Once A Corper; Diary of Ayodeji Lancaster (Part X)


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Times when NYSC and Hope Waddell Management delayed our “allowee” and emolument respectively, we were forced to manage; and by so doing adopted “Ma’ma“, the under-the-mango-tree food seller, as our unofficial cook. With less than a dollar, you can get your stomach filled with Rice, tomato stew with onions (shy of pepper), plantain, sometimes the bland-never-delicious moi-moi and fried fish big enough only for the eye of a needle. We had meat few times which mostly fell on days we had less than a dollar to spend on brunch.

In a lot of ways she tried for us as we had to, sometimes, buy on loan. We had two Ma’mas. The slim, gammer, unappealing looking one with food of more quantity than quality and the chubby, youthful looking one with good quality food but small quantity. On a very hungry-stricken noon, both food taste better than KFC chicken or the mouthwatering fried rice of Mr. Biggs. And I’ve always believed food usually taste like the cook; in the case of these two wonder-full hash slingers, I was never wrong.

The school, luckily, has a gardener; the farmer who works on the school farm on salary. But then he wouldn’t need his meagre salary because he had already learnt Oga’s “survival” tricks and way of “making it in life”. Quite comfortably, he luxuriated in filching the school palm oil produce. Myriad times, I caught him walking off with large quantities of the produce while carefully keeping them somewhere around the school fence till the school “dismiss” for the day, only to bring a truck to move his spoils later. But with all the purloining, he didn’t look any better than Mistoka who was receiving the smallest “decent” paltry salary. It reminds me of my village where there’s an adage cum prayer often recited by everyone, the good and the bad. “Ise kekere, owo nla” meaning small work (effort), big gain (profit). No disrespect but he and Mistoka had a really hard time getting their own prayers answered.

Papa, the frail old guard ended up a maid of all work. From carrying chairs to locking of doors and laboratory to locking of gate and arranging of hall for PTA, his job description was so obscure and complicated, even to him. He never knew his jurisdiction neither was he able to pinpoint his duty, he did everything painstakingly. Luckily, he never taught a class nor drove the rickety school bus or so I think. If truly driving is fun, I can bet the school bus driver wasn’t having any at all. He became Oga’s personal driver as he was seen, even during weekends and holidays, driving Oga and whoever and whatever Oga deems fit. And he had his own fair share of contumelies out of Oga’s overflowing lots.

Service year was going well according to plan, though I was living a sort of boring triangular life. School – Market – Lodge (Corper’s). I had ample time to build my gluttony skills as far as good food is concerned. The duo of Anu and Segun fed me a lot of times: God bless them. May and her kitchen weren’t best of friends; I can count how many times she cooked, probably because she wasn’t so good a cook or because she was saving to buy her first car or her first trip to Space.

Yes, I like food, I do but to clear the air, I don’t fall into the wain of people who live to eat. I eat to live and I try to make it worth it because as diminutive as it may seem, it is a great sacrifice. On the cross, I was made to believe Christ Jesus died for my sins. And in my pots, plants and animals died for my survival, they gave their lives for me to live.

On one of the humdrum, hot Friday noons at the LG Secretariat, while we waited for our ever-late Zonal Inspector (ZI) to come so we could sign the month’s PV (Payment Voucher), I met her again. Her; as in the pretty lassie who sat seats away from me while heading to NYSC camp months earlier. She gave me the I-have-seen-you-before stare and I responded. I reminded her of what she already knows yet feigning ignorance. She was happy we met again and it was all to see in her erubescent smile. More than anything, I was convinced she actually winked at me at the Park.

We exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch henceforth since, fortunately, her PPA is quite nearby; Okagwe, a village where PHCN, maybe due to laziness, fear or favour, forgets to perform their “let there be NO light” miracles for days unending. Luckily just few kilometres away from Amaekpu where I was serving.

After chatting, incessant phone calling and texting for days running into weeks, we got really close and she, obviously sure I was crushing on her, suggested that we meet face to face and I, the awesome Ayodeji Lancaster should do the honours of asking her hand for a relationship. It was a great moment, a dream come true. My “girl-from-the-bus” eventually became my “girl”.

Within three days, the relationship wrecked due to an unfortunate misconstruing. Heartbroken as I was, I tried to move on. As usual. By virtue of luck, fate, destiny or whatever, we found our ways back into each other’s arms and stayed glued in the warmth embrace for three months.

The three month relationship was one of the best I ever had. The special bond, the connections we had and bred, the good food, the romance and all made it the best three months of my life – as at then. She is very brilliant and intelligent and I, being a sapiosexual being, fell head over heels.

Everything in life, good, bad and the ones that failed to rise to the level of being either good or bad has a beginning and as well an end, including life itself. Quite unfortunately, the sweet romance ended up a nine-day wonder. While thinking of the future ahead of us, we realized a lot of differences we neither couldn’t bear nor tolerate and we decided to do the honourable thing of calling it quits before someone or both of us gets hurt.

Tough decision it was, but it was worth every sleepless night it cost. We took solace in the good memories we made and forged ahead as “just friends“; though as highly expected in this clime, it was short-lived.

