Wednesday, 23 January 2013

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African Village
African Village

 Growing up at Aba Nla, a village close to Ibadan, I had two “career paths” on my mind. I wanted to become either a Police officer or a coffin maker. A Police officer, because it was the easiest job to make free money; a Coffin-maker because there will always be a ready market as people will naturally die. After the community  leader, a retired Civil war veteran, the richest man in the community was the DPO Kenneth. By the time I finished JSS 3, my confusion as to which of the professions to take was resolved. Even back in the early 90’s when Road bribery wasn’t done with much chutzpah by our friends in black, getting yourself through the Police College was a very cool idea. The idea of being a Policeman in Nigeria is even more lucrative these days that there’s no limit to how much you can make on the roads. Luckily for you as a Policeman, your customers won’t have required papers before they put their cars on the road. For your customers who have all their papers, they won’t know their rights. The only danger here is possible  armed robbers attack. Luckily for you, when armed robbers are on the prowl, your customers  whom you should protect,  will offer you their own clothes to change into. Even if you refuse, you will be advised to oblige since  your gun-power cannot match the machines  being used by the robbers .This was my mindset until the day some robbers escaped from a bank robbery at Ijebu-Ode. Aba Nla was  to be their exit route but DPO Kenneth, my role model at that time and his boys were radioed from Eleyele Force Headquaters in Ibadan to lay ambush for the robbers. Kenneth and his boys bowed to superior fire-power. Kenneth was shot and he didn’t survive. Then I asked myself, “ what shall it profit a Policeman who “obtained” motorists, made so much money only to be killed in action. I switched to Plan B.  Coffin makers/sellers are business men who are on a class of their own; I wanted to be a distinguished one. The Nigerian businessman who understands the logic of the coffin sellers is Aliko Dangote. Sell to your customers what they can’t do without – Rice, salt, sugar – and you are good. It’s the same thing for the coffin-seller; people live, make money and strive hard only for one thing – to die. A coffin-seller will only be out of business when people stop dying. I have even seen a 60 year old man model  for coffin makers. After I dropped out of Prospect High School, I joined a coffin-maker as an apprentice. Kasali Coffin-makers was the biggest in the whole of Aba Nla. He even had customers as far as Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode, Lagos and Abeokuta. I learnt the trick to Kasali’s success the first week  I joined. There were two apprentices working with him already , John and Ade.     Kasali came to our house on a Thursday evening with the two boys and he informed my grandma that I had an errand to run for him. The nature of my apprenticeship was such that your oga was more or less your owner – so your parents  obliged any request. .I simply put on my Kito sandals and followed them. We all rode away in Kasali’s 504 Station Wagon, the second best car in the community after Baale’s Mercedes 200. DPO Kenneth’s 505 evolution was taken away by his family after his death

The smoke coming out of the exhaust as we drove off was not much of a worry since it was quite dark already; we inhaled some, the rest was for passers-by. I still couldn’t understand the kind of assignment oga had for us at such unholy hour                        .
He was apparently driving out of the community but took a turn as I asked a question.“Oga, where exactly are we going this night?”. John and Ade exchanged glances and they appeared to be satisfied that I was worried. The previous 3 days at work had been terrible for me because both of them used every opportunity to show me that they were my seniors at work. This didn’t go down well with me because they were my age mates and they were only ahead of me at Oga Kasali’s place because they dropped out of school earlier than me                     .

“We are here already, don’t be scared” Kasali responded                      .
That was when I noticed that we were driving towards the cemetery gate.
“Oga Kasa, but we came here in the morning for a burial.” I said                      .
Oga Kasali actually made the coffin used for the burial and I couldn’t understand why we came back                        .African village

The gateman of the cemetery approached the car and flashed his torchlight at us while oga Kasa flashed back with the car’s headlight. On another occasion I would have asked for the rationale behind putting a fence around a Cemetery and having a gatemen there. Was it to prevent the dead bodies from escaping? Or was it to prevent outsiders from interacting with them?

“Kasa gbangba, Good evening o” The gateman hailed Oga Kasali                           .
“Baba ode, well done sir. We are here o.” responded Kasali             .

“I don dey wait for the past thirty minutes. Make we start work immediately abeg” stated the gateman               .

The gateman who I knew very well because he stayed three houses away from my grandma., then noticed me in the car and asked   why I was there.  He actually joined us this week” replied Kasali                 .

We all moved towards the point where the burial of that day took place. John and Ade suddenly brought out diggers from behind a tree and they started digging.

That was when I realized what was happening. So Kasali sold coffins to people only for them to be retrieved and later sold to other people.

I was so scared and I couldn’t understand why they were so confident as they went on with the digging. What if someone later discovered what we were doing? .John and Ade had been digging for a while and it appeared they were already looking at the coffin. I was still in shock at what was going on as Oga Kasali and the gateman stepped forward to assist the boys.

Everyone knew I was in shock, so they didn’t bother asking me to do anything.
By this time, the coffin was exhumed  and they were about to open it.
“Kasali, when I go collect my balance na? I need money o” The gateman told Kasali               .
“No worry baba. By tomorrow, we go sell this one to another person and money go come in. I go settle you properly.” Replied Kasali               
How it happened, I still cannot explain till tomorrow. A voice, baritone one for that matter, suddenly came from the ground                     .

“Ka-sa-li! “To si gba owo ise re!” meaning “ But you were paid for this coffin.” Said the ghost, who was holding Kasali’s hand.

We all took off and escaped through different routes apart from Kasali who was being held by the ghost. Now I can officially call myself an NFA,(No future Ambition) as my two  career paths have proved too dangerous to cope with. Please  don’t tell my story in a serious Gathering.