The Young Tree That Never Grew

The Young Tree That Never Grew

The alarm of his touchscreen smartphone for which he spent about two-third of his salary four months ago rang continuously. Bernard shot up from his bed not without a sigh, as he normally did especially after the long weekends. Monday was one of his worst days – if not the worst day. He knew in an instant that it was 4am before dismissing the alarm. This day, as with every other Monday, he had had enough sleep because most of the evening of yesterday, being Sunday was spent in paying back the sleep debt he owed his overburdened body. Living in the remote hinterland of Lagos and working at Victoria Island entailed that he had to leave his home between 4.30 and 5am if he was to get to his office before 8am. Anything later than five would mean he would have to endure at least three hours of typical Lagos’ traffic with its characteristic jam and disorder.

Hurriedly, he fell on his knees to rap but silently a short prayer which by reason of overuse he had memorised. He did this for conscience’s sake, for he was accustomed to being asked, as with other members of the congregation, if he had his daily quiet time all through the week by his pastor nearly every Sunday in church. Being a worker in the church, he did not want to be one of the black sheep who had to stand up while the rest of the church folks, now considered saints for their faithfulness, remained seated, as the zealous Pentecostal preacher began to make a sermon out of him. That would be most embarrassing, particularly when there was a beautiful humble ‘sister’ in the choir whom he was eyeing for marriage with. He needed to prove his religiosity, nay, spirituality to impress her. After all, this was why he joined the ushers to begin with.

After a quick ‘thank you Lord’ and ‘protect me Lord,’ he sprang up to his feet, removed his night clothes, flung them onto the bed and dashed to the bathroom. ‘Thank God there is light today,’ he thought to himself on his way into the bathtub. The day before saw no electric power or ‘light’ as it is called in his common Nigerian parlance supplied to his house or street. This was not uncommon. Today he won’t have to cope with the relatively dull beam of his made-in-China rechargeable lantern. Besides, it won’t even be bright at all since its battery was almost flat as there was no electricity with which to charge the lantern yesterday, and he forgot to do so when he put on his generator. ‘Maybe Nepa wants to bring the bill today,’ he continued.

Out of the bathroom with nothing on, save the medium-sized white towel he had on his hand which he was using to wipe his dripping wet body, he made for the wardrobe pondering what he would wear. His body was, what one might say, most ladies’ fancy: tall, dark and handsome. And he was conscious of this. What‘s more, he was young and well-built. He looked 30ish, but not the late one. His pointed nose, thin pink lips, and dark curly hair gave him the looks of a half-caste, possibly African-Italian, but he was of no mixed parentage. It was just nature‘s accidental or well-thought-out gift to him. Added to this, he was intelligent, something that made him graduate with a first-class degree at a relatively early age of 23. It was this feat that quickly secured him a choice managerial position in one of the foremost new generation oil firms while many of his mates were still busy parading up and down the streets of Lagos with their certificates seeking even menial jobs.

He picked up his phone, turned on its screen, and glanced at the home screen, then gave one last push to his tie knot. ‘4.33,’ he emotionlessly blurted, but in his head. He calculated that he still had about half an hour to spare. After that, he‘d be late. With his shoes and everything on, apart from his jacket, he proceeded to prepare himself a light breakfast. The jacket normally waited till breakfast was over and after every other morning ritual was done and dusted. He picked two slices of bread from the loaf he had just placed back into the fridge, forked the egg he had recently fried and placed it in between the slices. Of course this sandwich would go down with a cup of hot tea, so called as is the norm in the country, even though it was made with nothing more than cocoa and milk.

By the time he left the house it was few minutes to five. With a fast pace he went up the street towards the exit where it joined the road, almost running. At few odd moments he had to jump muddy puddles here and there on the unpaved lane if he could not circumvent them. Some days he had his heart in his mouth as he jumped with uncertainty, not knowing whether the earth immediately following the puddle was slippery or not in the darkness of the early morning. At worst days of the rainy seasons he had to leave home with, in addition to his umbrella, an extra pair of footwear – the rubber slippers, which he put on, with trousers rolled up, dress shoes in one hand, and the umbrella in another while he waddled through the flooded street. This flooding was compounded by the amazing fact that the street lacked gutters, as most streets in the rural and semi-urban parts of the Centre for Excellence usually do. The few ones which do have are for the most part blocked and non-functional. He was wont of complaining, but this day he gladly put behind any hint of bitterness. Maybe it had to do with the light from the security lamps on most walls and gatepost which lit the street. Light has a way of injecting life into any person’s mood, especially when such person is used to living most of his days in perpetual darkness. The road, as with many others, have a switchback effect, as each vehicle passing made the puddles deeper.

It was a small community called Prestige Community that Bernard lived in. The community is not crowded, the streets are spacious, the buildings are mostly detached, some semi-detached, but the walls are joined together at either sides of the tracks forming a continuous strip to the end of the dirt road where all tracks converge at various junctions along its length to join the tarred main road. Occasionally, the long strip of walls, some of which are not plastered, is broken by open compounds belonging to older houses or flats owned by peasants who cannot afford to build walls. These houses are usually bungalows and unplastered, and the flats are one-room apartments which sometimes house families of up to about eight members in a single room. These have shared or ‘public’ facilities like toilets and kitchens. Some houses have the front room turned into a shop.

Bernard got to the mouth of the road facing the street. If he were moving in the hot afternoon with this pace and acrobatics, he would have been sweating profusely by now. As he made to cross he noticed a danfo bus slowly halt at the bus stop on the other side of the road. The bus conductor no sooner had he jumped down began shouting: ‘Iyana Ipaja! Iyana Ipaj–Egbeda! Iyana Ipaja!’‖ on top of his voice. A foreigner, upon hearing this for the first time, would have sworn that either the man had a rope tied around his neck, and was being dragged by someone wielding a sharp knife to his slaughter, possibly one of those skilful butchers he had heard of from the north; or that the man was probably a preacher crying: ‘Repent! Repent and be saved!’ in his native tongue. But neither of this was the case. The conductor was simply calling the ultimate destination of the bus to passers-by, as conductors do. The road was relatively free by this hour, so when Bernard crossed he did not have to do so hastily or panicky. If at all he ran, it was only because he was avoiding being late or missing this bus. Before Bernard got to the entrance of the bus a young woman equally in business suit, who had been waiting before the bus arrived, climbed in. Bernard arranged himself to follow suit when the conductor, with the sighting of his designer suit, warned rather harshly, almost pulling his right ear to drive home his point: ‘1000, 500 no enter; I no get change o…!’

‘You no get change?’ Bernard remonstrated. ‘Abeg na 1000 Naira I get, make we dey go you go get change. Na for last bus stop I dey stop.’

Bernard had hardly completed his plea when the conductor gave a loud hiss and yelled ‘Malo jo!’ to the driver as if transferring the anger to him. The conductor immediately jumped into the bus which zoomed off, leaving behind a cloud of thick grey smoke that had the most revolting odour you had ever smelt, as a memento of its once terrifying presence. Bernard jumped back. It was as if the bus was venting its displeasure alongside that of the driver and conductor at him. No sweat – he would have to wait for another bus. He brought out his phone from the right pocket of his trousers, turned on the screen and glanced at the time. He hardly wore a watch since his university days even though he used to be very fond of watches in his childhood. Probably the advent of hand-held devices like the mobile phone made it less functional or fashionable.

