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Aghogho Ekwiekwie is an avid reader and a devoted writer with inordinate passion for creative writing.
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Letter to the Star chronicles aspect of the life of Rukevwe who pours out her heart, in an epistolary to the star, about the devastation of her homeland and the death of her friends
Dear Shining Star,
I'M WRITING TO you with a heavy heart. I'm in a sober mood and grief hovers over my head like a halo of smoke. I have terrible news to share with you. I will begin with the sad news concerning Nafisat. My best friend, my sister, my confidant, is dead. She died on 10 November, 1995. It was also on this day that Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged along with other MOSOP leaders. These were the terrible news that weighed heavily on my mind.
I feel guilty. I feel responsible for the death of Nafisat, my dear sister. She died from a poisoned food on the day of her wedding. Mama Tobore was the person who brought the news to us. Her parrot mouth was certainly a passport that gave her access into any place or home irrespective of the occupant, tiger or sheep. On the day of Nafisat wedding, I was determined to be present in order to help my friend escape. I had no concrete plan of escape, but really wanted to help my dear sister escape her subjugated condition. My mother had heard I was complicit in Nafisat earlier attempted escape. The news had reached her, through Mama Tobore of course. And so it was that I was never allowed to go out on the day my sister was made to take a forced matrimonial vow. Mama Tobore was a close friend of Nafisats mother, how she managed to achieve that feat I know not. As a friend of the family, she went there to help with the marriage preparation, especially with this old family tradition that must be observed.
The Ambalis old tradition requires that the new bride must prepare a meal to be eaten by the husband and friends of the husband. It is friends of the husband, not the family, because the friends would be the ones to frequent their home after the wedding. Tasting the food together with the husband would afford them the opportunity to tell whether his wife-to-be is a good cook or not. Rumour has it that the mothers usually help out in the cooking of the chosen food in order to save the family from being disgraced. When the friends gave their approval by telling the husband that the food was delicious, the husband would invite the bride over to join them. When the husband gave his approval, the entire family and the audience marked this period with loud ululation. During the period the husband and friends would be eating, the wife-to-be, who must have presented the food, would be on her kneels. As soon as she received the husbands approval, she would stand up, wash her hands and join in the eating of the food.
According to Mama Tobore, Nafisat had chosen Egusi soup and pounded-yam as the food she would prepare for her husband. She went about the preparation of the food with enthusiasm and this shielded her from suspicion. The family was quite amazed at the transformation she had made, how she had quickly accepted her situation. After the Enerhen junction incident, when her elopement plan with Wale was thwarted, Nafisat acted like she had accepted her fate. She concurred with every suggestions and decisions, carried out every assigned duty with cheerfulness. With this change in attitude, her father showered encomium and repose his trust on her. I believe this had been Nafisats strategy to win their trust and vote of confidence. Even more heartwarming, according to Mama Tobore, was how she exerted herself during the preparation of the meal. She was meticulous in applying all the ingredients while cooking the soup. When the soup was ready and the mother tasted it to pass her judgment, she had to draw the attention of the father to inform him of how great their daughter was. The father smiled with pride and heaped praises on his daughter, telling her that the entire family is proud of her. He then used the opportunity to reassure her that she was in good hands and that she had made the best decision in agreeing to marry Alhaji Kabiru. Nafisat knelt down to receive her fathers blessing right there and then, after which she was asked to go get ready as guests were already arriving.
"Thank God I had already eaten from the food before she mixed it with the poison" ,Mama Tobore said, with perplexity written all over her face. "How and when she mixed the food with poison, no one knows. I believe her target was just the husband."
Yes, I believe so too. Nafisat was really pissed with the man, Alhaji Kabiru, who denied her the opportunity of making beautiful memories with the person she truly loved. I believe she conceived her revenge plot on that fateful day when her elopement plan was crushed. The new Nafisat that emerged on that day frightened even me. Hence, to perfect her plan, this new Nafisat disguised her character and put up a good show just so her family would assume she had completely accepted the fact that she would be the fourth wife of Alhaji Kabiru, a man she neither loved nor respected, for Nafisat saw him as dream-killer. Even the hard-to-deceive Mama Tobore could not see through her pretentious act. She confessed that Nafisat thoroughly deceived even her especially with the way she looked so happy, like an eager bride who long to be in her husbands house. After the food preparation, she served the husband and his friends, doing so with smile plastered-face. The food was so delicious that the husband and friends hadnt eaten much when they started to nod their head as sign of approval. The husband then invited Nafisat to come join them.
"This is the most surprising part to me," Mama Tobore said. "Nafisat never hesitated when the husband beckoned on her to stand up and come join them. She moved toward him with gait and immediately started to eat without washing her hands. The guests hailed her confidence, not knowing that we had misconstrued her gaiety."
After they had devoured the food, the husband put wad of naira notes in the plate. The plate was to be presented to the brides parents as a way of saying that the empty plate is a sign to show they enjoyed the brides food and the money inside the plate symbolize the purchase of the brides culinary skills. She must, henceforth, cook for no man except the husband. After the presentation of the plate with the money in it, the marriage ceremony began properly. The Imam and Alfa started the prayer on behalf of the couple. The drama that ensued thereafter overshadowed the occasion. One of the friends of Alhaji Kabiru was complaining of stomach ache. While he was being attended to, another started writhing in pain and holding his stomach, then another, and another, and another. Twelve friends, who ate the food with the husband, began rolling on the floor. Next were the husband and bride who also joined in the drama of stomach-complaints and rolling on the floor. A commotion of people started to feel worried because the situation had gone beyond control.
