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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

DIARY OF AN ADVOCATE (EPISODE 4- THE CALL) by Ebi Robert





Somehow I got myself fixed into a team that worked in our old principal’s ward. There we cut grasses and got ourselves refreshed almost every day with cold coke. We were also given money for transport fare in some cases. Abraham Dolor, and Igirigi were part of the team I guess. Igiri I believe was even the head of the team. With the team I was able to escape further flogging.

The result of the debate was announced and we won.

Yes, I was short of words I never had. I had one of the best feelings in my life. How come? How come that, despite the disorganization, we still won? I asked. My opponents were dejected. Claps filled the air as speakers started walking out one after the other for their certificates. I took mine too. But don’t border about the whereabouts. The last thing I can remember about it was when rain from a roof visited it. I had carelessly handled it, keeping it under my bed. I guess the rats in the house also had a good taste of it. That was how carefree I was.

It was time for the grand prize to be given and I as first speaker of the winning team was called upon to receive the award. That was my first major experience of being a leader apart from when I headed the drama group in Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries. I had been the head of the teenage drama group after the former leader by name Annah left the position. Then I busied myself with the task of writing scripts and managing the stage. Later, I joined the Acappella Group where we sang in church without the help of the sounds of instrument. In some occasions, I wrote songs and presented it to the group who rehearsed it and sang before the church. There was a song once practiced and sang by us. The song was so nice that when I disclosed it to the singers that I was the writer, they doubted me, maybe because I never looked like one. The song was written in Pidgin English as people call it. It was titled: “YES SIR”.

I presented myself before the panel and I was given the prize for my school. Personally, we were given gifts ranging from books, bags and so on. An Encyclopedia and other books of excellence or so were given to us for our school. I was so happy for our achievement. We are victors alas. Should I say: from BENCH WARMER to FIRST SPEAKER to A VICTOR? I can’t exactly remember what happened but somehow I was angered by someone, and one of the organizers met me and said to me: “Why are you angry? You are my best speaker.” Hearing this statement I was sure that I had a good performance on stage. But then I didn’t give myself the credit, I had no reason to.

We got to the school. Before then, I think we planned not to reveal the good news quickly. We arrived in moody appearances in other to prank our literature mistress who functioned as the head of the team in totality. We told her that we came second and she congratulated us, saying that we tried very well. When it became obvious we had succeeded in our prank, we disclosed the news of our victory to her.  At first she felt it was a joke, but when she saw how serious we were, like someone who has no need to argue with the sun about the day, she became convinced at once. We were welcomed as heroes of the school. Our news got to the staff room and even to the principal. Our praises were on the lips of almost all the academics. The prizes gotten were kept in one of the offices for safe keep. The next day or so, we were presented before the whole school on the devotion ground where we were given our gifts. Our stories travelled far in so far as our school community was concerned. This was the beginning of it all. I was persuaded I was ready for the task ahead. I had already written my name in the school’s history and so I was inspired to do more. Yes, I was. Debating gave me good skills of advocacy. It sounded and took my name far. At least, my face was even used, or I should rather say that one of our videos was used by NTA, Yenagoa for their advertisements for a long time. Friends told me of how my face had been on screen each time NTA gave advertisement. I felt so happy that I was been recognized for my good works. I mean, that was my thought then. I needed to do more, but the opportunity to advocate never presented itself again at that period of my life. Rather, competitions other than those of debating presented themselves.

In one occasion, I, and other persons in my school as well as Ebinipre Omolo (THE VOICE), and others from her school as well were invited for a talk show in Glory FM 97.1. We spoke about cultism and other matters affecting the youths. By then I was only 17, but I was quite bold. I remember once revealing a fact that was immediately removed from the tape. Then I knew that it is not every statement made by a speaker on a talk show that is published on the media, especially when it is not a live broadcast. The presentation was aired and even used for broadcast. I was told about it as usual.