In about two minute‘s time another bus appeared from the end of the road as far as the eagerly anticipating eyes could see. As it approached nearer, this one was not as small as the danfo, neither was it as big as the molue. It was, for want of a better word, a semi-molue. It already contained a sizeable number of passengers that Bernard did not bother involving in an exchange with the driver about the availability of or the possibility of getting his change. Besides, the tally of passengers would improve as the journey progressed. He contentedly entered with two others who had joined him while he waited at the bus stop. He made sure he sat by the window side – the left end of the penultimate seat. Any window side or the front seat by the driver, which was now already occupied, was his favourite. It was seven past five. Quickly and routinely he surveyed the interior of the vehicle. He noticed that it was not old and shredded as most buses were. The leather of the seat and the panel of the body were more or less as smooth as his Italian shoes. And the novel gentle rumbling of the supposedly new engine added to the overall atmosphere of cosiness in this moving small world. This was the kind of feeling he usually had in his saloon car. This was a feeling largely unknown in commercial transport. This was compensation, so he thought, for the unwholesome experience with the obnoxious danfo earlier, and the resulting time loss. Memories of how he on several occasions tore his shirts or trousers flashed by in quick succession. ‘Thank God, it won’t happen this time,’ he murmured under his breath in momentary relief.

Of course, Bernard had a car – a car, new and sleek, given to him by Clam Oil as soon as he got his appointment there. But he preferred commuting by commercial transport, namely bus, particularly since the Bus Rapid Transit – the BRT – was introduced by the state government in a bid to not only ease movement through congested traffic, but also to reduce traffic congestion. He looked out the window and a gust of cold wind smashed into his face hurtfully, chiefly at his orifices. He dared not look out again when the bus was at full throttle.

The bus sped on, stopping occasionally at almost all the bus stops along the way amidst and despite the irritation and protest of the passengers. Most of these stoppages were to either pick more passengers or to drop some. The ones that were greeted with the loudest protest were when the driver, waiting longer than normal, called to non-responsive people standing or walking and minding their own business at the bus stop.

‘Driver dey go now,’ ordered Bernard on one occasion but not harshly, ‘you see say they no wan enter. Na by force?’

‘I tire o! As if him no know say time dey go,’ another passenger supported.

‘Abeg no vex. I just dey find customer.’ This driver was unusually polite. He was also unusually neat like his bus. Perhaps he is a school leaver who could not afford higher education, Bernard assumed. Sometimes the bus had to stop indiscriminately almost at the centre of the road to discharge or enlarge its content – the passengers, causing other motorists behind to horn and swear. Loudly. Apart from these continual interruptions, the journey was a relatively smooth one.

By the time they turned to Egbeda Road, just immediately after Isheri Roundabout, a woman who had recently joined this chance family brought about by their shared journey peeked at her watch. Bernard did likewise, but with the one on his phone of course. It was now half past five.

‘Abeg, help me gather your money line by line,’ begged the driver. Of course, he had no conductor, so he had to do the collection of money himself, and to transact directly and, if need be, quarrel with the ‘customers’. Bernard quickly offered to collate the money of those in his row. This he did because, possessing a banknote of the highest denomination, he had a large sum of change to collect, and was careful so as not to lose some of it to others who might need change for themselves too. Those who dropped earlier had their exact fares to pay, and did so singly directly to the driver immediately they got off.

Few miles before getting to Egbeda Bus Stop the bus decelerated once more, slowly coming to a halt. But, no, this time it was not to pick or drop anyone, but in surrender to the familiar terrifying monster that found its fixed abode in almost all the junctions and crossroads of Lagos – the traffic jam, or hold up as it is fondly called by its regular captives. The time of the day did not matter. As long as it was not between 12am and 4am when it retired because its prey had equally retired, any person, regardless of the staff of authority he wielded, or the weight of urgency his journey carried, was brought under its overpowering sway. This is not to say that there are no other parts of Lagos roads, say the long motorways, where the monster did not torment, but the junctions and crossroads, so it seemed, were its focal points and headquarters from where it co-ordinated its state-wide operations.

The man beside Bernard who until now had made sonant contribution to none of the previous drama on the bus hissed. He had a series of tell-tale tiny tribal marks on both corners of his eyes, and wore a Senegalese kaftan. His ethnicity was easily identifiable. He could no longer hide his displeasure. If only the government can build flyovers where they should be we‘ll not have these congestions even at this unearthly hour, Bernard thought. The atmosphere on the road became tense. It was not even dawn yet, and they had not even got to the busier major roads like Abeokuta Road at Iyana Ipaja which he would soon take or Ikorodu road. The bus inched forward and stopped. Then moved again and stopped. It continued like this until they reached a diversion by their right, a narrow winding road within a street which they took to get round the junction. Commercial buses were wont to do this, but most private cars, presumably those whose drivers were not conversant with the area, stuck to their guns. The road, that is the circuitous detour, however, had its attendant problems – an ample share of potholes, inclusive. Regrettable, but preferable.

Although one cannot gainsay the fact that there are excellent roads and road networks in the highbrow areas of Lagos, like Alausa, Ikeja, the seat of the state government; Ikoyi and Victoria Island, the financial capital of Lagos which is the financial capital of Nigeria, the financial capital of West Africa; one still cannot deny that there are innumerable poor roads and road networks in other areas which form a major chunk of the state. Potholes, always never attended to, are an everlasting feature that it is almost as if they were incorporated in the initial design of the roads. Moreover, there are many unpaved roads as there are tarred ones, and so many Lagosians are cursed to drive ever slowly on such roads, especially in the rainy seasons which, to add insult (or salt as most Nigerians say) to injury, take up about two-third of a year.

The bus steadily reduced the distance between Igando and Iyana Ipaja amid the routine hiccups. Finally they were at their destination. It was already crowded; it was not even 6am yet. Even the hawkers, roadside vendors and professional beggars were taking their places. Iyana Ipaja serves as a major bus station to many parts of Lagos, like Ikeja, Oshodi, Yaba and CMS. That explains why it is crowded virtually the whole day. The usual mayhem had already descended at this bus stop, as with other major ones. Shouts of conductors calling various destinations, blaring of horns and smoke from the exhaust of vehicles saturated the air, making it almost difficult to breathe. Bernard hastily pushed through the heavily congested road. He was rushing as much as possible to meet up with the BRT or LagBus to CMS whence he would board another bus to Victoria Island. It was only a few miles from where they had dropped that the BRTs where stationed. If he got there late, he would have to join the long queue, and might not be guaranteed a sitting position. He might not even be guaranteed a bus because there were no more than four BRTs to CMS. He would have to wait till at least 8am when the first of the BRTs might have returned, and this, of course, was out of the question. Almost every other person too was in haste.

