The hardest part of the service year isn’t the camp; there everything is directly or otherwise made readily available- accommodation, feeding, activities, recreation, socialization and so on. It’s the few weeks after camp when you’ve been given your PPA allocation and left to find means to settle in unfamiliar territory, that’s when the real stress sets in. When I returned back to Ekiti, after spending around two weeks at home, my first stop was in an Uncle’s place. That’s where my post-camp Ekiti experience commenced and I stayed with him for about two more weeks. Ebi was already back in town. From his BBM display pictures and our chats it seemed he was already having fun and I was in a hurry to join in. Once I had dropped my bag, and spent time I considered ample and respectable enough with my Uncle- who I should state I had no idea existed till I was posted to Ekiti and my Dad told someone who told someone who knew that this guy, whose family ties to my family is so complex I have never really comprehended it, who told the first someone who in turn told my Dad, “Mike is in Ekiti” and so on- I left and went to locate Ebi.
We met at Fajuyi. He had already established a kind of clique comprising of Joy, Jane, Tunde, Yoma, Tive joined in afterwards and Ebi, and luckily I knew all of them so I was hoping to fit right in. He came with Joy and Jane, they had been house searching before my arrival. We entered and climbed the Fajuyi tower which I still believe is one of the coolest spots Ado Ekiti has to offer. Those times were sort of fun. We used to go house searching in the day after which we’ll hangout at a native restaurant and some nights we met in Fajuyi to have a couple of drinks. Unfortunately, the clique’s life span didn’t exceed a month.
I was still debating where to stay. I had the option of staying at Iworoko or nearby places like Osekita. These places were student-environs and I inferred that it would be a perfect place where I could blend in and have fun. The second option was staying in Ado, the capital. Ebi convinced me into choosing Ado- a decision I am still grateful to him for influencing seeing as the school was closed during both internal and nationwide strikes for over nine months of our eleven months stay and those student areas left desolated. I and Ebi paid for and subsequently moved in to ‘Halleluyah Estate Phase One’, a compound with over 31 one room self-contained apartments.
Obviously, I had many neighbors. I made it a point of duty to befriend them all- in that I succeeded. I couldn’t possibly mention them all here, they were all in their own ways awesome neighbors. I had four other corpers in my compound, another joined later and more parked in towards my final months. My row… or ‘Block C’ as it was labelled was preponderantly occupied by Corpers. There was Vwarho on room 2, an outspoken girl… quite troublesome, she took jibes at me more times than I could count, we argued pretty much too but never for long. Then Ebi, you’ve heard the name pretty frequently by now, was next door neighbor on room 4. Then there was me. And after me was Oke, or ‘Teriz’ as she preferred to be called. She’s a quite intriguing personality. Being in my PPA, we were in the same boat and went most times to school or the Local Government together, yet in common conversations we never seemed to agree on anything. The other Corper was Hamza. He rarely was in town, most times travelling back home on weekends, he had a health condition and a doctor’s report to match that absolved him from pretty much everything. But whenever he was around, he seemed to have a never ending pocket. Most evenings, he’ll rally me and as many as he could and we’ll head to a joint where he’ll usually say “Order whatever you want.” And would even urge you to take more should you get tired. More times than not he singlehandedly footed the bill. I’ve said it before, but redundancy is allowed for the purpose of emphasis, my compound mates were a lovely bunch. There were lots of guys, hilarious and jovial. There was A.Y, T.K., Ghani, Jetword, T.Y(Another corper), Mike, Tunde, Gabriel, Abiola, Victor. I used to hang with them pretty often despite the fact that they seldom spoke English and I couldn’t hear squat in Yoruba. Yet, most times I stayed for the atmosphere their company provided, joined in laughing to unheard jokes and once in a while would later plead with someone close to me for an interpretation. Once I went with them to a wedding. Not one single English word was uttered throughout the ceremony and I found myself wondering at the end why I had even bothered coming. The females were also quite receptive. I should state here that my kitchen was devoid of any cooking utensils whatsoever. Ebi cooked quite often and I was most times a willing, even if uninvited, guest. Furthermore, a bakery was right in front of my house, so I rarely lacked breakfast. And even though I also frequented an eatery nearby named ‘Portofino’ if it hadn’t been for my neighborly sweethearts, I might have seen difficult hunger times. There was Quincy, very friendly and one of our closest neighbours, closer though to Ebi than to me. Seun, a shy introvert nurse, not really the outspoken type. I had to go out of my way to force pass the acquaintance zone and she turned out to be quite friendly. I like to think I emancipated her from her shyness with neighbors. Then Sade and Bukky, among the few people who had been in the compound before we moved in. They have two very pretty white dogs. Bose, their neighbor and my compound’s response to Nicki Minaj… Then there’s Yinka and Jummy, at first I thought them snobbish but then scrabble brought us together and then I saw them for the sweethearts that they truly were. We used to play Scrabble quite often, it became like an addiction. I usually won by the way, and no, that’s not just me bragging. Tola, was on my row and Ebi’s next door neighbor. Plump, light skinned and cute, also seemingly soft-spoken always hiding her thoughts behind a pretty smile. Taiwo was another, I hardly even saw her. We became friendly only towards my end in Ekiti. Then there was Remy, tall and busty with a cute calm face. But don’t be deceived, that lady could cough up more Yoruba curses than anybody I’ve ever met, and say it in record time too.
