That New Year Story My Dad Told Me – By Obidike Peter
You see, each time I hang out with some old relatives especially my dad, I enjoy the rich stories and sometimes the humour that goes with it but have never gotten around to retelling such because most often, by the time I realize the depth of the discussion we had gone far already, such that I tend not to be able to recall and would rather resign to fate and enjoy the story alone, selfishly.
But this Christmas was different and somehow I got my antenna working properly the moment I realised what was about to happen and started my recording mode immediately to the glory of this story.
I cannot remember what led to it now but somehow we began to discuss the story of how he (my father) got called to help salvage a defective building by the owner who happened to be from around my area.
The guy knew my dad to be a sound engineer and had even heard of how he helped in a similar case where it concerned a secondary school and a church.
So it happened that in this case, a three storey building he owned, that was still under construction tilted while still on the second storey level.
He reached out to another building contractor that was responsible for the church building under construction and the guy quoted ten million naira to do the job.
He then contacted my dad but prior to his contacting him, the church building contractor had engaged my dad on the subject and even discussed the amount he charged.
Thus with the idea of the amount charged, my dad upped his charge knowing that given his age and retired status he would need to hire new people since he did not have any structures on ground in terms of engineering office.
On contacting my dad and narrating the problem, my dad did his investigation and to his greatest surprise, the three storey building had a foundation of about only two feet!
Alarmed at the mess, my dad prayed it would not be the same case as several others of the man's hotels littered around the country.
So on the day of the appointment, my dad got to the guy's house, and sat in the living room before the guy came out.
First my dad asked that for him to commence work, given the situation on ground, all the workers at the site must be insured (as per federal ministry engineering practice), to which of course the guy did not agree, this lead to my dad’s narration of an incident in Gombe!
Next topic after the insurance issue was the consultation fees and once my dad said his fees will be twenty million, the guy got up, entered his bedroom and never came out again until my dad left.
I will tell you the Gombe incident. Even though it did not persuade the guy to hire my dad, maybe it will help you in some way.
So it happened that while working on a road construction site, some hands called TA then in the ministry were out and about during their lunch break and one of them decided to join the grader driver in the grader while he decided to go get something a little distance away.
Unfortunately, as the grader was going downhill, it lost its breaks and to avoid collision with oncoming vehicles that may result to more casualties, he decided to ditch the grader by the side and unfortunately it somersaulted and the TA died on the spot.
With the tragic death, my dad contacted the TA's next of kin at Umuahia and he came down to Gombe.
Since the workers were insured, my dad helped the next of kin to process the claims and he had to stay in my dad’s house for the about a month or so that it took to conclude the case.
And given that the closest lawyer or law office was in Bauchi or Jos, some tens of kilometres away, my dad stood as a lawyer for the guy in the registry that processed the claims and finally got four hundred pounds awarded to the next of kin.
Unlike today, there were no undue delays to the case and no hands to be greased! All went smoothly and after that, my dad advised the guy to say thank you to some people that helped along the way, and someone I think in turn also advised the guy to say thank you to my dad and to as well pay for the snuff my dad bought him every day of that his one month’s stay in his house coupled with the free feeding he offered him as well.
The next trouble was how to transfer the money to Umuahia.
My dad advised him not to carry the cash on the long way by train back from Jos just in case it gets stolen, so they had to go to the post office to wire the money.
But from this another problem arose; the man had no means of identification and hence could not claim it back at Umuahia without such.
My dad again helped him resolve that and the court at Gombe issued him some sort of identification before my dad took him back to Jos again to board the train to Umuahia.
At some point, my dad advised the man that since he got that money (and it was indeed a large sum of money by every standard then and even now!) because of the death of his son, he should make sure that he used the money to train at least one of the guy’s siblings.
This happened at about 1971 to 1974 and by the time my dad was working at Owerri at about 1979, he came across the file he opened for that case, saw an address the man had left as their home address somewhere in Mbaise and wrote a letter to that address.
A couple of months down the line one young chap came into his office and introduced himself as the brother to the dead guy and the beneficiary of the advice my dad gave to their dad.
My dad employed him right away as those were the days when Federal ministry chief engineers had a lot of leverage.
But the sweetest part was that the guy took an advice my dad gave several of his TA’s who simply had diplomas to go get a university degree knowing the dichotomy between degrees and diplomas in the system.
On another day after a long while, it was a guy in an SUV with his wife that asked his driver to park as soon as he saw my dad.
He came down and again introduced himself as Mr Ukaegbu to my dad, reminded him who he was and happily informed him he now works as a lawyer in Port Harcourt.
The story was so touching (and revealing I must say, given the building collapse incidents we have seen in recent times in Nigeria) I couldn’t help but recant it to my wife when I went in late that night just to be sure I will remember enough of it to tell you guys.
I am happy I was able to remember that much after a few weeks after the Christmas rice and drinks.
If you need any clarification, please call my wife who am sure will remember some more details I told her and if she cannot, then call my old man “kpaapkpaa”, only make sure you have the time to listen.