Kongah Igoma is my name; A.K.A. Scorpion. I hail from Kongah community of the Kongah river in the tail end of the river Niger.
Kongah community is surrounded by rivers and mangrove swamps which form barriers to intruders and the likes. The men of Kongah are mainly fisher men and farmers, the women sellers of fish, fresh shrimps, crabs, crayfish et cetera et cetera in the local market. Although, it is never what it used to be for all that are under a threat now. In the past when people from the hinterlands and far came around seeking for all sort of fresh shrimps, crabs, crayfish and what have you to buy, things were relatively clean and healthy.
Okuma Primary School and St Agnes – a church, were built by the missionaries in Kongal community. Never is there any other development in the area except a firm established in my grandfather’s farmland, where liquid black gold is being extracted.
This firm has been established in my grandfather’s farm land over five decades. The palm trees which signified where my grandfather’s and my father’s umbilical cords were buried, were no more as the firm took position when the palm trees were hacked down, and Driller Energy became the new occupant.
We live a stone throw away from Driller Company – which has all sort of pipes installations running in all directions within the firm’s large compound. One pipe facing skywards, flares day in, day out, come rain, come sunshine, every now and then.
Kongah community does not have electricity; at night, the flaring from Driller Company serves as a source of light to the community.
Each morning when I wipe my nose, I encounter black stains like one who has sniffed some snuff the previous night without remembering to wipe their nose clean. This is where we live and we are happy, so it seems. We have no other place other than here where God has placed us. This is our community and the community is our life.
“… It spilled into the river, and all the fish caught by the net were all dead by the time I got there this morning,” Father sits on a bench with his head buried in his palms.
I feel for for the old man for the first time. I could not offer him help. No fish for sale, nor for lunch. I am twenty four going to twenty five by March this year. Anyway that is by the way.
I step out of the three bedroom rectangular building adorned with rusty corrugated iron sheets over its roof. I have known here all my life, I have lived here my entire life. Kongah is a part of me and I am a part of Kongah. I trace my way down Kongah river.
When I get there, my eyes behold a strange sight – dead fishes floating here and there, patches of the liquid black gold litter on the river, drifting freely. I focus my sight on the river and the reflection of the cloud is moving on the water. My own reflection on the river staring directly at me –
I move backward away from the river and head homeward. The dirt road raising dust behind my heels. I stop by at one of our farm where we have been tending some cassava, I stoop and uproot a tuber of cassava. The tuber smeared all over with the liquid black gold. I break the tuber and examine it at a closer look critically. What I discovered is mind-boggling; the tuber has sucked up the liquid black gold and hence unsuitable for food processing. I leave the farm behind, trailing the dirt road to Okuma Primary School, my alma mater to pay my homage having been where I learnt to read and write.
I step onto the corridor of Okuma Primary School, an inscription written boldly on the wall above the doorway with chalk catches my attention: Primary Six, Where Great Minds Walk Through. The windows of the classes are wide open, some had fallen off, others held by a single screw. I look through the window, the male teacher is teaching the pupils. The pupils are sitted on bare floor paying rapt attention to the teacher who has a long cane in one hand and a piece of chalk in the other.
I wave a greeting at the teacher and he responds: “Igoma, how are you doing today?”
He pauses midway in his instruction to the pupils and moves towards the door.
“I am coping, at least,” I hear myself saying. We shake hands. I can see the sky very clearly through the roofing holes – dilapidated.
“You came to see us today.”
“I was actually on my way to St Agnes.”
I leave them in their study, passing by other classes with pupils on bare floor. A great nostalgia of my time in this school hit my heart. I pause and look towards each door – the picture of each class comes alive in my memory: like when teachers would call me up at the front of the entire class and ask me to read for the class; sitting on the bare floor to write our examinations for the end of each term; playing hide and seek game and running round the school building for a hiding place, that was a very long time ago.
I step down exactly on the spot where we took a group photograph of our class. Sixteen years ago. Whenever, I have time to look at that particular photograph with flaring in the background, I get into a sober mood, as that is our accolade, our prize being awarded us – shimmering its halo over us.
I leave Okuma for St Agnes – the church, for no particular reason. I see myself entering the premises hoping to encounter the priest or one of Kongah’s citizens who has come to pray in the church for a better tomorrow. Nothing of such happened. I enter into the church and walk down the aisle to the altar. Benches on both sides of the ailse. In a semicircle at the alter is an inscription: The Redeemer Liveth.
I stand staring at the wordings. I fall on my knees and utter a short prayer: “God, save and redeem Kongah that we may drink fresh water again.”
I bare my palms in petition and stand up, turn abruptly towards the exit.
I trail my way back home on the dirt road and finally step on to the tarred road from Driller Energy that stretches to Driller’s Quarters. I look through the barbed-wire fence. I see a handful of fair looking men, few of them in overall gear, others in polo shirts neatly tucked into their jeans trousers. All the dark looking men in overall gear – orange in colour.