There were other houses outside my compound that felt like home to me. There was Jennifer who stayed in a twin estate to mine, right after the bakery. Oge introduced me to her, probably one of the best things he did for me during the service year. She became my best friend in Ekiti, besides Ebi, and yes that friendship strongly included me frequently being fed by her. Linda and her sister moved in close to us few months to our passing out and she turned out to be way more useful and friendly than I had anticipated. Then there was the Living Faith family house. I’ve never known how or why, but I bonded with those folks like I lived there, and they were very recipient, cordial and loving. Also Tive became a really close ally and once in a while, we went to his house and crashed over- it was a really big house.
My PPA was a rural school, and the prospect of teaching there held no appeal to me. I managed to dodge teaching for over five months and when I did hold the chalk it was limited. When a new Principal was appointed to my school, who was trying to be rigid and strict, I finally went and turned myself in to my HOD for lesson appointment. She decided I’ll assist her in teaching SS2 Physics. I’ve never really understood how I did it- whether it was my always smiling nature or attitude, but I somehow managed to do little or nothing while under her without any complaints and when I did on the rare occasion teach or copy a note for the class, she’ll thank me profusely like I did her a huge favor. I taught twice, after which she suggested that she take one of the periods to teach and I take the other period to copy the notes, I gladly accepted the offer. The few times I entered a class, I offered no smiles to the students. I pointed out to them that I was in no way related to them and so should not be addressed as ‘Uncle’, I would rather be referred to as Corper. I told them I didn’t want Yoruba spoken in my class- that turned out to be a useless instruction since they could seldom speak anything else. I never made a lesson note, never set nor marked any exam or tests either. At one point, the Principal walked me out of his office when I came for my clearance letter because I had no lesson note. His exact words were ‘Get out of my office.’ I returned to his office, fuming and pointing out that he had no right to speak so rudely to me furthermore buttressing that I had been diligent in my teaching duties and lesson notes shouldn’t be the deciding factor. In the end, he apologized and signed my letter and from that day henceforth he referred to me as ‘My Friend’. We never had any conflicts again. Who knows? Maybe my outspokenness scared him.
Due to the distance from my PPA to my LG, we, in my zone were excluded from our various CDS groups and were expected to meet together and form our own nameless CDS. The first time I attended, it was by far the most boring meeting I had been subjected to all my time in Ekiti. Throughout my service year, I only went there thrice. I attended the General CDS meetings for months, till I was informed that it wasn’t compulsory for us who were far from the LG to come. So I stopped and started attending the Ado version which was way more fun and had way more familiar faces. I wasn’t as friendly with Local Government Corpers I should have been, I reflected on that later on and tried to change, but it was probably too late by then.
