By Nduka Orjinmo
I was born in Port Harcourt in the year Diego Maradonna won the World Cup for Argentina.
It was late April when I breathed my first of this sinful world, the rainy season was in full force and farmers were just beginning to harvest their maize.
But I wasn’t born to farmers. My dad was a civil servant who did an honest job. He went every day to work, but not always to his office at the state secretariat in town, sometimes he went to do his personal job as an electrician.
Maybe once a week he really went to the office, but he was an honest man. My mum owned a shop, like several other housewives of the early nineties. It was a proper 9-5 job. Sometimes, she stayed at the shop till 7pm.
Like a proper child born in the 80’s, I roamed free. I played football with my friends after school, I watched Indian and American movies from split curtains in the neighbour’s house, I rolled my car-a splinter that rose from burnt tyres, down the roads in Mgbuoba. And like every other child in the neighbourhood, I had a dream.
Of one day going to Gabon.
It all began late one evening, as wingless termites flapped and died after a rainfall.
I must have been inside, or maybe outdoors pouring salt on earthworms, I can’t remember which.
But I remember the noise, and later the chaos. It was unlike the Christian crusaders that preached in open roof vans, nor like the samba boys who played atilogu music. This was different. It was a community welcoming back a son.
I can’t remember his name, never knew it. But he was the first son of the rich man at number 100. An iconic compound of burnt red bricks that stood at the end of houses along what is now known as NTA road. There was something mystical about that compound. Asides the fact that the owner owned an Eagle, and two never before seen Alsatian dogs and a Monkey which he perched on his shoulder each time he took his very rare walks in the evenings.
His son, his first son. The only son of this man at number 100 had just returned from Gabon. And he had come back with lots and lots of money.
In the days following his return, my Mgbuoba would change forever.
This son, this man’s son, who had just come from Gabon, with lots of money, changed the community forever.
We stopped playing football in the evenings, traffic along the Mgbuoba road moved much more slowly, mum skipped going to the shop more than twice in a week, the old women in the community appeared outdoors more often, the man at number 100 was seen more often and without the Monkey on his shoulder, the girls were happier, the crippled ran.
Yes they ran, because the son from Gabon had so much money, he sprayed it very often, everywhere, in Mgbuoba. As often as five times a day, sometimes more. And he sprayed it everywhere.
In the church, as the choir gyrated to praise and worship. He sprayed, at the market. Once he sprayed just in front of mum’s shop, on the day she had locked the shop to wait at home, because the previous day he had sprayed at home.
Then one morning he was gone.
Only his family knew when he left, but we all noticed the community was back to its dour nature. Like the weather after a heavy rainfall in October. The money sprayer had gone, back to Gabon.
But he had taken some people with him, other young boys, to Gabon.
His cousins Nyeche and Azunda, whom we called him popopu. I don’t know why, but you never knew these things those days, like why my dad was called pepe by his friends.
It was when he left that, that man’s son at number 100 that everyone started speculating on how he made his money. Some said he was a Doctor in Gabon, others said it couldn’t be, he had no education.
Those ones said he was a politician in Gabon, that he worked directly with the President. Another set said it wasn’t true. How can, when he couldn’t even speak French. How could he advise the President?
They said he was into something illegal. That he sold drugs in Gabon. That too was discounted. Mgbuoba had a very thriving marijuana business in the 90’s, he could have stayed home with less risk and even made more profit.
Then they said he was into money rituals in Gabon. This was the year of Living in Bondage, so this story carried more weight. It was repeated more often than not, mostly by those who never had the opportunity of benefitting from his Robin Hood style money sprays. My mother fell into this category of people.
Mgbuoba never remained the same. It became an annual ritual, for these money bags to return from Gabon. The rich man’s son returned with his cousins and more money, and his cousins retuned with their own money.
There was money everywhere in the community, and much more was sprayed. On the third year of the money spraying ritual, my mum got lucky. In a frenzied chaotic scramble at the community hall where women were fetching water, she fought her way to a handful of twenty naira notes. Five notes in all. One hundred naira. She had bruised elbows and slammed her shin on the slab during the scramble.
More and more young men from Mgbuoba went to Gabon. And each time, they came back with tonnes and tonnes of money. It was then I started dreaming, I and my friends, and every male child in Mgbuoba, of going to Gabon.
We dreamt of cars we would buy, of money we would spray-straight from Ghana must go bags, of who we would give at the village. We spoke about these things, during the now more regular intervals at our football games. We now each knew where Gabon rested on the African map, how its capital was Libreville.
Then one year they didn’t come back. The money boys from Gabon. That was the year Nigeria did not go to Burkina Faso for the Nations Cup. We were serving a ban for boycotting the 96’ edition in South Africa, my father said it was Abacha’s fault. He was our president then.
No one knew why they didn’t come back, the boys from Gabon. All of them. There must have been close to thirty of them in Gabon that year, each compound in Mgbouba seemed to have lost a son to the good fortunes of Libreville.
Our landlord’s son Onyema was our representative. He had gone the previous year, and in 98’ we were all expecting him to come with money, like the other boys before him. But he didn’t come, and neither did any of them.
No one knew why they didn’t come back that year, from Gabon. Not even one of them. Had they all died? Did their ship capsize, on the sea? Were they in prison? Had their monies run dry? Or where they just tired of coming back home, to the money spraying ritual. We never knew. I would never know.
For in that year, when Nigeria didn’t go the Nations Cup Egypt won in Burkina Faso, the man died. Our President, the one with the dark tinted glasses, who had stopped us from going.
In that year also, my father, the hardworking civil servant, built his own house, our house. We were to be tenants no more.
So we moved from Mgbuoba into a new neighbourhood. The dream of Gabon faded with each passing day. Gabon was a dream, of candy wielding football playing boys in Mgbuoba. I had new friends and they had other dreams, much bigger dreams. Of women and beer. It suited me very nicely.
And with time, I forgot all about Gabon, until now. The Eagles, the Egyptians, Alexandria, AFCON 2017. Oh Gabon!!