asked for a naira note right there in the studios, after which he admitted he never took note of the Arabic words until then. Big men don't worry themselves about some things, Your Excellency; worries such as where and how to earn a single naira note per day, or eat a single meal for the day. We do in Osimisi, and it is the reason we know names of big people and what they do. We imitate them, adopt their names and their styles - from Michael Jackson to Michael Jordan, and Sylvester Stallone to Barack Obama - hoping one day we would become like them.

I like the name Sagalo, Your Excellency. I bore it with pride on the field of play and Zagalo's famed scissors kick was my best on the field, a thing I had used in beating many goalkeepers to give our school's soccer team victory on several occasions. The kicking style made me the centre of attention each time we had a soccer match on the only field in Osimisi, a bare ground that belonged to Chief Rafa but which he was yet to develop.

I collected another pass from Kotiri, as we moved in the direction of Mama Selima's food spot with food bowls to buy our breakfast. I kicked and ran with the ball. He ran after me, and we began to struggle to have control of it. A kick from me, when I got my foot to it, sent the ball in the air. When it landed, it was on the cover of one of the bowls of food on Mama Selima's table. The cover went up in the air while the ball went into the bowl. Some red paste flew high, red spots appeared on the food seller's clothes, as well those of customers who sat on benches around her table, taking their meals.

Kotiri stood still. I sat where I fell when I kicked the ball. I didn't know why I remained there, watching the food seller as her fat neck and face turned in our direction. Her eyeballs had turned cloudy, her chubby face out of recognition from its usual jovial shape. I stood up and fled after Kotiri left the spot where I saw him last, my food plate forgotten in the dust. By the time Mama Selima took the first step away from her table, I was in front of Obama Barbing Saloon, a shack constructed with zinc and which stood among other shacks surrounded by heaps of plastic bags, corn cobs, banana peels and papers.

"I go roast you boys for this thing wey you do, and your Mama no go know you again," Mama Selima threatened and then returned to her wares.

Kotiri got to my side, his eyes wide open, his chest lifting and falling. We both laughed, I didn't know why we laughed, it just seemed the only thing to do. We were lucky to have escaped. We got a knock each on our heads though. It was from Zoni, the wiwi smoker and Chief Rafa's right hand man. I didn't know where he showed up from. He just did. He had come to buy wiwi from the teenage owner of Obama Barbing Saloon who didn't just barb hair but sold wiwi too.

"You dey laugh at ya Papa, ba?" Zoni said.

As I lifted my face up, my mouth open, to see Zoni, a fly scored a goal. I spit it out, making a noise as my tongue grazed the inside of my lips.

"You dey spit at me, ba?" Zoni asked, and raised his hand again. I ducked. Kotiri ducked. I ran. Kotiri ran. I was close to Mama Selima's food spot before I realized it. I turned back, rammed my head into Kotiri, who was close behind me, and we both fell. We looked at each other. I laughed. Kotiri laughed. I rubbed a hand to my forehead. He rubbed his.

"So you boys dey laugh at me, ehn? After you throw san-san for inside my stew, you still get liver come here come laugh." It was Mama Selima, her two bulging eyeballs staring into mine when I looked up. I bent my body sideways, got away before a pudgy hand that she stretched forward could grab me. Kotiri did not make it. He was in Mama's Selima's hand. I ran some more, then stopped and turned around. I knew I could not leave Kotiri, so I returned, stopped a few feet away from the food seller, and prostrated.

I said, "Sorry, Mama Selima."

"Sorry for ya head. I go roast that head for you nao, nao," she said and moved in my direction, Kotiri's wrist in her hand. I stood up and backed away. I was not sure she would not make good her threat. What if she truly meant to roast my head, I thought. As I wondered what she would do with a roasted head, my mind went to isi ewu, goat head in sauce that she was famous for as a food seller. If Mama Selima could cook goat head so well, such that people who always soaked and drank garri in their homes came and spoil themselves the day they collected their wages, then she would do better with my head? I wondered if Mama Selima's customers would know the difference between isi ewu and my head. How my head would resemble goat's head in a food plate was not clear in my mind, and I didn't resolve the riddle before I continued to plead with the food seller. I was afraid for Kotiri. I thought: since Mama Selima had caught him, if she roasted his head what would I tell his parents?