Once your intelligence and your innocence are available to you, just like two wings, the whole sky is yours. There are no more boundaries for you. I shifted my focal lens to other stuffs and people. I re-ignited the already dead flames of the school’s Literary Club and it would have been a success if I had some support from anywhere; corpers and or members of staff. While it lasted, I was inspired to write a few poems, some articles and motivated some members to romance with their pens. And it turned out that, a good percentage of the members had deep rooted love for reading and were glad to be introduced to writing. Though the school’s time table had enough space to expend on daily devotion in the dilapidated building used as assembly ground, not a fraction of a second was spared for Literary Session and I didn’t have the power to force it to happen not, even after I met with the principal. This made it impossible to organize a debate, drama or book reading session and it became the flood that eventually quenched the little blooming fire.

With little or nothing to do aside teaching Chemistry, I had superabundant time to play WHOT; almost everyday, with Segun and Anu and sometimes May. Twice I, not wanting to seem too pious, followed the guys to the tavern albeit I took no liquor. In the home where I was born and raised, ale houses are NO-GO areas. We are not allowed to visit anywhere alcohol is being served. Though, one time I followed my best friends in University to a popular Town End Suite. Aside my mother’s aversion for -OH, I have my reasons for not frolicking around bars and it didn’t bother more on my morality or the fact that I am a teetotaler. In actual sense, I stay off because I’m a chronic misocapnist.

The two times I followed my friends, Anu and Segun, were fun. One time I had Nkwobi (goat leg) and some bottles of chilled malt drink. Then the other time I was served “african salad”. Nutritious, yes, but I’ve never tasted anything more acrid. Baba was feasting on voraciously as if it were pure natural honey. So much for our diverse taste buds. Thankfully, these awesome guys made my service year fun. The yackety-yacks, discussions, games and food made it all an unforgettable experience. Service year would have sucked to high heavens if not for these gentlemen.

With the MEN

I had another friend I made in camp. Funnily, we met first on the NYSC Facebook wall even before leaving for camp and later unknowingly and coincidentally, became bunk mates in Malabo Republic. This dude, Kunle Obadina, though got posted to a theological seminary a bit far from my “village”, came visiting once. It ended up a fun filled, game-filled weekend.

All in all, NYSC is now history. All said and done. Left are just memories. Memories of places, people and events. These memories will linger forever in my mind. How will I ever forget visiting my very naughty friend, Seun Awobade in Okon-Aku village with a dead phone and almost dead iPad hoping to fill my belly to stupor and charge my devices only for the “light guys” to “do their usual wonder” until I was on the bike returning home? How can I, a chronic avian lover and food enthusiast, ever forget Ngozi Farms in Amibe where I get “cheap” full chicken for as low as #500 or the very nice attendant, Elijah, who sometimes give me extras? Alzheimer’s disease will rather take my life than the memories of the time spent happily with my ex in Imo state and “my girl” at Okagwe or the weekend, Tayo Babalola, my then newly adopted sister came a-visiting all the way from Umuahia where she was serving. Will I ever forget the day I almost got in a physical brawl with one SS2 clodpoll during the Chemistry exam? Will I ever lose the memories of tree climbing with my chicken friend, Maryam? Amnesia will do more than the needful before I can ever forget Oga’s parting words saying he never knew we were Yorubas before he hired us; apparently, he wouldn’t have if he was intelligent enough to know we bear core Yoruba names.

May, she just couldnt resist the awesomeness.

May, she just couldn’t resist the awesomeness.

These memories will live and outlive me. NYSC gave me the chance to meet new set of people – diverse and different and I’m glad to have made the decision to serve the country.

Years back, months after we lost a colleague and a lot other innocent youth corps members up North to post election violence, I lent my voice to the discourse on how NYSC has failed us all even though I was yet to serve. In a piece I titled “NYSC, from my own view”, my friend Adewale “Sailheat” Sanusi dittoed Naomi Lucas by “reserving their comments” till I experience the “under the sun and in the rain” exercise. So now, over to you guys, this is a bit of my experience, this is my Diary.

My opinions cease to change. I still hold on to the belief that NYSC should either be scrapped or be well managed. A larger percentage of corps members have and are still having experiences they can’t write about. Some are still in volatile areas where they are prone to terrorist attacks, rape, kidnapping and other threats to their lives.

Anything worth doing at all is what doing well. I do pray Mr. Jones or whoever succeeds him and their wagons of policy makers have a rethink and review the scheme and most importantly revisit the monthly allowance of #19,800 being paid to these “hapless” youths.

To Ishana, the supreme unseen power who kept me, to my family who stood by me and my friends who supported me, I say a big “KA”.



E seun.

Thank You

Once A Corper; Diary of Ayodeji Lancaster (Part IX)


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Austin isn’t totally fair and square. He is neither flawless nor impeccable. He’s a stereotypical Nigerian. He wanted change so badly. He didn’t like most of the things happening around the school, he wanted to change a lot of things but he was, by a long chalk, incapacitated. More like him against the world. I felt his pain. I saw through his eyes, countless times, the agonizing torment and disappointment he was passing through. At the end of each staff meeting, he had to succumb to the final decision(s) made by the school’s Dictator even if he doesn’t agree with them. In democracy, the crazy ones can win as long as they are the majority.

