All I’ve ever wanted to be was rich.
I remember my father driving through the suburbs of Rayfield in Jos City when I was 9 years old, seated in the back of our beat-up Volkswagen Beetle and promising myself to have houses like the ones that lined the streets of Rayfield one day. One day! No matter what it takes. No matter what it cost me. I nurtured this vision and dreamt even bigger as I grew older. This drive was fuelled further by my parents lack of money. Poverty can be very good motivation, sometimes. My drive was constantly fuelled by ambition and poverty.
My father, now retired, served the State government for 37 years and is now being rewarded by the government with an empty bank account. No benefits, no cheques, no pension. Nothing. Yet. As a teenager I remember hearing my mum tell him to save for the rainy days. He argued that his pension already covers the rainy days. So he never built a business or even made any investments. Thus, we lived from salary to salary, from month to month, managing life by the hour. Self-deceit is the worst kind of deceit.
Our family’s lack of money was the reason I couldn’t further my education. Most of my friends had gone to the UK to bag their LLM after youth service and I was stuck back here in Nigeria. After spending 9 years in University of Jos. Don’t look at me funny! I never failed a course, the Nigerian Education machinery just wound too slow for me. After finishing secondary school, I waited for entry into university for two years, one year of diploma and five years of studying law. The extra year was cumulative months waiting for ASUU to call off, what seemed like, their never-ending strikes. Pathetic!
Our family’s lack of money was also the reason we couldn’t afford our mother’s cancer treatment. We could only watch her as cancer ate her up. It was hard and painful to watch her die like that. My father’s pension would’ve covered that. But because he was not paid in years we couldn’t afford it. Sweet mother died a painful death. I promised myself I’ll never lose another loved one like that again.
After mum’s death, I longed to leave Jos. To get out of the two-bedroom apartment in Tudun Wada our family was crammed into. To get out of poverty. And Jos City didn’t give me that opportunity. I wanted to go somewhere else.
All I ever wanted to be was rich.
Abuja smelt like opportunity. I loved everything about Abuja. It seemed like something new was always happening. New roads, opportunities & places to hang out. So when I saw that I was posted to the Federal Capital Territory for the National Youth Service Corp I was beyond myself! I knew my time had come. I was going to make it now. “I’m about to blow” I thought to myself.
A wise king was said, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”. I was sick for two months when the only thing I did at my Primary Place of Assignment was make tea and buy calling units for my superiors. I’d nearly lost hope. I arrived at work sad and left even sadder. The only good thing that comforted me in my service year was attending Community Development Service. I was in the Dance & Drama CDS and there was never a dull moment. We met every Friday. So I was literally ‘Thanking God its Friday’ every Friday because I didn’t have to go to work. After CDS I’ll hang out with a few corp members friends and probably go clubbing. That’s if I had enough money or a friend was willing to sponsor me.
Service went by like a blink. I didn’t save money. I didn’t have money. It’s impossible to save money sef. I was squatting with some guys. I hated my life. Three months of going round Abuja applying for jobs. Looking for anything to do. Barrister with no job. I was ashamed of myself. My father said I should come back to Jos. “God forbid!”, I told him. “What should I come and do in Tudun Wada? You guys can barely feed and you want to me to come back home to starve to death? Ina! Never!”
All I ever wanted to be was rich.
Somehow, I rekindled the hope I’d built back in Jos. I knew my day would come. And it did one Thursday evening. Voke called me one day, out of the blues, asking if I was looking for a job. OF COURSE I AM LOOKING FOR A JOB! She said her ex-boyfriend was working with a senator and they were looking to expand their team and she referred me to him. She said he, her ex-boyfriend, was going to call me immediately she dropped the call.
I thanked her profusely. Excited and confused. I had a lot of questions. How come Voke was calling me when we’d not spoken for close to two years? Why was she being nice all of a sudden, offering me a job? And why was the call so abrupt? Why was she referring me to her ex-boyfriend? Who still talks to their ex? People are weird sha but who cares?
