The Money is the Motive I : Kesena
Kesena, like several other children of politicians in Nigeria today, discovers that her father has stolen money from the government. Part I of a 3 part series.
I could hear strains of the song “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay coming from somewhere. My phone was ringing. I had just gotten out of the office and was about to start heading towards the little restaurant Dipo and I had formed a ritual of having lunch at while interning this summer. I looked at the screen. It was him. I took a deep breath and answered.
“Kesena? Hello darling, how are you?”
“I’m guessing you’ve heard something”
“You could say that.” I replied icily, while searching in my new handbag for my car keys.
“Well, listen, I can’t talk much right now, I just called to tell you not to talk to any journalists okay? In fact, don’t discuss the issue with anyone at all. Have you heard me? Thank God it’s almost the weekend, you can come home to Abuja and stay here for a bit till things calm down. I’ll call Jide and let him know you’ll be taking sometime off.”
Jide was Chief Adeyemi to the rest of us who weren’t golf buddies with him. He was a senior partner at the law firm I had been working at for most of the summer holidays.
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen” I snapped.
“Are you with mum?”
“Tell her I’ll call her later” I interrupted, and then hung up. On any ordinary day, that would not have happened. He would have had my head for daring to be so rude to him. But today was no ordinary day. I stared at my blackberry for about 10 seconds half-expecting him to ring back ready to give me a bollocking. But he didn’t. I hissed and shoved the phone into my blazer pocket and stormed towards my 3-series in the middle of the company parking lot.
There was not much traffic surprisingly for Lagos, and I arrived at the restaurant about ten minutes later. Upon walking in I spotted Dipo sitting in the corner by a window, but not by the window we usually sat at. I turned to look at our regular table and saw some semi-important looking businessmen, two in suits and one in an agbada. I rolled my eyes and began strolling over to Dipo who I noticed was not alone. When we were about six, Dipo was the noisy boy who’s mum was friends with mine. I didn’t think too much of him as I was very prissy and proper as a child and he was as obnoxious as little boys could get really. One day he forced me to race him round our compound. When I ended up beating him in the race he begged me not to tell anyone. I agreed and we’ve been best friends ever since. He was a lot taller than me now though even though I was 5”9. He was quite built too, while I was just skinny. Plus, while I had a “deep caramel” complexion according to some tactful makeup sales assistants Selfridges, Dipo was more like Lance Gross. These days, girls couldn’t get enough of him, as he was as good-looking and as charming twenty-two year old guys could get these days. Which, if you think about it, isn’t saying much.
I peered at Dipo’s table as I got closer and recognized the girl sitting next to him as Jadesola, Dipo’s breezy number umpteen who we’d known since secondary school. I wondered why he’d chosen today of all days to bring her along. Back in SS1, she came to school and announced that from then on everyone should call her “Jade” like the colour. I insisted on calling her what we’d always had, which was Desola, so it was safe to say she wasn’t particularly fond of me. It didn’t help that I was Dipo’s best friend either.
“K-pop!” Dipo stood up and gave me a kiss on the cheek. He never tired of calling me that ridiculous nickname.
“Hey hun” I replied and turned to the dainty, pretty girl beside him. “Desola love, how now?”
“I’m good, Kesena o. Haven’t seen you in a bit”
“I know!” I said and sat down, plonking my Alexander Wang bag down beside me. “It’s work, really”
Turning back to Dipo, I complained about not being in our usual spot. He shrugged and beckoned a waiter over to take our orders. Desola and I chit-chatted while we waited for our meals, Dipo was unusually quiet and spent most of the time fiddling with his iPad with a little frown on his face.
“Kesena” He suddenly blurted, just as I was about to dig in to my caesar salad.
“Um…. Abeg what do you know about this whole Delta State Redevelopment Fund thingie?” He tried to say casually, pointing at his iPad screen.
“Because I’m the Minister’s right hand man abi?”. I replied cooly, glaring at him.
“Oh wow, Desola, I love those shoes! Are they new? Where are they from?” I said to Desola gushingly. I knew very well where they were from, as I’d ordered the same pair in four different colours from the Charlotte Olympia website about a month earlier. But it would keep her talking for at least another ten minutes, and it was enough to shut Dipo up for a bit. I avoided Dipo’s gaze and nodded eagerly at Desola as she went on. I found myself slowly tuning out of what she was saying and into the conversation going on between the men at our regular table. Their voices were raised, so I figured it could be interesting.
“I knew it!” One in a grey suit said as he flung a newspaper down onto the table. “There’s no hope for this country, I tell you!”
“My friend, you don’t even know the half of it. That newspaper is just giving baby figures. From what I’ve heard it was a downright obscene amount. People are even saying it can accumulate to around Dimeji’s figure, if not more than sef.” This was the black suit man talking, from what I could see in the corner of my eye.
“EHN? Olorun!!” Grey suit guy was in shock.
“Nothing is hidden under the sun anyway. It will all soon be common knowledge. By God’s grace the EFCC will bring justice”
“To his own people” The man in a dark blue agbada muttered while shaking his head. “That bastard”
I stole a glance in their direction to decipher what newspaper they’d been reading. Squinting, I saw the name and suddenly felt sick. It was This Day. Fuck. They’d seen it. They knew. I turned back to find Dipo still looking at me worriedly. He’d heard them. He knew too.
“Well, Desola, all I can say is you have great taste in shoes.” I smiled at her. “Can’t say the same about your taste in guys though.” Or weaves, I thought to myself while eyeing her Nicki Minaj-esque black bangs that were far too severe for her pixie-cute looks.
“Haha. Ode.” grinned Dipo, his eyes still full of concern.