The barbed-wire fence covers the large compound, which has different sizes of pipe installations. Two blocks of buildings are in the compound. One is small which gives the impression of having three offices within it given the number of doors and windows attached; while the other is a very large one storey office edifice. At the gate is a security post – a single office erected beside the gate.
I can still see them in their overall gears and safety booths. Few tending and examining some pipes, others at the drill point paying more detailed attention to the liquid black gold well. Another moving into the large office edifice. The security man opens the gate for a Toyota Hilux van as it drives in.
I walk on the tarred road, bushes on both side of the tarred road. I walk near to Driller’s Quarters. And I wonder why the gate is always closed except when a vehicle is leaving or moving in.
Driller’s Quarters has a very high fence and tall, big gate. I have never stepped into the Quarters before, and all those lands belong to my grandfather and the people of Kongah. I walk along the high fence by the bush, having left the tarred road behind. The fence stretches to the far extreme and I decide to reach the end point.
The size of Driller Energy is ten-football-pitch put together while that of Driller’s Quarters, twice the size of the former.
I get to the end point on the East side turn left trailing the fence from another perspective towards the West side. I do not have any reason in mind, but a force is pulling me along. For I have measured the size of the quarters and have seen how large it is. I keep trailing not until a crack on the fence captivates my attention, I stop. Standing closer to the crack, I peep through the crack. The sight that catches my eyes blows my mind literally. I withdraw to make sure I am not dreaming. I move closer to the crack again – this time well prepared. I see state-of-the-art buildings, the kind never seen in the entire Kongah community; I see fleet of cars so sleek in design; I see a fair looking man and a fair looking woman swimming in a pool. I whistle to myself that a swimming-pool in Kongah and I did not know. I look through the far extreme, I see a fair looking woman with a marker in hand instructing students in air-conditioned classroom. At intervals, she writes on the white board. The students all fair looking and few dark looking amongst them. My eyes drift to a sign post and it reads Driller Secondary School. My heart sinks and I begin to gasp for breath. A secondary school in Kongah and we did not know!
Driller’s Quarters has a central source of power supply. The lamp-post by the swimming-pool beaming brightly with light from its lamp despite that the sun is shining this afternoon with a glow.
I withdraw… Driller’s Quarters is a civilized world set apart in Kongal and to have a thought that such a world exists in Kongah community is appalling.
I find my way trailing back the track I had followed initially. Absent mindedly, I walk back and come to consciousness when I step on the tarred road. I head towards the palace of Otuma II, the king of Kongah kingdom. I have not spoken with the royal father one on one before, but a force keep compelling and urging me.
I enter the compound of thb royal father and sight his flat booth Mercedes Benz – black in colour. I walk into his sitting room. There in a rocking chair listening to folk music from a transitor radio is the royal father, Otuma II of Kongah kingdom. I offer my greeting to him: “Long live the Otuma II of Kongal kingdom. I salute you.”
Maintaining my distance, I stop abruptly. He sits up and offer me a chair. I sit majestically, I am before a royalty.
“Igoma, you have come to see the royal father. I hope all is well?”
I cringe that he, the royal father knows me by name.
“All is not well. I have come to ask you a few questions,” I watch his reaction and he is bent on hearing my questions, “what do you know about Driller’s Quarters?”
The Otuma II is taken aback by my question. I can perceive how uneasy he has become since I threw him the question. I waited for the an answer and it finally came.
“Driller’s Quarters is where the employees of Driller Energy live. And ever since they began operation here, we have not had any trouble coming out from the Quarters. They are peace-loving people who always go about their business. We the Kongah people are equally peace loving,” he feels as though he has given me a satisfactory answer, but I am looking beyound that. He is not forthcoming.
” Do you know if there is an secondary school in Driller’s Quarters?” I watch the Otuma II shifting from right edge to the left edge of his chair like a cornered rabbit.
“My son, like I said, Diller’s Quarters is where the employees of Driller’s Company live and there is no such school over there. What they have there are residential houses.” He pauses for enphasis and continued, “I think you need some pocket money.”
He stands up from the rocking chair and disappears into a room. A moment later he reappears with some money in his hand.
“Take this money and buy yoursele a bottle of beer,” he stretches out his hand. Here is Otuma II himself offering me money to buy myself a bottle of beer. I look into his eyes. The pathetic weariness urges me on. I reluctantly accepted. I stand up and leave more perplexed than I had been when I stepped into Otuma II sitting room – the royal court.
I decide to visit my girl, Ella. My one prized possession that Kongah community has blessed me with. Ella is well endowed and a pride of African beauty. Dark in complexion with an oval face. Her shape deliciously curvy. She is one of those girls that have one looked over their shoulder when one encounters them on a pathway. But one thing I am hearing recently, has been bugging my mind, and I pray it is not true, because that is when hell will be let loose. That Mr Moore the CEO of Driller Energy is bent on taking Ella away from me.
They have desecreted our land and at the end of the month a pittance given to the Otuma II and his council men. But to take what belongs to me personally – my future, calls for the clash of the titans.