"These Muslims, I cant understand them," Mama Tobore said, clapping her hands. "When they should have rushed these people to the hospital immediately, they were just shouting Audu Billah, Audu Billah, as if that is a sort of remedy for them."
All the stomach complainers were rushed to the hospital but it was too late as no one survived the food poisoning. Now Alhaji Ambali and Ridwan were arrested by the grooms family. The relations of Alhaji Kabiru reported the incident to the police and in their statement they asserted that Alhaji Ambali collaborated with his daughter to murder their brother in order to inherit the business which they co-owned. Now the matter had been charged to court. So I'm mourning my dead friend at the moment. Nafisat, my friend, my sister, my mother, you will forever remain in my heart. Though you are no longer here, but the cord of our friendship and sisterhood remain taut.
WHILE THE DEATH of Nafisat had a toll on me, the death, or rather the execution, of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other MOSOP leaders shook the global community. They were executed by hanging after being found guilty by a Kangaroo court of the charges brought against them. I dont really know what the charges were but on the news, I heard the broadcaster reporting that "Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni activist, and eight other MOSOP leaders will appear before a Special Military Tribunal where they will be tried for the killing of four Ogoni chiefs who were on the opposing side of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP. Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, an Environmental activist, had empowered his people to protest the devastation, denigration, and dehumanization of their environment by Shell. However, about a year ago, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, alongside Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, DanielGbooko, Paul Levera,Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine, was arrested and imprisoned for the brutal murder of four Ogoni chiefs..."
I knew they were accused of the murder of some chiefs that opposed MOSOP. But I think the real reason for their execution was because Saro-Wiwa was fighting for the right of the Ogoni people. He mobilized and empowered his Ogoni people to protest the devastation of their environment by the popular oil company in their community. His activism has become worrisome to our government, so they collaborated with this popular oil company to rope him with a laughable accusation for which he was eventually executed. Of course he defended himself in the Kangaroo court before his execution. He said to the judge: "My lord, we all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly-endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to decent living, and determined to usher to this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted all my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed nor intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Nor imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory. In my innocence of the false charges I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the people of the Niger delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on our side, God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41: All those who fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor. Come the day."
Let me tell you a little about the devastation and despoilment of the peoples environment. Like me, Ken Saro-Wiwa is from the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta is made up of six Nigerias states- Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta and Rivers. Im from Delta State and I live in Warri. Ken Saro-Wiwa was from Rivers state. For years now, the Niger Delta people had had this feeling of loss, deprivation, and neglect. Also, their environment had been completely devastated by the activities of oil companies who extract oil from the area. You see oil was discovered in the Niger Delta area long time ago and since then oil and gas had become the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. This is how significant the Niger Delta is to our country. According to one of my teachers, Mr. Darah, "the Niger Delta is to Nigeria what the Nile River is to Egypt." The region generate most of the government revenue, hence, one should have expected better infrastructure, development, and environmental safety to be maintained in the region. The opposite is the case. Aside from feeling marginalized, the people also experienced environmental problems which revolved around deforestation, gas flaring, oil spillage, oil toxicity, and contaminated life. This was what Saro-Wiwa was fighting against.
Before the discovering of oil, our land was teeming with the flora and fauna of Niger Delta, the environment was serene and sublime. But the activities of the oil companies changed all that. Now our lands are covered by oil spillage, blow out, and the farmland rendered unsuitable for farming. Instead of blessing, the oil has become a curse on our land. As my headmaster, Mr. Ojaide, would say, "the oil boom has become doom" for the people. The sad effect of oil extraction on his land and the marginalization of his people were what prompted Saro-Wiwa to start his activism. He highlighted the marginalization of his people when he said in one conference that "petroleum was discovered in Ogoni in 1958 and since then an estimated 100 billion dollars worth of oil and gas has been carted away from Ogoni land. In return for this the Ogoni people have received nothing." This shows that his people are yet to benefit from the resources emanating from their land. On top of that, crude oil operation was now causing severe environmental pollution to the community. He could no longer keep quiet while his people were being marginalized and denied their rights. He was a brave man for standing up on behalf of his people, and for this he paid with his life. Now I heard that the Commonwealth of Nations was planning to suspend my country. I dont know what this will mean for our economy but I think my government really earned that suspension. I believe that in years to come, the world would continue to remember the brave act of Ken Saro-Wiwa, as I would continue to remember the brave act of my friend, my sister, Nafisat. She stood by me during the Warri crisis when I lost my friend and heart, Preye, in the Ijaw-Itsekiri fight for the control of Warri. I will forever remember her.
I guess I have not told you about the Warri crisis. It was a terrible time for my people in Warri. It all began with the struggle for local government between the Ijaws and the Itsekiri. The actual fight is for who controls Warri because it is a land booming with oil. The greed of my people pushed them to war against each other. Preye was my boyfriend and he always complained of the marginalization of his people. Sometimes, I see a resemblance between him and Ken Saro Wiwa. He was fighting for the Ijaws when he was killed. His death was devastation, truly. But Nafisat stood by me during my period of throes. Now she is gone, I have no one else to look to for succor. Hence I turned to you, dear shining star.
Our pastor says when you have a problem, pray to God. I heard God is up there. I want to pray to him. Please, help me pray to God also. I guess He will hear and answer your prayer before mine. You are closer to Him. Its my bedtime now. Ive learned to lull myself to sleep with the poem titled The Star since its the only good thing I remember of Nafisat and Preyes affection for me. Please tell God to accept the soul of Preye, Nafisat and Ken Saro Wiwa. I trust you will come with a solution to my problem in your reply letter. My confidence is sky-high. I look forward to your visitation with zest. For now, from me to you, its good night.
Your best friend, Rukevwe.