It was in Ibadan that Ohiozua first saw women covered completely with black gowns and veils like his village masquerades. He was alarmed at first and had been reluctant to enter the same taxi with them, fearing they were hiding explosives beneath their gowns they would soon detonate. But later on, he would get used to their mode of dressing and even pity them sometimes that they had little fresh air when they walked under the blazing sun. He had perhaps got used to this unusual dressing because there were more alarming and oftentimes hilarious revelations about Ibadan that infuriated and made him laugh at the same time. It was still in Ibadan he would first face a shock that would change his nationalistic mindset forever.
He had come into Iseyin camp for his NYSC orientation as a die-hard nationalist: someone who believed the unification of Nigeria was the only great thing the British did in Africa. Weeks ago, when his best friend in Grammar school criticized his Facebook post which praised Gowon for establishing NYSC to strengthen the unity of the country, Ohiozua had given him a short reply: ‘A senseless talk from someone I thought was wise’; and as if that was not enough, he had gone ahead to block him from his friends list. His friend’s criticism had not been too senseless as he had termed it; he too knew it was lucid. He had reminded Ohiozua that terrorism and nepotism were as obvious as the azure despite the fact that NYSC was established over four decades ago to foster unity. He had asked a question that infuriated Ohiozua in the end: ‘Is NYSC still relevant these days?’ Ohiozua stuttered within himself as he searched deep in his well of truth to get an answer to the question. It was the first time he was stuck like this, and this was perhaps why he was infuriated to give a demeaning reply and subsequently block his friend.
Now at Iseyin camp, with the fascination of meeting so many individuals from different parts of country, he had had this consolation that unfriending his best friend for ridiculing NYSC was for a just cause. He shrugged off this frost of guilt that had beclouded him since he got into the camp and then allowed a peaceful smile to seduce his creased face.
For him, Iseyin was the most beautiful town he had ever seen. He had described its scenery on his Facebook timeline a dozen times, each time repainting the three hills which rested against the eastern sky, separated by equal distances so that they appeared like the yam mounds of a giant. Along the troughs of these hills, houses – mainly bungalows – spread across in different arrays under the sun. There was a particular description he wrote on his timeline which attracted a whopping twenty comments and fifty likes. It was his first sight of Iseyin hills. He had entered camp very late the previous night, and because of that, he was unable to do the compulsory registration like a handful of his mates who had come earlier.
Ohiozua had barely slept for two hours when the bugle sounded a warning note into his ears. Being already forewarned of the regimental nature of camp by his elder sister who served two years before, he grabbed his towel like a man threatened by death and went into the bathroom for a hurried shower. He must not be caught obliviously by those korofos. Hardly had he dressed up properly than the camp soldiers came into their wide and crowded hall to chase them away like common criminals. At first, he had felt a sting of fear deep in his skin as they were chased to the parade ground; but later on when he noticed it was a normal camp procedure, he let out a long and sharp laugh which made him cough out phlegm.
Unlike those who were done with registration – who stood on the parade ground with their white shorts and t-shirts for the morning drill – Ohiozua and so many others who had not registered sat on the closed pavilion in mufti and watched the drills of the morning. The energy bulbs hanging from the roof of the pavilion gave off brilliant white lights which dissolved the feathers of the early morning darkness; and with the aid of their reflections, he could see the dim figures of corps members standing so orderly on parade, arranged platoon by platoon, buried in the night.
When the grey light of dawn began to dissolve this darkness, he observed the three hills as he looked over the heads of the corps members on parade and over the open pavilion which bounded the parade ground on the other side. Thick clouds hung over the crests of these hills as though in their bellies, there were forces sucking the clouds from the dawn’s sky into the bottomless stomachs of the hills. It was this picture of Iseyin he painted with words on his Facebook timeline. It had caught his sight; he had been enthralled by it, so that he craved that time be still so the moment would be intact for eternity while he gazed at it till he drew his last.
In his remaining days in camp, he had admired the town and its different elevations of golden lights at night: lights from homes on different elevations of the hills which darkness had swallowed. While his fellow corps members wanted the regimented life on camp to end fast, he longed secretly that time should slow down its chariots, so he could have enough of Iseyin’s beauty which would never fade off his memory.
It was partly because of this engagement that he did not realise that his fellow corps members were lobbying for juicy places where they would do their service for one year. He was not entirely oblivious of this though, because his bunk mate – Kayode –one night had told him how so many girls had slept with camp officials to secure lucrative placements in Ibadan.
