It’s exactly a year today I passed out from the National Youths Service Corps. To mark the first anniversary I have decided to share this note I wrote a long time ago. I never really had the perfect moment to share this thrilling experience of mine. Guess I have finally found the perfect moment.
It was my first field assignment since I was attached to the Department of Planning, Research and Statistics/Crop Enumeration under the Ministry of Agriculture, Abeokuta. From time to time the Departmental officers would visit various farms to enumerate their crops and then issue certificates to the farmers with which the farmers could use to solicit for loans from financial institutions.
My first day on the field turned out to be a remarkable one as I moved from one crazy situation to another. Indeed it was drama at work.
Seven of us from the department including a lady from the Ministry of Lands, making us eight in number embarked on that day’s field work in a ricketing mini station wagon. Mr. Johnson whose position in the Department I’m still not sure of drove. Mr. Deji, the Assistant Head of Department sat in front, sharing his seat with Diolu, a young full time office worker in the Ministry. The middle seat was occupied by the Head of Department, fondly referred to as Alhaja. The lady from the Ministry of Lands and my roommate, Temple, a fellow corper also shared the middle seat with Alhaja. I sat at the back with Ometere, also a corper.
The journey to the farm site was relatively peaceful, though uncomfortable as I had to squeeze my legs inbetween the seats as the space was barely enough to contain a child’s legs. I chatted mindlessly with the other corpers in the vehicle, oblivious of what was waiting in store for us.
On getting to the farm which was situated along Abeokuta – Ibadan express way, we had to wait for almost two hours for the owner of the farm to arrive and lead us in, as it turned out that the farm was actually located in the middle of the jungle. I stood by the car watching the government workers change clothes into worn out field clothing and most importantly as it turned out few minutes later, they all changed their shoes to rubber boots.
I felt they were just being extra cautious to avoid getting stains on their clothes and polished shoes. I felt safe in my jeans and black all star sneakers, with no clue as to what lied ahead.
Ometere took off her designer slippers and slid into the last free rubber boot out of her own volition. Temple changed into his NYSC jungle boot.
And off we went into the jungle. We walekd in a single file led by the driver of the vehicle that brought the farm owners who walked slowly behind us.
Once in a while the lead man would cut down tree branches to pave a solid path for us to go through as the soil was muddy. We walked carefully, trying to prevent our shoes from getting smudged with mud. We came to an abrupt halt when we were warned about a trap laid in our path.
Boy! That was the beginning of our travails. The owners of the farm stopped following us at that point. They just stood there discussing in their local dialect for a few minutes before turning their back. The three of us that were corpers waited patiently for the government workers to cross the trap safely before daring to take another step forward, paying full attention to each spot where they placed their foot.
We moved further into the jungle. The canopy of leaves closed over our heads partly blocking out the rays of the sun. I could hear crickets chirping in the distance as they trudged wearily through the shrubs. A salient wind rumbled through the trees causing a crackle of leaves and twigs. The forest around us was clothed in trees, fierce thorns emanating from their stems making it harder for us to meander our way through the marshy soil as we needed to hold on to the trees for support. The workers walked boldly in their boots leaving us behind, though their boots were already soiled.
One wrong move and Temple had his jungle boot buried in the mud. There was nothing more to lose, so he walked quickly to catch up with the others. It was just me left to figure how I would make it without ruining my sneakers. Feeling particularly brave, I fought my way through branches twined over head. I took off my shades so I could see clearly, blinking my eyes severally to adjust to the sudden change in illumination.
I ambled after Temple, cascading across the trees gently, ignoring the prickers that caught on my shirt. I hopped from one broken branch which slept on the mud to another while holding on to any stem that was void of thorns. Finally I made it through.
Ometere asked how I did it without getting my sneakers soiled. Proudly I replied saying I was Tarzan.
Our movement steadily became slow and torpid as the ground became even marshier as we went farther into the jungle. I was advised by the lady from the Ministry of Lands to fold up my jean trousers but I refused. Clothes were meant to protect my skin. By then, the air was filled with complaints from Temple who obviously was not having the time of his life. I had kept quiet all the way trying to maintain the quiet nature I was known for at the office, though I was terribly furious.
We paused and waited for the lead man and Mr. Deji to figure out how we were to cross a river that divided the forest. The verdict was reached; we were all going to walk through the dirty river!
