© Onyinyechukwu Mbeledogu
Read an excerpt of the book below:
Dienye stood in the hallway. He was at loss as to what to do about Soki’s predicament. He really wanted to help her, not just for his sister, but also because he really liked her. He was her last bus stop. He had done a lot by promising to give her N2, 000,000 which was not to be refunded. Well, he would give her N3, 000,000 but that was all. Some people would think him foolish for doing this for a woman he wasn’t in love with and who wasn’t in love with him, a woman he wasn’t even in any relationship with.
This wasn’t exactly a charity case per se. He usually had a budget every year set out for children and teenagers in need of surgery. This would be the first time he would be giving such an amount to someone who wasn’t directly involved in a problem. This was actually her father’s problem but Soki had taken it upon herself to raise the money. She had already missed school so close to the first semester examinations as a result. If he didn’t help her out, she would be compelled by her love and loyalty towards her father to accept her father’s boss’ indecent proposal. No one would blame him; after all he was giving her a whole lot of money, more money than any of her relatives had given her and asking for nothing in return.
He doubted if Priye, when sending her friend to him, had intended that she get the entire sum from him. Priye would be more than grateful for what he had done so far. What Soki did afterwards shouldn’t be his problem. However, could he allow her to leave, knowing that she would be sacrificing her happiness and her morals just so that her father could regain his freedom irrespective of how her father might feel about it? His three million naira would assist her but make no difference as Nze Maduabuchi would still have her in his bed for three years.
This really shouldn’t be my problem, he told himself. God knows I have tried. I care about that girl but I have tried my best. She has no collateral I can use for my investment and I have nothing to gain by losing the entire sum.
He rubbed at his temple. It was easier to sign cheques when it involved terminal illnesses faced by children or teenagers and as gifts to orphans and widows. However, this was a different case. What justification would he have for giving out N5, 870,000 to save a man from being prosecuted especially given the fact that he was actually an accessory after the fact?
‘She intends to work until she can pay you completely,’ a voice inside his head reminded him. ‘You should think about that.’
‘And I cannot employ her for years without paying her,’ he countered. ‘So that is completely out of the question.’
‘What if her father comes up with a payment plan?’
‘Do you seriously see him having a job waiting for him once he is out of police custody?’
‘You call her your babe and your sweetheart but you know that N3, 000,000 you intend to give to her isn’t going to change anything. She will still have no other choice but to give in to the man’s demands. You can afford to give her the entire sum but if you insist on a collateral for the extra N2, 870,000, then you might as well marry her and get it over with.’ the voice suggested.
‘I have no intention of-’ he paused before he could complete the sentence.
Marry her? Why should he? He wasn’t looking for a wife. He wasn’t in the market for a wife. So his family members didn’t hesitate anytime they had the opportunity to try to get him hitched with one of their friends or friend’s children, that didn’t mean he had to get hitched before he was ready. Even if he was ready, he and Soki didn’t know each other like that.
He was going to get married and have children but getting married to Soki was not an option. She was too young. He had at least fourteen years on her. The perfect man for her should still be in his mid-twenties. Besides, wouldn’t proposing to her amount to taking advantage of her situation? She would most likely accept given the fact that the other proposal she had was indecent. No, he would prefer the harmless flirtations they enjoyed every now and then.
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‘And then you get to live with her being forced into the arms of a man thrice her age when you were in a position to avoid it,’ that voice continued.
‘Yes, it would be all on you. That girl adores you and you know it. If given the chance, she could easily fall in love with you. Not giving her the entire sum is the same as not giving her anything. If anything, it would be tantamount to giving her three million naira as an incentive to bear the old man’s touch for three year: One million naira for every year. You became responsible for her wellbeing the moment you agreed to help her. You know she has exhausted all her options. You cannot go to bed tonight without resolving this.’
Curse his damned conscience and kind heart! The voice was right. He certainly couldn’t sleep well knowing that she would be a sacrificial lamb to a man like Avreson’s boss. Had she not been an innocent it would have been easy to just give her a million and satisfy his conscience. But she was an innocent and he didn’t want her innocence being lost to a man like that. It was better for her to be with her husband than a man old enough to be her grandfather.
‘Look on the bright side, you would be getting your relatives off your back the moment they know you are getting married. No need to avoid family programmes anymore.’
He recalled his grandmother’s statement about his ‘equipment’ becoming rusty and useless and told himself that perhaps ending his celibate days was long overdue.
‘Let’s hope I know what I am doing.’
STORY STARTS HERE
Saturday, 7th February 2004
Housing Estate, Woji
NWASOKA CHIMAMANDANATA ACHEBE always felt at peace whenever she stepped into the large well decorated sitting room of her family home. However, this morning, as she walked into the sitting room, she had the feeling that something was very wrong. Perhaps it had to do with the absence of her father Joshua Achebe or perhaps it was the appearance of her mother that made her feel that way.