‘That’s their business,’ he had replied flippantly. ‘I am going to the University of Ibadan.’
‘What makes you think so?’ Kayode asked.
‘I made First Class,’ Ohiozua announced with pride, making sure he voiced First Class loudly so everyone in the wide Hall could hear.
‘Who said you can’t be posted to a Primary school to teach?’ Kayode asked him. From his voice, he was unimpressed with his class of degree and this annoyed Ohiozua.
‘NYSC said so.’
‘Forget what NYSC said, man,’ Kayode said impatiently. ‘This is Nigeria where anything is possible. A Third Class graduate can be posted to a University while you with a hallowed First Class can find yourself as a Biology teacher in a village secondary school. So wake up and lobby with money so you can be taken to the University of Ibadan.’
Ohiozua ignored him and shut his eyes. He would ignore him for the remaining days in camp. He could detect from his voice a trace of jealousy, like someone who while in the University, had struggled to make a Third Class after spending extra years in school. Yet as he tried to find some sleep amid buzzing mosquitoes, his hatred for Kayode rose like spirit to the tip of his tongue. He could feel how bitter like bile the taste was. He wished he could get a keg of petrol and matches so he could burn him to ashes.
The day they collected their posting letters, Ohiozua could not believe his eyes. The light rain which wetted his eyebrows flowed down to join the tiny snakes of tears which ran into his mouth. He could not fight his tears; he had been posted to Molette High School in Ibadan. Kayode was right, Nigeria did not respect his First Class. For the first time in his life, he insulted Nigeria: he mumbled something about a mad country and how it had sent him to the dungeon. He felt a wave of heat splash on to his entire frame; he sweated, and at that moment, he was convinced that his destiny had been stolen and replaced by a destiny which suffocated him.
Their journey from Iseyin to Ibadan was a creaseless one and in some ways this consoled him. He sat behind the bus, silent, with a blighted countenance. Listening to other corps members, he discovered he had been lucky to have been sent to a school with ‘High’ attached to its name. With the beautiful name, he thought, it was definitely going to be a fine school which would pay him a stipend and give him accommodation. The majority of the corps members were posted to secondary schools with hideous names which revealed their grubby states. He was also consoled that he was going to the finest part of Ibadan.
But when he saw Ibadan, he was once again disappointed; disappointed with the scattered arrays of old mud houses like caravans with rust roofs spread on deep valleys like garbage under the sun. In the morning, when he reported at Molette High school, he was shocked that the appearance of the school was not in consonance with its fabulous name. The structures were dilapidated with broken windows and doors. Ohiozua thought that in his own state – Edo – this structure could not even be used as a goat pen.
Seven of them were posted to Molette High School. The principal came later than they expected, so they sat on the dusty veranda of one of the blocks waiting for him. The veranda smelt of stale urine and goat droppings. When at last the principal came almost at noon, he took another one hour before he invited them into his office which smelt of stale saliva. The floor had potholes like blisters.
‘I served in ’83. You were not born then.’ The principal gave off a short laugh as if possessed by something Ohiozua couldn’t fathom. ‘The secretary gave me your posting letters, and after a thorough study, I have decided to accept three out of you based on our needs here in Molette High.’ Then he proceeded to call the names of those he had accepted. Ohiozua sighed when his name wasn’t called.
Returning with his Rejection Letter to his Local Government Inspector, his dream to be posted to a University sprang alive again. He would beg his LGI to repost him to the University of Ibadan. But when he met the LGI at the Local Secretariat, and explained to her that the school he was initially posted rejected him, she accused Ohiozua of inducing his own rejection. She showed him a letter from a company requesting a corps member who read Biochemistry – the course Ohiozua graduated from with First Class – yet she told him boldly she could not give him the placement.
‘You don’t have the connection to go to Eagle Flour Mills,’ she told him. ‘Moreover, you are not even a Yoruba person. I will post you to another secondary school where you will teach Biology.’
For the first time in his life, Ohiozua felt like an alien in his own country. ‘But I made First Class,’ he mumbled as if drenched by a heavy rain.
‘And so what?!’ The LGI fumed. ‘There are a lot of First Class graduates teaching in Grammar schools.’
Ohiozua felt like shedding tears, but he would not; not in front of the LGI. When he got to his lodge in the evening, he wrote on his Facebook timeline that Nigeria was no longer a country; it was high time it was divided according to the geopolitical zones. In a few minutes, the post amassed fifty likes and forty comments. He didn’t bother to read the comments. He was sure they would mock his sudden change of philosophy.
Image: Pixabay.com remixed