The elegantly dressed alhaji was striding down the corridor of the National Assembly Complex when he heard someone shout out his name.
“Alhaji Bukar! Long time no see. How now?”
He turned round and saw that it was his good friend and party colleague, Chief Okorie, hurrying towards him and beaming with his usual good humour.
“Chief Di Chief! Ah, you know how it is… the usual kind of business to take care of,” he replied, with a small shrug and a smile.
The chief’s beam widened. “Abi o! All those contracts waiting to be approved… which committee are you on, again?”
“The Public Works Committee. It’s very, very busy at this time… the budget has just been approved, and we are trying to decide which areas to allocate expenditure to.”
“So I’m sure many community leaders and contractors are coming to disturb you at this time, eh?”
Alhaji Bukar chuckled. “You know these things, now. Of course, my time is precious, so they have to ‘shake bodi'”.
“And that is even before you have started issuing the contracts! Alhaji, you’re lucky o,” Chief Okorie noted with ill-concealed envy.
“My friend, don’t talk like that,” the alhaji retorted. “What about you? Isn’t it true that you’re on the Education Committee?”
The chief waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, you know that place is dry. Not much money there.”
Alhaji Bukar shook his head with another chuckle. “Come on, chief! Who are you trying to deceive? My good friend, Brigadier-General Amusan, used to be on that committee a few years ago. All those contracts to supply educational materials, school uniforms and build schools – you’re telling me that you won’t see any of that action? Or are you saying that the money is not up to your standard?”
“OK, there is money, I agree,” Chief Okorie grudgingly conceded. “But the money is not that much… and you know that I have many ‘commitments’, now.”
Alhaji Bukar did not limit himself to a chuckle this time; instead, he laughed out loud and slapped his friend on the back. “Chieeeef! What kind of commitment are we talking about here? Please don’t tell me you have acquired another young girl to start spending money on. Remember that you are getting old – we don’t want to see you wearing yourself out and collapsing on the floor of the House from over-exertion!”
“Old? Me? Nonsense! I’m only fifty-five. A man like me has to keep myself active, and Suzie is just the kind of girl I like – young, firm and fresh. Anyway, who are you to talk about wearing yourself out? What about you with your many wives and concubines?”
“Look, it’s you we are talking about here, not me! But enough of that – let’s go back to your committee. You don’t sound very happy about your position…”
Chief Okorie shook his head doubtfully and sighed. “I don’t know… the problem is that some useless critics are beginning to talk about opening up the process of awarding contracts – as if we haven’t done enough to satisfy them already.”
“Opening up the process?” Alhaji Bukar adjusted his babanriga in irritation. “What is their problem? The invitations to tender are published in the newspapers, and the final award is done in public. What more do they want? Do they want to follow us around with cameras like we are common criminals?”
“One or two of them are saying that details of all contracts awarded should be published on the internet. They are also saying that the published details should include a full breakdown of the cost of each item in the contract, alongside the market value of the item. They say that this is a clear way of the people knowing how the government is spending its money.”
“Nonsense! All that is just grammar that most people don’t even understand. I’m sure that the person who is saying this is just a hungry man looking for settlement. Isn’t that how our people operate?”
The chief waved his hands around excitedly in agreement. “Exactly! They make so much noise when they are outside government, but put them in a position of power, and they are even worse than those they are condemning.”
“Sometimes, I wonder about how unrealistic our people are. Don’t they understand that we have spent so much money getting elected? So why should we not recoup our expenses?”
“Alhaji – it’s not just about recouping expenses for me o! You know that as a businessman, I don’t just want to struggle in business… I want to make a big profit!” replied the chief. They both burst into laughter at this last remark, and then Alhaji Bukar once again turned to his friend, patting him on the shoulder.
“Look, don’t worry about those critics. Just invite the ones that are making noise for dinner, and give them something to keep them happy. In fact, forget about that. Don’t even invite them – just ignore them,” he added with a dismissive sweeping gesture. “Which Nigerian has the time to start worrying about how contracts are awarded?”
“That’s true,” said Chief Okorie, nodding in agreement. “Nigerians only start making noise when everything is exposed. That is why the most important thing in doing these deals is to make sure that nobody finds out!”
“That is why I have no pity for these foolish politicians who chop and chop as though nobody is looking. Of course, the moment they are found out, I am amongst those who cry loudest for them to resign.”
“So that you can deflect attention from your own side deals! You be real cunny man, Alhaji,” Chief Okorie remarked admiringly. “But don’t you worry that one day, one of those critics will make enough noise to make life uncomfortable for us?”
“Nooooo!” the alhaji responded vehemently. “Even the critics that are not hungry cannot do much to us. Look – they have been complaining about the same thing for years and years, and what have Nigerians done? These critics don’t understand that Nigerians have more important things to worry about than what happens in the corridors of power.”
“So you don’t think that one day, Nigerians will wake up and start a revolution?”
“Revolution?” Alhaji Bukar’s tone took on an edge of contempt. “Chief, maybe this viagra that you are taking is messing your brain up. Since when did Nigerians start revolutions? Look, let me tell you something. The average Nigerian wants the good things of life – but he is not prepared to die to achieve them. And I don’t blame him – how can you enjoy the good things of life when you are dead?” He laughed uproariously at this remark, and continued. “So don’t worry about him rioting – he likes his life too much.”
“In fact, you are right, Alhaji. I have seen Nigerians who live in terrible conditions, but who are always very hopeful for the future. That is why I like Nigerians – we have this spirit that even when things are bad, we can triumph over adversity.”
“That’s true. If anyone had to endure what we Nigerians have endured – bad roads, no electricity, rampant crime – they would have been given up a long time ago. I think it is God that is giving us the strength to endure the tough times we are going through.”
“We need God’s guidance in these times o,” Chief Okorie said, raising his eyes heavenwards. “Only the other day, the diesel generator that I run in my house packed up. Can you believe the torment I suffered that night without air-conditioning? I tell you, that PHCN or NEPA or whatever they call themselves… they are just useless!”
Alhaji Bukar nodded vigorously in agreement. “Completely useless! Imagine, when I go abroad on my holidays, there is usually light 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! Why can’t we do that over here?”
“It’s these corrupt PHCN officials. Instead of them to be working on ensuring that there is light, they go round connecting people illegally or helping vandals remove cables.”
“I tell you, Chief – this country definitely needs prayers.”
“But I’m sure that God has not forgotten Nigeria,” said the chief, brightening up. “My pastor says that he has seen a vision that Nigeria will definitely be a power to be reckoned with in the next five years – as big as Britain and Germany.”
“Speaking of Britain, I will be flying out there in a few months to see my children who are schooling over there.”
“So it will be purely a holiday trip?”
“No, not quite. I also need to take care of some small business… I hear that there are some choice properties to be bought, and I will be working with one Nigerian in the diaspora to see if I can get a good property… preferably in Mayfair or Knightsbridge. I’m looking to spend in the region of about 1.5 million pounds.”
“Hmm…” Chief Okorie said, rubbing his chin pensively. “Maybe I should be thinking about that as well. It always pays to have foreign investments – you never can tell with this unstable country. Well, I have to be going now – I have to meet Suzie at the Play Nite club downtown… and then, we will go from there to a hotel nearby.”
“Chieeeef!” exclaimed the alhaji, wagging his finger in mock admonition. “Well, as long as you don’t die of a heart attack. I will see you around,” he added, and they both shook hands and bade each other farewell.