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Opinions of Saturday, 16 October 2010

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.

Amegã Yakob’s Repugnant Policy of Overt Discrimination

For close to two decades, beginning in the early 1970s, Amegã Yakob, then the owner of the only Bedford truck in town, literally decided who got into his golden cart to and from Ho, the capital city of Volta Region. Of course, it was not possible for anyone living in Miwornorvi to travel to Accra – or any other locality within the country – without getting to Ho first. Interestingly, Amegã Yakob, as shrewd as he was, was the male version of a termagant. His attitude toward the people of Miwornorvi who brought him financial success was deplorable, and many in this small town of 500 had prayed, for many years, that someone else – a competitor, any competitor! – would join the private-transportation business and, like an exculpation from the death penalty, break Amegã Yakob’s cruel monopoly.

Amegã Yakob was a strange man who ignored important societal norms. When people go to the supermarket, they line up at the checkout, which is expected, and wait their turn to be served by the cashier. Sadly, Amegã Yakob did not believe in treating people fairly: he would handpick – always! – the passengers allowed on his truck each morning, to the consternation of those who would be exposed to this abysmal system the first time. And Amegã Yakob did it without an apology to anyone. It was an inviolably rigid system, which the tyrant bent only if there was an emergency – say, a sick person needing to reach a hospital for advanced care; or a student heading out to Ho, Accra or another city to write an important examination. Still, it came down to Amegã Yakob’s judgment.

Amegã Yakob’s system was simple: He journeyed from Miwornorvi to Ho just once each day, and he always expected his would-be passengers to have gathered under a particular tree, before rolling out his prized vehicle to drive them out of town. Once he got to the spot under the tree – and he was occasionally a tad late – he would look at all the faces in the crowd, then begin his customary refrain: “Togbui Ameglo, ge de me.” “Hamedada Yawa, no ngo le gbonye.” “Amegã Dzigbordi, ge de me.” “Afeno Mansa, vi nene le mozom kple wo?” “Vi eve.” “Yoo, mi ge de me.” “Nutsugah Komla, tro va etso,” to the bewilderment of the travelers, even after years of exposure to this egregious system.

While the truck was capacious, it usually was able to carry only half of the daily crowd, resulting in many would-be passengers leaving for their houses, only to make another attempt the next day. In fact, woe to anyone whose family had, at some point in the past, bickered with Amegã Yakob himself; his favorite wife, Nukunu; his other wife, Emefa; or any of his close relatives. To such a person, a trip to Ho at any time after such a spat would mean walking the thirty-two-odd miles both ways! Oppressive. Cruel. Painful. For the person on the receiving end. It always was – with no end in sight.

It was a Friday morning, and a strong wind was subjecting all living things to its fury and frenzy. A burly man, Komla-Kojo (this Ewe name means a male child born at the stroke of midnight – somewhat still Monday, not quite yet Tuesday), walked through the blustery conditions to a spot under the tree to await the arrival of the golden cart – Amegã Yakob’s golden cart. Soon, the distinctive roar of the Bedford truck’s dependable engine could be heard, and people began to gather their bags in anticipation of the Ritual. After about twenty minutes, Amegã Yakob announced to the crowd that the truck was full, and that the others ought to go home and return the next day. The crowd’s collective groan – the epitome of acquiescence, really – was an evocation of both the helplessness of the townsfolk and the imperviousness of Amegã Yakob. Like a rising tide and its eventual descent into the belly of the ocean, the decibel of the combined chatter and banter would rise and fall – until all grew silent, each man and woman forced to return home.

Everyone not inside the golden cart walked away, except Komla-Kojo. Inebriated, eyes bloodshot, his spirit vexed, Komla-Kojo yelled: “Amegã Yakob, ehiã be ma zo mo yi Ho egbe. Novinye le do lem eye ehiã be ma yi va kpoe da.” Amegã Yakob then retorted: “Tro va etso.” Now more upset than ever, Komla-Kojo snapped: “Ehiã be ma do Ho egbe, eye me le Ho do ge egbe. Atsom ayi Ho egbe, Amegã Yakob. Me nye etso o, egbe. Ehiã dokuiborbor, Amegã Yakob!” Both men soon traded sharp words until a dejected Komla-Kojo staggered away, his waning spirit and the dissipating trail of dust behind him like conjoined twins fearful of life in a hostile and unforgiving world.

Daavi Laglalã, a petite woman with a rheumy left eye, complained loudly that Amegã Yakob’s policy of handpicking his passengers – irrespective of who got to the station first – was discriminatory and oppressive. She was soon ordered off the vehicle by the tyrant himself! At this point, even the notable men in the truck, men with strength in their loins, men who ruled their own homes with obdurateness and ruthlessness, went silent. “For how long, folks, will the humiliation continue?” someone whispered – but it was more of a thought than an articulation. The fear in the air was like venom, seeping through the airways of the passengers and rendering them impotent, in the process. “When will a savior arrive?” a teenage girl whispered. “When you shut your mouth so that you do not get thrown out, too,” responded a husky voice two feet away from where she sat.

Then one day, like a long-awaited miracle, the prayers of the townsfolk were answered. Jonathan, a citizen of Miwornorvi, had been domiciled in France for twenty years. After Jonathan was informed about the plight of the people, he decided to act. Togbui Amenorvor, Jonathan’s grandpa and an octogenarian considered the fourth oldest man in town, was to run the new transportation business. Jonathan soon purchased a twenty-seater bus – Amegã Yakob’s brutal empire was teetering on the verge of complete collapse. The week a hired driver drove the new bus into town marked the beginning of trouble between the Yakobs and Amenorvors.

Now, Togbui Amenorvor had decided that two trips in each direction each day was the best way to get everyone to and from Ho, with or without Amegã Yakob’s once-important role as sole transporter. A fierce rivalry had begun! Words would be exchanged. It escalated to fisticuffs. Soon, there were rumors of an esoteric attack, after a mysterious ailment had struck two young men in the Amenorvor camp! Not church-going type, the Amenorvors quickly consulted a local fetish priest. A new war, not visible to the naked eye, had begun in earnest … which will roil the town and suck its peace like a giant vacuum cleaner.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.