by Okey Ikechukwu
Eze Uzu was a palace official and close associate of the king of Alaoma village. But he made no positive impact on the actions and decisions of the king, despite his mighty title and official pretensions. Over time, his fine speeches and moral preachments earned him the title of “palace idler” among the people. He had become a man without a real name, one who could not explain anything convincingly anymore. That a man would abandon his trade as a great blacksmith and subsequently have nothing worthy of respect to show for his abandonment of his trade?
Since it was common knowledge that Smith who abandoned his smithy and loafed about would eventually go mad, some began to suspect that, perhaps, Eze Uzu had gone mad without knowing it. But they were wrong. Uzu had made a fatal choice! The great Eze Uzu who knew exactly how to mix his fare? Look at him today! His every attempt to take himself seriously falls flat on its face. His hollow speeches, which are often made as if the evil his king presides over did not exist, has only worsened his new public image. Chai! Oburozi ife enyelu nmanwu ka otalu! (O dear! It is not what was originally given to the masquerade that it ate) Umu nwanyi, na umu aka, na ekwezi nmanwu na aka! (Women and children are now shaking hands with the masquerade!)
One of the wise village elders, Ichie Okachie, once reminded Uzu of the fate of any gifted man who abandoned what gave meaning to his life. He had asked him to reflect on what people would say about an otherwise sensible adult who pranced from one part of the village to the other every day, doing nothing in particular. Yes Eze Uzu was told that he needed to sit down and review his miserable life, lest the gods incline towards him with anger, Okachie had said.
Uzu also had an encounter with the Head Smith of another village. The man had accosted him and said: “How could you, Di Uzu? Now that you have left the very thing that made you who you are, what should we call you? Whose works shall we show our own apprentices as examples of what a perfect work of art should look like? Does what you are doing now become you? Do you expect me to greet you happily when you have taken from our midst one of our models of excellence? How could an able-bodied man with exceptional natural skills as a black smith watch evil thrive? Ejikwa m ogu o! Please finish your business in my village and leave quickly, because I am not even sure what I would say to anyone who asked me about you, seeing you here.” Eze Uzu returned from his journey a broken man.
That night his late father appeared to him in his sleep and told him that no man should sleep well with his conscience if, at the end of every day, he had not put in a full day`s work. The old man said: “Nothing is more destructive of a man’s character and personal dignity than irresponsibility couched as state duties, unearned income and a life of idleness. You no longer put in a full day`s work in the real sense of it. Unlike the son I brought up and knew before I joined our forefathers, the man I see today has shamelessness as his constant companion. I do not begrudge you anything, but I think you should remember that genuine reward is reserved for only those who deserve it; those who have done something of value; especially something suited to their abilities and their nature.
Then Uzu`s father fell silent and stared into empty space. The latter was too shocked to move a muscle. The old man found his voice again and continued: ”People paid attention to your words when you still had something meaningful to say to them. It is because you now live to please a man who cannot be pleased, and who lives for nothing but himself, that you no longer say anything worth listening to. No serious minded person gets attention by making many words, or by making a spectacle of himself. You, of all people, should know that.
People listened to you in the past, when you had something to say and when you spoke about the things you knew. Your speech lay in the works of your hands and the personal dignity conferred on you by who you really are. But that was “before”. That was when you were still the son I brought up. That was when your essence coursed through your veins unchallenged by the base impulses of consumption, moral insensitivity and dissipation.” The old man stopped and shook his head over and over again.
Uzu stared at his father, confounded. ‘Have I become so worthless?’ he wondered aloud to the old man. But, rather than respond to him, his father turned away from him, his head bowed. Instinctively, Uzu knew that the old man was too ashamed of him to look at him. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Then he woke up. It was still midnight, but his sleep was gone.
By the time the first rays of the sun came to greet the treetops in the morning, Uzu’s black smith workshop, which he had been abandoned for years, was cleaned out. He had seen to that himself, while members of his family slept. He was careful not to make any noise, so as not to wake up anyone who may then wish to assist him. This was something he felt he should do by himself – and for himself.
When Ekwutosi, his wife, woke up in very the morning and did not find her husband in the house stepped out gingerly. Her movements the very definition of stealth. Then, lo and behold, she saw a dirty stranger at one end of the compound. So early in the morning? She was sure she had surprised one of the King’s evil men who may have sneaked in, abducted and killed her husband in the night.
She screamed for help, shouting her husband`s name as she ran back towards her hut. She was stopped in her tracks by the sound of her name. “Ekwutosi”, the voice of the dreadful looking stranger called. She stood still. It was the voice of her husband! She turned. What? As her children ran out of the house in panic, she sank to her knees and broke down in tears.
The dirty and dreadful looking stranger in the compound, a man so covered in sooth and dust that he looked like an apprentice evil spirit, was Eze Uzu her husband! He was covered in dirt because he had spent several hours cleaning his workshop after he woke up from his dream encounter with his father in the night.
Before the sun had become hot enough to give its mid morning mild sting, Uzu had reached the King`s palace. He had with him all the new and elaborate robes specially made for him by the King because of his unflinching loyalty and support. He felt so light, whistling and almost bouncing, as he headed towards the palace. An inner excitement he could not explain had taken possession of him and he greeted whomsoever he met on the way most cheerily. Several of such people turned around to stare after him, wondering well with the usually “very important” man.
When Uzu finally entered the palace and came before the King, he bowed and announced that he had come to return the King`s property in his possession. He had his ceremonial clothes all packed in a huge basket, which his son, Anayo, helped him bring to the palace. The gold anklet and other ornaments were in a separate bag. He dropped everything before the King, who tried to conceal his astonishment but could not.
The King was, in fact, more surprised by something else he noticed about Uzu. The man stood a little more erect. He also looked slightly taller than his actual height. Then there was this new air of personal dignity that made him look somewhat noble. He also spoke with unusual self-assurance. His own Uzu, who only yesterday was trembling like a frightened bush rat before him, would now speak to him with such self-aasurance? Uzu now has the temerity to sound free and independent?
”Have you gone mad?” the king thundered at Eze Uzu. The latter simply replied that he had spent too much time out of his workshop and must return to the trade of his forebears, which was what he knew how to do. When the King tried to order him to wear his robes, he replied: ”A man who says he ate the head of a vulture because he faced the risk of being killed for non-compliance is a liar. Udene abughi anu (the vulture is not edible meat)!
“And what does that mean? The King demanded.
“It means, oh King, that no one can make a man do what he knows to be wrong and has resolved not to do”, he retorted. With an ominous-sounding voice, the King said: “And has the person who is foolish enough to speak thus thought of the consequences of such braggadocio? Uzu replied: “Once a man accepts the possible consequences of any action he decides to take, there is nothing another human being can do about it. Like I said, my King, I must return to my workshop.”
With these words, Uzu left the palace and the King`s presence, never to return to serve the bad King again. Will Vice President Yemi Osinbajo follow Eze Uzu`s example? I don’t think so – but I have just given him “expo”.
- This piece was written by Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, mni, Senior Fellow at UNIZIK Business School and Executive Director of Development Specs Academy, Abuja.