It was just after the New Year celebrations that we agreed to pay a business visit to the ancient town of the Eastern heartland Old Umuahia, where our friend, who had been away from Nigeria for over 30 years, had made a life and proper living for himself and his young family in the United States of America. My friend is so academically lettered that he had been awarded a doctorate in Engineering. He was a vice-president in a fortune 500 company that manufactures materials used in the making of bullet proof outfits, including glass wares and other items as required. Our friend, let’s call him Emmanuel had returned to Nigeria hoping to transform the lives of young people from his home town; by establishing a cottage industry that uses local materials to produce various profitable items where he employs many young men in the village and neighbouring towns particularly those who were artisans, who could be retrained and made to work; and those who could not pass the entrance exams to a higher institution were made to work till 2:00pm then would go to study till 5pm so they could pass their exams.
Most of whom, it was my friend that pays for the exams. Artisans were well paid in this Engineering Company because they work long hours fabricating until the structures were perfect. There were many other edible stuff being produced from this majestic establishment and my friend had projected expanding and replicating this successful enterprise for other young kinsmen from his mother’s village which was different from the fathers to benefit same. Emma had appeared on my radio show and had spoken very eloquently about this project which was changing the lives and fortunes of young people, boys and girls from that part of the Eastern heartland. We had so many phone calls and so much twitter and instagram messages. So many positive and happy reactions were pouring into the Radio station for days after the appearance on the show. Emma’s factories made fish tanks from the fibre technology used for bullet proof material and all the fishmeal too were produced in the same factory.
Bio fuel was produced for the generators in the factory and the most fascinating about this factory, was that it did not use public electricity. Solar panels and bio-fuel with saw dust were what produces light in the factory as well as the home of my friend. Emma was referred to by all in the neighbourhood as the genius that would teach the proverbial NEPA the way to go. With a success story of this nature, it was better seen to be believed in our Nigeria of today. My wife and I arrived at Old Umuahia to the home of this enterprising young man who is contributing so much to the lives of his kinsmen and women. We had toured the factory catching the feel of “truly this is happening in Nigeria? And the human capital will be so enriched by Emmanuel’s intervention in a town that’s virtually sleepy; it served as the capital of the secessionist Biafra during the civil war. Umuahia was that town where history of the war was told not only as seen at the War museum, but the ingenuity of the people to fashion war equipment, arms and ammunition that were locally fabricated, vehicles, trucks made out of scrap metals and machines which were used to execute the war for the 36 months period.
We visited many of the important land marks in the city and had a pleasant evening dining out with some other members of Emmanuel’s establishment. The next morning, my wife and I were taken to the village stream which had its source from a valley about One thousand five hundred meters downhill. It was a fascinating adventure for me to actually see the source of life of the people of that village. It was a vivid picture of Nwoye in Achebe’s ‘Things fall apart’ fetching water from the village stream. My wife who only could go half way, had to wait for me on a flat plain was sensibly taking photographs from her mid-way point with the camera we took with us. I was so thrilled to have gotten to the spring which sprouted the water that is said to serve seven other villages in that area. What in Yoruba we refer to as the ‘orisun’ to the people of the town.
We had gone to many other sites in the town which were said to be historical and all that excitement made my wife to request we had dinner at home instead of going out to another fashionable restaurant. Emma had instructed fish be brought from the factory and all the other stuff was being put together in the kitchen of the beautiful chalet where he leaves. It was about 7:00pm when the mai guard, came to ring the bell that there were some police officers who will like to see our host. Without any suspicion or anxiety, Emma got up to open the door to the officers. Two men in mufti came into the lounge one of them had a gun with about three magazines of ammunition while the other just pushed the maiguard further into the room then gave the maiguard a heavy slap in the face. At that point, Emma started pleading with the gentlemen what could he have done, please don’t hit him, just talk to me …. Yes we are not here to joke said the man with the gun, the other without a gun then demanded “where is the money?” what money retorted Emma, I don’t have any money at home…. But whatever it is you want I can get it for you.
By this time my wife who was in the kitchen which was a further way down the hall way from the lounge, preparing the meal for us when the man with the gun shouted on the floor all of you. Emma was still pleading with the two men when the one with the gun cocked it and placed the barrel of the gun on my neck while I was on the floor. I will kill somebody for your neck if you don’t bring out the money…. My wife leapt up to plead my cause begging the man not to shoot me. In the meantime the other fellow was ransacking my wife’s bag, turned the drawers in the lounge out and was just stealing and taking stuff into a bag. By the way these men were not masked, but they were very concerned where the security cameras was. Emma kept assuring them that the security cameras were not working but they were bent on shooting me his guest, if he does not bring out the money. They had taken Emma’s two phones, and my wife’s from her bag.
While we were still face down my phone rang and I pushed it under the sofa and managed to press a button so it stopped ringing. I had resigned myself to meeting the creator and as I closed my eyes, l went into a dream mode; I saw the image of St Joseph the worker that is in our meeting hall at the St Joseph Jubilee Hall, and I said to him “Holy Patron, I had come to do my work, but if this is how I will go, I place my all in you”. Just then the man with the gun on my neck took the barrel off me and said to Emma, “you’re coming with us’ and if anyone of you got up from the floor, I will scatter this place with bullets. Just as he stepped out with our host, we heard a volley of shots such that I have never heard in my life. I grew up in the barracks but never heard this sort of shooting, never.
Hundreds of shots rend the air and there was I, trying to moralize and got up to see whether our host was being executed or what could have happened to him. My poor wife was screaming and begging that I don’t get near the window because what the guy with the guns had said… I still had my phone on, and I was about to make that call… your guess is as good as…… Would you like to know what my thoughts were, when the barrel of the gun was on my neck? I said to myself, so this is how some people get to meet their maker in such execution style, I said a little prayer and just laid waiting for my Patron Saints to pick me up. Suddenly, he took the gun off me and went out with Emma. Anyway, let’s keep the rest in fact the further horror…. St Joseph is truly the Patron of Workers as long as your work is legit. I was not the only person that was saved in that encounter, the miracle of my friend’s release was astounding. It happened in a cross fire with the police and the Kidnappers while he was lying down in a dug up grave, on the fourth day waiting for the worst. Our Holy Patron never fails. Hail Holy Joseph, Hail. Happy Workers Day.
• Seyi Martins, Broadcaster, is a member of the Catholic Friendly Society No 3619, the first Laity Society founded 1903 and dedicated to St. Joseph.