So, one after the other each worker went in: the lead man went in first followed by Mr. Deji who fell immediately he put his leg into the mass of water. He was quickly held by Alhaja which prevented him from being completely immersed. Finally, everyone crossed but me.
Ometere then teased me; ‘let me see how you would cross the river since you say you are Tarzan”. I lapsed into a sullen silence and considered my next move. I was vexed, beyond angry. I tried to be methodical about everything that was happeneing, but I just couldn’t fight off the overwhelming sense of injustice. I resisted the instinct to turn back and head for the vehicle. After considering my options I decided to cross the river, after all I wasn’t sure of my way back.
Every cell in my body revolted as I dipped my right leg in. I felt my sneakers fill up immediately. Completely disgusted, I let my leg sink. I raised my phones high above my head as the water was waist level. Slowly, I pushed through the water current which flowed towards me. The water soaked into my clothes, bathing my skin with mud and dirt. I lost my cool. This was more than I could take.
I looked up and caught Mr. Deji capturing my movement with his camera phone. I launched a verbal assault on the government workers. I let them know it was sheer wickedness for them to allow us go into the forest not properly kitted while they were all fully protected. Ometere and Temple added their voices to mine, all three of us complaining, ignoring what they had to say to calm our frayed nerves.
Once again on the marshy ground, we continued our journey through the forest. This time, Temple did the complaining as I walked hastily past the officials in anger. I didn’t want to be close to them to avoid uttering words I would regret later. Not even the much awaited allowance from the Federal Government could pacify us. The bank alert came in at a wrong time though it succeeded in putting a faint smile on my lips.
Finally, we were at the farm.
The farm was located at the heart of the forest. I didn’t pay attention to the ‘enumeration’ they were doing. Less than ten minutes and the ‘enumeration’ was over. We went thorugh all the horror for just a few minutes work!
How unnerving and annoying. The farm was not even large scale with mature crops; just some acres with few recently planted arable crops. Permit me at this junction to hiss loudly…mtcheeeeeeeeeeeeeeew! I’m still pissed even as I write this note.
Enumeration over, it was time to head home. We went through a different route from the one that led us in, this time we had to cross another which was in a more deplorable condition than the previous one. This river had insects lurking around and ants climbing the wood, skimping around in the mud. This was far from fun of any sorts. I felt sorry for Temple as he danced on the spot trying to get rid of the ants that had invaded his trousers and were eating at his skin.
I tried my best to conceal my laughter as Alhaja fell into the water. Ometere almost fell in but was held by Mr. Johnson. I looked down at her with pitiful resignation. She hunched. Her forehead creased in concentration as she made her way through with utmost care.
Once again we marched through the forest faithfully following after the steps of the lead man. We were faced with crossing yet another river. The third that day! Temple began to complain even louder than before. This was worse than the TV show; Gulder Ultimate Search. We were told not to worry that we were not crossing it but we should just clean up using the water from the river. Then came a horrendous rain of complaints from the three corpers, myself inclusive.
Nothing said by anyone could pacify us, not even calm words spoken by Alhaja who by now was beyond surprised that the ‘calm’ Princely could actually complain. Every one tried to calm us down telling us it was an experience we would tell our kids about one day. Even the lead man tried to soothe our frayed nerves. Everyone had pity on us, all except Mr. Johnson who stuck stubbornly to the fact that he once told us to get rubber boots and change of clothing for field work. I challenged him boldly, telling him that the department didn’t give us a break to travel home to get our farm boots and also we had not been paid our allowance until a few moments ago, so how were we expected to buy new ones? Defeated, he kept quiet and walked away.
The lead man perched precariously against a tree, balancing on a fallen stem which lay across the river, laughing at our complaints, asking us if we didn’t go through farm year in our various higher institutions or the man o’ war training at the NYSC orientation camp. Immediately he stopped speaking, his feet slipped and into the dirty river his body went.
Without censoring his words, Temple let out a mocking exclamation ‘Ehen!’ which sent us all bursting out in laughter. Though unfair to the lead man, it was actually refreshing to laugh out loud so care freely after the unpleasant adventure we had gone thorugh.
We cleaned up and tucked ourselves into the tiny mini-van one again. The old car chugged to life and we the three corpers lapsed into silence as we reminisced over what we just went through the past three hours.
Somewhere along the way, an unmarked SUV swung from a filling station onto the express way causing Mr. Johnson to swerve recklessly in order to avoid colliding with their car. This brought us out of our reverie.
