Nigeria: Stale Heritage vs. Dubious Enterprise – A Tale of Two ‘Brothers’
Anthony Chuka Konwea, P.E.
Cautionary note: – If you are not a Nigerian or do not have Nigerian heritage or your Nigerian-ness has become stale, do not waste your time by reading this piece. You may not know the context within which to situate it nor the circumstances which have commanded it. Like most sober Nigerians you certainly will neither appreciate nor comprehend what the whole fuss is all about and may end up wondering (with apologies to John W. Henry the principal owner of Liverpool FC) what they are smoking in Nigeria, even though some can vouch that it is Maryjane (with apologies to the reggae group, Natural Vibrations). Moreover as Nigeria’s dirty linen is currently being washed, it does not concern you.
A certain Femi (other names withheld) known affectionately or dis-affectionately (depending on the beholder) as FFK, having decided that Nigeria was getting too hot for him in view of recent happenings, decided to jet off to China for a long holiday.
Unbeknownst to him, his friend and ‘brother’ Orji (other names withheld) known affectionately or dis-affectionately (again depending on the beholder) as OUK, for not too dissimilar reasons had also decided to jet off to China for a quick breather.
As fate would have it, their paths crossed at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
On sighting Orji, Femi involuntarily shouted out aloud in Ife-Yoruba dialect to no one in particular. ‘Iru wahala ewo l’eleyi? Kini mu Orji wa mbi’bayi nsi?’ – What type of trouble is this? What has brought Orji to Beijing at this moment?
At the same time Orji equally exclaimed loudly in Igbere – Igbo dialect. ‘Kedu odili ajashu bu nke? K’ obuho Femi ka nna fu na ishu?’- What type of ill-luck is this? Is it not Femi that I am seeing ahead?
(Writer’s note – please pardon the first rendition in my patchy Lagos-Yoruba dialect. Again pardon the subsequent rendition in my native Asaba – Igbo dialect).
Whereupon the two ‘gentlemen’ set upon each other in a fierce exchange of words.
Femi fired the first salvo, ‘Orji, why are you always following me? Must you do everything that I do? I ran away and left Lagos for you to come to Beijing now you are also here. I must tell you the bitter truth. That is how one of my ancestors became the first black graduate of Cambridge University but before he could even get a decent befitting job back home, one of your ancestors had become the Vice-Chancellor of the then leading university in Nigeria. From my historical research, I gathered that your other ancestors plied the British colonial master with a bevy of plum-busted, buoyantly-hipped Igbo-Amaka mermaids in order to induce his appointment. I know what Igbo-amaka can do to a man of arch-tribal principles having fallen for three of them myself against my better judgment, though now they have come in quite handily for me in my bid to deny the ‘Arch-Tribalist’ toga I have gleefully woven and bedecked myself with.’
Orji: ‘Who is following you? Do you think we are in Lagos where your brothers seal up the road and all the houses therein at the slightest whiff of ‘owambe’ provocation? How dare you say that my ancestors bribed the British colonial masters with the feminine gender? Enough is enough. I say enough of all these insults you have been spewing against my enterprising people. Let us settle our scores once and for all now that we are in Beijing. After all, Beijing is no man’s land.’
Unbeknownst to the two feuding ‘brothers’, their very public altercation was being monitored by spies of the Chinese Communist party who monitor all that Nigerians say or do in their country. On hearing Orji declare that Beijing is no man’s land, a Chinese security czar emerged from the shadows and said, ‘I arrest you in the name of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for attempting to excise our capital city from China by claiming that Beijing the capital of China is no man’s land.’
Whereupon Femi shouted even louder, ‘Officer arrest him. Please I say arrest this man. I know him and his brothers very well. As you can see, he has just arrived in China with a portmanteau. Give him two years of free-sojourn in Beijing, he and his arrogant, tactless brothers will buy up all the land including this very Tiananmen Square. What is more he will even have the effrontery to build a very tall villa. It will be so tall, big and magnificent that by its side, the official residence of the General Secretary of the CC-CCP will automatically become a peasant’s hut.’