The rest of my acts in Ekiti are too mammoth to fit into a single blog, and I do intend for this to be the last on this series so I’ll skip through a lot. Some of the juicy stories cannot be written here mostly because they are too private, either for me or for the participants involved. There were parties- lots and lots of parties. House parties, Birthday parties, compound parties… I went to a couple that I had no idea what they were for. On our Passing out night, I and my fellow compound Corpers hosted one in our compound. My compound never seemed to run out of booze too, Ebi and Hamza both had personal collections of wines and spirits that could open up a bar. There were fun trips, Ikogosi the hot and cold spring. They built a vast swimming pool there that was sourced by the hot spring. I’ve been to many pools but never enjoyed swimming as much as when I immersed inside the warm water. Arinta waterfalls was a nice view. Erin Ijesha waterfalls which people claim has seven layers, I only got to see two. I joined the football CDS for a while, they had a coach who seemed to think he was training us for the Olympics. One day I got tired of coming back home with sores and muscle pains and I quit all together. I went night clubbing a couple of times, but the first was… oh that’s a story worth telling.
Hamza approached me one Friday, remember him? The one with the gold mine for a pocket. So he suggested we go clubbing that day. I said it was a great idea, but clubbing isn’t really fun if you don’t go with your own girls. I was a visitor in the town, I had no intention of going to a club and trying to dance up some stranger girl. He said he had already spoken to two neighbors, Remi and her roomie, Yemi. Remi said she’ll have someone pick us up. The ladies took a lavish amount of time preparing, and when they were finally ready and we left the compound, it was a few minutes to one. Before we could make our rendezvous with her ride, we were accosted by police officers on patrol in their pickup van. The officers claimed a robbery had just happened and they were in the process of chasing the thieves, a thinly veiled threat. Remi got loud and abusive, they threatened to arrest us and so I and Hamza announced that we were Corpers showing our ID cards as proof. An advice for anyone presently serving; never fail to use your Corp member identity as a tool against uniformed men. They couldn’t arrest us, they realized, so they took the girls and put them in the van. The man who was to pick us up arrived and saved the day. He took the head officer aside and had discussions that doubtlessly involved naira notes. I and Hamza had erroneously given one of the officers our ID cards. He took us aside and started ‘counseling’ long enough for us to realize he intended to go on for hours unless we of our own free volition gave him a ‘gift’. That we did and were on our way. At the club, Remi seemed to know everybody, from the bouncers to the stony faces… and there were many stony faces suspiciously lurking outside the club gate, however, since I was with her and she seemed to know everyone that mattered, I merely gave them but a fleeting thought. However, she left… without informing us. She called from home with a lousy explanation that she had had to leave because she wasn’t feeling too well. Why didn’t she tell us? She didn’t want to obstruct us from having fun, she said. And have fun we did, till it was past three when we decided to leave…
Outside the gate, those stony faces had increased and were now patrolling in desultory manner. It was obvious they were terrorizing people as they wanted. I saw some pouring drinks on a weeping girl. I saw some carry an unwilling girl to a dark bushy corner. The muscular bouncers at the club gate were turning a blind eye to whatever happened outside their premises. It goes without saying, my heart had defied gravity and climbed up to my mouth. We hurried towards the closest bikeman but before we could get to him three silhouettes appeared in front of us. A guy I had seen Remi greeting earlier, and two other guys who stood quietly behind him, eyes red shitless from excessive weed smoking, all staring at us. He and Yemi exchanged words in Yoruba, I didn’t get much of what she said but she was smiling so I decided… or hoped they were familiar. At some point she held Hamza’s arm and declared him her boyfriend. After a few minutes, he seemed to nod and they left us. We hurried and mounted the bike, three of us on one because we were too scared to delay. The bike had barely moved a few inches when the same guy appeared in the front and stopped him. His voice had gotten harsher as he ordered us to come down. He was with way more than two guys now. I couldn’t count but I saw more than six faces, and they surrounded us. The bike man was grateful when they told him to leave and he hurriedly departed the scene.
