The Power of a Name

“The Minister wants to see you!” Mr. Herbert Kiwa, the Permanent Secretary (PS), of the Ministry of Infrastructure was informed by his personal assistant, Anne, early one morning once he reported to office. Kiwa was used to these abrupt summons from his Minister. They were often concerned about him clarifying policy to Mr. Ali Abacha. But this time he was a bit apprehensive. Lately, there had been a fight in the ministry with an attempt to falsify procurement results and award a multi-billion dollar contract to a dubious firm to construct a certain expensive highway, funded by World Bank. It was rumored that the firm was connected to big shots in the government.

“I have called you about that recommendation note concerning whom to award that highway construction,” started Abacha. “I think you should ask the committee to revise the results and award this one.”

Kiwa saw that the Minister was pointing to the very suspect firm, and yet it had scored the least during evaluation. It had never proved any capacity or was it known to have the required expertise.

“Sir, I went through the criteria of the Procurement committee and there is no way we can award that one!”

“What are you saying!” the Minister swung back in his chair, visibly annoyed. “It is a directive from above.”

“But how can I falsify those results,” objected Kiwa. “I have a name to protect in this town and wouldn’t bring myself there.”

“What did you say!” The Minister snapped. “You mean for me I don’t have a name to protect. Are you looking down on me because I came from a poor district?”

“It is not what I meant, Sir,” Kiwa explained, calmly, shifting in his seat. “It has to do with something personal”

“You are dismissed,” declared the Minister, boiling. “We shall see what to do!”

As he saw his PS step out of office, the Minister, Abacha, felt all the rage at him. “What does this man Kiwa mean to say he has a name to protect as if I have none and like I am from the streets!” He fumed. A long time ago the Minister had heard there were certain families which always promoted “the name thing” to signify how special they were. He had long observed that these so-called families with names were using that as a pretext to make other people feel inferior. “Yet,” observed the Minister, “these so-called elite families were also land thieves and now use the “name thing” as a cover-up smokescreen for their past crimes!”

But for the PS, Mr. Kiwa it was a different experience through; in fact, while he was aware how certain people fronted their names like nobles, he was hardly any of that. There was a story to this. It all had started when his father, Mr Kiwa Sr, terminally sick, suddenly gathered all his three sons and two daughters around his bed. Whereas in life Sr had been very hesitant to share his life story, he had finally decided to let out all.

“I have long wanted to tell you how I ended up as a headteacher in a primary school” he began, “for as you know I was one of the first students to be admitted to university to study medicine. I was set on becoming one of the first medical doctors in the country. But because of a strike, I was involved in demanding a better diet the whites expelled me. I struggled to find someplace to resume my education but finally, a man who knew my father enrolled me in a teacher training Institute!”

The room was deathly quiet.

“Because of this as you know,” went on Kiwa Sr, “I have ended up training almost all the important people in this nation. As my children, you will never lack anything because of this good name I have made for you. If you meet any roadblock in life all you have to say is you are my children with the name of Kiwa. We the Kiwa are not landowners and there are no buildings you can point to us to as owners. But the name I have left you will open doors for you and make you live secure and happy lives.”

After these words, Kiwa Sr never uttered a single word again. He died three days later. Kiwa Jr succeeded him as the heir. At first, he struggled to appreciate the meaning of his father’s last deathbed message. But after a while, it sunk in. Once he got out of school he was always surprised by how quickly almost any person he met in an important office would rush to open a door for him upon discovering who his father was. “I am who I am because of your father!” This had enabled him to accelerate as a public servant with almost everyone assured he would do a good job. “We knew your father and we know you wont fail his good name.”

It is this sense of obligation to protect the family name which now governed and consumed KiwaJr all his life. Whenever his own children were found at fault his first mention was, “you are letting down the Kiwa name. People are watching you and expect you to behave in a certain manner. We have a name to protect!”

And now as PS of a ministry managing multimillion-dollar contracts, he was always being put to test, always being pulled left and right by those wanting a piece of those huge contacts. “I will give you any percentage you name” was a common offer. But Mr Kiwa Jr would never hear of it, pointing such to follow the right procedure. “I can’t do otherwise because if word was to get out how will I defend the Kiwa name”!

That night after meeting the Minister he got a call. “We understand that you are hesitant to change the scores,” the anonymous caller started. “But I have instructions to wire 1 $ million to an offshore account of yours. If you don’t have one we can help you open one and there is no way one will be able to trace this juicy offer! Mr. Kiwa Jr hung up immediately.

Things did not go well soon after. One day he came to the office and found a letter of interdiction on his desk. “There are allegations you are funding guerrillas,” read the letter signed by Minister Abacha. “You are asked to vacate your office and go on an indefinite leave of absence to pave way for investigations!”

Life was hard after the suspension of Kiwa Jr. For one thing he quickly observed that his former government colleagues no longer wanted to relate with him. He also heard from the streets that the job eventually was given to the firm he had objected to by a new Acting PS. Even when its performance proved so shoddy that the World Bank held bank funding no one attempted to call him back. He was blacklisted. Once Ann met him at a function and told him that the Minister had swore, ” as long as we are in government that man called Kiwa will never hold a job here. Let him go eat his name.”

But just as for his father after his expulsion from medical school, something beautiful came through. There was a small but influential group of friends who would give Mr. Kiwa Jr jobs, small as they were. They were not many but enough to put food on the table and see all his three kids through school.

Over time the government of Abacha fell through competitive General elections where even after massive rigging the gap was so huge, forcing it to concede. Once his government fell Abacha fled into exile, along with his family, leaving behind all the properties he had accumulated as a minister. A commission of Inquiry was put up and found he had accumulated his vast wealth through corruption. The new government decided to confiscate everything under his name. Abacha would die in exile, fearing to step back home after being convicted in absentia, as a looter.

And as for Kiwa Jr the new government was aware of the circumstances of how he had lost his job, he was recalled and appointed as Head of Public Service. The new government also compensated him for all his loss of pay with interest.

As a last twist to this story, soon after the death of Abacha his now grown-up children returned to the country. They wanted to claim back their father’s property. But everywhere they went doors were slammed right in their faces. “Your father was a terrible man who caused a lot of misery,” said one government official. “Go back to where he took all our country’s money and no one wants to see you here for you remind us of all the misery that man caused.”

The Abacha children left-back for forced exile, very saddened. They could not even find a job in their country. And that was because of a bad name left behind by their deceased father, Abacha. This was unlike Kiwa Jr, whose children once they got out of school quickly found people in town eager to give them a hand. And that was because of a good name left by their grandfather, a good man called Kiwa!

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