As unforgettable as testimonies go, this one I’m about sharing champions the lot as far as I am concerned. It is not testimony about one single event. It’s a thick broom, with a sturdy band holding all its individual strands – the individual occurrences that culminate to this feeling of gratefulness that overwhelms me – together. I am a man overwhelmed, and the more I think to bring this whelm under control, the more I remember, I am a project, a beautiful work of clay. The potter is not done with me yet. For now, however, I’ll take you through a briefed account on the nature of this broom, this one-year old broom, born on May 23rd 2017, and used for the last time on April 12, 2018.
I applied for four cities. In the application form, the youth service corps management and in-charge persons had specified we select strategically, and had even created an algorithm to only provide states that will ensure this “strategicness” is followed by every applicant. The strategy was to select two states from the north, and two from the south (either a south/west combo or a south/east combo). I chose Kano, Niger, Lagos, and Delta. I was given Kebbi. At first, I thought my case was not unique; then in camp, I discovered it was, and then I discovered it wasn’t quite. There were others like me, but we were an inconceivable zero-point-zero-something percent of the crowd. And I wondered, “warris all dis???”
So (it’s bad to start a new paragraph with ‘so’, by the way), I did the normal rush-rush preparation for camp. We had just a weekend to do this preparation. Camp was starting on Monday. I was to be at Dakingari camp latest Wednesday. I caught one of the worst fevers of my life on the Sunday before camp in Owerri, where my parents live. The night before Monday, shaking uncontrollably on the bed, the consideration to skip camp because of the illness made so much sense that I was a whiff of breeze away from calling it quits every single moment of that Monday. And as if things weren’t bad enough, my dear alma mater only started giving out our statements of result on that Monday. I still had to do my medical assessment and get the result the same Monday. And that must come after I had gotten the statement. And I was trembling with every footstep. I had a 20-something hour journey to embark upon that same day. It was hell.
Everything was settled late on Monday. Shaking still, I packed my things for camp, and left for Port Harcourt Monday evening. I would stay with my dad who worked there for the night and leave Tuesday morning for Sokoto state. I got to Port Harcourt Monday evening.
Tuesday morning, the fever had significantly subsided. Usually, with fever, one loses appetite completely, and that is always the case with me when it happens, but this time, by some intervention, by some providence, I could eat, despite how bitter my mouth tasted. I got to the park where I’d take off which was in Diobu/Mile 2. If you know Diobu/Mile 2, you’ll appreciate how much of unease I battled with that Tuesday morning.
Dad helped me secure a ticket the night before so I could get a good seat in the middle. I got a seat at the back notwithstanding. 95% of the passengers were traders and menial merchants from the north who traded in Port Harcourt. 9/10 of them probably hadn’t had a shower in days. 9.5/10 of them did not comprehend the English language. The best they could do was “go”, “come”, “eat”. The bus was so filled up that the aisle at the centre was double-packed inch after inch by said merchants. Their hefty goods, and bags, and beds, and tables, and drums, and herbs, and oil, and clothing boarded the luxury – LOL – bus with us. I’ll allow your imagination to make up how the bus smelled. My seat neighbour (neighbours actually, because some stood, some sat on the chair backrests) spat each time he spoke, and I didn’t sit beside the window because that wasn’t where my number fell to. My friendly northerners, the entire lot of them, chattered on in thick Hausa from start of journey, all 33 hours (yes, 33 hours. I kept note) of the journey. At a point, I couldn’t take it, and asked that I switched places with my neighbour so that I could give him space to chatter on. I feigned sleep. He agreed. Five minutes later, he took back his agreement. I got irate. But I couldn’t do anything. I was an Igbo potential youth corper. They were all semi-educated or non-educated northern traders. I was a Nigerian. I knew Nigeria. I wasn’t stupid. I calmed and endured it.
Have I mentioned that when we stopped in Kogi state for lunch, I got suya, and then stomach rumbling and a very shockingly sharp urge to purge and stool completely knocked out the rest of the fading fever, and then tormented me the rest of the journey? I had to stool at a corner when I got to Birnin Kebbi Park, after I must have tried and failed in Sokoto park.
