My short Saturday morning sleep (I’d stayed awake till 4.30 am) was shattered by the insistent buzz of my cellphone at a little over 9.00am, and with it came summons to meet up with a bloke I met at NYSC camp and his wife. After braving howling winds and nearly passing out on my feet with the sheer amount of shops we went through, we got to share my peri-peri chicken addiction, and chat. True to form our conversation segued into the murky waters that are Nigeria and its various issues. Thankfully, reminiscing over the highlights of our service year provided a spot of cheer.
My memories of the NYSC year were largely good – bar three weeks spent in the hell hole that was Yikpata with its over-crowded rooms, near non existent toilet facilities and mosquitoes. Thanks to those mosquitoes from hell, I – famed for my obstinate resistance to all things malaria – ended up with a bout so massive that the camp days blurred into each other, a continuum of delirium from which all that survived were hazy memories of flitting in and out of the camp infirmary and nightmares so intense they often felt like someone had a pillow over my face and was suffocating me.
Ending up in Kwara had been the product of my famed quiet stubbornness. In a huff over something or the other my mother had said, I had insisted to the death that I needed no help in securing a favourable posting. In public I sounded very self assured – confident in my ability to take care of myself irrespective of where I ended up. In my less vocal moments, I was very concerned that getting Zamfara would be the end of me, especially given the fact that the sum total of my life lived northward of the Osse River was two weeks, bar my six month sojourn in Ajaokuta.
Postings came with further trepidation on my part. I’d hardly had a stellar three weeks – no success with either the sports or the arts meant I had hardly set myself up for one of the much sought after postings. It turned out I scored a fairly cushy number – 11 months teaching math and physics in a secondary school on the outskirts of Ilorin. Lodgings would be provided in the mission house right next to Maraba with all its accoutrements – loud Yoruba music from the shops across the road, waking up to the mellifluous, if insistent call of the muezzin, and community development meetings at the state secretariat on Ahmadu Bello way. A few of the lads were not so lucky – Dayo* copped a spot in Kosubosu, the Baruten nightmare we all feared, complete with a seven hour trip into the unknown, insular West which was more Benin Republic than Nigeria if the been-tos were to be believed.
Within the first few hours of reporting at school, I quickly learnt that we were being thrust into the deep end. The school – with the requisite mame as long as an arm – was on its last legs, tottering on the edge of the precipice of insolvency. It was massively under-funded, with a new mission head seemingly intent on making it fail and had students who seemed more interested in flirting with the latest batch of Corp members than getting good grades on their SSCEs. I also had an interesting set of Corp members. There was Bukky* – whose Lagos-chic affectations provided good sport for the rest of us (and brought back a few ice cream tubs from the only Mr Biggs place in town) and Musa* who took nominal Muslim to a whole new level complete with nights at the local beer parlour and more than one suspected tryst at the brothel next door.
Thursdays were a special highlight; we would gather at the state secretariat and swap our often very vocal views on the latest Premiership scores whilst pretending to be involved in some community development group or the other. The women by the road side ensured we spent our hard earned allowee on extra spicy akara and fried plantains topped up with a dollop of pepper stew so fiery our eyes would water. It also turned out that my wish to be far from home backfired spectacularly – my mother somehow found a friend of a friend to keep tabs on me and the trip up the road to Tanke every other weekend became a fixture. It helped that they had a son who like me thought DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline were the business, and that Football Manager was a valid reason to offer a full night’s sleep at the altar of a computer monitor.
Eventually, as the service year drew to a close and we began to chase jobs, the physics, math and chemistry refreshers I got from teaching served me in good stead, as did my spiel about mentoring which was made up entirely on the spot.
Reminiscing with my friend and his wife over chicken and coke zero, it all came back to me. I suspect if I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.