Another place, another time, we would have been best of friends. Time and other factors deterred us from having a personal relationship but I can swear that deep down, we had utmost respect for each other beyond the expected camaraderie. He knew I frown at exam malpractice, yet he gave it a long shot to have me on his team but my ideology drew us apart and I never succumbed. In some way, it must have hurt him a little or maybe deeply especially when I turned down my share of the proceeds from the “help” rendered for the Chemistry practical, but we both moved on, pretending to be cool.

Our Oga, “Elder” Uduma, a sleeping partner and carbon copy of our beloved Ebora Owu, isn’t totally bad after all. Though agelast, I caught him smiling twice during my ten month stay. I can careless about what people think of my opinion, but that man is the most tribalistic, “Yorubaphobic” person I ever met in my life. But he was not a hypocrite, at least in that perspective. He never hid his deep rooted distaste for us. Somehow, Anu found a way into his heart as he gave him the title cum epithet “Chief Anu“. He was almost close to Maryam too but due to Maryam’s naturally talent for rudeness; he had no choice than to hate her. Yes, he hated her and he never hid that too. An unfortunate incidence shed more light on it and brought to the fore what we all have been guessing. The incident removed all existing doubts.

May, the ever-active, zealous Business Studies teacher was, at one of the few staff meetings, “begged” by Oga to teach Commerce “for the mean time” pending the time he “gets a teacher”. She wasn’t her usual self that day, so she accepted. I’m not a clairvoyant but somehow I knew it won’t end well. The normal rude Maryam I know and have come to love would have rejected the offer there and then without batting an eyelid. The arrangement, however, went on smoothly for a complete term. She shuttled between teaching JSS 1-3 Business studies and SS1-3 Commerce without an extra pay or worse still a “thank you”. Then there came the day in the new term that she hinted me she wasn’t going to teach Commerce again, I knew she was reaching for the hot water yet saw reasons with her and gave her all the needed confidence and support and all hell was let loose. Oga, in his usual temperament, felt disrespected and without blinking twice, fired her on the spot.

Confused as we all were and in solidarity, we boycotted teaching for few hours before returning back to work. Well, that was after Pastor Okali came in as a mediator.

Oga wasn’t satisfied with just relieving her of her job, he went as far as addressing a letter to the ZI (Zonal Inspector) and also copied the State Coordinator of NYSC; thanks to our timely intervention, he never got to post them. His aversion for her was so obvious for all to see as he kept screaming at the top of his voice, spewing spits and venom that he will “teach her a lesson she will never forget”.

Though I love both the truth and my friends, piety requires me to honor the truth first. Of a truth, May should have acted less rudely and should have gone to him directly to inform him of her decision to breach their earlier contract instead of boycotting class and ordering the hapless students to go meet Oga to “give them a new teacher”. If I were him, I would be angry too but yet act maturely since the claim that Maryam “isn’t as old as his children”; a claim I never got to verify even after I met the children. I simply forgot to ask them to present their original birth certificate to buttress Oga’s claim.

He threatened me too that I can leave the job in solidarity with Maryam whom they all thought to be romantically involved with me due to our closeness. Hysterically, I laughed at his folly but went on to plead with him, not to retain May’s services but for him not to go the extra miles of reporting to the authority as it was not needed. Luckily, the case got resolved and we all moved on like it never happened.

Our path crossed again; me and the principal, this time it was almost violent with harsh words and vituperations flying everywhere, freely and uncontrolled. It happened while I was trying to assume the duty assigned to me as the exam (WAEC) invigilator for Lit-in-English. I wasn’t going to accept bribe nor tolerate any malpractice. I seized a paper brought in by one of the mercenaries and went on to have a word with the supervisor that I won’t be a part of the usual business.

Mistoka, on seeing my seriousness, ran like someone under the influence of some local charm to Oga’s office and reported me. Oga rushed in screaming, shouting, crying and wailing like a prophet who after saving the whole world saw his name in block form on the A-list of hell. He mumbled some words in a language I don’t understand. Then one of my ears caught the words “stupid” and “fool” used together in same line with his finger pointing at me. Hell no, I couldn’t take it. I told him “I’m not the stupid person here as I was only trying to do the job I was assigned to do, an exam invigilator”. I knew it was going to hurt; nobody has ever had the effrontery to reply Oga anytime he’s angry; not even the very old guard whom he, as a hobby, insults every day. I opened the gate of hell. He shouted, screamed, sweated, lost some water and maybe some blood dried up too as he watched my beautiful behind walk majestically out of the hall, leaving him in his own pool of sorrow.

Little said is soon amended. There’s always time to add a word, never to withdraw one. I saw no point trading verbal jabs with him because, frankly, I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.

In the words of Aristotle, suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through the greatness of mind. We all chose to make fun of everything. And special thanks to the students, especially the brilliant and the responsible ones who made teaching a beauty, the stay was enjoyable. I mingled with them all as I usually do anywhere I find myself. I made friends with quite a number of the junior students and some responsible ones in the senior secondary. The undiluted friendship almost got misconstrued by one SS 2 female student who got my number from my favourite student in the junior class. She called to familiarize and later sent a text declaring interest in becoming my “friend”. “Well, I’m everybody’s friend” was my honest reply before I gave her a long boring talk about “friend”-ship the next day.

