Story of the Cocoa Deal that turned MKO’s Dad to a Pauper

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MKO Abiola boy

It was 4 a.m. Salawu had woken up as usual to prepare to go to work. He wore a light blue traditional adire with a white cap. His destination was Ayetoro, where he went to bag and dry cocoa before transporting it to Lagos. As he stepped out of his room, he was startled to see that Moshood, who was already wearing his school uniform, was waiting for him. Moshood looked like he had taken a bath.
“Why have you woken up and gotten dressed so early?” Salawu asked Moshood as he scrutinized him in bewilderment. He could see that Moshood was nervous but was surprised that when he replied, he did not sound it.
“Good morning sir! I am going to give you a helping hand in Ayetoro, just the other day I remember that you once told me that two hunters in a forest are a thousand times better than one hunter by himself in the same forest”.
Salawu did not take his comment lightly, all the more so because he did not recollect sharing that parable with Moshood.

“Well, first of all I am not a hunter. Secondly, Ayetoro is not a forest and when I am there, I am not alone. Go back to sleep immediately. You have to be fully awake in school”
To his utmost surprise, Moshood had an expressionless look on his face. It was as if his father’s word had gone into one ear and out the other. He moved closer to his father and grabbed his basket of fruit and his breakfast kit at work-and headed toward the exit. Salawu, who at first felt that he was merely helping him to carry it to the door, was stunned to see that Moshood was still following him beyond the door. He dragged him back inside, and became more aggressive. “What is your problem this morning? You think that because I am sixty-seven years old, I can’t go to work without the help of a nine-year-old? This is an insult and I will never accept it”.

MKO & his Father

Moshood was silent. This time his face had an expression- a very sad and bitter one. Tears soon flowed freely from his eyes. His father was dumbfounded. After all, his son should have known that this would be his reaction. But his heart somehow softened after he took his bag from Moshood and turned away. What harm would it do if Moshood were to come with him to work just once or twice? Maybe the boy would even learn something that would be useful to him in school and life. He turned back and noticed that Moshood, still in the same spot, had maintained his sorrowful gaze. Reluctantly, Salawu nodded. “Okay, you can come along. But first go and tell your mother that we are leaving together. She is awake on her prayer mat”.
Moshood was thrilled. He dashed to his mother and returned within twenty seconds. His father was amused and asked him teasingly, “Did you rush because you thought that I was going to leave you behind?” Moshood smiled then nodded timidly.
They headed toward the exit, but on their way out, Salawu spoke authoritatively. “Now listen carefully, my son. I will never allow you to drop out of school even if you find a job that makes you richer than the richest king in Nigeria. Am I understood?” Moshood nodded. Salawu was not yet done.

Jamiu Abiola with the GDA

Sounding more like a strict school principal, he proceeded. “I will allow you to come with me only once in a while and if I notice that your work has caused a drop in your school grades, you will never be allowed to follow me to work again.” 

“You are an old man. I respected that and quickly attended to you. But I also respect the law and have to quickly attend to it”… “These goods are full of defects. They have failed our eligibility test. They pose a threat to the general public. They have to be destroyed” 

His voice was laden with emotion. A part of him was pained because he knew that Moshood wanted to come because of their bad financial situation. He felt like he had let his family down.
There was silence throughout most of the journey but just before they reached their destination, Salawu announced a set of rules. “You have to carry additional clothes, working clothes, whenever you come with me on a day you would be going to school. Bagging and drying cocoa is tedious work that will soil your clothes”
Moshood looked excited. Salawu assumed that he did not have a clue about the heavy task ahead of him. That was when he told Moshood that his continuous hardship in old age was much more bearable than the thought of Moshood dropping out of school. He stated that morning that his dream for Moshood was for him to get a good education that would help him find work in a big company somewhere in a major city like Lagos or Ibadan. He now had a big smile on his face. He hoped to live long enough to see his dream for his son come true.

Dignatories @ the Launching of 'The President who Never Ruled'

By the time they got to Ayetoro, Moshood swung into action. It was as if he had worked there before. He took off his shirt, since he was going to wear it to school, and worked along with the other laborers. He instantly felt like one of them, and if they were surprised to see such a young boy in their midst, they did not show it because they kept working as if they had known he was coming.
Moshood enjoyed his first day at work. He was lucky that he finished by 7am. His only regret was that he still got to school late. That was the first time that that had happened. Days passed and Moshood continued to go to work with his father, who had become pleased that he had not only maintained his good grades, but had improved on them. There were also financial gains to the family. Salawu was saving money because Moshood was working hard for free.