"You boys don come here come commit another offence, ba?" It was Zoni, a wrap of wiwi between his fingers, puffs of white cloud coming out through his darkened lips, his clothes and his skin pores reeking of what he smoked. He sat on a bench, and said, "Mama Selima, give me one wrap of amala, with banga soup. Add one cow tongue, one cow tail, and one bokotoo. Give me pepper soup also - the one with isi ewu. That one wey you dey take fish cook don tire me." Then he turned to Kotiri and asked, "You, why you dey look at me like dat? I thief your head, ba?"

I thought Zoni would steal Kotiri's head if I left him with Mama Selima. The wiwi smoker had been stealing ballot boxes for Chief Rafa after all, and in broad daylight, too. And he would be in his thieving element, I decided - on a day that election was to take place.

"The two of you, wetin you dey do?" Zoni looked up from his plates of food and asked Kotiri and me.

"We wanted to buy food and then go to the field," I said.

"Wetin you wan' go do for field for this early morning?" Zoni asked.

"No be to play ball? Wetin children sabi? Na only to play." Then she turned to us. "The two of una commot for your parents' house, come here come dey throw san-san for inside my food, ehn?" Mama Selima asked.

"Una go fit work?" Zoni asked us.

"Work? Which work dem fit do, these ones wey never pass twelve years?" Mama Selima asked, laughing, slapping the palms of her hands together; it showed Zoni's question was ridiculous.

"I get work wey dem go fit do for me. De work no too hard." Zoni said and stood up. He had finished eating his meal. "The two of you, come with me," he said after he paid for his meal.

I followed him. Kotiri stood where he had been all the while, looking from the food seller to me. I stopped. The woman said, "Follow them now, or why you dey look me like say I chop your head."

Chief Rafa's house was some fifty yards off Osimisi, Your Excellency. But he was our own man, our strong man, and on this day of election there was a large crowd on his street when we arrived. Most of the vehicles packed on the street had the name, United People's Party - UPP, written on them. Chief Rafa's house was never without people at any time of the day. Even on days when there was no election, Zoni and the rest of Chief Rafa's boys that he led were always around. The premises had the smoke and smell of cigarettes or wiwi that hung between the boys' fingers as they stood in groups, waiting to run errands for the chief or be in his entourage wherever he went in town - including the Governor's Lodge where he is a welcome visitor.

It didn't appear like it was election day on Chief Rafa's street, Your Excellency. There was a stay-at-home order that started at 12 noon and was meant to last till 3 pm during which the Option A6 election (that requires all voters to queue up behind their candidates, after which they are counted and the results recorded) would hold. My parents who had gone to work planned to return early on that day in obedience to government's order. But vehicles continued to arrive Chief Rafa's house. We met a busload of thugs from his house who were on their way to town, a breach of the stay-at-home order. Kotiri and I struggled to keep Zoni in view as we made our way to the main gate among the crowd and vehicles that were parked in front of the chief's house.

Smell of cooking came from an open kitchen on the far side of the large compound. I couldn't recollect a day when smoke did not rise high from the chief's house for us to see in Osimisi. Chief Rafa's visitors, his foot soldiers and the beggars were the consumers of the several meals prepared in his kitchen area every day. Kotiri and I ate so much akara, bean cake, one day when Chief did saraa, gifts given out to people as an act of supplication, that we had to run to run all the way to aatan the following morning. I had wondered on that occasion if Chief Rafa truly needed to make supplication to anyone. He is a man everyone seeks for help, especially politicians like you, Your Excellency. That is because Chief Rafa himself is a politician, he grew up a politician and he has made many a politician. Over the years, he had made his services available, I learned, to anyone or any political party that was prepared to pay his bills.