One, I’m not her type, she ain’t mine. What makes up the whole part of my body isn’t up to half of one of her laps. Two, it’s an abuse of position to be intimate with my student and Three; we are talking of a dirty, unrepentant, not-so-intelligent nor brilliant, nineteen-year-old-mother-of-two. No disrespect to her, she lost focus a long time ago and got too busy for a search and rescue mission. Well, even Guilder Ultimate Search team will come back empty-handed from such mission.

Other students didn’t cross the “red-line” again; at least as far as being “friends” was concerned. We maintained our “how are you?” – “Ka sir” relationship and we were all happy. Ka in Ohafia is a “gbogbonise” word that denotes all forms of greetings known to man. It ranges from Good morning/afternoon/evening/night to thank you, well done etc. It’s simple “Ka”.

Like every school, from Cambridge to Yale to Harvard to Ivy League schools with equal students, it’s a norm that some students are more equal than the other. Though I don’t discriminate, well I hardly do, except you’re on a path to self-destruct.

One of the brightest minds, Chukwuemeka, who later and quite sadly so, became a religious bigot caught my attention. He had the zeal, the focus and virtually all that was needed to be a bright student but for the uncomfortable environment. Then another one, this time a female, Uka Chidera Igwe, caught my attention. Though not equipped with the best learning paraphernalia, she simply was a primus inter pares. The way she speaks the lingua franca, though still a bit tainted with the “oyel” accent, was clear and simple. She’s the most brilliant of her classmates and had a fine face coupled with a very beautiful smile. Enough said. Like twice or more, she offered me water leaves, which I gladly accepted and added as my edikang ikong integrant.

Eke Sunny Eke is the brightest and most promising mind in the school, my opinion though. His inquisitiveness, though most times piss Maryam off, is one of the qualities I like. It reminds me so much of my childhood, I was like him. He is intelligent, brilliant, focused and quite hard working. Myriad times, I’ve had to wonder what such promising lad is doing in the paradoxical international school. Though in JSS 1, he’s about the neatest student in the school and his handle of the Queen’s language aced Chidera’s by a mile.

Nobody is useless, not totally. A lot of students, most especially the ones in the hoosegow they chose to call “boarding house” were very useful and I’m eternally gratefully to them. Likes of Obioma Frank and Emmanuel Eke. They filled my boring, idle, long weekends with games – sports mostly. Either we are balling on the field, dribbling and scoring like a maestro or slamming on the volley ball court like a super star. Unknown to them, I had no prior knowledge on anything related to volley ball. All the skills I displayed or they thought I possessed were garnered there on the court while most were mere flukes.

Once A Corper; Diary Of Ayodeji Lancaster (Part VIII)


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From time immemorial, it is a norm that ladies make friends with other females faster than guys do with other guys. I can talk to a dude for one week without knowing his name or possible point of contact, unlike ladies who quickly fill up their phone memory cards with pictures taken with all the ‘new friends’ they just made. As expected, Corper May brought home two female friends, Damola and Juliet. Interestingly, I’ve met them before and have actually had a short date with the former and have had a brief chatter with the latter.

Juliet Mordi was more convivial, effervescent and more affable than Damola and it didn’t take filling an online form, following her on Twitter or sending a friend request before we became friends. Juliet seemed too long a name to us, so we pruned it to Jules. Among other things, Jules and I had our insatiable hunger for meats in common (her chubby cheek is enough to paint a picture that represent a thousand and one words). She claimed to be a good culinarian; a claim I later found to be half-truth judging by my set of bragable cooking skills.

Over time, Jules became an integral part of our everyday life, as no day passed by without we either seeing or gossiping her. Her default insult “nincompoot” was nothing but pure epicness. She proved to be quite pertly but sometimes can be very pesky; a pain in our rather narrow behinds.

...With Juliet Mordi

…With Juliet Mordi

With the emergence of Jules, service year got a bit more fun with her ingenious introduction of antiquated yet classic games. We played the game of “Name – Food – Animal – Place – Thing” of good memories. Rib cracking it left us as we all tried to spell non-existing, cockamamie and far-fetched words with the alphabet “X” because it was almost infeasible for any of us, smart as we were, to think of an animal, food and a place that starts with “X”. Thanks to Mr. Xi, our imaginary Chinese friend, whose pets we all wrote as animals as Xi-dog, Xi-cat etc. After it became trite, we advanced to playing “TIME FACTOR“, a game whereby one of the players asks for types of “anything” and also bells the cat by citing his/her example while others follow suit. Whoever is caught slow or with an incorrect answer will be gifted the alphabet “T” followed by “I” then “M” until s/he completes the word TIME FACTOR and exit the game, graduating dishonorably. And we played WHOT, my favorite. All lasted till we resumed our official duties as teachers at our respective “international” schools.

Back to Hope Waddell, I’ve met with three of the teachers earlier in December but had to officially meet them again; though we still didn’t hug nor shake hands. A man referred to as Pastor Okali is one of the teachers and he, interestingly, doubled as the school’s Dean of Studies; a great figurehead position. Arua Idika, who bestowed on himself the distinctive title of a knight -“Sir”- and being popularly called (Sir) Nnanna, is one of the who’s who in the school, though just a teacher. He claimed to be a disciplinarian but, sometimes, he was miles away from being one. He’s a mortal, palpably ridden with above-average foibles. I wasn’t totally disappointed because I barely knew him and wasn’t expecting much. Expectedly, I didn’t see much.