Another competition came up. It was the Maltina Essay Competition; one of the biggest Secondary School competitions in Nigeria because of the organizers and the prizes involved. I guess it was a prize of about half a million or more, with laptops including a scholarship package. The first stage began and I contested at my school stage. Some books were recommended for the competition which I read. I got hold of the summary because I never had the money to buy them all. The result wasn’t published though, but I was made to understand I came out the first in our school to represent my school at the state level. Abraham Dolor couldn’t finish answering the questions. I guess he had an issue that was justifiable. That gave him an administrative consideration. Thus, both of us were chosen to represent our school. Some books at least five to six of them were recommended. They included: Tess of the uberville, Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell, Beggar’s Strike and so on. There was no money to buy the books, so I was left with no option other than to borrow one or two books from Abraham Dolor who was also busy perusing them at that time. Sure, he had to; after all he was also a contestant. This got me unprepared. Beggar’s strike was given to me some hours to the competition and there was no how I could get myself prepared for it. Life was tough at that time too. I continued staying in my Uncle’s place at Ekeki in Yenagoa. My uncle’s salary was too small to take care of me, his wife and little daughter. The salary was around 12 thousand naira or even less. My aunty had to sell some food stuffs to keep the house going. My uncle on the other hand used to sell cigarettes to some folks who lived around the environment. At a point, owing to much demand, spending in the house increased beyond expectation, so my aunt’s store became empty.  Life became tougher and I was in for it. I had to visit a Motel that was close to where I lived. Every morning, I visited the motel and washed the vehicle in the compound of the motel hoping I would be paid a penny at least. Some did, others did not, promising to pay latter. But I continued and at least I was able to get up to 400 naira in some cases. That was able to settle my bills for a while. Sometimes, I did bricks-laying job locally known as Oguaja with other dudes and was paid some money. Life wasn’t friendly but I had to learn and study it with patience. There was this Muslim friend who worked as a gate-man in the motel. Every morning he repaired shoes of passerby who needed their shoes to be mended. I sometimes begged him for money for transport fare which he gave me anytime he had enough. That helped me in taking care of my transport fares sometimes.
I could not buy the books recommended for the competition at that time. I have never been less prepared for an exam in my life before. I was at the venue already so I had to write the little I knew. I knew I won’t make it, but I gave it a trial. I was so frail after the exam because a golden opportunity had passed me by. I was depressed because I never had the money to make it possible. The results came out, and Abraham Dolor qualified. One of our teachers was dismayed when he heard I didn’t make it. I told him why I didn’t make it and he felt bad as well. He wanted me to exchange Abraham Dolor and appear in the competition in his place in his name. But I was not okay with it. Assuming I win, my certificate will be reflecting another person’s name. How will I explain that to the world? Abraham Dolor and others represented the South-South geo-political zone of Nigeria in the competition at that time. He tried though but couldn’t make it to the finals.
Another Letter writing competition was organized. I represented my school again at the Bayelsa State Level. I passed average but didn’t qualify. Spelling was one factor that nailed me. I had issues with spelling at that time and it affected my scores. My Literature mistress who believed in me so much wasn’t happy. I saw it in her. She was dismayed as well and sad. I was not contented that I couldn’t defend my school. A boy from Bishop Demieri Grammar School (BDGS) and another student from a government school at Okutukutu qualified and represented Bayelsa State at the National level. How far they went I do not know.
This got me angry. On two different occasions, I was not able to make my school proud. So I got myself prepared. Although there was no much time, but I said in my mind that the slightest opportunity that presented itself must be utilized at all cost. Luckily for me a poetry and Essay Competition was organized by the Ministry of Environment in Bayelsa State. That was the first time I had a good test of Poetry. Though I had an idea about it, fact is I had not really gotten my hands laid on it by way of good composition in writing. 
I entered the poetry category and ignored the Essay category thinking that when one entered any of the categories, the other must be left out. One day my school received a letter from the organizers that my poem titled “Yenagoa of my Dream” had made it to the final ten. I and Abraham Dolor once more had another opportunity to make my school proud again. We were to appear before a panel consisting of many academics of high ranking. The venue was at Saint Judes, Amarata. We reached the venue and saw the panel seated. One by one, we approached the panel and were questioned about the poems written on individual bases. I approached the panel but funny enough unlike others I wasn’t asked any question. I wondered why I wasn’t questioned at all. Was it an omen or a sign of good thing? Only God in heaven knew. Abraham Dolor was quite impressive. He performed well and the moderator and others members of the panel were pleased with him. They ranked him high, but on the scores sheet I was one mark ahead of him. The defence was tough though, but it was worth it. I saw many smart and intelligent students that day. I was excited to be counted among them. The defence ended and we were told that on one Environment Day or so we will be invited and there, the awards would be given to the bests in the competition. At least, I have yet one opportunity to make things right, I thought. I thought so because the prizes were the bests I have ever seen at a local level and off course I performed well. Cash prizes were to be given with computer sets. A call was expected from the organizers for preparation for that day. We waited and waited for THE CALL but all to no avail. I wrote my SSCE and finally left without the call. Until today, no one actually knew why the event was not held. But years after I was told that a similar event was organized with same theme as the first.