On getting to the station, Bernard purchased a ticket and quickly joined the queue which was now fairly long. He left a 20-Naira change with the ticket vendor. The fare cost 180 Naira but he had a 200-Naira note and no time to contend.

The BRT looked almost as new as the semi-molue he had just alighted from. Some of them, though, looked as bad as most danfos. These BRTs with their dedicated lanes, initially expected to curb considerably the need for commuters to leave with their cars, was, as with every other good idea, applauded. And it did take off as predicted. But not long had it taken off did it begin to go down the plughole, but not to the surprise of Lagosians. That the inerasable culture of law breaking and brutish driving of Lagos’ gentlemen – and sometimes gentlewomen – would eventually take its toll on the BRTs and the whole BRT scheme was known to all. The buses became almost identical with the deplorable molues save for the colours and adverts on them which still gave them some tint of prestige. Other than these they were battered and almost always unwashed. The rules guiding the use of the lanes, which were enforced in the early period of the scheme, were now openly flouted. This is the common fate of Lagos’ laws. Private cars, commercial buses and even, to most BRT users’ annoyance, the slow lorries and trailers competed for access to the dedicated lanes with the BRTs. Not to mention the personnel carriers and other vehicles of the military and police who started breaking the laws as soon as they were promulgated. Ironically, in Lagos the Police and other law-enforcement agencies are above the law they are charged with enforcing.

All these contributed to the fact that the BRT system no longer enjoyed generous patronage from those high social class professionals they were intended for – the plenteous commuters who normally go to the Islands with their private cars. Bernard, of course, remained with the few wealthy commuters who still patronized the BRT. He was down to earth and sociable. He was even unassuming and meek, if anything. If we should say he had a hint of pride about him, it was only because of his extremely good looks which he generously used to get through in many occasions.

Bernard entered the bus and sought for his usual position. A few other people came in, and then he observed a young stunning lady in a smart dress at the doorstep. Her ticket was torn in two and her own part which served as a receipt was given back to her. She headed straight without premeditation to the seat beside Bernard. ‘Good morning,’ he said, but the lady gave no more than a simple cold nod. Ouch! Bernard’s ego was punctured. He pretended it was okay as he tried to gather his confidence back. His boyish charm which he attempted to use to impress her was rubbished. Probably she had a bad spell herself while getting here. Lagos is not Paris, is not Venice. Simply, Lagos is not romantic. A couple of minutes later the bus moved from the ‘loading zone’ only to get stuck right away in the traffic jam on Abeokuta Road and to every other thing Lagos roads would throw at its way.

The sky was not sky blue as in the day, nor was it navy blue as in the night; it was something in between, Bernard observed. He heaved a sigh of weariness, or rather resignation and reached for his expensive phablet. Maybe this will impress her. He surreptitiously glanced to his right through the corner of his eye. Oops! She was already dozing. ‘Sleeping beauty,’ he thought. On a more serious note, then, he began skimming the news. Then his mail inbox. And then finally he went to his social network site. On Facebook there was a page he ‘liked’ which periodically posted materials relating to the hopes of Africans for a developed Africa. Today it had posted one of the popular poems by one of Africa‘s popular writers, David Diop, most of whose poems enumerate the sufferings of his people first under the slave trade and then under the domination of colonial rule, and call for revolution to lead to a glorious future for Africa. Bernard smiled as he read the lines of the poem which brought back sweet memories of his past.

 

Africa, tell me Africa

Is this you, this back that is bent,

This back that breaks under the weight of humiliation,

This back trembling with red scars

And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun?

But a grave voice answers me:

Impetuous son, that tree young and strong,

That tree over there

In splendid loneliness amidst white and faded flowers,

That is Africa, your Africa

That grows again patiently, obstinately

And its fruit bit by bit acquires

The bitter taste of liberty

 

After reading the poem from start to finish with obvious and great relish, he laid back his head onto his chair, peered at the roof of the bus with eyes flashing with thrill, and flashed a smile of pleasure at the roof which looked on disinterestedly. Then – bam! – a memory flashed through his mind and in a flash he picked up his phone.

‘Hello, who is that?’ a sleepy voice answered at the other end of the line.

‘Sorry, it’s Bachi…Bernard Bachi speaking. I suppose that is Bryan Best.’

‘Yes, and how may I help you?’ the voice yawned on.

‘I’m sincerely sorry for waking you up by this time of the day…’

‘I wasn’t really sleeping,’ Bryan interjected, ‘but apology accepted. So, what brings about this curious call?’ Life had entered his voice now.

‘Well… I indeed should have called you much later on today, but…uhm…due to my…uhm…tight schedule I decided to do so now, especially now that…that I remembered…’

‘Yes, I very well understand. Ride on’

‘I got your contact from a mutual friend, Benson Bayo.’

‘Oh, Benson! And how is he? It’s been a while since we called each other. He isn‘t back in the country I suppose, is he?’ asked Bryan, in a most animated manner.

‘Yeah, that’s right. But he’ll return very soon. This Thursday or Friday, Thursday I presume.’ Without halting, he continued, ‘The thing is… I want a book, a biography about me written and published in about a week’s time or two.’

‘Really?’ A surprised Bryan asked.

‘Well, not exactly. A month is okay, but I need it to be so soon. I could have written an autobiography myself, in fact I already have a few pages of some draft works, but, like I said earlier, I do have a tight schedule, and I’m not so sure how the book will get on seeing that it is my first essay in book-length writing.’

‘Okay, I see.’

‘I sought the help of Benson. You know, his being an English graduate, an author and, most significantly, a bosom friend from childhood puts him in a much better position to be my biographer.’

‘That’s right.’

‘But’, Bernard continued, ‘he made me know that he wasn’t free at the moment to do such, and I understand that. He does have an awful lot to deal with right now. If he were to write anything of such great length about me, he said, it wouldn’t be in the near future. Such a work would be when he’ll be much older and retired, at his leisure, and would cover a much greater span of our lives – for he intends writing about us – than it would now. Accordingly, he recommended you to me. He told me you were such a fine writer, a biographer, and that you’ve done this kind of work for him before.’

‘Hmm… Yeah,’ he giggled.

‘I trust his judgement; I believe you‘re a good writer, even though, I’m afraid, I haven’t read any of your books.’

‘So, when do we meet?’ asked Bryan, ignoring what could have easily been construed as a backhanded compliment.

‘I also learnt from Benson that you are free for the meantime,’ continued Bernard.

‘Yes, I indeed am. I have no current project even though I can be quite busy.’

‘Tomorrow. I wonder if that‘ll be fine by you.’

‘Very well. But what do you do?’

‘I’m a researcher at an oil firm, but importantly I’m a social activist.’

‘Good! I’ll most definitely be free tomorrow. Where and when do we meet?’

Sensing the excitement in Bryan’s voice, Bernard made a self-satisfied smirk on his face as he said ‘I’ll send you the details this afternoon at my convenience. Anyway, have it in mind that it will be at my residence.’

‘No problem, then! Tomorrow it shall be! Looking forward to doing business with you.’