Elder Kalu, a retired government worker, is another teacher. Almost as frail as the school guard, he taught more than three subjects though he spent the larger part of each day sitting at his desk in the staff room, like someone suffering from acute ergophobia. There is a female teacher, Ijeoma, who doubled as the School Librarian. We talked to each other only a few times throughout the service year. Then there is another teacher who came close to being a friend, Amaju Chiegozie known better as (Sir) Austin. He was the most active of all the staffs there and always tried to make his “honest” opinion count during staff meetings without fear or favour unlike other members of staff who always turn to a Yes-man once the principal is there. However, Austin is also the one in charge of the school Exam “Malpractice” Board.

Mr. Uka, whose name when called by fellow teachers and students sounded more like “Mistoka”, is another element in the school periodic table. He taught every single class in the school, from the Junior class to the Senior ones, different subjects and ironically he failed to see the pun in being giving the honorary position of the school’s “Labour Master”- a post he held dear to his heart. Of a truth, no one else better fits the office. There are part-time teachers, likes of Mr. & Mrs. Ojo and Reverend Uma, who had a not-so-bright kid in the school, as well as the Igbo teacher whose name I can hardly pronounce nor spell.

Obviously, the school was short-staffed and the few ones employed were overworked and underpaid. Well, according to rumours, they were doing most of them undeserved favours.

Pastor Okali & Elder Kalu are retirees on the wrong side of sixty. “Mistoka” never graduated, or so we heard. The part time agents (teachers) were all on now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t mission. The pillars of the school were rested on the spent shoulders of the two knights, Sir Nnanna and Sir Austin and we, the corps members; five of us. Corper Anu taught SS1-3 Biology, Segun taught JSS1-3 Social Studies, May taught JSS1-3 Business Studies before she, rather unfortunately, got SS1-3 Commerce added to her migraine. Jane, before she left, was bitterly “enjoying” teaching SS1-3 Literature in English while I was angrily running from classroom to laboratory teaching SS1-3 Chemistry and pretending to be enjoying it. And the principal, our Oga, was assiduously frolicking with the school bus up and down doing what only the gods knew. And even the gods would wonder why.

Since it is an International school, one would have thought we will be well paid but reverse was the case; as none of us, corps members, were paid enough to have excess to recharge our phones or pay for our monthly Blackberry subscriptions and with no extra benefit whatsoever. Unlike our colleagues in other schools, we were never offered food stuffs and interestingly none of the parents or the Presbyterian Church running the school ever offered us the slightest, smallest sachet of water. What made me really proud of it all is, none of us complained nor gave a darn about the benefits. As far as we were concerned, a poor man isn’t he who has little, but he who needs a lot. They were poor and poor they remained.

The school authority/community selcouth nonchalance toward us, corps members, didn’t, in any way, deter us from discharging our duties actively and even gave out of the little we had. Anu and Segun had a truck-load of school kids they feed almost every good afternoon, I had mine and May and Jane had theirs.

It was hard for us to decipher who to blame for the gross under payment because it affected the entire staff. Even our ventripotent “Oga” wasn’t getting anything worth writing about. His protuberant belly was being successfully maintained by his continual thievery and side looting of the little fund available to the school. And he, at least once, made money on our (corps members) names. Ignominiously, he lied that he paid some somehow huge amount for our first meal, of which not a sachet of water for offered to us. We were shocked on sighting it on the school already prepared voucher, but it was too early for me to start my activism, so I kept quiet and joined the host of other sorry members of staff in the “siddon-look” state.

Elder Kalu appeared to be very reserved. He will forever have my respect. Pastor Okali, almost on the other hand, had a mouth bigger than the hippos. He was always making promises he never had any intention of fulfilling like a die-hard politician that he wasn’t. Always ranting and screaming and shouting about the principal’s thievery acts but turns a vegetable the very instant he steps in. He never had the balls or maybe, as a godly man, he rather left his battles for the Lord to fight. As far as I was concerned, the fear and or respect he had for his boss beclouded his sense of reasoning. He never questioned any of Oga’s hideous acts. He never spoke a word against him in his presence; he kept nodding Yes – Yes to everything.

Sir Nnanna is worse. Worse because there’s nothing I hate more than sheer hypocrisy. He never stopped calling the principal unprintable names. “He’s a fool”. “He’s an idiot”, “Ewu” (meaning goat) “Onyeberibe” (meaning a mad man) he kept calling him; but Yes Sir, Yes Sir he was saying to him, head bowed, with his intoxicating cachinnation renting the air. Such element chickened to the bare bones.

At first, he appeared to be a decent no-nonsense man but all that soon changed as we got to know him. Not once, not twice, I caught students sneaking “waso” or a bottle of 7up into his waiting palms moment it dawned on them that they were going to fail the continuous assessment test. He offered that I join his Jamb tutorial classes as a Biology/Chemistry teacher but I declined because of his hanky-panky. I’m not a saint, I’m not claiming to be one but some things are just not worth the guilt.