I graduated from the Secondary School as a hero. Representing my school in competitions and bringing back awards was one thing I was known for. My name was known by many to the extent that one of the staff was astonished to find out that I wasn’t a prefect in school back then. I got home and for the first few months I stayed at home. I continued the sale of cigarettes to the folks around after I took over the job and turned it to mine. There was one folk by name Stanley. He was the best of all my customers. He patronized my cigarette business so much by buying the whole packets sometimes. He loved women so well too, hence he was a chronic womanizer as well. My uncle always warned me about associating with him. I was told stories of how he went to Malaysia for school and came back empty handed. But somehow I remained close to him still. He was tagged a cultist but not for once did he discuss anything of such to me. He advised me so much about life and I couldn’t fathom or even fix the stories told about him. Stanley was the one who advised me to read Law in lieu of theatre Art. I was able to change my mind because I had proved myself in debate outings. I believed a good debater can also be a good lawyer.

My WAEC results came out and I found out that I had failed Commerce and Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK). I also had E8 in English Language and it became obvious I must reseat. Yes, I had to because I needed English and CRK to read Law and those were subjects I never had a good grade in. But I needed to get life a little balanced, so I travelled to the village to sharpen it for the task ahead.

[There will be no star Advocate for the episode. A poem will be given instead. Today, I am recognized as a poet, but hardly do many know about the poem I call my first or I should rather say my first poem: YENAGOA OF MY DREAM- When the poem was submitted for the competition, I failed to keep a spare copy with me. So when we weren’t called for the presentation of the prize, I missed the whole copy. But somehow I remembered the first stanza of the poem until date, so with it, I was able to draft out another poem with similar idea.

Yenagoa of My Dream

As the plane welcomed the pilot jargon,
And accelerated up to the sky towards the south,
My practitioner of thought amazed
My soul with wonderful scenes of beauty, O' I see!

I see a city shinning with the greatest of golden lights,
I see a city changing with charming charms, O I see!
I see a land ruled by holy honest men, O I see
I see a city’s river with current guarded by bronze filament O’ I see!

I see the colours of the lights securing the streets
The lights of the colours of the light was seen in a vision
The vision I see is the mission of a ripen resurrection
They are colours seemed to be formed out of this earth

I saw a street glistened with the best of tiles
I saw various vases growing into florets
Long I see and won’t fail to tell
Of the zebra blocks carried by the ginger gravels,

The boundary of solar poles and handsome figurine

I approached the 'Swali' laurel,
And saw gossamer of earth tied
To a street fence on a boundary to a corner gantry
I saw an inscription written: 'caution'
And knew that the city had custom

I knew more
As I and my Goer proceeded to a dark ground
Bearing two caterpillars,
 A Muslim man sharing a seed of ground with a Christian
And a traditionalist who had poured libations to the earth

I understood better the meaning of freedom
And a city of freedom
I thought my dream was over even in my dream
But no, it wasn’t.

My Goer headed north-ward,
And there I saw the dinner of beauty I had missed
I saw 'THE SIA SIA STADIUM' carpeted with ice-blue grasses
The reflection freed the indigenes from traded lamps

I also saw the mistle-toe of heaven gate
Rounded with pastel flowers and crafted canoe-riders,
the glade where the tourist was made is a paradise to wish for
I saw the buds sprinkling his powder off the gate gardenia
 
I viewed the fluorescent of the lanes as it went pit-a-pat
I never knew my trousers were soaked with spittle;
Spittle tripping from my mouth
I never knew where I was by then until I saw the gigantic board
whispering to me 'GOODBYE FROM BAYELSA’
from the ‘THE GLORY OF ALL LAND’

Then I knew out of my dream in one dream
that I was only beginning another trip from 'MBIAMA'
to the famous 'GARDEN CITY' –

[Suspense- In the next Episode, readers will be able to know what happened when I returned to the village and how my experiences in the village influenced my decision to further my journey in advocacy]
WATCH OUT FOR EPISODE 5

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