“AT THE PLEASURE OF MR PRESIDENT”
It was a very wet Monday morning in the month of July. The mail man was clutching a bunch of letters under his left armpit as he struggled with the wind to keep his umbrella steady. The mails were from a curia company and were meant for # 14 Denton Street Kiba. The rickety umbrella and the shielding arms of the dedicated curia mailman had managed to prevent the mails from being soaked by the torrential tropical rain. The mails were meant for Donald’s Specialist Hospital which was located on the first and second floors of the building in the state capital.
Benjamin, the small-framed but very agile office messenger of Donald’s Hospital had just collected the mails and having dropped the relevant ones on the doctor’s table, had left the room. Dr. Kofi Donald Etibor had often received letters dropped on his table in a similar way by curia delivery and only rarely through the conventional postal services which had all but collapsed. Poor patronage resulting from extremely poor services had made the public postal services almost non-existent. Occasionally posted letters were found dumped in gutters by angry or completely disgruntled postal service workers.
Individuals, corporate workers and indeed government offices and agencies were therefore in the habit of either using the relatively more costly curia services or using office messengers to deliver their letters to the designated destinations by hand.
It had been a very busy day for Dr. Kofi Etibor a well-known obstetrician and gynecologist who after many years in the service of the state government had five years previously opened up a private hospital along one of the elite areas of the medium sized city which was also the state capital.
Dr Etibor had earlier attended to two motor cycle accident victims in the emergency section of his hospital. He had admitted one and had referred the other who obviously had head and internal organ injuries to the better-equipped and better-staffed University Hospital which was some ten minutes driving distance away.
Dr. Etibor had the habit of quickly glancing through his mails every morning before starting on the day’s consultations. He had cultivated the habit after a terrifying experience a few weeks back when a mere look at the morning newspapers lying on the table of his head nurse had saved him what might have been a disaster. On that particular day he was scheduled to attend what was supposed to be an exclusive demonstration of new medical products by one of his old patients in a rented hotel hall, but because of an emergency in his hospital he could not attend. On the front page of the morning newspaper was the bold photograph of the chief organizer of the show with the bold inscription of “WANTED” pasted over the photograph. Three of the ten doctors who attended the event were kidnapped on arrival by a gang of gun-toting young men who were said to be agents of Dr Etibor’s patient who had invited the latter to the proposed exhibition. Two eye witnesses to the kidnap had narrated how they heard one of the kidnappers asking aloud for Dr Kofi Etibor as they whisked their victims away. The next that was heard of the victims were demands for millions of dollars by the kidnappers. One of the victims was never again to be seen. Dr Etibor was to realize that he was one of the principal targets of the kidnap saga. If he had not seen the warning sign in the morning paper he might have proceeded to attend the event and he might have fallen victim.
Often Dr Etibor might also find one or two mails which needed to be given priority attention. In the past he had also missed two very important events purely because he did not go through the mails before commencing on the day’s consultations in the clinic. On that particular Monday morning the mails had come in a little too soon. It was possible they were mails which would have been delivered on the previous Friday but which had for some reasons been delayed till that Monday morning.
One of the letters had the coat of arms of the Republic of Konganoga. Most letters that bore the coat of arms were either connected with one form of taxation or another. Others were in connection with one government agency or the other making demands for one levy or the other.
If it was not a levy for sanitation it would be one for renewal of registration for business premises. If it was not that, it would be a demand notice for some tenement rate, or it would be one threatening the owner of the premises with arraignment before a hurriedly assembled mobile court whose trials and pronouncements were as perfunctory as they were spurious and arbitrary.
Dr Etibor loathed the idea of most of the demands that emanated from the government agencies. He was of the view that over 90% of whatever levies that were collected would end up being embezzled either by the collectors themselves or by the higher government officials. Dr Etibor’s belief emanated from the fact that there were hardly ever, any physical improvements either in infrastructure, or in the standard of living of the populace despite the many decades of the collection of these levies by the big political players. Rather he was of the view that the big political players got wealthier and lived in greater opulence while the generality of the populace grew poorer and the infrastructure got more dilapidated.