Aside from the fact that he turned a number of students into half-baked, overnight journalists by always asking them to write reports over any issue whatsoever just to satisfy his insatiable thirst to be at the bottom of everything, he brought a number of sports to the school and always, in his own little way, made some of our Saturdays lively with football matches, aerobics and volley ball. Obviously, he wanted to be close to us, corps members, but I and every other members had our individual and collective reasons for staying at arm’s length. Mine was basically because of his hypocrisy and hocus-pocus. The way he was swinging between diverse parties made him a snollygoster to the level that his fellow knight warned us never to believe anything he (Nnanna) says.

Once A Corper; Diary of Ayodeji Lancaster (Part VII)


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Surprisingly, Anu went to same university as I, though we never met nor heard of each other because we were in different departments; worse still different campuses over two hours drive apart. He’s from the largest city in Western Africa but claimed the centre of excellence.

Easily one of the coolest dudes I ever came across, Anu proves the generalization that “all OSU boys are touts” wrong. I do not know whatever standard is used in judging nor the characters needed before one can be tagged a ladies’ man, but whatever the standard is, Anu is a complete ladies’ man. Tall and built; though not in muscles, with more than enough beards than that which I spent more time and resources breeding and yet little or nothing to show for it. I would and could have nominated him for Mr. Nigeria but for a broken front tooth. And that is the flattery

He’s affable and quite social; though it takes more than 40 days of dry fasting and fervent prayers before he can finish a bottle of Star; not even when he had boasted of drinking three or four bottles at one sitting. I don’t know much about his relationship with the opposite sex and even if I do, I won’t say much lest I get sued for infringement of privacy. Albeit I’ve not met any man who doesn’t have affection for the opposite sex and he’s not an exemption. After all, he’s a working class, young and promising dude who can speak the Queen’s language perfectly. What’s not to like about him?.

Segun is the second guy; he hangs in the balance of being fubsy and not being fubsy. He acts and speaks in an elderly manner and we didn’t blink twice before forcing the epithet “Baba” (Father) on him, though he protested against it close to a thousand times. I recall he threatened to smack my face one evening when I called him that; which did little to deter me as I was having my little fun and nothing or nobody could stand in my way.

Baba isn’t different from every normal guy I know or met before and during service year. The fellow from the Sunshine state is good-humored and quite friendly though can be stubborn and sarcastic when having a heated argument. One of the hallmarks of being a man is the deep-rooted character of always wanting to be heard, reasoned with and proven right most, if not all the time. Segun and I aren’t much different in that perspective.

Sitting under the mango tree almost every evening playing WHOT, we invented numberless slang and lingoes, discussed lot of issues of varying topics and made lot of memories. While playing WHOT, I remember how Anu and I used to lobby to sit on the defensive side of him (Baba) just because it has been proven over time to be the weak link. You can be sure not to lose out when he’s the one playing the offensive. He’s a big fan of my culinary skills and his funny way of calling me ‘Copa Shola’ while sending a wink across just because my Egusi soup is sending some nice signals across his olfactory nerves still echoes.

Then comes Maryam, the sweetest, finest, hottest and the prettiest female corper in the lodge. Well, she’s the only female corper staying in the lodge and thereby won those descriptive unopposed. I spent the largest part of my service year with her. Though not in her arms as some may think but always together in the staff room, my room, her room, our different kitchens, in the market, at the secretariat for CDS (Community Development Service) and every other place you could think of. I was technically her aide de camp; always following her everywhere aside bathroom and NCCF. I became a stumbling block for some wannabe lovers because they felt or think I’m her man.

In ten months, I spent more time with her than I did my ex live-in lover of 14 months. As expected, we didn’t just have sweet memories. There are epic moments, honey mixed memories, super great periods and a number of sour ones too. I learnt some stuffs about ladies from her – though I still hold firm, the belief that no two persons are the same character-wise. I made her the standard unit of so many feminine characters and abilities. If there’s a girl somewhere who can’t cook better than May, it sure means she’s a terrible cook because she’s not half the cook that I am. She got it right a couple of times though. One was when she made yam porridge which I had to sneak into her kitchen to steal some more from after eating two plates; though her definition of ‘plate’ isn’t the same as mine.

Restoring my brain to “factory settings” with blank memory left, I’ll still be able to write nothing less than 998 pages about her and every line will bear a true depiction of who she is. She’s a lady, a good one, though flawed like every other mortal. She has a switch that swings between being nice and not being nice at all. I relate with her like she’s my little sister because in actual sense I’m old enough to be her uncle or better still her elder brother, and always try my best to be there for her. Sometimes I excelled at it, other times I failed in woeful proportions.

I do not feel bad in any way whatsoever when I call her names like “Olori poopo” meaning big head or when I remodifyed her name Maryam into Moriamo – the typical yoruba version of her name. No disrespect to her, what she lacks in bosom, she got in her spontaneous and funny laughs. She’s brilliant, though not the kind that comes first in every class like our parents. Everybody is unique I believe, so I’ll say she’s just Maryam, nothing more. Though ridden with some obvious imperfections, she’s still a lot of people’s dream girl – I’m awake though – and some other people’s wife material going by their varying standards.