Soki’s mother, Ezinne Achebe, beautiful and sophisticated and always dressed up as though for the cameras was currently dressed in her nightdress, the cover-it-all type she wore when they had guests staying overnight, instead of one of the make-my-husband-sweat short nightgowns she wore for her husband. Soki’s two siblings, Tobechukwu and Nkolika took after their mother in terms of looks and fashion. Soki, on the other hand, was every bit her father. The second of Joshua Achebe’s three daughters, she was the shortest at 5”4.
She dropped her knapsack on the couch and approached her mum who was doing a poor job of hiding the fact that she had the weight of the world on her slender shoulders. Her parents had celebrated their silver jubilee anniversary a few months earlier and in style. Her mum had looked like a princess in her dress which fitted every bit of a figure she took time to nurture, and nothing like the forty-eight year old mother of three. She was a woman secured in the love of her husband and her parents’ marriage was one Soki wanted to have for herself whenever she finally settled down. Her dad had not given in to the pressure to marry another woman in search of a male child. He loved his girls and never acted like he missed having a male child around. There had been this special glow on her mum’s face since that special day and it was absent now.
Soki had left school early in order to meet her parents at home and join them for any of the activities they planned for the day. She was a final year law student at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology and after weeks of preparing for her first semester examinations, she needed a break.
‘What’s the matter, mum?’ she asked.
‘Nothing for you to worry yourself over.’ Ezinne Achebe told her daughter with a forced smile, giving the younger woman a hug. ‘How was your trip back from school?’
‘It was fine,’ Soki responded, extricating herself from her mother’s embrace to say, ‘You have always told my sisters and I that a problem shared is a problem half solved. You look like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you need to tell me what the problem is. Is it dad?’
Ezinne inhaled and slowly exhaled before responding.
‘Your father was arrested yesterday morning.”
Whatever Soki had been expecting, it certainly wasn’t that. And thank God her father wasn’t cheating on her mother.
‘What? How? Why?’ Soki asked.
‘He had some problems at work – money related.’
Joshua was the Chief Accounting Officer of Avresons Nigeria Limited, a large company into a lot of businesses. He was one of the most honest persons Soki knew and so she couldn’t imagine him having money related issues at work.
‘Uncle Jude bought goods worth N12, 250, 000.00 from the company and paid with a cheque.’ Ezinne continued. ‘Your father allowed the transaction because of the
friendship and trust that the cheque would clear but it was a dud cheque.’
Uncle Jude was her father’s good friend and Soki had known him since she was a little child. She hadn’t seen him in years though. In order to cover up the deficit, dad had done the last thing he would have expected of himself and manipulated the records with the hope of getting the money back from his good friend before the deficit was noticed. He refused to believe that his friend would deliberately give him a dud cheque.
‘And where is Uncle Jude?’
‘No one has seen or heard from him since the transaction. He isn’t taking your father’s calls and neither is his wife.’ Ezinne responded.
This was worse than expected. Without Jude, her father would be in bigger trouble than he already was in. From the little she had known of Uncle Jude, he wouldn’t do this to her father. So where was he? Had he been in an accident? Was that why he couldn’t take her father’s calls? How about his wife? Was she tending to him in a hospital and as such didn’t have time to take any calls? Soki had been taught never to think the worst about anyone without justification.
‘Oh my God!’
‘He’s moved out of his apartment.’
‘That’s not good. We need to get a loan from the bank,’ Soki told Ezinne.
‘No collateral,’ Ezinne responded sadly. ‘I have gathered my jewellery together and some of my best clothes. Alhaja will be coming over later to cost and pay for them.’
Alhaja was the woman Ezinne usually bought her gold jewellery from.
‘I have also put up the cars for sale.’ Ezinne continued.
Her parents each had a Prado Jeep and Lexus RX 300 respectively and although these were expensive cars, cars were not assets in that you could never sell them for the price you bought them let alone for a higher price. And it was worse when you were selling them to settle a debt. You would settle for far less than what you would ordinarily sell them for.
‘What do you mean by no collateral?’ Soki asked, surprised. After all, the house was built by her father.
‘The house was mortgaged a few years ago, and you know the fate of your father’s plots of land at Eliozu.’
Her Dad had 6 plots of land at Eliozu but they were the subject matter of litigation at the State High Court. Soki couldn’t understand why her father had mortgaged the family house. She didn’t recall her family having any immediate financial issues before this one. They had been comfortable in the last few years.
‘When exactly was the house mortgaged?’ Soki asked
Her mother hesitated and Soki found this suspicious.
‘About 30 months ago.’
Thirty months ago? Oh my God, Soki thought. He must have mortgaged the house to pay for her medical bills. She had undergone a surgery at the John Hopkins Hospital in the United States to remove a non-cancerous growth in her skull. She had spent a few additional weeks for check-ups and to rest after the successful surgery. Soki would have lost a full semester if the school hadn’t proceeded on a long strike in her absence. She still had check-ups at the University of Nigeria Nsukka Teaching Hospital, UNTH. Soki had taken it for granted that her hospital bills had been cleared by her father’s income. She should have known differently.
‘The only reason why the bank hasn’t been on his neck is because he has been making instalmental payments and the bank had granted him an extension on fresh terms.’
