When I got to Iya Awero Express, Afro, GB and Tomisin were already seated with some bottles of beer on the table. We exchanged pleasantries and ordered for some plates of pepper soup. My guys were so excited so I suspected that their maga don pay (they had successfully swindled someone). Let me rewind a little and tell you about my friends.
Afro, GB and I were classmates in secondary school. As soon as we finished, we all took UTME. Only GB passed the cut off mark that year. He got admission into University of Ibadan to study Microbiology. However, GB was never serious with his life. In the first semester of his second year, he packed his bags and returned home. He said he wanted quick money and yahoo (online fraud) was the way forward. Shortly after this, he hit jackpot as he swindled a European man of two million naira. GB became another thing. He spent money like a fool, had a string of girlfriends, smoked, drank and partied and had no single regard for anyone, not even his father.
Afro, after two failed UTME attempts forgot everything about education and faced showbiz. He liked to call himself an upcoming artiste, but we all knew that his voice was awful. He would always tell us that you don’t need a good voice to make a successful music hit. What you needed was the swag, street language and the audience. In the past, he had organized one or two unsuccessful shows and right now, he and GB were working hand in hand in the yahoo business.
Even though I enjoyed the proceeds from their illegal business, I was yet to fully join them. There were things I needed to do before I became a full member of their clique but I was still hesitating. My mum would die if she ever found out that I was hanging out with yahoo guys, talk more of the fact that I was one of them. She didn’t like GB and Afro, but there was nothing she could do about it. They were my friends, not hers. GB was already teaching me the ropes and very soon, I would be sworn in. The idea always made me excited and chilly at the same time.
By the time it was 8pm, Afro was dead drunk. GB was tipsy, but he was still sober enough to drive. Tomisin was going home with him, so he needed to stay sober for the action tonight. I was tipsy too, but I was also sober enough to walk home without staggering. We bundled Afro into the backseat of GB’s car and since we were going in opposite directions, I bade them goodnight and started my walk home.
I had thoroughly enjoyed myself. Plates of pepper soup, wraps of suya and then bottles of beer! The street was well lighted by the electricity bulbs from various houses and I started whistling happily.
‘Feranmi’, I heard Baba Ibadan call me. I turned. So this man is still sitting here, I thought.
‘Kabo (welcome). Can we talk now?’ he continued.
I was tired and sleepy but I knew that if I didn’t give him audience, he would bug me to death.
‘Yes Baba’, I reluctantly answered.
‘Thank you. Come and sit beside me’, he said as he patted the old bench he was sitting on.
I sat down and looked at him.
‘Feranmi my boy’, he began. ‘I’m sorry I am taking your time but I have something to share with you. It has been on my mind for a very long time, and I can’t hold it back anymore’.
What kind of superstory is this? I thought. This man should just go straight to the point abeg. If he wanted money, I didn’t have any to give him. I started drawing circles on the sand with my toes.
‘How old are you’, he asked.
‘I’ll be nineteen next month’, I replied.
He smiled again. ‘You remind me so much of myself when I was younger’.
I looked up sharply. Does this man have any eye defect? How can he say I remind him of his younger self? With his bald head and large nostrils? Fine, hot and sexy boy like me? I hissed silently.
‘Do you have any plans to further your education’, he continued.
I shot daggers at him with my eyes. My patience was wearing thin. ‘Yes Baba. I took the UTME some months ago and I’m preparing for the post UTME’.
‘What was your score?’
‘That’s fair. So what do you want to become?’
At this point, I stood up. ‘Baba what is it that you said you wanted to share with me? It’s getting late’
Baba Ibadan smiled. ‘Sit down my boy. Don’t be in a hurry to leave’. When he saw that I didn’t bulge, he looked at me with pleading eyes. I sat down reluctantly.
‘Baba, please say what you have to say. I want to go home and….’ Before I could say another word, a large belch escaped from my mouth. I looked at Baba Ibadan, he looked at me and then burst into laughter. I joined him.
‘I used to do that a lot, you know’, he told me.
‘Do what?’ I asked. ‘Belch loudly?’
‘No, no’, he replied, laughing. ‘I used to drink a whole lot. I could finish a crate of beer at one sitting. My friends nicknamed me “shark” because of this’.
‘Really!’ I exclaimed. I studied Baba Ibadan again. He didn’t strike me as someone who had lived a reckless life in the past. Anyway, life has a way of humbling people.
‘I rocked life’, Baba Ibadan continued with a distant look in his eyes. ‘I partied hard, I clubbed hard. I had girlfriends too numerous to count. I was a drug addict. I got admission into the university to study Biochemistry but I never graduated’.
‘Baba, why didn’t you graduate’, I asked.
‘Because I was foolish. And the consequences of my foolishness caught up with me’.
‘What happened?’ I inquired again.
Baba Ibadan continued. ‘While growing up, I was a very disobedient boy. I never listened to my parents. My dad died with so much heartache. I was a consistent source of grief to my mother. I started drinking when I was fourteen and by the time I was in my first year in the university, I had graduated from beer to vodka, whiskey and the likes. I had also started smoking cigarettes and Indian hemp’
I fixed my gaze on Baba Ibadan. This was getting interesting. I knew I was bad, but I hadn’t gotten to this point yet.