From L-R: May, Anu, Segun & I

From L-R: May, Anu, Segun & I

For three weeks or thereabouts, a dear friend and fellow corps member squatted with me because he was still on the ultimate search to get a place of primary assignment that wasn’t forthcoming. Osogbiye Tunde, OJB and I came a long way though we weren’t so close then. He was one of corpers I took bus with from Lagos to camp and coincidentally landed in the same Malabo hostel and shared bunks not far apart. Our path crossed again when we took same bus from camp to our LG, (Ohafia) when camp signals went off the radar. Cool buddy studied Computer science and was a classmate of my sweet friend Bolaji. Time spent together was fun all the way and chores, since divided, were finished before they even started.

At the same period Tunde was with us in the lodge, Bolanle, my ex platoon mate and friend was staying with Maryam. The lodge became something one could call a ‘full house’, though it was shortlived. Bola was my friend and later became May’s crony and partner in silent gossips and loud gists. The taste of the vegetable she made on our first night in the lodge lived on my bud for a week and more. With all of us together, it was a full happy house with neither fuji nor commotion.

From L-R: Bolanle, Tunde, Maryam & I

From L-R: Bolanle, Tunde, Maryam & I

The school became a tad interesting when I found out there was another corper. This time a corper a batch ahead of me. Because she was the only corper around, she couldn’t live in the lodge all alone so she got her own apartment in the heart of the community far away from the school. Her name is Ochiabuto Jane, a female and yes, an Igbo girl. Someone arguably told me sometimes ago that Ibo girls from either Anambra or Imo are the finest and prettiest, she simply proved him right.

Jane has this beautiful smile that you need no CIA resource or FBI agents to dig deep into how she got her moniker ‘Jane Smiles’. As much as I love to be economical with the word ‘very’, I can’t but say she’s very kind, nice, quite generous and surprisingly for a lady having such character in such a good body, she’s down-to-earth. I was deeply elated when I heard she has a Bachelor’s Degree in English Language even before we met officially but this same source broke my heart when he told me she’s married. Now, a fine line was drawn between getting close and being just friends and I didn’t cross it for a second. I found the first information to be true, but didn’t bother verifying the second. It wasn’t my place to dig into people’s private lives or background when they don’t want to talk about it.

She looked too sweet to be married; not that I hold the belief that married ladies aren’t sweet, and I always give her the stare I give to single ladies, the pretty and smart ones I mean. Seeing her each day, she always remind me of my sweet little sister, Iyanuoluwa,with her addiction to biscuit, chocolate, candy and the likes. She kept offering all these items to me though, sadly, I kept turning her offers down because I’m not really a big fan of snacks and other sweet junkies. For all the many months we spent together, we failed to discuss writing, poetry or any literature related topic. But there’s one thing I love, it’s the way my name sounds whenever she calls me “Shola”.

After we got settled in our PPA, it dawned on us how lonely and secluded we are from the town and the need for us to make friends outside our box became imperative.

Once A Corper; Diary of Ayodeji Lancaster (Part VI)


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With a little close to zilch to do the next day, I decided to go round the town and survey some important areas of the town; my home for the next ten months. Places like market, abbatoir, possible eatery or decent restaurants and football viewing centre and a possible pool (snooker) joint are what I’m referring to as ‘important’.

I found Ohafia to be a big community, albeit only in land mass, with small villages under its motherly wings. One of these villages is the famous Okon-Aku; land of the great kings. The village is rumored to be the Juju (black magic) headquarters of the entire Igboland. In this village, one can be killed, eaten and still be brought back to life. A small stone can be turned into an egg, incubated and hatched and breed into a big fowl ready to be devoured – all within five minutes using mystical means: Okija, another notorious community in Anambra state, a close runner up. There’s Amuma, land of the great prophets, Asaga, home of the gem sister, Elu, Amaepku, Ndi Ibe, Ebem, the heart and headquarter of the Ohafia community and a lot other small villages.

Entering Ohafia, the first thing a foreigner will notice is the outrageous number of demented individuals kicking nylons on the street. From Amaepku to Ebem, just ten minutes drive apart, one gets to encounter nothing less than five of these sick fellows walking aimlessly around the major road, not counting those who hang around dark corners to have enough space to exercise their madness.

Another observation was how ubiquitous coffin makers were in the community. During my survey, which lasted about thirty minutes, I counted six different casket workshops before I gave up. Every now and then, the sound of siren from an ambulance leaving the morgue and heading for the funeral home or God’s acre always rent the air. No matter how young one dies in Ohafia community, against what I’ve seen, heard or read about other places, a ceremonious funeral service was always conducted.

One particular heartrending story brought me inches close to shedding tears. A young man of thirty died a week into his wedding, only for the same set of people who celebrated with him few days back to dance around town carrying his picture same way my ‘village people’ did for my grandfather when he died at the rather ripe age of one hundred and thirty five. Old men and women, old enough to be his grandparent came to share out of the merriment while they laid him in the ground. Some even wore the same jersey (Aso ebi) from the wedding. It was a horrible sight.

I voiced my discontent out to someone who had lived the better part of his life in the ghost village and he explained their custom, which is that no matter how young one dies, be it at age two, twenty or two hundred, a ‘befitting’ burial rite will be performed with pomp and pageantry as if one died a Methuselah.

