The party had given me an ultimatum, denounce my Father and become the vice-presidential candidate at the next election or continue to lobby for his release and commit political suicide. Being vice president positioned me to become the first female president of Nigeria but I couldn’t denounce my father, could I?
The ride from my home in Banana Island to Kirikiri prison where Father was being held was enough time to mull over it and come to a decision.
When I was a child, Father used to stick out his leg and trip me. I would stand in front of him bleeding from my burst lip and he would laugh cruelly and say, “I’m going to make you tough!”. When I was sixteen he dropped me in Ibadan with fifty naira and asked me to find my way back home to our house in Ikoyi. He didn’t care if I was raped or killed. When I got home I asked mother if he was really my father. “He is,” mother said, “and you are his only child.”
While campaigning in ‘76 he had been shot in his groin, it took out his right and only functioning testis. The ten children he had from concubines after that were not his. “When I die ask all of them to do a DNA test,” he would whisper to me whenever they came to our house. Yet he paid all of their school fees and bought their mothers homes. “A rich man must have a large family”.
He had been a governor, senator, twice minister of Finance and was always in the ruling party. In secondary school I would get teased about his track record of corruption and killing political opponents. Whenever it became unbearable I switched schools but eventually his surname and my face would betray whose daughter I was.
He was always quick to cut off my allowance if my A plus grade fell to A minus. I watched him beat my mother systematically over the years until she became a shadow of herself, losing clumps of hair and teeth and succumbing to alcoholism and psychosomatic illnesses. Father would say he was removing the weakness in both of us. It was his duty to remove weakness, he would never let it thrive where he existed, be it in an opponent or ally.
I had to endure the cruelty masquerading as training up until it was time to go to University. Father had risen from a farmers son to his lofty position because of his education and he encouraged me to study Law in Oxford and get a masters at Harvard law school like he had.
Those were the best years of my life. For the first time I was free from his constant manipulation. I dropped the last three letters of his surname and forged my own identity. I learned that politicians tried to make things better for their people and that looting, marauding men like my father were an aberration to civilization and not the norm.
I swore I would never be like him. He asked me to come home at the end of every semester but I refused. Before long I fell in love with a Nigerian boy Tunde. I was in heaven.
A few months after I completed my masters I got a call from home. My mother’s frail voice, ”Risi, you have to come home, your father is dying,”. At first I refused but Tunde encouraged me and we flew home together.
As soon as I entered our home on Bourdillon, the gates were locked and my passport was seized. Manipulative father had forced Mama to make that call. He was sitting in his armchair grinning like a Cheshire cat. He offered us tea. “Any serious conversation should take place over a cup of tea,” he always said.
I introduced Tunde as my fiancé and my father asked characteristically, “Who is your father?” Not knowing Tunde’s father was enough for Father’s guards to dump him and his bags outside the house. I did not see Tunde for many years.
Father reminded me of how all the nuggets of wisdom, mental and physical training and millions spent on my foreign education were to prepare me to take his place in the political stratosphere.
“What if that is not what I want for my life,” I asked with tears in my eyes. He replied with that tried and trusted gem “It’s for your own good,”.
I had two choices, become a prisoner in the house or start the political career father had planned for me. I chose the latter.
A quick marriage was arranged with the son of another politician whose party stood for anti-corruption. “When the people get tired of us, they will vote his father in and you will find yourself in the corridors of power,”. Within six years it happened just as father had predicted, he was never wrong. “You put the goalpost where you know the ball will be,”. Always with the nuggets of wisdom.
After a short stint as a lawyer, I entered the political ring. The very first post I contested was for state house of assembly. Fathers name had practically assured me of victory but my opponent was a market woman with a large support base.
I had someone in her team start a rumour that she was a witch who had sacrificed her son to rise to power- she had lost her only child as a teenager- while I was the God-fearing woman happily married with two live children. The rumour spread like wildfire and I was elected. I was a natural.
Election to the federal senate followed within four years. Father and I were in different political parties for appearances but he always helped me.
Everything was okay until he was arrested for corruption and ordering the assassination of an opposition governorship candidate. He didn’t personally deny the charges, he was just irked that the ruling party had the effrontery to put him in jail.
I arrived the prison. Just as I was walking in, my phone rang- Tunde. I found him last month but he was not as eager to start an affair with me as I was with him. Apparently he loved his wife too much whereas I had no such feelings for my husband. I had invited them both to dinner and he was calling to confirm the appointment.
The prison warden had converted his office into a special cell for Father because of the amenities and so Father didn’t have to mingle with the other inmates. Father was sitting down behind the wardens desk and gave me the same wide grin he had for years.
“You are here to tell me that you have convinced your father-in-law to let me go, didn’t I tell you this moment would come, you put the ball…” “… where the goal post will be”, I completed his sentence. “Let me make you a cup of tea father so we can talk.” “Talk?” Father stared at me, he could smell bullshit even before it hit the ground.
I brought out the hot water flask and the tea set and made him tea like I had done several times before. “I heard they offered you the vice presidency if you dissociate yourself from me,” he asked searching my face.
“I would never do that father,” I handed him the tea and he sipped it. “Betraying you would make me appear evil”. “So you will talk to your father in law?“ he asked. “I can’t do that either, I think I want to be the first female vice president of Nigeria,” he looked at me closely, the wide grin becoming a small frown.
”There are two choices here, and between you and I you know the one to pick”. “There’s a third choice father,”. “What third choice?”.
I looked at Father. He looked at the cup of tea in his hands. He clutched his chest and opened his eyes wide. “This makes me look sympathetic to the public”.
He fell to the floor, the look of betrayal in his eyes never changing even after life had left his body. I checked for his absent pulse and waited five full minutes before calling for help.
The warden was more devastated than I pretended to be. His five hundred thousand naira a month had died with Father. “All your father talked about was you, no wonder he waited for you before he died”.
I left the prison a free woman. Free from fathers influence and free to become the vice presidential candidate of the party. At home Tunde and his wife were waiting. I saw the beautiful slender creature, weakness waiting to be extinguished. I made sure Tunde had a brandy in his hand when I turned to her, “Would you like some tea?”.
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