My dear younger self,
This is the second part of my series of notes to you. I wish you have read, understood and reflected on my first note. My hope is for you to, please, read, reflect on what you read and at best learn from my experiences. In this note, main learning experiences will be pointed out in a separate and closing paragraph at the end of the note. However, the aim is for a ‘me’ to relate and transmit experiences and for a ‘you’ to reflect and reflex on those experiences in order for you to be a better ‘YOU’. Read on.
As you might have observed, my university education was eventful. Although I utilized my weekends mostly for commercial ventures, by the time I was leaving BUK, I was one of the few to graduate with a good degree. However, I was not surprised to graduate as a pupil engineer with a commendable result. I worked and prayed for it. Like many, after school, I had my mind set for the one year mandatory national service. It is called National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC). Unlike some, I did not lobby for a choice state. I am not sure that was possible in the year 1989. It was not, I think. You are posted to where your luck called you. I was posted to Imo State (currently Imo and Abia states). It was towards the end of the year and the journey to Imo state was my first to the Southern part of Nigeria. Alone, I journeyed over night to Owerri on an ‘attachment ‘ in a ‘luxurious ‘ bus. There was no luxury for me throughout the more than 12 hours Kano to Owerri journey. We arrived mid-morning, 10 am, I should think.
By 2pm I was registered as a corps member. My first platoon activity at Nakede Polytechnic (camp venue) was on the same day. From then on, I became active on all camp activities. I was in my Platoon football team and was also in the athletics team. Like everything I got involved with, I gave my best. Before the end of my first day, my camp mates gave me a name. Maybe it was due to the difficulty to pronounce my name, or may be from the way and manner I Indulged myself on all the evening sporting activities, I started with. They called me J5. J5 was a Peugeot Mini bus (18 seater) vehicle model used for commercial transportation (passengers and sometimes goods) at the time. Maybe it was because I could run and play football well. At least better than the rest in the team. The camp was a learning experience and there was so much to do in so short a time.
One particular thing we did well was rumour. The camp was a rumour mill. From what the NYSC director did to what the instructors were doing, or the other way round. All became topics of discussions at different places: during parade, in lecture hall, in the cafeteria and at the dormitory. I recall a very popular rumour. Every group talk about it on camp. And officials tried to dispel it. It was doing with a local government, where people were said to be carnivorous. I will call the local government S. The hot story was that a corps member was barbecued. The story has it that he went visiting his girl friend and never returned. What eventually returned was his roasted body parts. Every one believed that story and we all prayed not to be deployed to that local government (SLG) for our primary assignment. Such stories went on for weeks. After 4 weeks, it was time to close camp and be deployed to places of primary assignment. I got my letter of deployment and it was SLG. While others who were also deployed to the local government were wailing and crying hysterically, yours truly went out to catch a vehicle to the SLG headquarters. As I came out of the camp gate, there was vehicle to convey us to SLG. The local government council sent a big bus to convey corps members. I joined three others in the bus. Eventually others joined and we left Owerri, at about 2pm, to SLG about 15 of us.
My first surprise was on arrival. There were as many as 50 corps members who welcomed us and they were all alive and well. They told us, when we asked, they also heard the romour but it was not true. They assured. My second surprise was when I visited a government clinic. I cannot remember what took me there, but a female nurse asked where I was from. Katsina state, I answered. When did you people start going to school? She asked, surprised that a Hausa/Fulani man is a university graduate. Only Allah knew what was said about us (Northerners) and Western education to make her talk to me that way: With loads of confidence. She was sure I was likely the first to have gone to school. My third surprise was when I asked her if she knew the name of the minister of health. She did not. If she did she would have known Professor Jubril Aminu, the then minister of health, was a professor in the same sector she was a nurse. He is from northern Nigeria, the place she thought was inhibited by unschooled. Eventually, after two days at the headquarters, I reported at my place of Primary assignment, a community secondary school. It was located in a village about 3 hours journey from the local government headquarters. The journey was on a somewhat ‘rickety’ Peugeot wagon vehicle that carried about 20 of us. Four of us sat in the front cabin. That was all I can remember.
I taught Physics and Mathematics in the school for almost 2 months. We (I and 2 others corps members) travelled to the local government headquarters monthly to collect our N250 NYSC allowance. One day, in my third month as physics/mathematics (only) teacher in the school, while I was in class, I saw the local government Corps Liaison Officer (CLO). He came to the school. Whatever it was that made CLO travelled for 3 hours this morning must be important. He brought a letter to me from the NYSC office in Owerri where they go to attend monthly meetings. I was made the CLO in another local government, away from where I was, close to Portharcourt. The next day I boarded a vehicle to Aba, then to Okeikpe, the headquarters of Asa local government. I was now a CLO. The second to the last surprise I had during my NYSC year. The last was the biggest!