"Zoni, Baba!" one of Chief Rafa's boys hailed when we arrived the gate, his voice scrappy and his eyes the colour of orange; there was slapping of backs and exchange of firm grip on hands that passed for handshakes.

"Idan don start?" Zoni asked.

"Start, when you never come? Na you we don dey wait since day break. But eru don dey for garage. Chief don ask for you. He say make idan begin when you come."

"I go see am now-now. Make una come," Zoni beckoned to us.

We stepped through the gate.

"Zoni, Baba. Wey you see these orisirisi?" one of the boys asked, pointing at us.

"I want make dem join me do work," Zoni said and walked towards his left. There was an open door ahead of us. Chief Rafa's house had many rooms, and the place looked like a palace to me. I wondered how a single person, even with his four wives, twenty children and more than a dozen hangers-on, could occupy such a big place.

"Zoni, where have you been? It's time idan starts. Eru is in the garage," Chief Rafa said. He had stopped talking to the guests around him when Zoni stepped into the room. The chief's jowl was folded double, and his cheeks with the five long facial marks, shone like he rubbed jelly on them every minute. His belly, in his sitting position was that of a pregnant woman. His head was clean, not because it was bald, but because it was always shaved clean. Once, I heard him speak about the time he started to learn the ropes of politics under a late revered politician and I made my calculations. I concluded he should be in his early seventies. The chief had come a long way to become a kingmaker, I had thought then.

Zoni raised a hand to the side of his forehead after Chief Rafa spoke. The hand dropped to his side as a salute, one of those moves we executed in the school's Boys' Scout where we were told to be prepared always, to be bold and courageous, and that Rome was not built in a day.

"I go set to work nao, nao, Chief," Zoni said.

We followed Zoni to the garage which was empty of Chief Rafa's two jeeps, one Lexus, and two Rolls Royce cars. The boxes inside had the name of the National Electoral Authority, NEA, on them. There were several dozens of the boxes piled high, and they filled every space. Some other boys came over and joined Zoni. Cartons of papers were opened, we were told to place our thumbs on ink pads, and print them beside the picture of a palm tree, UPP's symbol. It was the first time I ever held such a piece of paper, but I knew what I held. I must have filled fifteen boxes with the paper I thumbed that day, Your Excellency. Kotiri filled ten and kept saying he was tired throughout the time we worked. The boxes were taken away in vehicles as soon as they were filled. We sweated in the cramped garage, about thirty people standing shoulder to shoulder among ballot boxes. Zoni handed over a one thousand naira note to me, and another to Kotiri, when we completed the job. The following day, UPP candidates - local council chairmen and ward councilors - were announced as winners in all the thirty six local government areas in our state. I understood there was one hundred percent voting in most polling booths, and that some even recorded two hundred percent voters' turnout.

Your Excellency, I returned home that day with enough money to change my shirts and patched trousers. I mean, I visited Bend-Down market and the yanmirin second-hand clothe-sellers knew that a shopper came around by the time I left. After the shopping, I wore a pair of denim trousers, my dream wear, for the first time in my life. I had a fairly-used Hilfiger T-Shirt too, and a faded jeans jacket - my yo-yo wear in Osimisi that was coveted by all until fire razed down our shack. One of our neighbourhood's eternal bachelor who worked as night watchman in town was watching TV powered by his generator one afternoon. He slept off and more than two dozen shacks, including my parents' was razed. But it didn't matter because I had begun to earn regular income in Chief Rafa's service by then. I had become his representative in Section C of Osimisi ward and I mobilized the youth - all of us under-aged - to register and to vote during the governorship and presidential elections. You see, Zoni had told Chief that I was a good organizer of people, that I had not less than fifty boys who were loyal to me, and that I could keep my head, and also seal my lips. True, I never discussed what happened at that meeting with anyone. In fact, I had stopped discussing details of my activities with Kotiri whose parents had warned never to have anything to do with Chief Rafa since we thumbed ballot papers in the local council election.

