“They will not die well. Their children will die wretched. Their children’s children’s children will not prosper. Their first ladies shall become last ladies. Vultures shall devour their eyes, and darkness perpetual shall descend on them and their families. Their sun shall set in the afternoon. Their pregnancies shall be aborted. I call on the blood of Jesus. Blood of Jesus. All those who brought Nigeria on her knees shall die. Die! Die! Die!”
“Madam, please offload”, the commercial auto cycle rider charged as he ordered Ngozi off his bike. “I can no longer bear these heavy curses. Wetin? What’s it? Talking to yourself and raining curses. Haba!”
Mungo Park had been very reluctant to carry Ngozi on his auto cycle, but having observed that her attempts to board a bike had been rebuffed by several of his colleagues, he took pity on her.
As she mounted the two-wheeled auto, three-quarters of her large rear could not find accommodation on the six-inch half broken passenger seat. The tyres were struggling to support the three hundred-kilogram human load mounted on them. And if we were to add the one hundred-kilogram weight of Mungo Park, it was obvious that the auto might be having its last days on the road.
Ngozi continued to mumble torrents of curses as she now had to rely on her legs for the remaining 2 kilometres to the orthopaedic hospital where her daughter, the eldest of seven children was battling for survival. ‘They will die. They will die. All those heartless beasts who chopped all our nation’s money and consigned the rest of us to this miserable penury will die.’ As Ngozi continued with her soliloquy of rage, her mind was steadied on her days at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where she had studied chemistry thirty-five years earlier, and was wondering how in her late fifties, all she could show for her education, her meritorious service as a teacher and retired school principal was a daily agonising cruise on ‘okada’.
Esther, Ngozi’s daughter, was rushing to make it to the bank where she had just got a job after a painful six-year post graduation wait on the labour market when she fell off a speeding auto-cycle. While her mother was wailing outside the hospital, Esther’s mind was also clouded by the horrible experience she had at the first ‘welcome on board’ meeting she and her newly recruited colleagues had with the Operations Director of Bottomley Bank. “ Look”, the Director submitted with an air of finality “ Gone are the days when customers are begging the bank for patronage. You have to give whatever is demanded by your client to get us big cash deposits. And I mean anything and everything. This bank will not accept excuses from any of you. Let me put it bluntly; if you must sleep your way through, so be it. And if your religion forbids you from performing your obligations to the bank, I advise you to seek your bread at your place of worship. Period.” Tears started rolling down Esther’s cheeks as nurses gathered round her to adjust her legs hung on bed poles.
At thirty-one, Esther had not been lucky to find a man to marry her. In fact, marriage had been the last subject on her mind as she was engaged in job search for years, and at most turns, she and her friends had been taken advantage of in a country with well over 30 million unemployed. And in any case most men of her age and those five or even nine years older are not in position to marry. They too are unemployed. They are frustrated, angry, and are constantly on the verge of seeking refuge in armed robbery and fraudulent activities. She remembered nostalgic stories of her father’s days at Ibadan University. ‘If my father did not share a room with anybody while at Ibadan some forty years ago, had his clothing washed and laundered by the university, served whole chicken at meals, how come that in my time, about twelve of us were sharing one room? Why should a country be going down the slope with this terrific speed? Why on earth should a country that boasts the largest revenue earning in Africa be groaning under the weight of poverty and want? Why should we be having auto-cycles as the commonest mode of transportation in this age and time? The humiliation, the indignity of having to roll up your skirts past your knees, sometime revealing your underwear? A respectable housewife, a corporate lady, a college principal, all having to sit behind a stinking dirty Okada rider? Sometimes body hugging. And the risk to limbs and arms?’ All these thoughts rushed through Esther’s head while ward attendants on the instruction of the ward matron kept her mother outside.
“These people will die. They will perish. See me, I lost my husband on Sagamu-Benin contraption called Highway. Nigerian road killed him before his time. Five of my graduate children have got no job. And these useless government people are giving out auto cycles on a –hire-purchase- basis. That is their own wobbled solution to unemployment. God will punish them. Do they give cycles to their own children and make Okada riders of them? They will die. Their great great grandchildren will die wretchedly. The money they accumulate will not even last a generation. Die! Die!
Ngozi was given the sad news that her daughter had to be amputated if the gangrene on her two legs was not to be allowed to consume her life.
“Ye Paripa!” Ngozi screamed the phrase learnt from her long stay with Ijebus at Ojota. “ I will die. Let me die.” She was running up and down like some one possessed. And as she swooned, her sixty-inch buttocks danced the kpalongo dance. Mungo Park, the Okada rider, was at the hospital premises. He had brought another visitor whose husband was a dying victim of the Okada. He recognised Ngozi, but Ngozi was too dazed to have a recollection.
“Madam, please take it easy” That was all Mungo Park could say before Ngozi rested her full weight on him like a drowning man clinging to life support. “Please take heart. I beg.” Mungo park did not know what else to say. He too was a university graduate who took to Okada business as a way of keeping body and soul together. At 39, he too was still unable to take a wife. And each time he plied the university route and carry undergraduates as passengers he was mindful of the fate awaiting them on graduation. And the irony, as he once explained to his mother, was that there were also university undergraduates whose rich parents or wealthy men-friends give cars to as birthday presents!
“Someday” Mungo Park tried to console himself, “ a generation of revolutionary youth shall emerge that will query the bastardisation of our values, challenge the barrage of injustices, and bring to book, a la Rawlings, the so-called leaders who brought the Okada generation to our country. And God knows that if I had my way, I’ll be the first to ban Okada throughout Nigeria. It is dehumanising. But for now, ‘How for Do?’”