These are drafts of the first chapter of my novel, Gods Of The Land.
I have done seven chapters already, but I do not have much time to devote to writing. I am going at it one paragraph at a time, and I believe I will get there soon.
This post is to seek your input and critical eye on what could be wrong with this work. At best a smile for what is being done. But say it like it is. I have thick skin.
The explosive sound of the helicopter was heard by half dazed workers, sluggish from early lunch. They shielded their eyes from the rays of the sun; and fanned off the buzz of the flies, which sought solace on their flesh.
The helicopter was just a speck when it was sighted by the lookout guard and he screamed out his observations.
“They are the ones! They are the ones! Go back to work!”
Soon after the lookout guard spoke, the creaking bones of the security guards screamed painfully, in response to their moving limbs. They sauntered to their duty posts. They scowled at no one in particular, and heaved their shoulders to prevent their tattered moth eaten coveralls from fallen to the ground. The faded coveralls hung loose to the ground; they gave the guards a dejected and totally miserable appearance.
The station foreman and maintenance supervisor rode in on his age old bicycle in a wave. He huffed and puffed over the effort of transporting himself to work. He reeked of dry gin and had a glazed over look in his eyes, which were bloodshot. He blinked off the rays of the sun, swatted at the flies, and parked his bicycle beside the station house. He scowled at the security guards, and they gave him baleful and hateful looks. A guard mouthed idiot, and the supervisor kicked the sand in anger.
The helicopter hovered around. It took a look at its haggard workforce and banked left as the pilot took his bearing and set his mechanical contraption in alignment with the helipad.
He lowered it down, one centimeter at a time, and it touched down as the door flew open and the receiving station workers braced through the swirling and chugging of the rotor to meet the engineering crew. The workers took the tool boxes from the engineers and the helicopter rested on the helipad: its whining sound gave way to a mild humming as its engine was turned off.
The pilot killed the engine at the right time, and blessed silence, except for the sound of the flow station and the nearby forest. Some farmers crept from the nearby bushes to watch what was going on, fascinated by the process.
As the pilot and his crew alighted from the cockpit of the helicopter, the engineers went immediately to work. They met with the resident maintenance supervisor, who took them around the station house, into the offices and the materials storage room.
Satisfied with the cleanliness of the station house and the immediate environment, the two engineers went back into the station house. They opened the dressing room and went in, to change into appropriate work clothes.
The engineers emerged from the dressing room wearing yellow coveralls with Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited blazoned on it in red. The eternal Shell logo glittered in the noon sun.
Two engineers came on this trip. The first one, Niyi Ademola, was a mechanical engineer. He was the senior of the two. He had worked with Shell for five years and was due for promotion to Production Supervisor. He was of average height, brown in color, and spotted a skin cut hair style. He spoke accent less English and had a gentle demeanor.
The second one, Iyaye Opu-Haliday, was a process engineer, who had worked in Shell for two years. He stood at 1.8m. He had big rubbery lips and spotted a set of perfect white teeth. His haircut was low, evenly trimmed, with faded edges. He was muscular as one who spent time on the treadmill and lifted weights. He spoke English with a typical riverine Rivers accent, and was wont to say ‘O’ at regular intervals, interjected at critical moments in conversation.
The two engineers went into the office to read through the station dairy made by the resident maintenance supervisor, and the security supervisor. Niyi read the dairy of the production statistics and workings of the machinery and equipment at the flow station, and Iyaye went for the entries made by the station security guards and comments by their supervisor. While they sat at working tables provided, the maintenance supervisor stood quietly and waited for the young engineers to finish what they were doing.
The resident maintenance supervisor, Osai Otele, was an indigene of Ogbogolo in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State. He was a retired employee of Shell, employed on contract to manage the workings of the flow station and to provide first aid in the event of emergencies. He had a direct line and access to the Production office of Shell in Port Harcourt, and the Logistic Base at Kolo Creek in Immiringi, Bayelsa State. He could actually wake up the District Co-ordinator of Shell at Kolo Creek, and the Production Manager in Port Harcourt, on a twenty four hour basis, if the emergency was serious enough.
He stood at 1.96m. He had a neat Afro, and a broad nose. He spoke English in a well modulated voice. His teeth were yellowish with chapped incisors. He had a flat stomach and was broad of chest. He was hairy, but maintained a neat smooth shaven face.
The duo of Niyi and Iyaye finished reading the dairies, and made their own entries: detailing time of arrival, time of inspection of guard house and the result of that inspection. They noted when they were going out to inspect the well heads, the waste pit, and storage tanks. And made entries on when they could get to inspect the power house and process machinery at the flow station.
By now, Osai was tired of standing, so he took a seat on one of the visitors’ seat that faced the engineers’ table. He sat in front of Niyi, as he knew that Niyi made the call among the two of them.
“Sup, you have done a good job of keeping the guard station neat, and the equipment working fine. Everything looks good,” said Niyi,
“We try our best to ensure everything was done to Shell standards so we can earn our daily bread,” replied Osai.
“You do not have any problem with that, if you keep to instructions. Shell has a good record of job security and adequate remuneration package. Keep up the good work,” Niyi replied.
“Thank you. Let’s look at the other thing. We sold only fifteen drums of diesel. For this month Kolo Creek gave us ninety six drums, instead of the usual one hundred and twenty. The fifteen drums amounted to one hundred and sixty five thousand naira. You people take forty five thousand naira, forty five goes to Kolo Creek, and we keep the rest here,” said Osai.