“Sir? Yes this is Zeek. Yes sir. Oh, ok, yes my full name is Zafin Karya. My initials are ZK so my friends in high school started calling me ‘Zeek’ and it stuck since then. Yes sir. No, I’m not from Plateau State sir. I was only born and raised there. Yes, I just finished serving three months ago. I went to Law School before service. Yes sir…No sir…haha…thank you sir…ummmm. Yes, sure, I can locate the hotel. I’ll be there in 25 minutes or less”
Phone call ends
I borrowed 500 Naira from my roommate and hurried to the hotel for my first job interview in… in forever.
I found the hotel and called Voke’s Ex. He hadn’t told me his name yet. He asked me to meet him in the lobby of the hotel. Kole Pedro was typing on what I guessed was an iPhone 6 Plus when I walked up to him. I was stunned to see a very young man. Neatly carved hair and beard. Neatly dressed in a white kaftan and black polished sandals. His gold wristwatch reflected the bright lights of the hotel lobby. His Ray Bans shades were folded neatly next to what looked like another iPhone 6 but the smaller one. He looked like someone in one of those Yoruba Demons memes. I smiled internally as I mentally pictured one of the memes.
“Good evening sir, I’m Zeek”
Looking up from his phone, nodding and sizing me up at the same time. He answered.
“Do you have a driver’s license?”
“Yes sir”, I replied puzzled by the question.
“It’s in my wallet”, as I produced my license from my wallet.
“I want you to deliver this to the address I’ll text you. Tell them Kole Pedro sent you”. His eyes still sizing me up and signalling me to pick up the black bag sitting beside him.
He gave me the iPhone 6 that was on the table and keys to a Toyota Camry. He told me the password to the phone and told me to deliver the package to the address he’ll send to the phone.
I was confused.
What kind of job interview is this one now? Why am I delivering a black bag to a person I don’t know to a place I’ve never been to? What kind of name is Kole Pedro sef?
I found the address easily on Google Maps. It was a mansion in Maitama. People are living really well in this country oh. Nawa. The well-suited security officer stopped me at the gate.
“Did Kole Pedro send you?”
“Give me the bag”
I passed the bag to him.
“Thank you. You can leave now”, he said as he waved me off.
Weird night. Voke calls, a guy about my age sending me to deliver a ‘package’ at 9pm, to a weird address.
Ok. Guy! Focus! I returned to the hotel to find Kole Pedro standing besides a Ford Avalanche.
“Well done Zeek. You passed your interview. I think you and I will be very good friends.”
I couldn’t help but flash a smile as I was handing the phone and keys to him.
“No, that’s your work phone and work car now”, he said, returning my smile, relishing the confused expressions on my face.
“How?” I asked, perplexed.
He laughed and said I should meet him same time tomorrow, same place.
“Text me your bank account number. And don’t come dressed like this ever again.” eyeing my jean and t-shirt.
For months I did everything Kole Pedro asked me to do. We didn’t have an office we only met for at least 30 minutes in different hotels or restaurants. I’ll pick up a package and deliver it. That simple. Imagine my joy, I had enough money now for an apartment, a car and new lifestyle. “I don hammer!” I thought to myself, I was living the life. The good life.
Until I met Senator Jann Danja.
Kole Pedro called me one rainy evening and told me to meet him at a restaurant.
“You’ve been doing really well this past few months. I’m very impressed. I think its time for you to meet the boss.”
“So there’s another boss?’’ I thought to myself.
After lunch we drove to a house in Maitama. Wait! This is the house I first delivered that black bag. The same security officer, still well-suited, welcomed us. “Welcome Mr. Zeek”. Ah! He knows my name.
OK? I questioned Kole Pedro with my eyes but he only smiled back.
We walked into this really, really big white house. It was really big. Massive! I’d never seen a chandelier like that. The chairs looked like they were obviously imported. Kole Pedro motioned that I sit while he goes to get the boss.
I sat in the biggest living room I’d ever seen in my life. Thoughts running through my head. Heart racing. Pulse rising. Cold sweats started breaking out. I didn’t know what to expect.
