by Ayodele Ibiyemi
I was privileged to have attended a Federal Government College for my secondary education. In the school, I met people from other tribes, fellow Nigerians whose names I found hard to pronounce but it showed me the side of Nigeria many people I know have never seen. From secondary school, whatever tribe bias I held were slowly dispelled. I met bad people from all tribes and good people from all tribes. I realized that a man is a man and a tribe is a tribe.
I was also lucky the second time to have benefited from the Federal Government by attending a Federal University. My school fees in those schools were ridiculously cheap, near free. In my early days in the university, exposure took another dimension, I didn’t only meet people from other tribes, and I met people from outside my country and made friends with them. I began seeing myself as simply a human being first and then a Nigerian, my tribe became secondary.
For some avoidable reasons, I was unfortunate to spend an entire year at home in preparation for the compulsory youth service. The one year gave me time to work at first as a research assistant, and then later as manager of the family farm. After several economy-related postponements, we were eventually called into camp. When I checked my state of deployment and saw Rivers State, I was not sure whether to be happy or be sad, I had mixed feelings. My father, in his characteristic manner, just told me he hoped I won’t be posted to a riverine village.
I had family members who wanted to help me with redeployment, I politely rejected their offers, I told them I was convinced that God wants me in Rivers State. I heard heart-rending stories of brutality against corp members. Just a few months before my deployment letter came; a corp member was mysteriously murdered while on election duty. I also heard tales of kidnappings, militancy and cult violence. Despite all these, I made up my mind to go there and serve my country.
My 11 hours journey to camp was rather uneventful. I only wondered at the amount of forest we have in Nigeria. The journey from Port Harcourt to camp took another hour. The first song I heard from a music store on getting to Port Harcourt is a track by Yoruba Fuji Musician: Saheed Osupa. This amused me and I reminded myself that music is universal. Life in camp was largely uneventful. The first paradox came in the form of petty ethnic alliances. Many people moved with friends from their own tribes. I saw people move in droves speaking the same language. True to my Nigerian self, I made friends with anyone that cared. I teased Hausa soldiers by imitating their pronunciation, I wanted to have fun but camp was a little too wild for me, despite the restrictions.
Another thing that marked my life in camp was reading. I bought books on the Nigerian Civil-War from the mammy Market and read. My knowledge of the war and the coup that preceded it made me admire the late Major-General Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu as a true gentleman soldier and patriot. It was only natural for me to approach a soldier when I heard his colleagues call him Kaduna. I met him and asked why he’s called the name, he said it’s just because he is from Kaduna. I went on to share my admiration of the Late Major-General with him only for me to realize that he doesn’t even know the man. He merely said he has heard Nzeogwu before. I was shocked by his revelation, petrified even. He could feel my shock and simply shrugged. I was amazed that a soldier doesn’t know the history of the armed forces. I then wondered what his response would be if, God forbid we have the events of 1966 replayed.
In the spirit of national unity, I had high hopes for my service year; the scheme also designed all manner of inspirational talks for us to take to our places of primary assignment. In contrast to the unity that took me to the state, the state coordinator announced to us that 98% of us will have to teach because there is a state legislative law that mandates all corp members to teach. Upon investigating, I realized that the State made the law to ensure that the jobs available are reserved for the indigenes, whether qualified or not. I don’t mind teaching secondary school students but I only wondered what professional graduates like Engineers, Surveyors, Biochemists and the likes who have no flair for teaching will do. After this, the thought of going back to the South West crossed my mind.
I was lucky to be posted to the State owned Technical College in the industrial area of Port Harcourt, the state capital. You can imagine my disappointment when I realized that I had been posted to the slum part of the industrial area. I settled down in the spirit of national unity again and got down to business immediately. Life in the school sickened me daily, I tried all I could to encourage the students but it was very hard for me. Some of their teachers were owed salaries for up to four months, some don’t even bother to come to work anymore while some come but don’t teach at all. Basically, corp members ran the school.
I was also warned not to beat my students, whatever they do because they can attack me. I had no choice but to keep them at bay. I started speaking to them individually and I realized the effect of peer pressure. The good ones cannot afford to be good for the risk of being attacked or bullied.
Inside the college is a slum that reminds me of Ajegunle of the old days. The people live in shanties; they have water running past their doorsteps because there are no drainages. They seemed happy to live that way, I wondered how they got there but I simply watched them. I thought the slum inside the college was worse until I went to the closest bus stop to the college; Slaughter bus stop. In Slaughter, people live under tents. Some sleep in their shops, it’s a gory sight to behold. The place is actually a slaughter slab, the largest in the state.
Another thing I discovered about the area is that people ride very nice cars. Cars one would ordinarily not see just anywhere in the South West, expensive trucks like Ford Raptor and Honda Ridgeline. Vehicles like Mercedes Benz G Wagon are common place right in the midst of poverty. One day, I also saw an estate right behind the college. The estate has two gates; the compound is manned with CCTV cameras. There is another estate like that not far from the college; they also have a very tight security. The people who stay in these estates are the cream of the crop. It amazes me how wealth could survive right in the midst of such poverty.
Amidst all these madness, the noble ideas I brought from home evaporated in no time. I was bored sore that I started counting days to passing out from my first month. I realized that I had become just a regular corper. I fought that ordinariness and searched online for conferences to attend. Eventually, my zeal was restored when I attended the alumni meeting of my University, I also met wonderful people, and I realized that not everyone in Port-Harcourt is a militant anyway. I volunteered for a Non-Governmental Organization and I was amazed by the Yoruba settlement around. The Muslims even have a mosque where they speak Yoruba. They have shows where Fuji musicians perform; I was reminded of life in Ibadan.
Things are bad in the school where I teach, even worse in my area but I made a decision to touch individual lives. I now teach my students the Sustainable Development Goals; I also attend the meetings of their Drug Free Club. I realized that the difference between life in the South-West and life in the South-South is that people in the South West are always fighting. People in the South-South fight too but a lot of anomalies have become norms for them. Most people just live by the day; at least, even militants get paid. I am trying to leave the city better than I met it, one paradox at a time.
This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.
We publish, un-edited, Nigerians telling the stories of their everyday lives. Read all the narratives daily on the Nigerian Voices vertical. You can also contribute your own story titled ‘Nigerian Voices’ to [email protected]