No sooner did Femi finish speaking than the officer turned to him and declared solemnly, ‘I arrest you in the name of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for claiming that his official residence, the seat of the sovereign government of China will become a peasant’s hut.’
Orji turned to the Officer, ‘Please give him a life sentence without option of parole. This is how his careless statements have nearly turned our country upside down but for the maturity of my people. He is a very bitter man. His brothers and his very self in particular are bitter people filled with hatred for everybody else apart from themselves. But they reserve a special hatred for my people.’
The officer marched the two of them, Orji and Femi to Beijing Central Prison where they were kept together in the harshest cell they could find. For dinner they were given a roasted frog apiece. Femi and Orji could not eat the frogs. The next morning they were given another couple of roasted frogs which again they could not eat.
Orji could bear it no longer. Noting that the morning guard, a woman, looked a bit friendly, he tearfully told her in a smattering of Mandarin which he picked up on the streets of Beijing that he was not used to Chinese food but sought special permission to eat the okporoko (dried stock fish) and garri (fried cassava) he had in his portmanteau. The Chinese lady guard perhaps impressed by his efforts in speaking Mandarin was touched and empathized with him.
Permission granted, Orji started eating his okporoko and soaked garri with scantly a glance at Femi.
The latter ravaged by hunger turned to Orji with all the charm and diplomatese he could muster, ‘Orji my brother, I know that dried stock fish is no man’s food, but can I have a little of your Okporoko and soaked garri or will you eat it alone in the selfish spirit of ‘I before others’ and allow hunger to kill your brother in a distant land?’
Whereupon Orji, in a rare fit of sympathy replied, ‘Mbanu. No. How can I allow my own brother to die of hunger in a foreign land when I have the means to help him? What will I tell our people back home? I thought that you will not be able to eat okporoko just as both of us were not able to eat the roasted frog. As you rightly said, okporoko is no man’s food but my people particularly enjoy whatever belongs to no man. Here, have some okporoko but let me tell you the bitter truth. You see this okporoko, it is an offering presented at our club meeting by one of our new enterprising members and handed over to me for safe-keeping on behalf of the entire club as the Club Master. So I decided to take it along with me in this journey since anything that belongs to everyone belongs to no man. Here have some okporoko and soaked garri. I told you that we are very enterprising. We are always prepared for any eventuality.’
Offering or no offering, safe-keeping or no safe-keeping, Femi seized upon the okporoko and soaked garri to assuage his indescribable hunger.
Unbeknownst to both Femi and Orji, they were being monitored on close-circuit TV. When the Beijing prison chief beheld them eating together, he called a meeting of his comrades-at-arms and declared, ‘You see those two Nigerians we placed in jail, they have started eating from the same plate. Since we placed them in jail, I have not had a moment’s rest knowing what Nigerians are capable of. I was quite content to see them almost on the verge of fisticuffs. What has kept everywhere quiet is that they are at logger-heads and working at cross-purposes. Now that they are coming together, who knows what next they would conjure. Mark my words, if all Nigerians can come together they may outpace us Chinese as the emerging superpower of the world. Let us free them and deport them back to their country to continue their quarrel before they turn this prison and the whole of Beijing upside down.’
Without much ado, Femi and Orji were swiftly deported on the next available flight back to Nigeria.
However once they set foot on Nigerian soil, in Lagos precisely – the immediate bone of contention – true to the prediction of their Chinese jail master, their bitter fight, briefly in intermission, resumed with renewed vigor with the enlisted and non-enlisted aid of their misguided kinsmen.
Sadly that fight, over no tangible cause, has endured to this very day.
- The End -
Engr. Anthony Chuka Konwea, P.E., M.ASCE, MNSE, FNIStructE, MNICE