Tobechukwu was presently running her housemanship programme at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan while the youngest Nkolika was a JSS 1 student at FGGC Abuloma. One phone call would have brought Tobi home but Ezinne hadn’t planned on getting Soki and her elder sister involved. She hadn’t banked on Soki coming home from school that weekend. Soki hadn’t given her advance notice.
‘We need to call Tobi,’ Soki told her mum.
Nkolika had to be protected from this. There was no need bringing her home.
‘No,’ Ezinne protested. ‘Leave your elder sister out of this. She is far away and I do not want to have to deal with the likelihood of her entering the wrong vehicle because she felt she was desperately needed here and as a result, fall victim to persons with evil intents or worse be involved in accidents.’
Soki understood her mother’s fears but still felt that Tobi needed to know. She could also help raise the money. Soki told her mother so, adding that she could also ask Tobi not to come home as attempts were being made to resolve the issue. She finally convinced her mother who promised to call Tobi later in the day.
Soki and her mum visited her father at the Obio Police Station. They spoke at length with the DPO before meeting Joshua. He had aged by ten years in the last 24 hours. A police cell let alone prison was no place for anyone. According to the DPO, considering the nature of the offence for which he had been arrested, dad would have to be transferred to the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for prosecution. A criminal trial would damage her father’s reputation. He was a good man who had made a mistake. People would only see a fraudulent person if he stood trial. They had to find a way to get him out of there.
According to her father, his boss had given him until noon on Friday to pay or face full criminal charges. Keeping her father for over 24 hours without taking him to court would amount to a breach of his fundamental rights but Soki wasn’t thinking in that direction. To institute a fundamental rights enforcement action against the Police and Avreson’s boss would not work to her father’s advantage. If anything it would make the situation worse than it was. The plan was to ensure that her father didn’t face a criminal trial. The moment they filed a suit, the police would take him to court and formulate all sorts of charges against him.
N12.25m was a lot of money to raise in less than a week!
Thursday 12th February
Nze Maduabuchi’s office
Avresons Nigeria Limited
Raising N12, 250, 000.00 through an honest means within a week was like trying to force an elephant through the eye of a needle. What got Soki upset was the temerity with which some of her dad’s so called friends tried to have sex with her in return for money. Men she had respected and some of whom she had known since she was a little child; men who had wined and dined in her parents’ home, shared jokes with her father, and had eaten her mum’s delicious meals!
Her parents had so many wealthy friends, some of whom had showed up at their silver jubilee anniversary and so one would ordinarily think that raising N12, 250, 000.00 from these men and women would be a work over. These were men and women who could easily part with as much as N500, 000.00 without batting an eye. But clearly, her dad didn’t know some of his so-called friends.
Thank God for situations like this which opened her mother’s eyes to who her husband’s genuine friends were. Only a few of her mother’s friends made attempts, others either didn’t take her call or told her that if she had approached them the
week before they would have been able to help. See talk!
Soki’s Godfather, Sir Austin Okoye had parted with N1.8m without asking for a refund. Between Soki, Tobi and their mum, they were able to raise a total of N6, 380,000.00 from relatives, friends, and the sales of their properties. Two accountants who worked under her father, Nwadiuto Anunandu and Owanate Briggs had sent in N250,000.00. However, N6, 380,000.00, although more than half the initial debt, was a long way from N12, 250, 000.00. Their predicament had also proved that her parents had some genuine friends and that not all relatives were terrible people! Had that not been the case, there was no way they could have raised the amount of money they had so far.
The monies were paid into Soki’s current account. She raised a cheque for the sum and went to her dad’s boss with an extension in mind. Surely, seeing the effort they had made to raise the money he would grant her dad an extension!
Nze Thaddeus Maduabuchi’s office was on the last floor of the four storey building. She stopped at her dad’s department to speak briefly with Owanate and Didi and thank them for their contributions, before heading for Nze’s office. She waited nervously at his private secretary’s office wondering how to approach this issue. She was there about an hour before she was informed that Nze would now see her.
Caught up in her worries, she didn’t have the time to appreciate the expensive décor of his office. She just wanted her father out of police custody. Nze Maduabuchi rose to his feet as she walked into his office, closing the door behind her. In his early sixties, he was a very tall man and physically fit. Her father on the other hand was at 5”7, two inches shorter than his wife and thickly built. Her mum would always say that men in their fifties and sixties who were particular about their physique were chronic womanisers.
‘Good afternoon, sir,’ Soki greeted.
‘Have a seat, my dear.’ He told her in his deep voice. ‘How is your father?’
‘As well as anyone can be in his present condition.’ Soki responded.
He gave her a look she could not decipher. ‘I didn’t hand him over to the police out of spite, my dear. He defrauded my company,’ he told her.
‘He made a mistake.’ she returned. ‘My father is a good and honest man.’
‘He tried to cover up his sins.’
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
‘I came to humbly seek an extension. My mum and I have raised N6, 380,000.00 and we need more time to raise the balance.’ She passed the cheque to him. ‘I can assure you that you will get the balance of N5, 870,000.00 within 30 days.’
He looked at the cheque and placed it on his large desk.
To be continued
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