My grandfather, Akparika, has fifty-two children. As is the case with nearly every family, one of his children stood out above the rest. In ours, it was Uncle Naitura; Uncle Naitu for short.
Uncle Naitu used to be very handsome. Tall, dark with beards that connect from ear to ear, unlike Uncle Ruwan’s, who lives in the East. When I was a child, the first thing I noticed about him, was that Uncle Naitu was always well-dressed. Agbada on point, tuxedo on fleek; whether his feet were shod in sandals or dress shoes, the man was set up to be the Life President of Sweet Boys Association.
If my uncle Naitu speaks English for you, you’ll melt like coagulated palm oil in harmattan, melts when placed near the cooking fire. Words leave his mouth like sprrr…sprrrr….you know, like the sound of the ATM when rich people are withdrawing money. Because of that his sprrr…sprrr…grammar, though he’s the second born, the family chose him to be their spokesperson.
Let me not lie; Uncle Naitu did well in the beginning. He went into business; exported groundnuts by the tonnes, owned coal mines, jewel mining companies, and other thriving business concerns. His trains ran nonstop, from one end of the country to another, trips on his airline were affordable and because of his top-notch telecoms company, you could make a call to someone in any corner of the world.
Then oil was discovered in Uncle Naitu’s backyard. This was like stumbling on a never-ending well of liquid gold in your living room. The oil brought in plenty of money. I mean, Uncle went from rich to laulau-spender. In those days, if uncle sent you money, you did not get a bank alert; you got a bank alarm.
Uncle Naitu established and built his currency—called it the naira—until its value rivalled that of his former squatter-turned-landlord, Mr Brit. You know how it is with our people; once you’re the family member with the most money, no matter the position of your birth, you automatically become the oldest child and take on the responsibilities that come with that position. That’s how Uncle Naitu took over Uncle Gana’s position. He was called in to settle disputes between his squabbling siblings, even quarrels within their own nuclear families. They began to call him the Giant of Akparika family.
Maybe, like Grandpa used to say, the spirit of the money was stronger than Uncle’s spirit. So, it began to control him, made him change. Or, you know how they say that money reveals a person’s real character? Maybe that’s what happened to my uncle. Maybe the money got to his head because not long after that oil was found in his backyard, everything began to go haywire.
His oil blocks were doing so well, that he started neglecting his other businesses. His farms were laid fallow; the groundnut exports dwindled until there was no more. It was followed by his textile, mineral, and telecoms companies. The schools and transportation companies went belly up too. Do you know that he even built a steel company but it has never produced any steel to this day?
In all that time, the more things went bad for Uncle Naitu, the better things became for his brothers and sisters. Uncle Gana, the oldest, sat up; today, his own currency has surpassed that of Uncle Naitu. I heard that he doesn’t even own a generator because there’s light, 24/7 in his house. Uncle Ruwa who had a bitter internal family feud, fixed up his family. Auntie Ethopi, who has always been strong and proud, is also doing exceptionally well. You need to see her fleet of aeroplanes. Very impressive. Their sisters Nami and Zulu, who are the lastborns, are excelling.
You see where I’m going with this, right?
My Uncle Naitu is still the best-dressed in the family. Some of his many children are excelling in many places around the world. Some have robbed him blind but he’s an old man now; you don’t expect him to discipline them, do you? The few business concerns he had which were struggling, have now died.
He doesn’t have as much money as he used to but that doesn’t mean he’s broke o. He still has a fleet of private jets and his chief manager uses them to fly abroad for a medical check-up for his ear infection and other undisclosed ailments.
His sons and daughters who sit on the boards of his various companies pay themselves billions of naira in bonuses every year. The shareholders aren’t getting so much in dividends but that’s okay. It’s not easy to do the kind of hard work those board members do every day.
People still call uncle the Giant of Akparika; in fact, he insists on it. But because of his declining performance in the last three decades, that title has lost much of its power. The other day, at the annual family meeting, when Uncle Naitu got up to speak his sprrr-sprrr English, Uncle Kenny told him to sit down. It’s never happened. It was unimaginable!
Uncle Kenny said, “Giant of Akparika….Giant of Akparika but you have nothing to show for it. Look at Brother Gana. Have you seen the state-of-the-art airport he just built? Your own…you spent how many billions refurbishing that old thing and yet it still leaks like a sieve during the rainy season.”
“Shut up, Kenny! How dare you speak to me in that manner? Notwithstanding my present condition, I am still the biggest and most famous of all in this family. Just look at you. You who live in the mountains, whose lands have been ravaged by bombs and terrorists?” Uncle Naitu had roared his reply.
“Hehehehehe…,” Uncle Kenny cackled. “Look at pot calling the kettle names. Yes, some miscreants are destroying my lands. But at least they’re not killing my children in thousands while I lounge in some foreign land, treating an ear infection. At least I am not the one whom they said is the poorest of us all.”
“Don’t mind him,” Auntie Zulu cut in. “Empty cans make the most noise. Stand there and be looking for a title when your children are running away with foreign lovers. Many of them are even causing katakata in their lovers’ homes.”
“Enh? Sister Zulu, you’re joining them? You, whom I singlehandedly rescued from white kidnappers who enslaved your children and took your lands?”
“Abeggi! Forget that thing, jare!” Uncle Gana finally weighed in. “Do some real work, you won’t do. But if it’s to borrow money up and down to oil your wastefulness, you know how to do that one. The way you’re going, you’ll soon have to sell some of your starving children to pay off your debts. Or the debtors will move into your home and take over everything. But stay here and drag title, if it makes you happy.”
Ah! The ela was too much! Uncle Naitu’s children were very angry but they had no grounds to retaliate. The only thing they could do was get on Twitter and yab Uncle Kenny’s children for being blacker than that night in December when witches and wizards hold their bi-annual Olympics.
They threw a few jabs at Uncle Gana for that time he was so broke, his currency was no better than the dried plantain leaves our ancestors used to wipe their behinds after emptying their bowels. They also said Auntie Zulu and her children couldn’t speak a full sentence in English without inserting, “Eish, wena!”
All these talks…last last, my Uncle Naitu is still President of Sweet Boys Association, Member of Corner to Corner Beard Gang, Chief World Traveller and is the first person to have held the title of Giant of Akparika Family.
Who cares if he’s more broken than the chicken who dared to cross the road and got crushed by a passing car on the express that leads to Gwarimpa? His industries are not working, his children are dying, his managers are corrupt and many are complaining. So what? Who cares if Uncle is like those has-beens who went to America for a two-week summer holiday fifteen years ago but returned with an accent and won’t let it go?
Like, seriously, in the face of all his former achievements, what does it matter?