Our female companion was no longer smiling, her eyes were filled with fear as she resumed a Yoruba dialogue that sounded more like pleas. The guy in front was looking right at me. I knew exhibiting fear wouldn’t help so I stared back at him with a fake calm smile hoping I could bluff us out of the situation. He addressed me in Yoruba, I couldn’t understand and Yemi was already scared speechless so I replied in English telling him I didn’t understand Yoruba. I knew that wasn’t the ideal time to pull the ‘I’m a Corper’ stunt since that would make them know we were new in the town and would give them confidence to do pretty much what they wanted without fear of any repercussions. However, before I could say another word, I heard Hamza mumbling how we were Corpers and we just came to have fun. I don’t recall what else the Cult dude said, I doubt I was even listening then since he was ranting in a mixture of Yoruba and English slangs. I knew it would all boil down to us giving them money, my fear was how much. Eventually, I took the initiative. I luckily had a N500 note in my pocket, I brought it out in a squeeze and extended my hand to him.
“Just hold this one,” I said.
He stared hard at the note, and after discerning the figure told me to drop it on the ground, which I did. He was about to let us through when some unruly fellow appeared out of the blue with an empty bottle in his hand. The new fellow stared hard at me, and I, keeping up my bluff, stared back at him coolly. Then he started ranting how he was a Benin boy and this was his town. The faces surrounding us seemed to increase like though we were standing for a trial. The others stared with hard with unflinching red eyes, a scary jury. The Benin boy stared down at the money on the floor.
“Who you de drop money for ground for? You de crase?”
I tried to explain it was his partner who had requested it so, but he bellowed loudly and angrily “Pick it up!”
I stared down at the bottle in his hand and dared a look at the people who stood close behind me. The smile departed my lips as fear gripped me. What if I bent down and that bottle landed on my head… I wondered. However, I manned up, gave a lackluster shrug and picked it up. I handed the money to the previous guy. Benin boy stared at our female accomplice and ranted something in Yoruba and before I knew it they were dragging her away. Her eyes were welled with tears and clouded with fear as she pleaded fervently. Ejoh, Emabinu… All the time they ignored, carried her into a car where I saw them put two other pleading girls and the car drove off.
I have never felt so craven in my life. Watching them carry her off and not being able to do anything made me feel so unmanly. They had left us and went on in search of more clients, and with the car gone, we had no option but to take a bike and go home. When we reached home and explained the situation to Remi, she was livid. She kept swearing in Yoruba as she retrieved her phone and made calls upon calls trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the girl. That was probably my longest and worst night in Ekiti as we stayed up, hoping and praying silently. Ebi joined the vigil. I was supposed to travel the next morning, and so was Hamza, however we stayed up waiting. I was scared to hell and back again. What if she doesn’t return? What if something happens to her? What if she turns up dead? My mind had its fill that night playing dirty tricks on me.
She did turn up later in the morning, I didn’t get to ask her what happened till later on when I had returned to Ekiti. According to her, some guy pleaded on her behalf and brought her home. I doubt the credibility of the story, but I was too ashamed over the whole issue so I never tried to probe further. After that, many times when people asked me to accompany them to club, I always said no. It took many months before I went again and by that time, not only did I know enough people to stand my ground, I made sure I had enough people with me to avoid any reoccurrence.
There are probably more stories to tell. I assume some of you might have been hoping for an alluring love tale… I’ll leave that to your creative imaginations to construct. I can’t start name calling, so many beautiful people in so many beautiful ways made my Service an experience worthwhile. Some of you can relate to this, having gone throocess. Some of you would relate to this eventually, when you don on your own whites and shades of green. If you are a prospective Corper it’s probably essential that I state, please, this is in no way a service guide. Don’t try to follow my path. Missing CDS meetings and playing hooky on your PPA could pretty easily get you an extension, and nobody wants that. Honestly, if I had a chance to redo it all, giving the same exact scenario, well… yeah, I’ll still do the same darn thing.
I want to give a special shoutout to my friend Muyiwa Fadare whose blog abluntnigerian.wordpress.com on service actually inspired me to start writing this.
I remember my last days as a Corper. I remember the passing out parade, when I saw many faces I hadn’t seen since March in camp. We were all smiling, happy to be done, and yet… and yet, a part of us quivered at the thought of leaving all these behind, all the friends we had made, all the families we had joined, all the secrets we had shared, and some of us thought with dread at the uncertain future ahead. I remember… oh how I remember. Can I ever forget? I’ll always remember that once upon a time, I was a Corper.