Hands on the wheels and foot on the pedals, Mr. John sped on, overtaking the SUV. We all peered into the car to catch a glimpse of the unruling driver. It was a uniformed man who looked slightly above forty years of age and a much younger officer seated at the passenger’s seat. We all fell into a sour disapproving silence as we drove on in peace.
Few minutes later, the SUv over took us with the younger officer swiveled, facing Mr. Johnson. The ofiicer hurled insults at him even though they were the ones who ventured into the road without caution. All Alhaja’s pleas to Mr. Johnson not to reply him fell on deaf ears. Infuriated by Mr. Johnson’s boldness, the officer brough out his AK-47 gun and threatened to shoot at us. We all ducked for cover, our hands over our head protectively. He retracted his gun and we all sat erect again.
They drove off.
I looked over at Ometere and called off the officer’s bluff that there was no way he could shoot, trying to reassure her of our safety though I could barely convince myself.
Stoic and bold like a god, Mr. Johnson held on to the steering and raised his head high exchanging words with the men as he sped to catch up with them.
Visibly pissed off, the young officer brought out his gun, stretched it out of the car window and this time he cracked the gun sending shivers through us. They forced our vehicle to a halt.
The two men simultaneously alighted from their car. I knew we were in for tit this time. Other road users drove past us quickly, leaving us to our fate in the hands of the officers.
Sinewy muscles of shoulder and haunch ripples launched straight at Mr. Johnson cheek. His lips curled in a silent snarl as colour drained from his face.
Still he was unfazed by the slap. The government workers pleaded with the officers though Mr. Johnson was still defiant, maintaining he was not the one wrong.
Actually he began speaking in incoherent english after the slap, saying repeatedly – “I am the one who should be saying sorry” instead of “you are the one (the officer) who should be saying sorry”.
This made Temple and I fight back laughter. The arrogant officer lifted his gun and shot into the air. Fear reigned supreme in our vehicle.
I scrambled for my NYSC cap and beckoned to Temple to wear his own also. At least that should serve as our saving grace in case things got out of control. Mr. Deji nd Diolu stepped out of the car trying to plead with the men to ignore Mr. Johnson.
Right then, every story I had heard or read about people being shot by policemen flooded by mind. To cut the long story short, a man parked his car and joined in begging the officers before they finally let us go.
All was calm and peaceful once more. We continued our journey back to the office discussing what had just happened. Close to the state secretariat we drove into the officers. Mr. Johnson this time bodly signaled for them to follow him, of which they did foolishly.
Straight into the governor’s office gate he drove. They parked their car behind ours. Mr. Johnson, Mr. deji, Diolu and Alhaja came down, bodly accusing the men of trying to ‘eliminate’ us. Can you blame them? They were in their territory now, so they were bold because they had the covering of the Governor’s security men whom they reported the situation to.
Mr. Johnson walked up to the younger officer who was standing by the car window close to where I was. He reached for his gun. A mini struggle ensued between them for the pocession of the gun. No one dared to separate them. Suddenly the riffle rotated 180 degrees, right bedise me.
At that moment my heart skipped a beat. Yes I would love to see my name written in the national dailes but not for something bad or tragic. I pushed Ometere and was ready to jump out of the vehicle incase a bullet was accidentally released. The officer overpowered him and reigned blows on him. His attention was finally drawn to our vehicle’s plate number. It was then he realized we were government employees and not some local taxi car.
The once vibrant officers sank into a shell, realizing their mistake. They beame sullen and quiet. The government workers became all the more pronounced, even Temple began accusing the officers. I quickly shut him down. The ruffle was finally settled by the policemen attached to the Governor.
It was time for the civilians to vent their anger which they did by raining abuses on the now mute officers. Mr. Deji became bold and empowered, even daring to take snapshots of the younger officer and threatened to report him. It was indeed drama as people began to gather as the drama unfolded.
Few hours later, I and Temple were settled in a cab on our way home. It had been a long day, from the forest to the near death experience with the uniformed men. We just wanted to get home and have a good bathe and a long sleep. Little did we know more drama awaited us. Our cab driver got into a fight with a motor cyclist close to our estate gate. He increased his speed as he aimed to hit the motorcyclist promising to run him down. I looked back at Temple who sat at the back while I sat in front.
Our eyes met and we read each other’s thoughts; this was part three of the day’s drama…