The party was bigger than any celebration ever witnessed in the Edozie household. Even though he knew how generous the budget was, Chief Edozie couldn’t hide his shock at all the surprises his wife and children packed into one night of partying.
Judging from the number and calibre of those in attendance, the quality and quantity of food and drinks in circulation throughout the day and night, and the class of artistes and comedians paid to entertain guests, it was obvious how much of the details were kept away from him. Maybe because they knew how resistant he was to the idea of having such a grand celebration in the first place, they tricked him into believing that his desire for moderation during the planning phase was considered and accommodated.
By the end of the night, Chief Edozie was exhausted from all the dancing and standing up to say hello to people he knew and those he didn’t. Family members, friends, business partners, politicians, former classmates and other acquaintances he hadn’t seen in years all showed up from whatever corner of the world life had tossed them to shower encomiums on him and join his family in thanking God for making him see another year.
The governor of the state and his deputy were in attendance; so were five ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and eleven serving members of the National Assembly. Also present were the five most prominent church leaders in the country, so what was intended to be a night of fun was punctuated with prayers at calculated intervals.
However, of all the surprise guests that showed up as he turned fifty-four, the one person whose presence meant the most to Chief Edozie was Ambassador Nebu Anele. Nebu was his best friend and the reason he had anything to celebrate in the first place because he got his big break through him.
In November 1996, a young Rowland Edozie visited Bayelsa state for the very first time. That visit during the military dispensation was at the instance of his friend, Nebu. The then Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha, had a month earlier announced the creation of ten new states in Nigeria, and Bayelsa was one of them.
Nebu’s uncle, Colonel Cletus Anele, was the first Military Administrator of the newly created state. Yenagoa, the capital of the state used to be a local government area in the old River state with just one tarred road, one filling station, a few concrete houses and not much else. The new Administrator had his job cut out for him.
In order to hit the ground running, Colonel Anele needed sound manpower to run the civil service and a few other people around him he could trust for advice and to carry out his plans. His Nephew, Nebu, was one of such people, so he sent for him.
Because Nebu Anele and Rowland Edozie had been close friends and classmates from their time in the University of Benin where they both graduated from the Faculty of Arts, Nebu asked his friend to accompany him to Yenagoa. The Special Assistant to the Military Administrator on Roads, Public Buildings and Special Projects felt he too was deserving of an assistant and Rowland jumped at the offer. He was tired of roaming the streets of Enugu with his resume in a frayed khaki folder and being referred to as unemployed graduate.
Using his influence in the corridors of power, Nebu talked businessmen, contractors and consultants meeting with his uncle into giving him supply jobs in their companies. From stationeries to sand supplies, Nebu accepted anything he could get. He in turn passed them on to his friend and assistant, Rowland Edozie, to execute.
Seeing how dedicated his nephew was in pursuing and executing contracts awarded to him by these companies and individuals, the military administrator decided to try him out with a direct government contract for the building of classroom blocks in one of the local government areas of the state. Because he didn’t want to be accused of nepotism, he advised his nephew to provide a front. Rowland Edozie became the front and Edozie Enterprises was born.
As the contracts from the state government got bigger and more diverse, Edozie Enterprises became Edozie Express Limited.
Before long, people from within and outside the state realised that the rising entrepreneur had access to the number one citizen and could influence things in their favour. He began peddling his influence, and for a fee or a percentage in the contract when approved, he helped them push their proposals to the Administrator’s table.
By the end of that administration and the start of another a few years later, Chief Rowland Edozie emerged as a power broker in Bayelsa state. Entrenched in the way things operated within government circles, he was courted and consulted by all the powerful people in the state.
With the return of the country to democracy in 1999, Chief Edozie added tremendous wealth to his power and influence with the nouveau political class. His company built the stadium, the airport and the three senatorial roads in the state. Edozie Express was also awarded the contract for the execution of countless other projects in the state. By this time, he and Nebu had fallen out over the ownership of Edozie Express and couldn’t agree a profit-sharing formula for jobs secured after the Colonel Cletus Anele years in Bayelsa state.
The rift between the two friends was never made public because Nebu became a career diplomat and relocated to Brazil. Years later, he was appointed the Nigerian Ambassador to the Nordic countries and they lost touch with each other. They were not enemies, but they never became friends again.
Seeing his old friend again after so many years was the highlight of the party for Chief Edozie. He made a mental note to ask Ohita how she pulled off the miracle of Nebu’s reappearance in his life because he never really spoke to her about him and they had never met. It was Ihuoma the guy knew; he was the best man at their wedding.
In spite of the fun of reconnecting with old friends like Nebu, the glitz and glamour exuding from gaily dressed men and bejewelled women, and the fact that the party was the idea of one of the church leaders present for his emancipation from the shackles of his village gods, Chief Edozie couldn’t let himself go and enjoy the evening.
Overcome with fear and anxiety on several occasions as the night went on, he was tempted to sneak into his bedroom, take off his all-black agbada outfit and crawl into bed, but he knew how furious Ohita would have been if he had abandoned her on the dance floor.
At the end of the day, his wife and children got the party they wanted, so he expected things in the mansion to return to normal in the morning. For his sake, and that sake of his sons, Kennedy, Kobi and Kendrik, he prayed that the heavens enjoyed the party as much as the guests did and a couple more years would be added to his life. He didn’t want to die before his next birthday because life was sweet. He didn’t want to die before his next birthday because it meant that his boys too would suffer the same fate.
Knowing what was at stake, he had no other option but to play the perfect host and mingle with everyone until the last act performed on stage and the music stopped. With everyone gone, Chief Edozie was happy to retire to the quiet of his bedroom. It was time for him to activate plan A.
In order to overcome, Baba Iperu wanted him to do three things and he intended to begin with the easiest.
A couple of years back, the National Chairman made him a life patron of the Bayelsa State Chapter of the Association of Physically Challenged Athletes and his generosity had seen to their participation in a number of local and international competitions. The chairman owed him a favour.
“Comrade Nikade, we need to do something for the deaf and dump female athletes in this state.”
“Ah chief, it is as if you read my mind.”
“I want you to bring five of them to my guest house in Tombia tomorrow morning.”
“My doctor will be there to screen them for fitness…blood work, urine sample, stool sample, HIV, pregnancy… If they pass the medicals, I want us to look for a competition in Europe or America they can take part in.”
“Ah! Chief. God will bless you.”
Chief Edozie hung up the phone. One almost gone, two to go, he thought to himself.