You remember, Your Excellency, that following allegations of malpractices in the local council election, pressures from abroad forced you to appoint a new NEA national chairman. The day you swore the new chairman into office, Chief Rafa also sat in a meeting with his inner caucus. I was there in my capacity as a party official in Section C.

"You see, since birds have learned to fly without landing, men have learned to shoot without missing," Chief Rafa had said, opening the meeting of the inner caucus. "This new NEA chairman wants to overturn our pot of soup, but we will show him that he is a child of yesterday, that he knows nothing."

Chief Rafa had also invited the Electoral Commissioner whom we called EC, that was posted to our state. I had thought he wouldn't honour Chief's invitation. I expressed my surprise to Zoni when the man showed up. "Ehn, he no go come? Who born am? He know say Chief na president's paddy, so he must come, or else dem go post am commot for this state," was Zoni's response.

"This is not a formal meeting, it is not a political meeting, and it has nothing to do with your job as the electoral umpire in our state. It is my own way of welcoming you to the state," Chief Rafa began when the EC arrived, and I had wondered when I would become proficient at saying one thing while I meant another, a thing I imagined accounted for the chief's success as a politician. "You see, among our people it is considered an insult to a guest when he comes to town and we don't extend to him a hand of welcome. That hand is what my political associates here are extending to you now," the chief added, making a circle with his elephantine arms to include myself and every other person in the room. My associates! Imagine that, Your Excellency, I had become a political associate of Chief Rafa, a whole Chief Rafa.

Someone else walked into that meeting minutes later. It was our state governor.

"You know we are all in this business together," the governor said, addressing the EC after Chief Rafa had made a grand job of introducing the two men to each other. The chief brought about the governor's victory in his first term in office, and the governor wanted a second term in the governorship election that was around the corner that time. "We are of the view, Chief Rafa and I," the Governor continued, "that your success is our success. If you fail in your duty as the umpire, we the politicians also fail, and I have been in politics long enough to know some of the things that can make conduct of elections difficult. This is why I want to assure you that we support every effort you make to conduct a peaceful election in this state."

"Thank you for your concern," the EC responded. "I appreciate this, and I want to thank you for offering your hands of support."

Where I stood behind the window - because we had excused Chief, the governor and their guest - waiting for their meeting to end so we could continue our own unfinished business with the chief, I overheard the governor saying, "Is there anything you need so that you can settle down quickly to your work? I learned you stay in a hotel at the moment. I think you need to be better settled than that…"

"I really don't mind. I can make do with…" the EC was saying.

"Oh, no, you need to be better settled," the governor said. "We all know that the state of a person's mind can affect how well he performs his duties. I learnt that the immediate past EC went away with the official vehicle you should be using. I will instruct my Chief of Staff to allocate one official quarters to you, and also make a car available for your use. Please, don't hesitate to let me know whatever you may need. I am your host, and I will be a bad host if I don't ensure you are comfortable. My doors are open. I am aware that the fund for the training of electoral officers for the coming state gubernatorial election has not been released."

"No, not yet. But I am sure…"

"You see, the governorship election is less than three months from now, and fund is yet to be released. That's part of the challenges that are not of your own making that we talk about. Now when the election is not well-organized, your headquarters will blame you," the chief said.

"I can release the fund you need for the training," the governor said. "How much is it."

"Seventy two million naira."

"My Chief of Staff will get a cheque of one hundred million naira to you by tomorrow."

"And considering the short time, how do you intend to recruit your personnel for the election?"

"We will ask people to apply."

"Don't you think you can save cost as well as save time by making use of civil servants? In any case, civil servants are aware that they cannot misbehave without being called to account unlike all these jobless people who have nothing to lose. I will send instructions to the Heads of Personnel in each of the thirty six local council areas in the state, asking them to send a list of their capable staff. I will have such staff released from their official duties for the duration of the training and the election," the governor said.

