By the time the dead cats, monkey paws and severed heads of chickens started appearing on our front porch, no one was sure exactly who was trying to get rid of him.
OME of the best nights at our home in Umuahia were those when Emma Nsofor, my father’s lawyer, came to dinner. Not only did he bring me and my four siblings Smarties, but his presence guaranteed that we could get away with almost anything; our father was rarely as thrilled as when they sat talking late into the night, with dozens of law books strewed about the living room floor.
Over the years, I watched my father, who ran an accounting firm by day, embroil himself in one fight for justice after another, causes that were technically none of his business.
The most famous of his battles was against the government of Imo State, which he sued for unconstitutionally increasing the number of local government areas — a ploy to gain more votes and to receive more money from the federal government.
Back then, in the early ’80s, this sort of activism was unprecedented. Relatives arrived in contingents to express their alarm, but their attempts to dissuade my father only ended with his yelling: “What they’ve done is wrong!”
His legal victory over the government stole local headlines. It also attracted the ire of the powers that be. They found a perfect outlet for their fury in my mother, who worked in the local government. Each new day brought her a fresh experience of workplace victimization, until eventually they told her she was being transferred to a remote post that would require a tortuous journey on a perilous road, plus her moving away from home. None of us disagreed when she decided to resign.
If only my father had confined his battles to the government. With time, his enemy base expanded. He criticized community leaders who exploited their indigenes. He alerted the board of the now defunct Golden Guinea Breweries to the corrupt practices of its executive. He went after government commissioners who were not constitutionally eligible for their appointments.
BY the time the dead cats, monkey paws and severed heads of chickens started appearing on our front porch, no one was sure exactly who was trying to get rid of him.
One day, a dibia — a seasoned native doctor who had been a friend of my grandfather — paid a visit to our home. “There are negative forces all over the place,” he said. Using supernatural detectors, he led his apprentices around our backyard, stopping after every few paces and commanding his boys to dig. Hours later, when he declared the proceedings over, the excavations had uncovered evidence of “remote control” juju rituals — earthen pots containing animal parts and herbs, some mingled with items of clothing filched from our clothesline.
The dibia explained that the alligator pepper seed concoction was designed to make my father constantly irritable and ill-tempered; the animal dung was to fetch him shame; the dog’s teeth were to instigate quarrels between my parents. To think that, while we slept, diabolical strangers had been planting evil devices on our manicured premises. At least, unlike in today’s Nigeria, where assassination is the preferred method of getting rid of opposition nuisances, my father’s enemies apparently wanted him alive, just well tormented.
The dibia advised him to forestall future attacks by subscribing to juju. My grandmother, a founding member of the local Assemblies of God church, stretched her palms over our heads and spoke in strange tongues, interjecting in Ibo to ask Jesus to protect her children, and their children, and their children’s children, forever.
The excavated items were piled up and burned. My grandfather’s friend died the following Tuesday. Everyone believed that the evil forces he’d dislodged had struck him down in revenge. The mangoes and pawpaws and guavas in our backyard orchard, suspected of contamination, were left to rot on the trees or on the ground.
Still, my father did not relent in his outspokenness. His reputation as a troublemaker grew. With time, he also became known as a man of principle. By the ’90s, after we moved from the town to our ancestral village, we began hosting dusk visits from dignitaries seeking election into some of the highest offices in the land.
“I hope the men who come to marry you won’t turn back after seeing the state of our road,” my father often joked to me and my sister, referring to the bumpy miles leading to our house. Yet, those dignitaries — the sorts of potbellied men you saw speechifying on TV — braved the journey. They knew that Chukwuma Hope Nwaubani had earned the respect of his community. The troublemaker had become a kingmaker.
A few years ago, my father enrolled to study law. At the age of 63, he graduated at the top of his class. Then he summoned a family meeting to announce that he was going back into politics. He was no longer satisfied with pulling strings behind the scenes; he wanted to run for office.
“No,” my mother responded. “You’ll have to find yourself another wife.”
My father turned to me. “What do you think?”
I’d always felt that he had constrained himself too much to the local scene, that the rest of Nigeria could benefit from a taste of the valor he had to offer. But one look at my mother’s face made me reconsider.
My father has done his bit, and more. This Father’s Day, my country faces one of the most trying periods in our 52-year history: terrorist attacks; calls for splitting the country along ethnic lines, insecurity, inhumanity and alarming decay in our medical and education systems. I realize that it is now the children’s turn to follow in our parents’ footsteps, to take on the challenges of our time.