Dr Etibor took a quick glance at the envelope that bore the coat of arms after he had gone through the series of personal letters among the pack of mails that were brought in for his attention. He then opened the envelope expecting to see one of the series of arbitrary levies or regular “imperial” announcements or self adulations that regularly emanated from the office of one government chief executive or the other or their subordinates. The latter often utilized the cover of the official coat of arms to even promote events or endeavors that were not government related if only to coerce the beleaguered populace into complying with their demands.
It was for instance not unusual for friends of the people in government who were awarded one levy collection contract or the other to have the coat of arms of the country side by side with the logo of their hurriedly floated levy-collecting companies. Such companies having been floated by these agents while their cronies or principals were in power easily got big and heavily-inflated government contracts of levy collection and/or construction awarded to them.
The letter that Dr Etibor saw was different from the usual state government or Local government letter-headed one. It bore the coat of arms of the country alright. But the coat of arms was usually the same for both the federal, state or local governments.
But this letter was certainly different. It was not fanciful. Most of the hurriedly floated companies that belonged to the politicians and their cronies who floated the companies were usually purposely made very fanciful apparently to add undue weight and credibility to the image of the companies and agencies that were so created. Below the coat of arms in the letter was written “The Presidency” Other addressing details followed. The letter was succinct and simple: “Dear Sir, I am directed to inform you that His Excellency the President, Commander in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Konganoga has appointed you a member of the Governing Council of the University Hospital Kiba. This appointment is for a period of four years and you will serve at the pleasure of the President...”
The subsequent two paragraphs gave more details about how Dr Etibor would be further contacted. The letter ended with the single word which had never been seen in other letters with the coat of Arms which Dr Etibor had received in the past: “CONGRATULATIONS”. This last word was written in red and in bold capitals apparently to convey its full weight and the supposed golden status and opportunities which it bore. Dr. Etibor was not the ostentatious type. He had never sought government favors or patronage in the past. He had indeed sometimes been at logger heads with the state government in the course of his duties as the Chairman of his professional body. He was nevertheless in spite of himself and his previous persistent criticism of the government, ecstatic about the appointment.
He read the letter again several times and felt a strange sense of fulfillment.
So finally the powers that were, had come to appreciate and reckon with the changes which he, Dr Etibor had been postulating? Or could it be that the appointment was to make him quiet or refrain from the critical opinions which he had often voiced in the print media about the way that things were going on in the polity? Could that be an attempt by the powers that were, to get him into the fold one way or another to participate and thus to ensure that he has a chance to live what he preached or participate in the loot and therefore condone future loot by others.
Whatever it was, Dr. Etibor was happy and elated. On getting home from work that same evening, Dr. Etibor had shown the letter of Board appointment to his wife Theresa. Theresa was also a doctor but worked in a different hospital from the one where Dr Etibor worked. Theresa was not as excited as Dr Etibor about the appointment. She was indeed a little skeptical about it all as she said: “When people get into some of these Government Boards and offices very often they lose sight of moral rectitude. They toe the line of the previous occupants. They conform to the pattern and begin to take bribes. They begin to tell lies to cover the Government. They spend long hours in purported Board meetings and end up discussing things that are not wholesome. I know that Judith my friend used to complain a lot about how her husband changed in behavior for the worse soon after her husband was appointed to the Board of the Federal Government-owned gas Company. However I believe that you will use your head and realize that you should at all times be yourself and not dance to other people’s tunes” Theresa had told her husband.
It looked like the unusual crowd which he saw in the waiting room was composed almost entirely of jobseekers and favor-seekers. He rather decided to head off to the wards for the morning ward round.
Dr Etibor’s abandonment of the morning clinic did not quell the quest from his contract-seeking visitors. He came back about ninety minutes later to witness the presence of some angry visitors who were still exchanging words with the staff on duty.
“You admitted only those who gave you money”. “You did not let me see the Doctor because I did not see you in advance”. “You have been eying the bag which I am carrying. The contents of the bag are for the Doctor and not for you”. All kinds of angry words and vituperations had poured out from the aggrieved contractors against the staff who however maintained their dignity and hardly responded.
Dr. Etibor had to intervene openly before getting back to the Consulting Room to see the genuine patients for the day. “Gentlemen, I would please like to attend this morning only to patients who have come to consult me on purely medical grounds.
Any others who have mistakenly taken cards to see me should please collect back their card money from the accounts”. The murmuring was quite audible but the open warning certainly solved the problem, at least for that day.