‘Me too! Until then. Bye!’ Bernard dropped the call, stretched his feet and hands, and exclaimed in delight ‘Great!’ Oops, I shouldn‘t have said that. He looked round the bus to observe no one was staring or gaping at him. He had forgotten he was still in a public transport. He looked out of the window and noticed the heavy and chaotic traffic, then he realised where he was.

Bryan on the other end of the line smiled to himself as the call ended. ‘I’ll like to work with him,’ he said. ‘I like to work with this kind of people: young, energetic and ambitious, just like I used to be in my youth; and even sincere.’ So he set himself to write a biography of Bernard Bachi, a young promising African. He closed his eyes once again, trying to force a sleep which had been rudely interrupted by a musical mosquito humming an unwelcome monotonous tune at his ear. ‘How on earth did it gain entrance into my insecticide-fortified house?’ He had wondered. This must be the second time, he reckoned, this was happening since he moved in to Lagos from Dover about a year ago. He tried to sleep, but his effort at sleeping was now interrupted by frequent thoughts of Bernard, even though he had not met him yet.

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By 10am on a fair Tuesday Bryan sat with Bernard in his guest room for a cup of tea as Bernard told him what might be of interest. Bernard had the day before requested to be excused from work today in order to prepare for the big event coming tomorrow. They both laughed and chatted throughout the most part of the day.

In the course of the discussion Bernard disclosed to Bryan his audacious plan to have him as the MC for the launch just the next day. Bryan, though initially shocked, willingly accepted the challenge. Being an experienced writer and especially a public speaker, he was no stranger to situations like this where he had to address a crowd impromptu. Bernard was well aware of this and that was why he decided to have a go. He also wanted to raise the quality of the event by having a foreign MC. What in the world could beat that? At the close of the meeting Bernard handed Bryan, his literary executor and biographer, his unfinished memoir and most of his unpublished works and specifically requested that they be published.

_______________________________#___________________________________

 

‘Great oaks from little acorns grow’ became Bernard‘s motto which kept him going as he went through the arduous process of registering and founding the Organisation for (Young) Africans Kick-Starting the tree Growth from scratch and scarce resources. The Oak Tree, as the organisation was fondly called, was an NGO whose primary mission was to educate Africans, especially young Africans, on leadership. The inspiration for the name was from the poem ‘Africa’ by the French-born Cameroonian poet David Diop. This organisation was to accomplish its objective by (1) organising free public lectures across the continent (2) holding lectures in secondary schools and higher institutions (3) airing sensitising and educative programmes on TV and radio (4) publishing a monthly journal The Oak Tree which would feature articles and short stories written by experts and average African youths alike (5) reaching and connecting the rest of the youths via social media. The most creditable of its functions, and in the opinion many, an icing on the cake was this: the establishment would, in partnership with Clam Oil, the trans-African firm he worked for, provide scholarship to an African youth who would win an annual essay competition to study in a reputable university in the UK. The essay would be on ways to develop the continent, and would be open to all African students in their last year of secondary school in Africa. The organisers had in view up to ten beneficiaries from across the four geographic distribution of Africa in subsequent editions. The organisation’s logo was as expected the painting of a tall fully developed oak tree with little round brown dots scattered around the green foliage which suggested acorns. This was embellished with the suggestions of withered plants and flowers in the foreground. The background was white, and all these were elaborately encircled by a thin black line broken at the bottom with the letters ‘OAK’. The official colours of the OAK Tress Growth were black, brown and a predominant green. The OGT had as its anthem ‘Africa’ the poem which was cheerfully read aloud at the beginning and close of every meeting and gathering, and which was accompanied by the national anthem of the host country in more formal occasions.

This was not Bernard’s first time at the Muson Centre, but it was his first time of addressing an audience here, even though he had on previous occasions spoken before large crowds. Thus, Bernard was remarkably poised as he climbed the podium. Seated before him were a representative of the Lagos State governor in the person of the state‘s honourable commissioner of youth, sports and social development, the general manager of Clam Oil, a representative and a social development adviser of the Department for International Development (DFID) Nigeria, and some other dignitaries from various national and international institutions. This is just to give an idea of the import of the gathering. Every seat in the five-hundred capacity hall was taken, and there was a large presence of the press. This, put together, was ensured by the sheer amount of publicity that preceded the day. The organisers had made every endeavour to place adverts in virtually all media across the country plus some major Anglophone states, including Ghana and South-Africa, even though attendance was strictly by invitation. And this feat was realised owing to Clam Oil’s pan-African presence and bountiful benevolence. In effect, Clam Oil was to Oak Tree what the soil is to an oak tree.

This function fulfilled two functions: First, it was to be the opening or introduction ceremony of the Oak Tree. Secondly, it was an award ceremony for the winner of the OAK the Tree Growth Essay Competition. The competition was two months earlier announced in major newspapers, and had as its theme ‘Relevance of Education to the Development of Africa’. In the subsequent edition and thenceforth it would become the Oak Tree Africa Essay Contest, open to all Anglophone and Francophone countries.

So far, so good. The event had taken off at exactly 10am as scheduled. Being something of a stickler, Bernard had made it clear when he consulted with the organisers on the need for the event to be prompt. The international guests, not being familiar with what Nigerians call ‘African time’, which is almost always at least one hour behind any schedule, would find it most disturbing if the event were yet to kick off after when due.

The master of ceremonies, who in some capacity acted as also the chairman for the occasion, Bryan, a wit and a dandy, smartly dressed in a black dinner suit and bow tie to match, delivered a most elaborate and entertaining introduction of the host Bernard Bachi in a slight Cockney accent. He was Bernard’s top choice as the MC to the chagrin of the organisers who saw no sense in bringing a ‘Johnny just come’ or ‘JJC’ to lead an important occasion as such. Doubtless, the organisers too were impressed, as Bryan proved himself a worthy choice.

A humorist, Bernard made one or two pungent efforts at joke-making which yielded a good deal of peals of laughter from the already electrified audience, thanks to the MC who had done a most brilliant job. On a rather more earnest note, but with no less conviviality he began with the business of the day. First, he acquainted the public with the initiative and background of the newly formed organisation. Then, with some more sombreness and equal fitness of formality, he proceeded to discussing the theme of the luncheon: ‘Education for Development: The Fertilizer for Diop’s Tree’. This announcement, although the topic was boldly printed on a banner behind the rostrum, and advertised intensively before now, was greeted with tumultuous applause. No doubt it was what had given this evening its uniqueness to begin with and a generous attendance that befitted it. After explaining to the amused listeners the rationale behind his choice of topic until he made sure they had well got the picture, he took up to theatrical effect.

‘Africa,’ his smooth baritone voice boomed through the tuned surround speakers, ‘though rich in human and natural resources, has of course been leading in bad governance and its resultant political instability index amongst the world’s continents due to dictatorship, absence of a true democratic process, and corruption. Sadly, this has led to a hampering of economic growth and development, and people living in perpetual fear and discontent.