‘In my second year, I joined a secret cult because I wanted to be powerful. I also wanted girls around me because I discovered that girls love power and influence. We did a lot of unlawful things. We threatened students, instigated riots, beat up lecturers, you name it. We were the dreaded group on campus. I felt I was living my best life until nemesis caught up with me’.
‘What nemesis Baba?’ This time around, I was genuinely interested.
Baba yawned and slapped an invisible mosquito on his hand.
‘Do you want us to continue tomorrow?’ I asked him.
‘No, my boy. I am almost through with my story’. He responded. He adjusted himself on the bench and continued.
‘In the first semester of my third year, my group got secret information that a rich politician was back in town. We made plans to attack and rob him. We took his money, his gold wristwatch, his designer shoes, his car and his mobile phone. When we finished robbing him, we escaped. His phone was the major loot I was eyeing because at this time, mobile phones were quite new and very expensive in Nigeria. We had a serious argument during the sharing of the loot but I managed to get ownership of the phone. I was so happy. It was this same phone that led to my downfall’.
I was listening with rapt attention.
‘I didn’t know that the man’s personal data was linked to his phone. A week after the robbery, the police traced me to my room. I was making out with my newest catch and the phone was right on my table. The police bundled us to the station and they beat living daylight out of me. I had no choice but to confess. Out of the seven of us who perpetrated the robbery, only three of us were apprehended. The other four escaped. I don’t know where they are today. We were charged for armed robbery and the Judge found us guilty. She sentenced us to life imprisonment with hard labour’.
‘Ah!’ I exclaimed. ‘Life imprisonment?’
Baba smiled. ‘The prison warder told us we were lucky that we did not get the death sentence. I couldn’t believe it. I was just 25. How would I spend the rest of my life in prison?
Hmmmmm… my boy, I still can’t explain how I survived each day. The prison is a place I wouldn’t even wish for my enemy’.
He paused and looked straight ahead
How did he get out, I wondered? Did he escape?
‘I know what’s on your mind’, Baba Ibadan said as he looked at me. ‘You’re wondering how I left prison’.
‘Yes Baba’, I replied.
‘Well, there was a Christian group that always came to preach to us every last Thursdays of the month. Many of us paid attention to them, but I didn’t. I didn’t see how they could help my life. However, a few months later, I couldn’t take it anymore. I listened to them and I gave my life to Christ. They taught us how to grow in the faith. This was what made my sentence bearable’.
‘While in prison, I lost track of time. I had resigned myself to my fate. Sometime later, we heard that the President was granting amnesty to some prisoners. I prayed earnestly that I would be among the lucky ones. God heard my prayers. I was released from prison seventeen years after’
‘Wow’, I echoed.
‘You see, I am only forty six years old but I look twenty years older’.
I nodded my head in agreement. He actually looked too old for his age.
Baba continued ‘I wasted my youthful years. I wasted my strength. Now, I have no wife, no children, no family. My mother died a few months after I was incarcerated, and my only sister lives in Ghana. I have no certificate, no job, no achievement. The only thing I have is my faith in Christ. I have gone out to look for menial jobs to do but no one will employ me. They think I am too old to carry blocks or push wheel barrows. I don’t blame them anyway. I am not as strong as I used to be. One kind woman in the church I attend supplies me with foodstuff and provisions every month. That is how I feed’.
I was almost in tears. I felt so sad for Baba Ibadan. No wonder he was always lonely.
Baba Ibadan touched my shoulder and looked straight into my eyes.
‘Do you know why I told you my story’? he asked.
I didn’t say anything.
‘Feranmi, I have watched you for some months now. I have watched your group of friends. I have watched you dishonor and disrespect your mother. I have watched your reckless lifestyle, and I can boldly tell you that you are headed for destruction. The Bible says that ‘there is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is destruction’.
I still couldn’t say anything.
‘Your association determines how far you will go in life. With the likes of Segun and Gbolahan in your life, you will not go far. I hear there is a new name you call yourselves, Martians or what?’
‘Marlians’, I said quietly.
‘Yes, Marlians’. ‘Feranmi, I entreat you to reconsider your ways. Think about your life. What do you want to become? Do you want to end up worse than me? Do you want to be a pride to your mother, or do you want the mention of your name to leave a bitter taste in her mouth?
I’ll leave you with these words- As you make your bed, so you will lie on it. You will reap only what you sow. Let my life and my experience be an unforgettable lesson to you. Retrace your steps so that your life will be successful’.
Baba sighed and leaned back. For a while, none of us said anything.
Finally, I stood up. ‘Thank you Baba. I will think about all you’ve said’
‘You’re welcome my boy’, Baba Ibadan replied. ‘Now hurry home, your mother must be worried’.
I thanked Baba again and left. When I got home, mummy was fast asleep so I quickly took my bath and went to bed.
I couldn’t sleep. All of Baba Ibadan’s words kept playing in my head. I didn’t want to end up like him. I wanted to make my mum proud of me. I wanted to be a successful electrical engineer. I realized that life always gave us choices to make and you are the result of your choices. I dozed off at past 3 am.
I finally got admission to study electrical engineering at the University of Ilorin. When I broke the news to Baba Ibadan, he hugged me, looked at me straight in the eyes and said ‘Remember all I’ve told you. Bind them in your heart, and you will not go astray’
‘Yes Baba’, I replied. ‘I will never forget’.
Thanks for reading!