No disrespect to them, Ohafia is the poorest place I’ve been to all my life; probably because I hardly leave my comfort zone in the South Western part of the country. No job opportunity for the teeming youths who do nothing than ride motorcycles. The infamous Ochendo government could only bless them with more than enough ‘Ochendo’ tricycles.

Fela Anikulapo, the late legendary Nigerian musician and activist, must have been to this part of the country to be so inspired to sing his famous track “Suffering and smiling”.

Even with the fact that a staggering 93% of them were living neck deep in abject poverty, they made no effort to make their lives better. They accepted their fate and kept existing rather than living.

Though the community has produced few Professors and eminent personalities in the country, likes of former minister Ojo Madueke et al.; the only professionals you get to meet in the entire community with population over 5,000 are teachers in their late sixties who get nothing more than the stipends a mai-guard in some other part of the country gets as take home. It was worse than one can imagine, but these infected victims care not.

The few ones, who could afford a meal or two and some with a bicycle to ride, are always braggart and boasting about how rich their brother or uncle is in Abuja, Lagos or overseas. Most, if not all, of this class of people are seen managing and guarding their beloved brother or uncle’s properties with their lives without making any meaningful effort at getting theirs.

In the face of all the unpleasant sights and sounds, I had to end my survey abruptly and headed back to the “family house”. I spoke with Maryam later that evening and also contacted the two other corpers and we reached a consensus to move to the school’s corpers’ lodge the next day so we can put the place in a better shape before school resumes fully.

The school, my place of primary assignment, Hope Waddell International Secondary school, is located at the outskirt of Amaekpu, the end or beginning of Ohafia community, depending on which route you’re coming from.

I was elated when I saw ‘International’ boldly written on the sign post as part of the school’s name. It became a laughable matter when I entered the school.

Hope Waddell International Secondary School

Hope Waddell Intl. Sec. School

The structures, like huts in a war torn village, were scattered all over the place. The classrooms were messy with decrepit wooden tables and chairs scattered everywhere. The wall chalkboard which is supposed to be black has ceased to anything but off white. The laboratory was nothing to write about as the only chemical available aside Water, is Sodium Chloride (table salt). The library; oh the magnificient library looked like an anachronistic incinerator, with books as old as my grandmother honorably gracing the shelves. I couldn’t access the Staff room, but I was sure it wouldn’t be any better going by the ‘beautiful’ sight of the Principal – the supposed head’s office. The dormitory which housed the boarding students wasn’t looking anything significantly different from one of cells in Panti police station.

The school lacks power supply as it was yet to be connected to the nearest electric pole less than 200metres away, thereby leaving the school in an infernal state most, if not all of the time with only the godforsaken “I-better-pass-my-neighbour” generator coming to the rescue, though for nothing more than 2 hours daily. The school guard was a frail septugenarian, who obviously needed serious guarding lest he gets carried away by the winds. The only thing that brought smile to my face was the standard football pitch. I breathed down and walked away.

I knew a lot of things were about to change: life, the way I see it, people I have around me and how I spend each minute of the hours of each day but one thing I knew would forever stay is who I am – both on the inside and the outside because I wasn’t going to change me irrespective of whatsoever I face in the strange land.

Sometimes, life makes us worry about the closed window that we become overly depressed and oblivious of the door wide open or the collapsed wall. I made a decision to live above board not minding the fact that the school environment is a dire mess. I chose not to influence my posting and landed in Abia, and here again I didn’t work my way to get posted to the beautiful state capital; I’m here because I chose to and I’m not going to regret not faking a medical report and claim some life threatening ailment just to get my awesome behind to the centre of excellence. In that perspective and other related ones, I’ll like to be known as a moralist and I stood my ground even in the face of all odd situations. Really odd situations

Without using much exaggerations, my room was as big and spacious as half the size of Highbury stadium of blessed memory. If you’re the kind who gets easily irritated, you will puke at the sight of it – well judging by my hubris stands. The room hasn’t been lived in for years and it looks like one of those haunted house I’ve seen in movies. With one hand covering my mouth and the other holding my nose, I left the room for fear of being choked.

One of the things that have kept me going in life is something Mama taught me while I was growing up: She instilled in me that edifice and or interior decorations and accessories, no matter how luxurious they are – ranging from Olympic-size pool to an Helipad, do not make one half as happy as living with good, lively, lovely, caring and sensible people does even if you’re sharing a torn mat under Obalende bridge.

The thought that “I am not alone” was all I needed to ‘feel at home’. I met Anuoluwapo Adejobi, Segun Likinyo whom I’ve met earlier in December. Maryam Ibrahim, the lady who was still posing as my BBM Display Picture moved in same day. As mightily big as the lodge was, it wasn’t well designed architecturally, leaving most part of the house wasting away. The sitting room and two tiny rooms beside, which only God knows what’s meant for, were just there, useless because the window louvres have all taken a long stroll.

Segun took the room opposite mine with our special bathroom and toilet separating us and the space in front converted to kitchen. May’s room was adjacent Segun’s and Anu’s room, a bit far away with at least three wooden doors secluding him from my one room apartment.

Since we all were total strangers to each other, the process of acclimatization started.