How MKO’s Dad lost fortunes on November 11, 1946
Things were indeed getting better. But in less than three months, a tragedy struck and their condition became even worse than before. On the 11th of November, 1946, after Salawu had gathered a large quantity of cocoa, partly owned by him and mostly belonging to some other farmers, he hired a tenton lorry and transported the goods to Lagos. This was not the first time that farmers had entrusted him with their products. He was known to be an honest man. He took Moshood, who was on vacation from school, along on a journey that lasted three hours instead of two. The lorry moved slowly.

Abdul-Jamiu Abiodun Abiola, Author, 'The President Who Never Ruled'

They finally reached the product inspection unit in Lagos. The large number of traders, who had come before them, caused them to wait for a long time. But all of a sudden their wait came to an abrupt end. The product inspector a bald cunning looking man looked sympathetically at Salawu and decided to attend to him. “You are an old man. How can I be of help to you?”
Salawu grinned. Other traders frowned because they had been there before him. Moshood answered on behalf of his father. “We came all the way from Abeokuta with a big lorry”
Everyone, apart from the inspector, burst out laughing. Salawu was laughing too but stopped when he saw wickedness in the inspector’s eyes. As a sign of respect, he stood up to say something but the inspector did not give him a chance to utter a word. “You brought a lorry for me to inspect? We inspect produce and commodities, not Lorries, and that is why we are called the product inspection unit”
There was another round of laughter. This time Salawu did not laugh. Sounding apologetic, he said. “I am sorry about the misunderstanding, sir. My son meant we came for the inspection of our product, ten tons of cocoa, in a lorry from Abeokuta. Please don’t be offended!” Salawu frowned at Moshood, “Don’t say one more word!” The inspector shrugged his shoulders. He no longer seemed angry. A calm and calculating look suddenly appeared on his face as he forced a smile, revealing yellow teeth. “In that case, let’s take a look at what you have” His voice was passive.
He stood up and led Salawu and Moshood to the parking lot for vehicles with products. There was something maliciously authoritative about his stride. It made Salawu feel like a convict on his way to prison. Once they were close to the lorry, the official summoned other officers with an aggressive wave of his hands. He later shouted at them to join him for the inspection. He instructed Salawu to stay at a distance far away from him.
The inspection began. It lasted for twenty minutes after which the inspectors convened at a comer. Suddenly the inspector walked swiftly toward Salawu. He looked at him straight in the eyes as if he was a judge who was about to deliver a judgment. “You are an old man. I respected that and quickly attended to you. But I also respect the law and have to quickly attend to it” He paused then increased the speed of his words. “These goods are full of defects. They have failed our eligibility test. They pose a threat to the general public. They have to be destroyed”
He had said four sentences that were capable of turning Salawu’s life upside down. Salawu panicked. Most of the goods were not his. “What do you mean sir? This is not the first time I am coming here with this type of cocoa. Please ask your senior colleagues about me. My full name is Salawu Adenekan Abiola and ...”

The Book that Cleaned the Band,  MKO

The man was walking away. He ignored Salawu and began screaming at his colleagues, “Oya Oya (come on, come on), get some matches and kerosene. Let’s bum these items now. Let’s get to work”
Salawu almost fell as he struggled to catch up with him. Holding the man’s hands, he pleaded. “My son, why are you doing this to me?” The man pushed him away but Salawu did not give up. “Please let me return the goods to its owners. Or else, they will think I stole them” Tears rolled down his eyes. “I only own ten percent of the stock. If you want, burn my own share. I know where I packed them and can easily separate them for you”
The man shook his head. Then he and his team carried out their plan. They burned the entire consignment. Salawu saw everything but could not believe his eyes. It was too late but he kept begging till the men walked away. That was when he held Moshood’s hand then led him to the lorry for them to begin their journey back home.

(Excerpts from the book, The President Who Never Ruled by Jamiu Abiola; get copies in any book shop across the world or write Jamiu Abiola through jamiulinguist@yahoo.com. Read How MKO became a business man @ 9 in our next post on this blog)

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