I spent about twenty more minutes with them, then quickly paid for my meal and hurriedly went back to the office. On my way, I recited all the prayers I had ever learnt at Catechism class, especially for the ones asking for Divine Mercy. We were going to need it.
Back at the law firm, I met a message from Chief Adeyemi with the receptionist (who gave me a suspicious look) saying I’d been granted my leave. Not that I’d wanted one in the first place. So I gathered some case studies I wanted to look over during my time off and headed to my apartment in Ikoyi. I was livid. My father could force me to stay away from work but he couldn’t make me get on a plane to Abuja.
I had always been proud. Proud of myself, proud of my beliefs, proud of my family. Our lifestyle was more than comfortable. My mother’s family was rich enough for my grandchildren to never have to work a day in their lives. My mother herself owned an incredibly large television company with her own television network broadcasted in all of Africa and parts of India. They called her the Nigerian Oprah, but without the talk show, and Dipo called her Mrs. Money Ain’t a Thing, when she was out of an earshot anyway. My father was a very successful lawyer for one of the top Trans-African banks and made more than a good living. But after not being made a SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) after 30 years, he was fed up. So when he was offered the position of Minster of Finance, he jumped at the chance. And I had been proud. For me, expensive clothes and cars were a way of life. I just thought of it all as normal. I didn’t even realise that regular little girls didn’t wear Armani Junior shoes and sweaters with their school uniform until I was about fifteen. It was then that I understood that I had things other people didn’t. I had never flaunted our wealth, my mother would have been appalled if I did. But I was proud and always made it clear that I had standards. As I drove through the gates of the apartment building, I thought of all my big expenses in the past few months: the trips to Milan and Nice, the goat hair embroidered leather Balmain vest that I had actually had to save up for, the two Burberry Prorsum trench coats, my 21st birthday cruise weekend, to name a few. I shuddered to think of how many of those those I had paid for with money from my dad. I got all my pocket money from my parents’ joint account, so I had no idea who paid for what.
As I shut my apartment door behind me, I let out a little scream of frustration. James, the housekeeper ran into the hall looking slightly alarmed.
“I’m fine o, James” I laughed. “Just a bit thirsty, could you bring me that bottle of white wine in the fridge abeg.” He nodded and quickly brought it to the study where I had settled in.
I brought out the day’s This Day newspaper and flipped to the article I had been reading at work. It was a relatively short one, in the middle of the paper. Not a very big headline, easily missable. But I could tell it was one of those stories that started of small, with only discreet, moderately significant details mixed with some rumors but eventually grew into a front page, top headline story in a matter of days.
…A source has confirmed that he misappropriated 10 billion Naira, which is the same amount as the budget set aside for redevelopment of Delta state, and has been paying 250 million of this amount monthly into a private account over the past few months…more details are to follow…
I took a huge gulp of my wine and quickly shut the newspaper. Hot tears sprang to my eyes. How could he do this to us? Did he even think about his family when he was doing this? Our reputation? We’d had shitloads of money WAY before he became Minister. We didn’t need any more, we could even do with a lot less. How could he do this? And why?
What would my friends think? What would my lecturers think? I thought of Mr. Harrison, my first year Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa lecturer at LSE. I was in my third year now and had only taken his class once, but he and I were friends and would always get together for coffee and discuss Nigerian politics whenever we had the chance. He was very intelligent, and had the best kind of dry humor that always had me in stitches. I remembered when he found out my dad was being appointed Minister of Finance. He wrote a long letter to my father and gave it to me to give him. It was all about how “elated” he was that someone as “discerning”, “astute”, “competent” and “incorruptible” as my father was in an influential position. He went on to discuss how he was “assured” that my father would make an “tremendous” affect on the nation.
I flipped open my laptop and decided to check my email to distract myself somehow. Only a few new messages. One was from Remi, my dad’s PA. It was the confirmation for my flight to Abuja the following evening. I noticed she’d booked me in first class. It reminded me of when I was little and the later my parents would send a driver to pick me up from school the bigger the car they’d send. As if them pulling up in a big expensive car was important to a six year old girl who’d been waiting outside the school for hours. I wondered why he hadn’t chartered a private flight for me seeing as his offence this time was much bigger than being late. But I suppose it wouldn’t have been wise given the current situation. I got out my phone and keyed in Dipo’s speed dial.
“Good Evening, this is Dipo Obayomi’s line, Jade speaking” a chirpy voice greeted.
“Desola? Hey….um is Dipo there? It’s Kesena” I said a bit thrown off by the formal greeting.
“Oh hey dear, he’s in the shower actually, do you want to leave a message?”
“Um. Could you just ask him if he’d like to come with me to visit my family in Abuja for the weekend? There’s a bit of an issue. And I’m leaving tomorrow evening.”
“Well, I don’t know, its completely short notice, he likes to be told about these things in advance, you know.” Desola said affectedly.
I had to control my giggles. What, was she his secretary now or something?
“AND we had planned to go to the beach this weekend and-”
“Look,” I cut her off. “Just give him the message and tell him to call me okay? I have to go now. Bye!!”
I placed my head on the table and breathed heavily. I would go to Abuja, but only because I wanted to see my mum and my younger brother, Tanure. As for Minister Odesiri, I hissed while looking a picture of him and my mother on the wall.
I thought about seeing if I could book a room at the Transcorp Hilton or the Sheraton. But at the same time I couldn’t decide on which was worse, paying for a hotel room with what could be stolen money, or sleeping in the same house as my father. After about five minutes, I sat up and picked up my phone to dial Mr. Chetanna who did all our family’s hotel bookings. The last place I wanted to be was anywhere near that thief.