“Can’t you behave like the first born!” Abiola Jr, grew up hearing those piercing words, which made him always feel like running away from home. As far as he could remember ever since he had dropped on earth, there was always someone around nagging him, eager to remind him of his duties decided for him, before he was even conceived. Being the first born son of Paramount Chief Abiola IV, Junior was expected to succeed him in a lineage that dated back over three centuries and become leader of his over two million Bola peoples.
Even as a little boy, Junior, would be dressed up in traditional attire, the agbada, and taken to some of the meetings and functions Chief Abiola presided over. He grew up seeing his father at a distance, seated on a throne, surrounded by courtiers, and ever wearing a permanent stern face, like an Egyptian sphinx. In his young mind he didn’t want to end up like this distant man constantly at work.
“You will one day be seated in that chair your father is in with everyone waiting on you,” his mother once whispered to Junior, as he slumbered through another long meeting, his eyelids dropping heavy with sleep. “So, stay awake and watch everything!”
He hated it all. It seemed no one was letting him live and enjoy his childhood. Largely because of this constant admonishment he took to being the most mischievous child in the family.
In Chief Abiola’s compound of three wives and a dozen children, Junior was always the last to attend to his chores. At a local school, he stood out as a pain to the teachers, who were hesitant to punish him because of his royal status. But they would report him to the Chief, who would roar back, “You are embarrassing me and yet you are the first born!”
Pushed, but determined to have his way, Junior took to more cranks. At every single opportunity he seemed to court trouble. Once he led his age mates to raid a garden of a neighbor and pick fruits without asking, against village norms. When reports got to the Chief, Junior was summoned and harangued. “You are not behaving like a first born, why!”
Junior lowered his head, hating everything about his birth.
Tired of receiving embarrassing cases of his errant son causing constant trouble, fearing one day he might have to pick him from a police station, the Chief decided to send Junior to Justice Soyinka, a brother of his who was based in Abuja. “Maybe under a different environment you will grow up and start behaving like a firstborn.”
If Chief Abiola had expected a sterner hand to raise his wayward child it was the very opposite. Justice Soyinka was a busy man who after enrolling his nephew into a boarding international high school, simply cautioned him to stay away from trouble. But unlike all those people with whom Junior had grown up, Justice Soyinka did not reiterate to him his firstborn status. “You have to study well because it will be good for you in the future!” Then he left.
Freed from constant admonitions of a workaholic father, Junior hooked up with a group at school that spent more time patronizing bars than libraries. He barely passed his ‘O’ levels. Soon after starting his ‘A’ levels, came the devastating news from Bola state. “You father has just passed on of a heart attack and you must leave at once for the funeral,” Justice Soyinka picked him from school.
After news of the death had sunk in, Junior realized that his father’s sudden death meant he had to succeed him as Paramount Chief as per age old custom. But he didn’t feel like he was ready at all. Junior had a girlfriend and was more interested in living his carefree life in the city. “I hope they don’t end up thrusting me into my father’s shoes when I don’t want!” He thought to himself.
But just as he had feared, once the funeral was done, and he was planning to head back to the city and to his girlfriend, junior was summoned by the council of elders to the Capital hall. Nervous, he walked to the palace hall, urged on by his mother. They found the Capital hall filled with all elders and his siblings in agbada who bowed once they saw him step forward through the wide gates. They all immediately fell prostrate on the floor. Gingerly, Junior walked past, and was eventually led up to the empty throne. Then everyone got up and stood straight. The Prime Minister of the state, moved forward. He motioned Junior to take his seat on the throne.
“You are now Paramount Chief of the Bola peoples!” the Prime Minister said. “Long live the Chief!” came a deafening chorus from the crowd. Junior sat nervously and started listening to speech after speech praising him.
Tired from the day’s meeting, once the ceremonies were , Junior called up his mother and told her he was not ready to become the Paramount Chief. “Besides, I need to go back to Abuja and resume my school work.” He was thinking of his girlfriend whom he missed. At night without warning he disappeared.
Back at school, Junior picked up from where he had left of his old life of endless boozing and running around with his girlfriend. But when holidays came and he returned to Justice Soyinka’s house, he couldn’t be allowed to settle in. “You are going back to the Bola state to take up your duties as Paramount Chief,” Justice Soyinka told him in a matter of fact voice.
“But I don’t want to,” exclaimed Junior. “I just want to stay here and live my life.”
“Sorry,” the Justice said, motioning Junior to follow him to the car. “You do not have much choice in this. Just as you did not decide on your birth so is being Chief. This is your destiny. You can’t run away from your destiny.”
Driving back to the state with his uncle steady at the wheels, Junior sat in deep thought, hating every moment that he was being pushed into a position given to him at birth. However, by the time he got to the state capital he had accepted his fate. “I will just do my best!”
Once it was clear in his mind and he agreed to being crowned Chief Abiola V, Junior assumed his duties with remarkable zeal. From once the rebel child he was now the strictest Chief. He would spend the day in long meetings, much like his father, listening to intricate cases and receiving delegations from near and far. When his old village agemates would visit him and ask him to go out with him he would keep them waiting. Much later, he would send a chit that they should come back another time, when he might have time.
Junior’s old friends now resigned to seeing him at state functions where he sat alone on a raised throne wearing a stately face. If they waved at him, he would motion with a finger, his face a sphinx, as was once of his father.
Some years later Justice Soyinka happened to visit Bola state and called upon his nephew. The moment he saw the young Chief he noticed something wrong. The once light hearted boy who used to live in his house full of life was no more. In spite of his youth, Junior’s face was all harrowed with lines of worry. His hair was fast greying. He noticed the boy was now walking with a hunch.
“Do you ever find any time to rest,” the uncle asked his nephew.
“But how can I!” replied the Chief. “My day is filled with all these cases to decide and delegations to receive. Everyone wants a piece of me and I have all this work to accomplish to protect our state.”
“You used to go out a lot with your friends,” the uncle pressed on. “Do you ever find time to play with your old friends?”
“But how can I! replied the Chief. “There is no time to play. What will I talk with them anyway? I am now Chief Abiola. They have no idea of the hot chair I am seated on.”
“Son,” the Justice after a long pause, drew his breath. “If you don’t start relaxing and having time for yourself, find a way to relax with your old friends, and laugh, do things you enjoy, not just because you have to, within a couple of years you will drop dead like your father. It is good that you finally accepted your destiny. But for your gentle sakes place, just as you resisted everything before, now remember the State is not you, for you have also a life to live.”