“Barrister Karya!”, a voiced boomed from the other side of the living room.
A man who looked like an older version of Zack Orji was walking hurriedly towards me. He wore an overflowing pure white, silver-embroidered agbadaand white cap. Arms open wide gesturing he was coming to hug me with a smile. He hugged me tightly, momentarily lifting me from my feet.
It was Senator Jann Danja and he looked just like what I saw him as in the media. Always in his signature white cap on white agbada. Smiling. Always!
“Welcome my son”, Senator Danja said. He genuinely looked excited to meet me. Kole Pedro was leaning by the door observing.
He called me son.
“I’m so proud of all that you’ve accomplished for us in the past few months. It’s hard to find loyal and trustworthy people in this town.”
“Thank you Senator” I said, proudly.
“It’s time for a promotion, Barrister Karya. You’ve been serving us well and I’m extremely proud of you”, Senator Danja said as he poured himself what looked like gin from the living room bar.
I looked at Kole Pedro scanning his face but he only nodded softly and smiled in return.
For some reason I was eerily relaxed. Senator Danja was charming. We spoke late into the night and we discussed everything and nothing. How he started his business, his political journey and aspirations. This 70-something year old senator still had a lot of energy in him. He made me feel like his son.
“Barrister Karya, let’s get to why you’re here. I own a handful of companies and most of them are doing well. Especially, the financial companies. But now one of them is being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for fraud.” He laughed loudly, mockingly.
“Can you imagine me being corrupt? Never! My faith won’t allow that. God is my witness. It’s the opposition that’s just trying to rattle me. They’ll find nothing.” He laughed even harder.
“Anyway, I want you to represent that company in court for me. Just go through the books and you’ll see that there’s nothing there. I’ll link you up with my other lawyers and you can discuss the case with them.”
Getting close to the end of the meeting he hugged me again and said he was very proud of me.
Next day, I met the other lawyers and we discussed the case and I got a chance to look into the books. It wasn’t until some months later that I noticed some discrepancies.
Wait o! Isn’t this the company that handles my father’s pension. I started doing my own research. What I discovered shook me to my very bones. I was defending the man that stole from my father. Senator Danja was responsible for my mother’s death. His company was stealing retirees pensions from thousands of people around the country. And my father was one of them. We couldn’t even afford her surgery. We watched our mother get eaten up by cancer because we couldn’t afford her surgery. And it was this bastard’s fault.
I was livid. Was it Fate or Providence that was mocking me? How can I be working for the man that stole my future and my mother?
Today, I confronted Senator Danja with my findings. With tears in my eyes threatening to destroy him because of all that he’s done and is doing. Senator Danja didn’t flinch. In all my meetings with him I had never seen Senator Danja frown. Until today. He didn’t say anything. He walked into his room and came back with a brown envelope and asked me to go through its content.
With some hesitation, I went through the contents. I had to sit to bear the weight of what I was looking at. It was pictures of me. Pictures of me delivering packages. There were hundreds of pictures of me. Driving and delivering those packages.
Then I heard him laugh. A maniacal laughter. He laughed for three full minutes.
“Fool! You were just enjoying the money and benefits that came with the job you were doing. You never asked what you were delivering, you just loved the money and benefits. Barrister Karya! That’s you delivering cocaine to those locations.”
Then his voice changed to one of dominance.
“I own you boy! You’re mine. If you think you can come against me…well I wish you luck. I’ve the resources to make you disappear from the face of this planet. Then you’ll probably have the opportunity to reunite with your mother that you love so much.”
Then, his voice changed again. It was fatherly this time. He’d switched back to his charming self. He walked towards me like the first time we met. Smiling, arms open to hug me. He hugged me tightly. His agbada blanketing me. I was too shocked to think. I was too shocked to do anything. Fear had immobilised me.
In my two years of working with Kole Pedro and Senator Danja, I had made more money than my father had made in his 37 years of service. I was rich but it had come with a price. My greed never let me see past what was in front of me. I was hungry and the devil fed me.
I have met the devil and the devil wears agbada.