‘For Africa to achieve good governance, political stability and development, first and foremost there is a need to clearly define the terms governance because an average African’s perception about this word might most probably be distorted. This is due to, I‘m afraid, years of living in a continent where the true sense of the word is lost as a result of non-practice. There needs to be a change of Africa’s conception of governance and leadership. Because truly, as we have observed of our countries, a society where being in government is seen as a means of acquiring personal wealth and unlimited power, the values of good governance will be trampled upon and, consequently, political instability and underdevelopment will inevitably follow, as is the case in Africa.’

Bernard positioned his smartphone placed before him on the pulpit and resumed, glancing at its screen intermittently. ‘According to the United Nations Development Programme definition,’ he said, ‘governance is the “exercise of power or authority to manage a country’s resources and affairs. It comprises mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations, and mediate their difference”. Therefore, then, good governance emphasises values such as citizens’ participation and representation; government’s accountability, effectiveness in formulation and implementation of sound policies, transparency, responsiveness and respect for the rule of law.

‘And you can all agree with me,’ spreading his arms wide apart in gesticulation, ‘that this is far… so far from what is obtainable in our dear Africa. There is therefore a need for intensive education; a need for Africans to understand that governance is a means of ultimately boosting the society’s prosperity and sovereignty instead of personal wealth and power, which, sadly, has given rise to the persistent monstrous struggle, sometimes bloody, for power, and dictatorship. The Organisation for Africans Kick-Starting the Tree Growth is poised to designing an elaborate programme for a massive education and reorientation in schools, on the streets and across all forms of media, for the masses and all aspiring and maybe current politicians, on what governance truly entails. It is all in a bid to uphold true democracy within our nations, and discourage military rule and dictatorship.

Where the actions of the government cannot be questioned, and its power checked, the citizens are bound to remain unsatisfied and to live in fear. Violence will readily erupt, and economic growth and development will be hampered. Truth remains that good governance is the only vehicle for political stability and, in turn, development.

‘That said, education for scientific literate leadership and citizenry is even more a pressing need.’ He paused for effect. Then he adjusted his bespoke dinner jacket and looked round the hall to catch a glimpse of as much faces as he could to reassure him of their attentiveness. Without doubt, he held the audience spellbound. He feigned seriousness and continued his speech by heart.

‘In today’s world,’ said Bernard, with confidence peaking, ‘science and technology are undoubtedly vehicles for socio-economic development. The standard of living, social security, military and political power of any society all depend on the advancement of her science and technology. Decades ago, developed nations were more or less as underdeveloped as developing nations of today. They are now transformed from rural, peasant communities into highly urbanised, industrialised countries through the development of their science and technology. In the process, they became rich and politically powerful. For Africa to achieve her age-old goal of crossing the borderline between being a developing continent and a developed continent, she must develop scientifically and technologically. However, science and technology have continued to maintain a proudly lowly status in the continent. On the cause of the current poor levels of science and technology in the third world countries, Dr S A Thomas in a 1983 article on Chemistry in Britain said…’ He looked down his phone and read.

“Most third world countries may appear to be looking for salvation in science and technology; they lack the foundation necessary to develop their scientific and technological potentials in real terms. Social attitudes favouring non-scientific endeavours and objects leading to a quest for increased material wealth not justified by increased productivity and optimal utilisation of scarce resources have continued to inhibit enhanced scientific activities… There is a need to solve the problem of inadequate research leadership and generate a crop of policy makers sufficiently on scientific matter, if third world nations wish to improve their lot.”

A shadow of sincere disgust touched his face as Bernard raised it up back.

“This foundation, I believe, necessary to develop science and technology in the continent is obviously education: elementary, secondary and tertiary education for countries like ours or mine, Nigeria, which runs the British schooling system. Science and technology have to be taught and studied systematically and purposefully, respectively, at all levels of education including, at least, first years of tertiary education for the arts and the humanities. It is evident that science and technological transfer and development is solely dependent on science and technology education in the country, for scientists and technologists are definitely required in the socio-economic infrastructure of the society before any scientific and technological development, and industrialisation can occur. Even if students do not further their study of science and technology in tertiary institutions, and as a result do not go on to become professional scientists, engineers and technologists, their experience of science and technology gained from the elementary and secondary levels and first year of their tertiary education will be sufficiently rich and relevant.

‘Such scientific literacy will equip them to contribute to Africa’s development in an increasingly competitive and rapidly changing world. In other words, if all students in this developing continent, including those in the arts and humanities as well as sciences, were imbued with the curiosity that characterises scientists, and the competence that characterises engineers and technologists, all would be in a better position to participate in the solution of the indigenous problems of social and economic development.’

There were nods of consent from all the corners of the auditorium.

‘There is a need, therefore, to imbibe the science culture in every African so as to have the proper and requisite foundation on which to develop our science and technology, which will in turn develop the country. This is why great emphasis should be put on effective science education to help lay the needed foundation, starting from the primary to at least the first year of the tertiary level for students of humanities. The various African governments must design specific policies on science and technical education which must be implemented and sustained to promote science and technology curricula at each level of education. This, of course, must include increased funds which should be provided and properly utilised in the educational system.

‘When scientifically well-informed leadership springs up, and scientifically and technologically literate citizens abound who are not all about “a quest for increased material wealth” but ways to contribute to problem solving in the society, the right type of environment will exist, and illiteracy and superstitious beliefs, which are prevalent in the country, will be eradicated. And by so, all these “social attitudes” which have “inhibited third world countries”, as Thomas rightly puts it, would have been erased. Africa will then have a chance to improve her lot as she finally sets out for scientific and technological development which will in turn hastily pave way for development. Underdevelopment which has continually plagued third world countries like Arica’s, rich in human and natural resources, will be history.

‘We, the Oak Tree, also have plans to support science education and even scientific research and innovation across the continent, working with our various partners of course. We hope to receive positive responses from the various governments and their ministries or departments, especially the ones for education, science and technology, youth development, you know… and the likes. We trust that in conjunction with them we will be able to, though in our small ways but altogether, nurture this potentially great and fruitful tree into what it is to be.’

Bernard bowed to the audience who gave him an overwhelming ovation. He wanted to be as quick as possible, and he did make his speech brief. The afternoon went on with two or three quick addresses from the guests, one of which was the president of Nigeria ably represented by the Minister of Youth Development who expressed the ‘federal government’s commitment to furthering a good cause as this that would aid the country and continent‘s development.’ He also commended ‘the creativity and courage of Bernard Bachi to pull of the setting up of an establishment of this calibre,’ adding that it was a ‘notable initiative and a worthy cause.’ He concluded, ‘Bachi is a proud son of the nation.’ The coordinator of DFID Nigeria said it was epic and marked a significant breakthrough in youth development and the overall development of Africa in recent history.

The award ceremony for the essay competition was next. Bisi Boluwatife, a young girl, was presented to the audience. She had won the maiden edition of the competition and a scholarship to study at Stanford. Refreshment followed. A stand-up comedian took the stage to entertain those who could lend him their ears while their mouths were busy. After a short while the event was wrapped up.

People moved about freely, exchanging pleasantries and greetings to friends, acquaintances and strangers who they hoped to befriend. The press moved in on most of the notable figures to conduct interviews. Scores of journalists with their photographers swarmed round Bernard as well who generously assented. One of the many questions he fielded concerned the gross rate of corruption in the nation and in the continent. Corruption has been the bane of developmental efforts in Africa. What could be done to ensure programmes like this are followed through?