“You people are keeping seventy five thousand naira, okay, but we shall pay Kolo Creek thirty five, they are the ones who were not able to meet up with providing the required quantity. There should be something to push them to allocate more to this flow station. And in Port Harcourt, it is not just the two of us, we also have other people to settle. If we don’t, this deal will be exposed. In Shell, this will earn all those involved a dismissal, with loss of benefits, except those contributed by the staff. It is important to take care of others in Port Harcourt,” Niyi said.
“We do not want to lose out on this arrangement. Maybe we can add ten thousand to your forty five, and Kolo Creek can add the other ten, so you can adequately take care of those in Port Harcourt,” Osai offered.
“No need, you have a higher number of people here, and I want those who sell this to be adequately compensated. They are very important,” replied Niyi.
“Don’t worry about them. Have they worked and earned ten thousand naira in their lives? They are fine with any amount we give them. Besides that, they make more money than any of us. If they sell for fifteen thousand per drum of diesel, they declare eleven thousand five hundred or twelve thousand naira. They are always making extra money from this deal,” Osai replied, angry and showing it.
Osai was angry at the youths who dispose of the spoils of their excoriation of Shell supplies at the flow station. What he did not tell the Shell engineers was that he was part of the sales team, and they sold the diesel to companies in Port Harcourt. He actually financed the deal. They made six to seven thousand naira per drum, shared between the three of them who sold off the products that they stole from the flow station.
“If you say so, it is okay,” replied Niyi as they looked up to Osai who called on the security supervisor, who in turn brought in a big sized tool box, pulled open the tool box, and lifted up the top part of it, exposing a stack of five hundred naira notes. Osai counted out sixty five thousand naira in five hundred naira notes, and put them in a jumbo sized envelope and handed over to Niyi.
“This is yours,” Osai said, as Niyi reached out and took the envelope. He reached out for his briefcase, opened it and lifted up the three bulky files in the briefcase and laid out the envelope. He it down, and placed back the files.
Osai handed out the other smaller envelope containing thirty five thousand naira to Niyi.
“You put this in your briefcase,” Niyi told Iyaye, as he handed over the smaller envelope.
“Why don’t you hold it too. I do not trust myself with money o,” said Iyaye.
“You have to start learning how to handle other people’s money. I cannot hold both of them. If we get robbed or I lose my briefcase, we shall lose the money too. But if you hold part of it, we shall have yours to rely on for ourselves and Kolo Creek.”
They put their briefcases in a metal shelf in the office and came out to the waiting room with their tool boxes. Two security guards came up to them, collected their tool boxes and led the way on to a gravel pathway to the well heads.
“I need to change up. I will join you people at Well 1,” said Osai.
“No problem, see you there,” replied Niyi.
Meanwhile, the pilot and his copilot made for the nearby mahogany tree, near the station house, after turning off the engine. The pilot was white, a Bulgarian national who had been in the employ of Driscow Helicopters, the owner of the twelve seat helicopter that was on lease to Shell. He had worked in Driscow for five years, after he lost his job in his home country.
He had worked with the Bulgarian Airline and lived all his life in Sofia. He was looking for another job after he was laid off due to downsizing, but none was forthcoming. So he frequented the bars in the red light district of Sofia, where pilots and their captains met to drink and exchange the latest gossip.
It was in Red Carpet that he met a retired captain of Driscow who regaled him with stories of adventure in Niger Delta of Nigeria, and the luscious girls he had tasted while there. He had looked at the man and noticed that the man was in his early sixties, and was seating with a lady of early thirties, black more like light brown who spoke with a foreign accent and drank orange juice. A most beautiful and attractive lady, with braided hair, weaved in corn rows, which were long and shoulder length. She had full sized breasts, and petit of build. So he talked to Jonkst, the captain had a Norwegian name.
“Is there any vacancy in this helicopter company?” he had asked.
“Yes, there is. They are recruiting pilots right now,” Jonsk replied.
“I will like to apply for a position. I need a job right now.”
“In that case, why not meet me at my office tomorrow morning by 9 am,” said Jonsk.
“9 am sounds alright to me,”
“We shall do the preliminaries, and you will take a test; if you pass, you will be on your way to Nigeria.”
That was how Benjamin Oknan of Bulgaria came to work for Driscow Helicopters.
For five years he had worked in the company, he had been well paid and had been financially well off. He had enjoyed some good times while the peace lasted. He had women in abundance and food, was contrary to general opinion in Europe, available in abundance. Eating the Nigerian foodstuff was even more economical than eating European meals in Nigeria. There were Fresh fruits, vegetables, and assorted fresh meat and fish. He was satisfied with his work and condition of service.
Initially, he took his time off and vacation in Europe, but lately he had been taking his time off here in Nigeria. Last year, he took his annual leave in Nigeria. He went to different parts of the country to relax and enjoy himself. He had enjoyed the Beach Party at Kaiama and Brass, in Bayelsa State. He had attended the Nwantam Masquerade Festival at Bonny, the Egwu Ogba, New Year Festival at Erema in Rivers State, and Nchaka at Omoku.
TO BE CONTINUED…
NOTE TO READERS: This is fiction based on a true story. The hijack of a Shell helicopter at Enwhe Oilfields and Flow Station by a Niger Delta militant group that called itself Enough Is Enough. The event happened on 11th July, 1999. It was reported in the Punch, Vanguard, and Guardian Newspapers.