Although I reported for work as CLO the next day I collected my ‘appointment ‘ letter, It took two days before The outgoing CLO could complete the rituals of handing and taking over. There were no notes and no bank accounts. He introduced me to local government officials and local community heads. Done. My 7 months as the CLO, was exciting. Throughout the period, I stayed within the local government (did not travel even for Sallah). Occasionally, I will travel to Portharcourt to stay with my brother (he was a staff of CBN) for a day at most two days over the weekends. As CLO, I created programmes: extra lessons for students, innovative CDS like health road shows (we go to communities and stage demonstrations on staying healthy), organizing community sporting events and several others. In turn, the communities (they named them autonomous communities) showered the corps members with many gifts: Chickens, goats and tubers of yams. Two of the communities (Azumiri and Ndoki) were particularly grateful. The CLO was made (turbaned as we say in the north) a chief, a traditional Honour, in those communities. I was a chief when I did not even know what it meant to be one. Furthermore, the local government council allowed me attended council and Finance and General purpose committee meetings as an observer. Although my status at the meetings was ‘observer’, my opinion also counted. Again, unlike now (I understand), as a corps member, I was involved with all engineering works within the council. Those included road repairs and purchase of items. In most instances, I was the person to sign in and collect the funds to make the purchases. I felt motivated to do more.
As coincidental as it could come, i also was one of the officers who registered members of the SDP in 1990. SDP, means Social Democratic Party. There was the other one: National Republican Convention (NRC). Those two were created by the military regime and interested citizens were then compelled to join (only) one or another as equal founders/joiners as an alternative to several political organizations, like the People’s Front (PF). I registered myself as an SDP member when I was told to do so by my political mentors back home in Katsina.
The local government area was blessed with important personalities and sites (like onshore oil rigs). As at then, there were former and serving Federal and state government officials. There was a former minister in the first republic, a former member of the senate and a former registrar of one of the second generation universities in the north (ya iya Hausa kamar Dan Kano). We visited all those personalities and sites. I recall one such visits to a mechanical engineer who lectured me on ‘switch gears’ and encouraged me to venture into switch gear design and production business. Like he forecast, Mechatronics is now one of the leading engineering fields that could be termed ‘money spinners’ in the world. Although I was unable to become what my senior mechanical engineer would have wished, but one of my students is a proud Upcoming Mechatronics engineer and he is truly making it in the area, particularly, in Nigeria.
Two weeks to the end of our service year we assembled, again, in Owerri for the passing-out ceremony. We rounded up our service year and collected our certificates of completion in September 1990. Although we started in November the previous year, but we all had to have one month leave. October was it. The highlight of the passing out ceremony was the call of honour. Some corps members were honoured during the ceremony. Yours sincerely was honoured as one of the best 10 corps members of the service year. All the ten of us were offered automatic employment by the Imo state government. I collected my employment letter. I was to report, immediately, to the Imo state ministry of works. That was my biggest surprise of the year! I did not report. Nor do I communicate my acceptance of the offer. However, I still appreciate the government and people of Imo state for the offer! It was my first job offer in my life. Although, I subsequently had 12 other offers and worked in 7 different organizations, that offer is still the one very fresh in my memory. I could still read the lines as if they were written now and could still see my monthly salary boldly written: N421. About two times my NYSC alloweee!
My dear younger self, I think you will benefit from the above related experiences. First whatever you got yourself involved with, you give in your best as much as is possible. Do not hold back, do as much as you can to succeed. Good thing comes to those who do all things ‘tsakanin su da Allah’. Provided those things are in tune with what Allah enjoins and in line with your responsibility.My camp experience indicated that, while I tried my best at all times, camp and NYSC officials noticed me and possibly rewarded me with CLOship. I did not ask for it and did not even know it was a possibility. Second, in all situations, at every opportunity, do good. Good things will come to you. As CLO I was creative, innovative and helpful to the communities within the local government. They not only showered us (Copers) with gifts, they also confer on me traditional titles (2) that I did not even know what they meant or even want as at the time. In addition, the state government rewarded my hard/smart work with an employment. Do good to others, good things will come to you. Thirdly, although tsoro is a necessary evil, but avoid destructive fear that does not have tushe. Fear or tsoro make you to forgo certain great things that may come to you. So face your anxiety and do not allow it to be transform to fear and you will see that you achieved your desire. It may not come immediately, the way you or when you wanted it, but it will come. I would have tow the path of other corps members and refuse to go to SLG for fear of being slaughtered and eaten like a cow. It was pure rumour and I got out better for it: at least I knew there are educated ignorant people.
My dear younger self, please afford to read this lengthy note and learn from it. I will make sure subsequent ones are not as lengthy as this one. Have a good day and expect my note next week.
Dr. Muttaqha Rabe Darma, PhD