‘Yes. Indeed, corruption is a pain in the backside. It is the leading cause of bad governance in the continent. And as we all know, good governance is inextricably connected with political stability, economic growth, development and security. Here is my honest opinion. An institution needs to be set up to check corruption in government. The sphere of the institution’s operations should encompass the whole aspect of government: election, and execution of government’s duties. This body must have constitutional effronteries to confront any government activities or representatives at all arms and levels of government it considers questionable, and take appropriate legal action against them when necessary. This will ensure that proper governmental processes are duly followed. In the same vein, African governments should run a transparent system of government, as this will also save resources, including time and money, expended in the course of the institution’s investigation and litigation. Thank you.’

_______________________________#___________________________________

 

Driving from Lagos Island, where the Muson Centre is situated, to Igando, where Bernard resided, his black BMW, one of the latest editions, manoeuvred through the heavy traffic and bumpy roads, and slid through the mud if need be. It was now 1pm. The launch of the OAK the Tree Growth lasted exactly three hours. He left the tidying up of the venue to the able hands of his well-put organisers. Bryan, who lived in nearby Lekki, had advised him to stay the night at his house, but Bernard argued that he needed to be at home to finalise plans for his birthday celebrations the next day, Thursday. ‘I have to go home’, he had hastily explained to Bryan, ‘so that I can prepare very well for tomorrow‘s party and. Besides, the hold up won‘t be too severe, considering this is just midday. Most commuters should be at work now. Two hours should do it.’

After about three quarters of an hour on Africa‘s longest bridge, the Third Mainland Bridge, which centrally connects, via a series of other smaller bridges linked to it, the Islands of Lagos to the mainland, Bernard made a turn at some point into Oshodi, a notorious area. The traffic was still heavy. There were plenty of cars and buses about, and even so, many people were going on foot. Some were carrying black polythene bags, some women, apparently mothers, had babies strapped to their backs with wrappers, while some other people carried loads on their heads – loads sometimes so heavy that it takes one or two others to lift them onto their heads. At some places along the roads, designated and even illegal bus stops, and motor parks, huge crowd of people gathered waiting patiently – and impatiently – for occasional buses and cars which decided to stop to provide a lift. The buses, when they appeared, were often filled to almost twice their capacity, and the people, who normally do not, cannot, and will not queue, push and shove themselves through the door. The unsuccessful ones who luckily get a foothold at the door and on the bumper cling on. It was quite a sight.

There are check-points along the roads with one or two policemen usually armed with a rifle, not necessarily soliciting bribe from petty traffic offenders, but requesting for even as low as N20 from any motorist, mostly operators of public conveyances.

Street traders are everywhere: old women, young men and women, some of whom are youngsters, sitting shoulder to shoulder by the roadside selling or hawking from car to car along the interior of the main roads and motorways their produce: fruits, vegetables; others some loaves of bread; varieties of ‗snacks‘ like chips, sausage rolls; soft and hard drinks in cans and plastic bottles; motor accessories and spare parts; and even house-hold materials like foot-matches and toilet brushes – basically everything you could get in a market! All are exhibited on the road and by its sides. The road is sort of a surrogate market.

Danfo bus drivers drive recklessly trying to steer clear of the busiest spots on the road. They do so so that they can quickly ‘offload‘ there passengers at the last bus stop and return to carry as much passengers as they can. Occasionally this results in denting of other cars and injuring of pedestrians. Motorbikes, popularly known as okada, whizz through the narrow spaces between traffic like angry mosquitoes.

Terrible noise saturated the smoky air. The mixture of sights, smells and sounds around could make one‘s senses reel. The steady, thick noise, one could sense, was almost as visible and tangible as the clouds of thick grey smoke that billowed from the exhaust of vehicles, most of which were old, rickety buses having bad engines. Bernard noticed the car in front of him stop-go driving behind a lorry in the heavy traffic. The exhaust fumes of the lorry continually stung the car driver‘s eyes and nose. Bernard smirked and composed this verse:

 

Muscling through the heavy traffic were noisy, rugged-looking yellow danfos,

Many of which bumped vigorously when they passed by countless potholes.

They did cause many a one in disgust to wrinkle and clutch one’s nose

As great clouds of smoke billowed from beneath when they drove up close.

 

It was a most dreadful situation to be in unless one is comfortably settled in an air-conditioned vehicle with its windows wound up. But even the people in this class are not entirely safe because they become targets for road robbers. In Lagos, having your car windows closed is a status symbol; it shows you are rich. The noise on the roads was, apart from the rattling and honking of vehicles, contributed by voices of traders calling and sounds of loudspeakers broadcasting music.

Bernard peered into one section of a bus stop and took notice of a group of young men in a row with bright eager eyes calling on top of their strong voices ‘Bend down, select! Yes, come buy your shirt; hundred, hundred naira bonanza…!’ They kept reciting it almost melodiously. Some of them even had bells which they rang to complement their voices. The clothes they had spread before them on cut out sacks and cartons which laid on the mud and mud-spattered pavement were certainly not first-hand nor first-rate clothes, nor were they even second-hand or used clothes. They were of low-grade quality. ‘Third-hand’ if you like, would be the fitting description. Yet, they attracted mammoth patronage because of their incredibly cheap cost.

Turning to the opposite direction, Bernard observed a man urinating into the open gutter along the road. This was amid the surrounding activity. At a later time Bernard would see one or two grown-up women squatting to urinate by one of the walls further away from the roadside, and covering themselves with nothing but their skirt and wrapper, and in public.

There were infamous hooligans known as ‘agberos’ at the bus stop, just as in virtually every busy bus stop in Lagos, illicitly soliciting money from commercial bus operators. These jobless thugs, a constant terror to danfo drivers and conductors, at the sight of a bus stopping to pick up or drop off passengers, run to it ready to rip apart side-mirrors to shreds or to rip off such things as the windscreen wiper or to fight the conductor or driver whenever their ‘share’ of the fare collected from the passengers is refused them.

Mayhem readily erupts here and there on the busy roads of Lagos. The atmosphere is always tense and one could sense that at any moment more fracas or fight would break out. There are no dull moments. Driving or walking the roads of Lagos is always an eventful journey. One fortunate to find oneself participating in none of these drama watches on, engrossed.

On edging to a junction, Bernard wound down his window and beckoned a newspaper vendor. Instinctively, he brought two or three papers, including the evening paper, from his table and ran towards him. Other hawkers also dashed to him. Anytime you show the slightest interest they run to display their wares to you. Bernard took the evening paper and paid the vendor. It was full of terrorism, murder, kidnapping, rape, strikes, and, naturally, corruption in politics, and public disaffection. He dropped the paper and purchased from a girl who had also run to him and who looked no older than 12 or 13 some clean drinking water in clear plastic bag which was called ‘pure water’. He declined to accept his change, to the delight and gratefulness of the young seller. He shut his window, looked far ahead and saw another lurch of motion working its way down the line towards him. He started his car again, waiting, and when it got to him he dragged on. Then he stopped again awaiting another movement. And thus continued he his snail-paced journey.

