A journal of narrative writing.
Chairman Popo
Tunji Ajibade

I returned home on my first day at school years back and  met Popo sitting with my father under the Odan tree. Don’t worry about Odan tree, Mrs Mathews, you don’t need to know it. But it is not so tall and it has several branches. It grows fast, it has plenty of leaves, so people in our town plant it in front of their houses for the shade it provides. My father said he planted the one I refer to the day I was born. He said on that day, the then state military governor came to our town to commission a bore hole project that was to make safe drinking water available to our people for the first time. The date of the commissioning had been written into the cement floor around the borehole, so I know I was born exactly today, November 6, fifteen years ago.

My father said those who came to help my mother cook on the day I was born fetched water from the tap near the borehole from morning till the time the governor came in a convoy in the afternoon  -  five hours behind schedule in the company of television cameras and reporters, commissioned the borehole, and went away. That was the last time people fetched water from the tap.  I recollect one thing, Ma. After my father told the headmaster this story the day he went to register me in school, and the headmaster had sent a teacher to go and find out the date of my birth from the floor around the borehole, I had suggested to my father that it was a good thing I drank from the first borehole in our town before it dried up, and he had said, “in breast milk, you mean.”  It later became clear that the water people fetched on the  day the military governor commissioned the project was from a tank placed beside the borehole, and which had been filled by a water tanker the previous day. I learnt the then local government Council Chairman, an appointee of the military governor, and the then State Commissioner of Water Resources, Chief Riyibi, had shared the larger part of the funds for the project with their boss.

Yes, I said I returned home on my first day at school to find Popo sitting with my father.

“Training is tough, our white instructors are so stringent,” Popo, the teacher-in-training complained.

“It is with pain a child is given tribal mark, once it is healed, it becomes a thing of beauty. The training will soon be over, then you will become a teacher and earn a big salary,” my father said, as I sat on the ground in-between the two of them, dipped my hand into my bowl of boiled yam and red palm oil, bit off pieces of yam soaked in red oil, and began to munch. My mother had cooked yam and set it aside before I returned. She said she wanted to welcome me home on my first day at school with my best meal.  She said I would be a great man, that if I am serious with my studies I would be like Mr Gudu Ramade, the primary school headmaster,  and that I would make her proud.  I saw Mr Ramade in school earlier that day. I liked him because the first word he spoke to me was to commend me.  He said I was a good boy as I stayed on the assembly line without making a noise unlike the other boisterous pupils. Boisterous? I like the word, Mrs Mathews. I rolled it over and over on my tongue, and I said it to my mother who kept asking me, “what did you say?” I liked Mr Ramade’s trousers too. It had sharp creases in certain places, and I wanted to have the same trousers. I imagined I had to study hard in school before I could qualify to wear his trousers.

My father worked in raffia cane with which he made chairs and tables. Popo needed raffia cane for a project at his teacher’s training school, so after he had sat with my father to polish many of them for a long while, he finally spoke of what brought him to our house.

“I want you to assist me, Baba.”

“With what, Popo,” my father asked, placing a part of the raffia cane he had in his hand in naked fire, bending it slowly, until he got the shape he wanted.

“I need some raffia cane for my project at the teacher training school, and I don’t have money to buy it,” he said. He cracked his fingers and shifted around on his stool as he said this.

“Is that what you couldn’t say since you came here, and you began to…”

“Perambulate,” I said.

“What?” my father asked, turning to me.

“Nothing,” I replied, proud to use a word I had heard Mr Ramade said several times whenever he asked any pupil a question, demanding “simple yes or no” answer.

Popo went away with a load of raffia canes and he finished his teacher training, and he was posted to our primary school. He would sit with other people under our Odan tree in the years that followed to hold meetings. I would hear my father say, “we have to work together as a party if we must win our ward in the coming election,” each time I came close to them while I rolled my  bicycle wheel around. They always had a cloth banner pinned to the Odan tree whenever  they had their meeting. I couldn’t read what was on the banner, but Popo often raised his head from the book in which he wrote what was discussed at the meeting to shout, “Great Action Party, GAP!”

“Progress!” everyone would respond.





One would know what each of the party member did for a living by what they wore, or what they reeked of. There were palm wine tappers, palm wine sellers, farmers, bicycle repairers, masons, blacksmiths and carpenters. Popo, the teacher, was the party Secretary while my father was the party’s Ward Chairman.

The military government in power had issued a ‘stay at home’ order the day election took place. Pupils didn’t go to school and farmers who did not wake up early enough to escape to their farms, loitered, waiting for voting to begin. Two election officials arrived and sat under our Odan tree. They had a large book, piles of small sheets of paper, and a box with the colour of the national flag on their table. I had stood close by, my bicycle wheel resting on my naked stomach,  watching as adults put their thumbs on a piece of paper given to them, after which they walked over to the box and dropped their paper in it. Chief Riyibi, who had a candidate for the Council Chairmanship post, was around. He was a native of Gudi, the next town to ours, and he was the most powerful government official from our local government council area, having been in the state cabinet for eight years, deployed to different Ministries as a Commissioner by each of the military governors that spent two years before they were posted to other states. He had the backing of the then military governor in his quest to install his candidate as Council Chairman by the time the military left office for civilians in about four months from the day of the election.        

“Womu, you have voted before, why are you here again?” Popo walked over to the bicycle repairer who stood in the queue of intending voters and asked.

“I have not voted,” Womu said.

“You have voted. Let me see the thumb of your hand. Ink must be on it,” Popo charged.

“I have not voted, and it is not your business to look at my thumb. Are you the election official?”

“You have voted before. I saw you with my two eyes when…”

Riyibi walked over to Popo.

“Let the man vote; he says he has not voted before,” he said.

“No,” Ropo said. His face had taken on the shape of a jagged stone. “He has voted. That’s how you encourage rigging, and I won’t stand here and allow it happen.”

“Leave this man alone, let him vote,” Riyibi said, his voice steady, unlike Ropo who was  screaming.

“No, he won’t vote. Not here. Is that how you want to rig this election? I won’t …”

The sound that followed came off Ropo’s cheeks.  He held the palm of his hand to his cheek, his mouth open; no word came from it.

“If he says anything again, take him away and lock him up,” Riyibi said to the two men in black suits and the three mobile policeman that had come with him. Then he turned to the bicycle repairer, “Go and cast your vote.”