A few days after that meeting, Your Excellency, Chief Rafa honoured an invitation from the governor. He held a meeting with us in his house when he returned. "The governor has asked us to provide names of party stalwarts who will be trained by the electoral commission for the upcoming state governorship election," he said.

"Heee!" was the response from everyone gathered. It was a coup and we celebrated it. The governor persuaded the electoral commissioner to use civil servants to conduct election, but he gave him UPP party members instead.

"Now," the chief continued, "the governor has given me the task to coordinate this. All the party chairmen at the local council level will bring the list of the party members under them, then I will select the more loyal ones. I have decided that all the presiding officers in each polling booth across the state will be my own men."


I was the presiding officer at the only polling booth in Section C of Osimisi Ward on election day. One of my boys was the UPP agent. I had collected election materials and brought them from the state NEA secretariat, not from Chief Rafa's house as was the case in the past. It was one of the excesses that the no-nonsense new NEA boss in the capital city had curbed. But he could not beat Chief Rafa when it came political intrigues. I delayed commencement of voting by three hours, informing people in the long queue in front of my table that I forgot some election materials. I said I had sent someone to collect the materials at the local NEA office. One of my boys showed up with some papers and voting commenced three hours later. Four white men and a woman, who came with the tag 'Election Observers' hanging from a rope around their necks, saw the orderly manner people cast their ballots, nodded their heads and went away. I announced that the ballot papers were exhausted less than an hour after they left. People complained, but they went their way. I thumbed the remaining ballot papers, more than half of the entire lot and I stuffed the ballot boxes with them. I counted the votes, announced the UPP candidate as winner of the election in Section C, and one of my boys signed the result as the only party agent present. In Osimisi where Chief Rafa was the lord, as you well know, Your Excellency, no other party ever sent its agents to the polling booth. Allegations of rigging came from different parts of our state where other parties had their agents, but not in Osimisi.

Of course, you know the results of that governorship election in my state that year, Your Excellency, and the presidential election that took place a year ago in which you secured a second term in office. I played the same role in both elections. You didn't know me then, but I was not too far away from you when you came to our state to campaign ahead of that presidential election. A civic reception was held at the stadium in your honour when you arrived. The chief rode into the stadium with his entourage on a white horse as you gave the campaign speech. The stadium stood up and hailed him, disrupting your speech. You had to stop for several minutes until the chief walked up like a royalty to a seat next to yours. You then turned to him and praised his political sagacity to the hearing of everyone. You said chief was the finest politician the nation ever produced. I had wondered then why you deferred to him so much, but that was until he handed over ninety-nine percent of all the votes cast in our state to you in the presidential election.

It is no wonder he recommended University professors to former governors in our state who were appointed as State Commissioners. He also recommended people to Your Excellency and you appointed them as federal ministers. The chief had brought some of the boys who worked for him into political offices. One of them is the current Deputy Governor of our state. The opposition said the man doesn't have secondary school education as the law requires, but he is still the Deputy Governor. Chief made sure none of the agencies that should investigate the allegation did a thing about it. I have since concluded that I don't need to go and sit on bare floors in our school in Osimisi, in classrooms over which the roof leaked and we were soaked wet when it rained, and soaked wet when the sun beat down so much. I realised all I need to do is to remain loyal and wait until I am eighteen years old, then chief will make me Ward Councillor for Osimisi. In any case, I know boys in Osimisi who can design degree certificates with names such as The University of Sinterio, so chief does not need to worry about my qualifications when he places me in political office. And it is not as if I had not completed two years of Junior Secondary School at the time you took me away from Osimisi. It was just that when my father died in a motor accident (and my mother died shortly after when she fell sick and she was not treated in a hospital because of a strike action over non-payment of six months salary) I could not continue with the rest of the four years I needed to spend in Senior Secondary School.