Further out the road and roadside are lined storey buildings and bungalows made of concrete. Some are natural grey, many are painted. They are flats, offices, churches and even factories. Among them are both buildings long left uncompleted and those under construction. For the most part, they have sloping roofs of corrugated iron. A few have flat roofs.

All of a sudden the sky split and some drops of water dropped disrupting the disorder down below the heavens. There were many heavy drops now. It was an unmitigated upheaval and tumult as sellers hurried to rescue their goods and people ran helter-skelter, getting in each other’s way, desperately seeking the nearest available shelter from the downpour. But the shelter was hard to come by, and so many people resigned themselves to their fate. They walked on in the rain. Some jugged, using the opportunity to do some workout and maybe be in good shape. Most women wore a black plastic bag upside down over their head. The rain, however, did not last for long. But the rain breeze continued to blow. Normally, activities would have resumed, especially the boisterous trading, but since it was late at night many traders felt they were done for the day and decided to pack up.

An hour later Bernard made a right turn into Babatunde Babalola Street, his street, which was relatively quiet. At long last! He got off his vehicle, opened his gates and drove in. He lived in a two-bedroom detached house. It was painted in white. It had air-conditioning, bay windows and fine netting screens to keep out mosquitoes. This bungalow, like many buildings in Lagos, was surrounded by a wall reaching up to 10ft high and made of cement block. It was plastered and also painted in white and had on its entire length, including the gates, spiral barbed wire. The two gates were black, and at either side of the pair sat two floodlights on the gateposts. Some other gates in the neighbourhood had the stern warning: BEWARE OF DOGS affixed to them. These are all in a bid to abate the high incidence of burglary and robbery.

There is an atmosphere of terror, especially in the late evening. It is as if at any moment armed robbers will attack out of the blue, and the people, in anxious anticipation, lock their gates from as early as 8pm. All these measures keep raids by the underworld at bay to some extent. However, that did not stop them from breaking into their houses from time to time. Bernard’s home was broken into roughly 14 months ago. The police have not improved their services, but the frequency of armed robbery is decreasing, what with the introduction of vigilantes who operate between 12am and 5am, and religiously demand for their pay even before the month ends. The suspicion is shared by many that maybe the vigilantes were the criminals, and so the people in turn religiously pay their security dues. None complains.

Bernard put on his generator, went in straight to his bedroom, pulled off his jacket, played a record of Sir Edward Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, and fell onto his bed. He was too tired for anything else. _________________________________#_________________________________

 

One instant he was practically unconscious and the next he was awake and suddenly became aware of the far away crowing of a cock. The hours had quickly passed. It was now half past five. He still lay in bed and was listening to the refreshing sounds of the evening. The faint light of dusk was seeping through the window blinds. First, he sat up in his bed, stretched himself and sighed deeply. Then he got up, went into the living room, picked up the front-door keys from the mahogany where he had wearily left it hours ago, pulled open the glass sliding door and unlocked the security grille and the wooden door and went out into his garden. Standing there on his lawn he inhaled profoundly the refreshingly cool, sweet evening air, easing himself from the accumulated stress of the luncheon and the traffic. This was his best time of the day. He moved and sat under the sunshade on a mosaic pavement. It was here that he normally sat to take a walk down memory lane. This time around he was reminiscing about the successful launch.

Moments later Bernard walked back into the house to write an article about his newly-formed organisation which was, as he intended, to be published sometime during the week. He picked two slices of bread and cheese from his refrigerator and ate them as he prepared and gathered his materials for writing. He was slightly hungry, but he seemed to be perfectly tuned to his Muse only in this state. When he was full, he had discovered, it was hard to get inspiration to write. He lay on his rug in his bedroom, which he had turned into a kind of study. He usually wrote on the floor or on the bed lying down. In fact, both of his elbows were black from leaning on them. He began scribbling and went on right into the evening. After about seven pages and a half of foolscap he was done. He wrote with such intensity whenever he came under such strange propulsion.

Realising once again that he was hungry, he looked at the time on his smartphone. He would leave the final editing till the next night. It was now 7pm. He got himself up. He put on a white T-shirt, went for a rubber can and to a nearby filling station. The generator was still running, but he was sure the fuel available wouldn’t last the night.

At evening flickering oil lamps of stalls and shops dot the sides of the streets. The stalls encroach on the roads. Many of them are large parasols belonging to people who manage a phone call and recharge card business. There is no street lighting, as with most streets and roads. Street lights, where provided, are almost always non-functional. More often light escapes through open windows, and beams from outside lights of buildings lit by noisy generator sets. Walking the streets around this time of the day is usually a nightmare as people have to make efforts to avoid the muddiest and deepest parts of the road especially in the darker areas, more so when they are occasionally caught in the dazzling headlights of an oncoming vehicle. It is not unusual to see the streets at early evening littered with folks carrying grubby oil or watering cans serving as makeshift fuel cans, marching to or from petrol stations.

Bernard, like the rest of the poor mass and the media, had cried. He wrote prolifically and intensely on the issue. On one occasion, pouring out his heart, he wrote:

‘This is one of the ‘many, many write-ups expressing the excruciating regrets of the writers and of the masses for the sorry state of the Nigerian state. Hardly does a day break without a new article lamenting on the never-ending mishaps, miseries, and shortcomings in the country published in our papers whether it be in form of an editorial, report, opinion or letter as this one. Whether the people in the corridors of power read and even react to these publications (positively, that is) or not, more are written, being written and, with the look of things, definitely more will be published and still the longer the country’s problems linger.

‘If the government is primarily concerned about improving the Nigerians’ lot, it should lend an ear to this write-up and a million others (only God knows the number) crying about the ills in the nation‘s system and suggesting ways of mitigating same. Only then can concerned individuals be relieved of their distress for the failing situation of the country and change the theme of what has constituted a major chunk of the sum of all their writings.’

But as was expected before the lamenting the government turned a deaf ear to the cries. More often than not when Bernard wrote or studied his overworked giant-sized red generator was on. By the time he edited his manuscripts on his laptop and emailed it to be considered for publishing, his generator was sure to help as usual. And there was no other way it would have rather been, for even most government buildings and even the power distribution company offices run on improvised power.

But this time Bernard was in no sombre mood as he swung his plastic can along the street littered with free-range chickens scratching for food. For all he cared any distressing situation could be! He wasn’t going to let them or anything else spoil his celebrations. Today was his day. He seemed to be saying ‘Let sleeping dogs lie. It’s no use crying over spilt milk. Tears won’t glue back a broken egg. Broken bottle has no nmekotability.’

