He had several options open to him after completing the mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps program in February, 2007. He had lost the drive to want to practice as a dentist in his penultimate year in medical school. He merely drove himself to finish just because he’d gone so far already.
He aborted plans to stay back in the North after his service, by applying to be retained by the General Hospital in Hadejia, mainly because of the distance he’d have to cover, sometimes into the bush under the cover of night out of city and town gates (as was common in many parts of Northern Nigeria) for an exorbitant bottle of alcohol due to the clampdown on alcoholic beverages in the state, like many other states in the North, that’s adopted the Islamic Shari’a law as state law. Though these laws weren’t meant to apply to non-Muslims the prohibition on alcoholic beverages meant that the availability, procurement and consumption of such was done underground out of glare of the Shari’a police also known as the HISBAH Board.
Going to write the primaries and enrolling into the residency programme was an option but since losing the taste to ever practicing already, that thought was perished as soon as it was conceived. If he was going to practice, it will be in a bid to aid other plans he has or as would come to him as time goes on. He put out word to people he knew about his availability for any job with reasonable pay, while lounging at his parents’.
He soon got a call from a senior colleague of his with whom he worked during his HOUSEMANSHIP, a major in the Nigerian Army. An opening had come up in Bonny Island. The owner was promising a reasonable pay, with free accommodation. He didn’t even think twice about it, having not put in any effort in job hunting in the first place, and the caller been someone he could trust, he made plans to head to Port Harcourt in Rivers State where he expected to travel by boat to the Island bordered by creeks and the Atlantic Ocean.
The prospect of traveling by sea didn’t cause him any headache, as a kid he’d crossed from Ikoyi to Victoria Island across the Lagos Lagoon as part of the weekly trip for Sabbath when the mission was located at Maroko before that swathe of land once inhabited by the poorest of Lagos was demolished in the late 1980’s by the military administrator of the state, and the land allocated to the creme of Lagos society, who made the highest bid, while little or no effort was made to relocate and resettle the poor settlers and inhabitants of the land.
He hadn’t been to the Niger Delta before and he saw the opportunity the job provided as one in which to witness firsthand the degradation that was at the root of agitation by the people for which many lives have been lost (including that of the notable poet and playwright, Ken Saro Wiwa who was executed by the military government of General Sani Abacha in 1995 to wide condemnation, even the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations, following the killing in Ogoniland of some personalities in the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, for taking sides with the government of the day), and kidnap for ransom especially of white expatriates working in the oil industry and families of their Nigerian and African counterparts, including acts of sabotage of Nigeria’s oil and gas pipelines, oil bunkering, piracy amongst others prevalent in the Niger Delta region, for which government in response to the rising spate of insecurity had raised a joint military and police patrol team known as the Joint Task Force, JTF covering the air, land and sea routes.
He’d seen many Niger Delta people in his sojourn in many parts of Nigeria, and one thing they appear to have in common is their bacchanality and the promise of getting the real deal right there in the heart of the Delta was a promising prospect he found difficult to overlook seeing that he refused to stay in the North of Nigeria because of the restriction on the purchase and consumption of alcohol. If he had his way, he’d have made like Sonic”The Hedgehog” to Port Harcourt but paucity of funds made it only possible to travel by road. His anticipation was dulled by the interesting journey it turned out to be. His girlfriend with some hesitation allowed him to go based on the condition that he was to tell ladies he might encounter there that he was married with a girl child, alternatively he could tell people, ladies especially that he’s got a baby-mama who he intends to marry soon. To be doubly sure he’d keep to their plan, she pushed into his palm a picture she took with her Five-year old cousin and made him promise to keep it in a very visible place in his office or apartment.
Once in Port Harcourt he called his employer. She told him to wait very close to Waterline Park and her driver will come fetch him. Then he saw Chi with whom he served in Jigawa State, the year before. She had gone with her boyfriend, whom he also knew back then in their service year, for a job test and were on their way back. He was glad to see them but couldn’t spend as much time as he would have loved to as the driver that was meant to pick him showed up and cut their reunion short. He promised them he’d keep in touch, though the one he really had in mind was the girl with whom he’d had some “li’l som’n-som’n” with way back during service year in the North.
A few minutes later he was face to face with his would-be employer at her palatial home at the Shell Residential Area in Port Harcourt. After a few niceties, she went straight to the point. She expressed her shock at how very young he appeared, at the same time noting that he could also use it as his selling point. Her late husband originally from Bonny Island was a dentist, though she said her husband was a notable dentist his name didn’t quite ring a bell to him. He truly never really bothered about dental greats, and detested arse-kissing of senior dentists even while it could’ve bought him favours while in Dental School, though he never failed to accord them their due respect.
Her husband left her two dental clinics to manage after his demise. If she had other business concerns, she didn’t let him in on that. The clinic in Port Harcourt was in capable hands while the one in Bonny was currently been managed part-time by the Dental Surgery Assistant. She had had a falling-out with the dentist who had worked there for more than Five years and had gone on to set up his clinic a few meters from hers. She had set out to ensure that history did not repeat itself by including in the agreement she now presented to her next catch the clause, that should the dentist decide to leave (s)he would not set up a similar establishment less than 50km from hers, from all sides, which considering the size of Bonny will almost translate to not even setting up a rival clinic on the island.
Having come all the way from Nigeria’s Western coast to the Niger Delta with intentions for another coast at the end of the South-South and tip of the Bight of Guinea; and already intimated of the terms of employment, he had no intention of quitting even if the terms and condition of employment suddenly became untenable and unacceptable, he was willing to try out the waters howbeit with both legs in.
She told him that the clinic is contained within a one-storey duplex. The clinic formed the first part of the ground floor, while his accommodation formed the second part of the ground floor, a two bedroom flat with living room and kitchen reasonably furnished, with the backdoor as the door to the living quarters while the front door accesses the clinic. The top floor remains where she or her kids (who were studying abroad at the time) stay when they come to Bonny.
After their interactions, he was taken to a hotel to get refreshed for the morrow’s journey to Bonny by boat. He hadn’t tasted alcohol since embarking on the almost 12-hour journey from Lagos to Port Harcourt and was now craving a bottle or more. Once he’d gotten his room sorted, dumped his back pack, he asked the driver that brought him to accompany him to a pub where they could drink and share other details that his employer might not have let on. Over a few bottles of wine, he asked the driver why his employer thought to employ him over the many dentists, experienced or not, that he knew she could easily have picked from Port Harcourt. The driver wasn’t sure, but hinted at the possibility of cutting cost as though his pay could be the going rate, dentists who live in Port Harcourt may demand something higher as the cost of living there was high, and even far much higher in Bonny. The rest of the night was spent on stories of a more frivolous kind.
He retired to his hotel room that night around 2pm. His mind was occupied with the final words of the driver that “Bonny takes but never gives, and only a few leave with more than they had come with to Bonny”, as he soaked his tired body and limbs in the warm water filled bath and looked forward to the uncertain future that Bonny held out to him.
He managed to waltz into his bed, with the TV streaming a breaking news on CNN, he shut his heavy eyelids as he slid into somnolence.
(TO BE CONTINUED)