Now your visit to Osimisi three months ago, Your Excellency, the first after you got the second term ticket, was unexpected. I still can't imagine why you selected Osimisi to launch the national Kick Out Poverty campaign. Ours is not the only slum in the nation, but you selected it. Everyone was surprised when you turned the corner among our shacks that day, your agbada flowing around you, while uniformed and plain-clothed security operatives as well as a retinue of civil servants ran to catch up with you. You are bulky, with a big belly, Your Excellency, yet you are fast on your feet. It surprises me, that part of you. I was too young to know you at the time you organized a coup and became a military Head of State before you later shelved your uniform, organized elections and began to wear agbada with civilian caps. I think your military training never left you though you are in your sixties. In the last three months since you brought me to the presidential mansion, I have seen enough to know you can do things that are erratic, like dismissing the advise of your Chief Security Officer. No president who listened to his Security Officer would have left his car one kilometre away from our slum (the point where the closest tarred street to Osimisi terminates), and walked among the closely packed shacks, and through puddles of dark, stinking water to get to where you met me in the centre of Osimisi. It so happened that I didn't go to aatan that morning, and I had sat in front of the shack I inherited from my parents when you turned the corner and stopped close to me.

"How are you?" you had asked.

"Fine. Good afternoon, sir," I said, wondering if it was right for me to greet you while I remained seated. I imagined your security operatives would have loved to have me on my belly kissing the dust while I talked with you. They are always an overzealous lot, security operatives. You can expect them to do anything, including beating up other road users if they did not pull away from the road for a siren-blaring convoy of vehicles that carried some politician.

"What's your name?" you asked.

"Sagalo, sir," I said. I had wanted to correct myself and say my real name, but you didn't blink an eyelid. I guess you knew those of us in the slum would bear anything that resembled a name. It doesn't matter to us, just as the poverty we live with doesn't matter to us. I read in the newspapers, Your Excellency, the result of a survey showing people in our country as the happiest in the world. You see what I mean?

As we stood facing each other in front of my shack, I had wondered if you meant it when you said I shouldn't be living alone without a father or a mother, and without attending a school. I had thought: My father would have raised me like you raised your children if he hadn't died in an accident on a road that a contractor dug up, and then abandoned, alleging that the presidency wanted to take forty percent of the total contract sum.

"I want you to come and live with me?" you had said then, and I had thought: 'For what reason? I am happy here.'

You had turned to your CSO, and instructed him to ensure I was brought to the presidential mansion. Then you went further into Osimisi to launch the Kick Out Poverty campaign. As I sat in my room in the presidential mansion later that day, I saw my picture on TV, and a reporter said you had adopted me, an orphan, as your son. I didn't remember you asking me if I ever wanted to be your son, Your Excellency. You didn't even have time to discuss anything with me since I arrived in your presidential mansion. We met at the dining table once in a while when you did not travel abroad, but you never asked me whether I liked the school where you had me placed along with your sixteen year old son.

You didn't have the time to listen to me, though I wanted to say that I don't like a school where the kids are proud and snobbish. They are spoilt, those kids. They talk big - about electronic gadgets that I never heard of, about big cars, pornography they watched on the internet in the secret recesses of their rooms, and the parties they escaped to, and the girls that they slept with. I miss my Osimisi, Your Excellency. I miss the wild laughter. I miss being simple, being a politician under Chief Rafa.

After you instructed your Chief of Staff this morning to make arrangement so that your son and I would be transferred abroad two days from now to continue with our education, I decided I have had enough. I had been thinking of how I could escape once in a while to go and see Chief Rafa and Zoni. But I would be cut off completely if you sent me abroad. I will jump the school fence just before classes close today and return to Osimisi, to Chief Rafa, and to politics. I will give this note to a classmate once I wrote my last words. He will give it to the driver when he comes to pick your son and me. The driver will give it to your wife who will give it to you. And now I write my last words: 'Thank you, Your Excellency, for the offer, but no.'

Ajibade is a Communications Consultant and Literary Administrator. He lives in Abuja, Nigeria. He has published short stories, dramas and children stories – many of which have either been nominated, or won literary awards. His short stories have been serially published online, in newspapers and journals such as Conte, C4 Mag, Cyclamens and Swords, as well as Untamed Ink.
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