Bernard turned into the main road. There was a petrol station just by his right. But at the entrance of where he was to buy his petrol he suddenly set his eyes on an unpleasant sight. Few kilometres away from the exit on the other side of the filling station was some noisy activity. There were two or three ‘men in black’ as the police officers are usually fondly or odiously referred to. They were armed. One police corporal was with a rifle slung behind him. The other wielded his rifle in his left hand. There were also two yellow buses parked in line. A small crowd had formed just at the centre. The crowd seemed to consist of some of the alighted passengers and two conductors. He could tell they were conductors because they were dressed shabbily, almost tattered. There were wrenching of clothes and shoving of bodies. A policeman appeared to be bullying and smacking a conductor. The others, apart from the other policemen who cheered on, were pleading. What had he done wrong, the unfortunate conductor? Bernard considered. Was the policeman trying to beat a bribe out of the conductor because he had stubbornly refused? Even if the conductor was at any fault, should he be treated in this manner because he was not armed and not in a uniform? Anger began to well up inside Bernard as he beheld the maltreatment. Should he go to interfere? Perhaps he shouldn’t. It was his happy day and mustn‘t let anything get in his way. But he was boiling within. He had to vent his anger on the cruel officers.

Bernard dropped his can, pushed through the crowd and approached the bullying officer. Too pent-up to speak tactfully he blurted out amid the disconcerting clamour ‘Oga easy now! Wetin be the problem?’

‘Who you be, young man?’ howled the policeman at Bernard. He shoved the conductor aside. His eyes, as far as one could tell in the dim evening light, were red with anger. ‘You dey challenge authority?’

The other who was standing behind said nothing. He unslung his gun and cocked it. Was he going to fire upwards; was he going to shoot Bernard? People were not sure which direction it was now facing. The commotion was much. The agitation was heightening, and so was the clamour. Bernard was completely oblivious of what was going on. He was still glowering at the policeman he had just challenged. Then all of a sudden something hit him on the chest. A loud bang and a puff of smoke quickly accompanied. He looked down and discovered some red fluid spurt from his white T-shirt. He knew what it was. He knew what had happened. He wanted to say something, or so it looked. He slowly lifted his face to the direction of the policemen now fleeing the scene. The crowd had quickly dispersed. The buses were also no more. He fell to his knees, then sideways on his right. His eyes were laid on a tree across the road. Though it was young, it looked somewhat withered. It seemed it had a stunted growth. Bernard forced a knowing smile: ‘Africa… my Africa.’ Darkness followed.

_______________________________#___________________________________

 

The two policemen responsible for Bernard Bachi’s death were later apprehended. But they were soon freed after investigations indicated that the gunshot was an ‘accidental discharge’. Bernard ‘Buike Bachi, who was born 1 October 1970 and died 1 October 2013, had fruitful contacts with some notable figures like the Governor of Lagos State, the Minister for Youth, the Nigerian regional director of DFID, and many others in the British Council who helped in the fairly easy formation of the Oak Tree. They were all present or at least well-represented at his funeral. He was buried at the Ikoyi Cemetery in Lagos.

A month after Bernard’s death Bryan Best, who had the sole right of all of Bernard’s diaries, notes, letters and essays, published an official biography Life and Legacy of Bernard Bachi. It was a best-seller. The OAK the Tree Growth functions till this day but many believe not in the capacity it would have were Bernard Bachi still alive. On his gravestone reads this epitaph: Here lies a young tree that never grew. A street in Lagos is named after him.



6 thoughts on “The Young Tree That Never Grew” by Emmanuel Ezeagwu (@Ezeagwu)

  1. I have to say you proof read this work thoroughly. That is no mean feat for a post of such length.

    This write up was by no means bad, but then I can’t say the story was compelling to read either. There were points that it became not so interesting… There were more than a few times where you explained things too much. I’ll take only the first two instances; when you’d already said that the day was Monday, and then later on in the same paragraph said that the evening of the previous day was a Sunday evening…

    and when, having already mentioned that Bernard had it when you said he was going to take a shower (**its a given that a guy has to dry himself after a bath… well, unless maybe its against his religion, lol**) you further went on to describe what a bathing towel is going to be used for. Get my drift?

    Personally I think unnecessary detail is what makes most novels voluminous. By the time they finish describing a vase, they’ll continue with describing every single petal of the flowers it contains one by one. In the mean time the only part relevant to the understanding of the story in that entire one-page scene could be summarised in a single line. There’s this misconception that if a novel isn’t thick then its not a serious book, and that the author no sabi, and him never learn work finish.

    There was a part that was supposed to be “wont to” instead of “wont of” complaining.

    The part about the way the conductor was yelling “Iyana ipaja” and the idea of a person being dragged by a rope to his death was hilarious.

    The scene with bernard and bryan could be more concise and still make the story come along nicely… And I feel stating the entire poem was not absolutely necessary. To me, merely stating the name, author and how it made Bernard feel should suffice. Peotry buffs could then go ahead and google it if they so wish.

    With the way you list points and talk about concepts, I believe this should be more of an expository essay than anything.

    There was a line “Being something of a stickler…”

    stickler for…? What I mean is, you have to state whatever he is a stickler for. Yes, the meaning was implied when you stated that he wanted the organisers to be prompt, but I think that’s like taking a long walk for a tiny drink of water, feel me?

    Your concepts are deep. The expository stuff comes to mind again. But if it was your aim to, i’m not sure they make very entertaining reading.

    But then I laughed at “…broken bottle has no nmekotability…” that was very funny.

    And then the end. SMH at some trigger happy fool who just had to be there to be used by the devil.

    May Bernard Bachi rest in peace.

    1. @anakadrian I want to give you a big hug, will you allow me?

      I’m so glad you took your time to read this. Honestly, I was preparing myself to say something but you beat me to it.

      Please do this often. Thanks again.

      Dear writer, I’m expecting a turn around on your next write up. Keep writing!!

      1. Aww… Sure thing

        And Happy birthday once again.

  2. A great effort had been made in ths write-up…but #anak had almost said it all….too much of repetitions plus the irrelevant of describing many things really make the story to somehow seem bored…buh I guess you tried and you have the gift of putting things down to book..

  3. A most elaborate review Anak Adrian. I must confess I felt almost intimidated. Never have I had such lengthy, revealing and forceful review of any of my works. You are a critic of class.

    The simple explanation for the wordiness, superfluity and repetitiveness running through the story is this: It was part of a larger work which got lost. Preparations were underway to have my first novel published, when, due to some circumstances, I lost the only copy of the manuscript.

    As devastating as this was, I yet rallied to piece together any fragments of the manuscript I could find here and there, reedited and refined them, and finally produced what now appears to be a short story. Though it is far too short of what it once was, the short story contains what I call the ‘backbone’ of the narrative of the parent novel. I couldn’t work on rewriting the novel as I have other works I’m currently involved in.

    Clearly, I’m not a good story teller, as you pointed out. I know I suck big time at telling stories, so I had to make use of what skill I had: the ability to describe. I’m actually an essayist. This is just my first essay in literary writing. I may have to back off from fiction and stick to my non-fiction before I kill my intended readers with boredom, not just Bernard or any other fictional character.

    1. Men, those are really kind words. I appreciate.

      Not a good story teller? Lol… How you still got me to read the entire thing if indeed you were not is a small wonder, then.

      Hey, about the manuscript, my condolences. I can only imagine how horrible that might have been for you. Glad you got over that.

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