I laugh because I said “the rest of the journey”, like that was all there is to my story till I got to camp. It wasn’t. Say hello to Zaria road in Kaduna state, 1am in the thick of night, next thing I hear, our heavy bus runs across sharp stones intentionally left on the road and it successfully burst two of our tires.
The plot thickens.
The driver knew what’s up. He intentionally drove across those stones. Had he stopped, armed hoodlums would have emerged from the non-bushes (really, Northern Nigeria has very sparse vegetation) beside us and who knows what the story could have been. The bus drove forward a little, and everybody was told to alight. We did. Halfway through alighting…..I’ll pause here.
Our bus contained our friendly, spit-pouring non-bathed traders, our beloved belongings, me, and then as well, a Fulani mother with her three little daughters, an entire Hausa family, about seven or so other corpers (none of whom were to camp in Kebbi State unfortunately), and a good number of nearly-helpless elderly Hausa men.
Story continues…through alighting, we hear gunshots and off we went, everybody running into the non-bushes, in all possible three hundred and sixty directions.
In primary and secondary school, I had participated in inter-house sports competitions. I always loved blue house in primary school for some reason. I dabbled the high jump and the long jump once. I never qualified, but I was fairly good. I played football instead. Well, every boy did. I never considered track. I never did track. I didn’t know my running capabilities. And in university, I got considerably fatter. I had just begun to lose weight when I met Zaria road.
That night, I knew perfectly well, that if I honed the skill, under excellent tutelage, I’d compete well with Chioma Ajunwa. I ran across thick, strong ridges – a full wash of them laid out in front of me – with the speed of an antelope, and when I was a good distance from the hot spot, I caught a breath and hid behind a short tree with a broad bark. People around me were tripping on themselves and on the ridges. Eventually, four other corpers found my hiding spot and joined.
Fright turned into worry and into a cautious wait, and eventually into a need to return to base. This was 4:30 am. We had spent three hours thirty minutes in one spot. Now see why the journey was 33 hours in total instead? The police had eventually come, chased the hooligans away. Our driver had replaced the tires, and then the misery afoot was that the hooligans, not being able to apprehend anyone (only God knows what the little ones in that bus did, them and their mothers and fathers), went into the bus, rummaged through our stuff, and took as much as they wanted. A youth corper had lost his school bag. All of his life’s certificates and credentials were in it. He had to be escorted by the police to camp where they’d give him a permit so that he could join camp activities. That shell-shocked? I think he was to camp in Zamfara State. Before I heard the gunshot, I had a small bag with money and valuables on my chair. I returned to the bus, it was exactly the way I left it, untouched. They didn’t near my area. I became immediately grateful I was juxtaposed between our friendly spit-pouring non-bathed northerners.
I got to Sokoto park, looked for where to shit, because the sensation returned the moment things calmed, didn’t find, took a two-hour cab to Birnin Kebbi (capital of Kebbi State), and with me was a nice-looking corper girl who had come from Onitsha for Kebbi State too. Sight for very very sore eyes. I found a place to shit in Birnin Kebbi park. . . A place to shit—another ironic euphemism. We left, acquiring two other corps members, and off to Dakingari we went.
We registered in camp. Got there by 8pm Wednesday night. I skipped the last part of registration, went to mami market – somebody say “mami market”! – bought a bucket, and finished up with the business of my stomach, taking loxagyl in the process too. The next day (Thursday), I was branded a white fowl. My white and white was at the ready. Camp life was set. I got into platoon six, and like the flip of a coin, my bad luck since the Thursday when I received the news that I’ll be in Kebbi State was flipped on its head.
The next chapter of my NYSC (Camp), was to be the sweetest, and most novel of experiences.
This piece is a non-fictional account of my one year experience as a youth corps member.
I promise that every information shared here is factual and true. I, however, have willingly withdrawn information I would rather not share on a public platform such as this.
This piece is inspired by the feeling of gratefulness that overwhelms me whenever I remember my service year.
It is the first part in the series.
How nice is it to have the first story series on this blog to be a non-fiction about me, the blog’s curator.