Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

Prince Of Struggle (2)

by Mohammed Alhassan

The story so far: The village of Zaare is in a turmoil because some buildings have been marked for destruction to make way for the building of a modern hotel. The affected villagers are incensed that nobody consulted them and a delegation to the chief led by Narog, the watchman, has proved fruitless, so is the trip to Bolga to consult Dr Zukat, a son of Zaare. With passions boiling to fever pitch, it is feared that something terrible will happen when the demolition team arrives to do its work. Now read on.
The old man was still standing there. His hat in his hands like a naughty school boy before the head teacher.

"I want to see Doctor," the old man said again in Hausa. "But I gave you a form," she said, one could not tell whether it was a question or a statement. She got up, and went into the room and came out. She signalled to them to go in. The old man in turn signalled to his fellow travellers to follow him.

When Dr Zukat saw the battalion coming in, he was shocked. He was expecting two or three but not a dozen plus. When they had squeezed themselves on the few seats available, they told Dr Zukat their mission. He listened silently.

"Now, what do you expect me to do? If the government says you should move, what can I do? You have to go. There is nothing I can do," Dr Zukat said bluntly.

"But you have to help us. If you don't, who will? We are in the rainy season. Our crops are yet to mature. If they destroy them what shall we do? Starve?" the leader asked.

"Moreover," another elder cut in, "we cannot build new houses in the rainy season. You have to do something. You know it's a taboo to build in the rainy season."

"Look, my son, our son. You are a son of the land. You are our ears, eyes, hands, and spokesman before the governor. They will listen to you, but not to us. As a son of the land, we are asking you to go and plead with them to hold on till we harvest our crops, build new houses, before they drive us out," Narog also added.

"But I have told you I can't. I will not interfere with the work of the government. I am only in charge of health, that's all. I have a meeting to attend now. I am sorry but you have to go." With that, the Doctor walked out and left them. A few minutes later he came back and sat down without saying anything to them.

"Doctor, our land," one elder said.

"Doctor, our crops," one added.

"Our children."

"Our possessions."

"Our cattle."

"The shrines of our forefathers, our livelihood, are we to perish so that you scholars can have bigger houses?" The elders filed out of the office in a dejected mood.

The receptionist looked at them, puffed and said, "as for these people."

They trooped out in silence. The news of the delegation's failure reached Zaare long before the delegation itself got back. Somehow, gossip had done their job for them. The people knew they were fighting a powerful force. Had their chief not said so? And even that man whom they had sponsored to learn the white man's medicine had also said that. The chief, the doctor, they were all afraid of the governor. But who could this governor be who was said to own the land; the land their forefathers had passed to them from the days of old. That forest, the den of wild animals, dangerous and poisonous reptiles. Their forefathers had to conquer all these to possess the land. The land was theirs and they could die on if need be.

Narog was resting under the Baobab tree when the car came again. It was the same car. When he heard the sound of the approaching car his heart missed a beat. It came to a sudden halt and four men got out. They had tapes and measuring tools. The leader signalled to Narog to come over. Narog did not budge. The man walked over.

"Err, err, mister, I have got permission from the Ministry of Land to clear this whole area. I am going to build a Hotel and Cinema Palace combined. The valuation work on your huts has been completed. So I am going to pay you your compensation. You take your money and move out. Do so before Friday. Mind you, today is Tuesday.

"Who are you?" Narog asked.

"Businessman and proprietor of Hustlers Disco"

"And you say you have permission to render me and my family homeless?"

"Yes," the businessman replied.

"Whose permission?"

"The Lands Department, of course. What do you think? Look, I haven't come here for a filthy character like you to ask me questions. Don't you know I can employ you?"

"This is my land. If you want me to move, I must know why," Narog shouted back at him. After a pause he added, "and you want me to move by Friday. How long does it take one to build a house. What about my farm, my millet, groundnut, beans and potatoes?"

"So you call these mud structures houses? Shiaaa! Kofi come listen to him. He says he cannot build a house soon. Look, what is the difference between you and the madman? Or because of those dirty women sitting there? The contractor has to lay the foundation on Saturday. So if by Friday at 6pm you are still here, you do so at your own risk." The businessman walked briskly back to the car and came out with a tin of paint and a brush. He scribbled boldly under the mark they had made earlier.


"And now, old man, come for your money. It was estimated that each of your rooms costs only one hundred cedis to build. There are six rooms in all but because I want to be lenient towards you, I have added two hundred cedis so come and collect eight hundred cedis."

Narog was boiling with anger. "Each of your rooms costs only a hundred cedis to build " so he said. Narog looked at his "hundred cedi" rooms, unconsciously his eyes shifted from the rooms to the Baobab tree and the earth mounds, and to the roofs of his rooms and to the baobab tree again. Then he saw the red mark on that tree for the first time.

"Mba Kapoek!" he shouted when he saw the mark. "Who did that?" he asked. Nobody answered. "Who did that? I mean the mark on my father's face, answer me now!"

One of the children pointed at the businessman. Narog saw the finger but he ignored it. He was still looking sternly at his wives.

"That one," they shouted in unison and pointed at the businessman.

"You did... thaaaat!" Narog said slowly. "You have defaced my father. You have insulted him. You want to wipe away our clan. I now see that you are not only interested in driving us away from our land but also annihilating the clan. If we shall not live, so shall you not, wait. You will see!" Narog said as he stormed into the house.

When Narog had gone, the businessman beckoned his companions. They got into their car and were about to drive away when Narog came out with a bow and arrow - when they saw Narog, they took off, before he could do anything.

"Why did they go away? I would have taught those bastards a lesson. How dare you insult me in my own house. Is it a crime to be poor? But who even says I'm poor? Thieves like they are. Narog soliloquised.

He continued walking. His wives thought he was going to work. Narog walked on till he reached the Naab's palace. He cleared his throat a number of times to announce his presence and asked, "Is the way clear?" he asked at last.

A shrill strong voice shouted back, "the lions that used to lie at our gates have disappeared with the coming of the white man; the python has retreated into its hole, the men of old have also broken their bows and arrows. What then do you fear?"

Narog removed his slippers and walked cautiously into the palace. He crossed the gate, the first compound and through an alley, he walked into the Naab's compound. The Naab and his elders were surprised to see Narog, in full battle-dress. A bow and a horn full of arrows, a battle-axe and amulets on his arm and a small calabash on his head.

"Narog, is all well with you?" one elder accosted him.

"Our elders of old said that when you see a warrior in full battle-dress, then you know there are enemies next door. So it is, elder," Narog replied.

The chief was in his room so Narog waited for a while. When the chief came out he asked his linguist to welcome Narog and to ask him of his mission.

Narog's case was simple and straight- forward. Illegal dispossession. Someone had threatened to deprive him of his land, his livelihood and all that he possessed.

"Narog, I do appreciate your problem," the Naab told him. "You're not the only one being threatened. The whole village is being asked to move away. If that is what those in authority say, what can I, poor, powerless village chief do?"

"But, Naab, you told us that our section was excluded."

"Yes, I said so but this man has a loan from the Social Security Bank to build a hotel and he thinks the area where you are living is ideal for him, that's why he ispestering you. Narog, that man is rich, powerful and has all the necessary connections, so I think it is better you give way. I am not siding with him but that's how I see it," the Naab explained.

"Father," shouted voice from a nowhere. The voice was identified as that of the Naab's eldest son. "I am utterly disgusted by the way you are talking. He has a loan to build a hotel and so what? His desire to build a hotel should not be used as an excuse to inconvenience the old man's family. It is your responsibility as a leader to protect the interest of your people; and not the businessman.

"Hmm, children of today," an elder sighed.

"Are you talking to me like that," the Naab asked in an angry tone.

"Exercise restraint," an elder cautioned, "patience is a preserve of the old."

Did you educate me so that I come and keep quiet when people who do not own land in their own homes come and trample on our freedom? No, Apaul would be worthless if he remained silent at a time like this...

"Father," the boy drew near, "just listen to me. Here is a man who is being asked to pack away in the rainy season so that a big man can build a hotel. Is that fair? And you as the leader sides with the rich against your subject. Consider his wife and children and those yet unborn. Con- sider the souls of his fore-fathers. You must do something to stop this thing - man's inhumanity against man. It has gone on for too long. Today it is him, tomorrow, it will be your turn."

"But is it my fault?”, the Naab asked.

"No, all that I am saying is that if modernity expressed by hotels has caught up with the old man today, tomorrow, that same beast will come in the form of a Cinema Palace and you will be the next victim."

"Look Apaul, you have no right to talk to me like that. Moreover remember that I am the Naab of this village."

Apaul did not wait to hear the rest of his father's weak defence of his own cowardly action. He turned and walked towards his mother's kitchen.

Narog got up and walked away in silence. What could he do? His own chief had sided with the usurpers. Narog could not forget the words of Apaul to his father. That boy is brave. A mere boy No, he does not belong to this age, Narog thought. He had hardly gone far when he heard footsteps behind him. Narog turned round to see who it was. It was Apaul, the chief's son. He was panting hard.

"What is it, my son?" Narog asked.

"Nothing in particular. I just want to remind you that if those people come again, send for me. I will stand by you if my father, the chief, wouldn't. That's all."

"Thank you, my son. What you have said alone is enough to soothen my sore. If they come, I will send for you."

Narog continued his journey home in an excited mood. He was relieved to hear of Apaul's decision to stand by him.

"Apaul, where did you go?" Naab asked his son.

"I wanted to talk to that old man. To tell him that I am his friend, his ally in his struggle to stay alive. I must help him fight injustice, exploitation and all this craze about money, position, power, elder misuse of wealth and power. Naab, I am fed up and I will die if need be to defend the old man, my generation and all that is true and just."

"Look, Apaul, do not meddle in these things. What has this land got to do with you? Are you the chief?"

"No, but the chief's son, a son of the land. Did you educate me so that I come and keep quiet when people who do not own land in their own homes come and trample on our freedom? No, Apaul would be worthless if he remained silent at a time like this," he added.

"But I did not educate you to come and interfere with matters affecting my court. If you want to perform my duties for me, wait till I am dead. As long as I remain alive, stay away," the Naab warned.

"I do not want to be a chief let alone a usurper. At any rate you are more dead than alive since you have sided with injustice. Anyway, where injustice is being done, Apaul will protest, he will never side with predators, with oppressors or perpetrators of injustice. I will always side with the oppressed..." Apaul walked away silently.

Later that evening, that same white car which Narog had described came back. Apaul saw the car as he sat in front of the palace. There was a driver and a second man. When Apaul saw the car, he got up and went behind one of the baobab trees around. The Naab came out when he heard the sound of the car. He adjusted his smock and looked left and right to see if there were any intruders or not. He saw none. The second man also got out of the car. He exchanged a few words with the Naab. He dipped his hand into his pocket and brought out a bundle of notes which he thrust into the hands of the chief. Then the driver opened the boot of the car and brought out a carton of beer.

Apaul came out of his hiding place and walked slowly into the palace. The chief did not know whether his son had seen everything or not.


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