My name was second on the list in the daily times, and everybody thought it was foolish to ignore a rare opportunity that many others would give anything to have, so I packed a few basic things and headed for Kaduna.
Despite the fact that she was being dragged between the military and the civilian government like two stubborn toddlers would a precious toy, my peers and I still had hope in Nigeria, and in spite of our humble backgrounds, we struggled to find a place of relevance in this giant of Africa.
The Nigerian Defence Academy seemed to be the best place to fulfill that dream- for most of my friends anyway. I was not particularly crazy about carrying guns and screaming at the top of my lungs, so when everyone of my friends sent in an application, I did not apply.
Only few people passed the screening exercise, so around the time that I got admission to a College of education in Ekiti state, a supplementary entrance examination was conducted. I succumbed reluctantly to the pressure of family and friends and applied, I wrote the exams and forgot about it.
So here I was in Kaduna, standing like an undecided teenager at the NDA gate, wondering why on Earth I had allowed myself to be talked into this.
A stern looking officer marched us from the gate into a room where he distributed one mattress, one pillow and one blanket to each person. He gave us a document to sign and we all signed impatiently, many of us had come from distant places and were tired and hungry. He snatched the document from the last person and asked if anyone knew what he had just signed for. Nobody did. He broke into a mirthless laughter ‘You signed a document without first reading it? You’ll sign your own death warrant someday’. As I wondered what the document contained, the only thought on my mind was how far Kaduna was from Ondo state.
After a brief period of suspense, he explained that the document was just a statement of receipt of the items we were given, and again broke into that laughter that didn’t sound like laughter at all. I heaved a sigh of relief.
While we followed ‘officer’ to our lodge, I questioned the wisdom in forfeiting my admission for a screening exercise that I was not even sure of passing. I concluded that it was not a good idea after all, I did not want to be like the proverbial hunter that chased two squirrels simultaneously and ended up losing both.
‘Oga wey go screen you don travel, e go return from abroad in two weeks, na here una go stay for now.’ I was surprised at how easily one could switch from fluent English to pidgin,but I was too hungry, ‘e get one hotel beside the academy, una fit see something to buy for there’. The fact that they would keep us there for two weeks while having no intentions of feeding us sealed my decision, I started thinking of how to leave without annoying ‘officer’ – he looked angry enough already.
I sat in a corner and ordered a plate of rice and one sachet of water. I was too busy with the thoughts running around in my mind to know how long he had been looking at me, but our eyes met when I finally looked up from my plate of rice.
The man sitting across from me called the bartender and said ‘one bottle of beer for him’ without taking his eyes off me. I smiled and said ‘No, thanks’, he smiled and said ‘It’s on me’, I smiled again and said ‘Thank you, but I don’t drink’. His eyes narrowed a little as he asked ‘you don’t?’ He brought his chair over and we quickly became friends.
We lingered after dinner, talking about this and that. Soon, he lit two cigarettes, put one between his lips and offered me the other. ‘No, thank you’. ‘You don’t smoke too! Good for you, you would pass the chest examination then, it disqualified me last year’ He was an NDA faithful who would stop at nothing to get in. This time around, he started on a good note, ‘officer’ liked him, for he appointed him our captain shortly before we trooped out for dinner.
I warmed up to this man faster than I’d ever done with any stranger and found myself confiding in him before long. ‘Mike*, I’ll advise you to stay, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’. I was resolute in my decision, so he reluctantly agreed to explain to ‘officer’ and return my items to him long after I would have left.
A solution to my only remaining problem came about thirty minutes later when we trudged back to the academy and met the gates locked. John° – that was his name- was an outdoorsman, before long, he found a hole in the barbed wire fence through which we entered.
I slipped out of NDA Kaduna early the next morning and made it to Ekiti before dark, a week before my matriculation.
Tempers steamed, tongues wagged; but the most remarkable ones belonged to Uncle Eddie. He had just graduated from the NDA and had seen my name in the papers, he was excited to have a relative in his Alma matter. His disappointment was therefore understandable when he asked ‘When are you resuming?’ and I replied ‘Brother, mi ò șe soldier’
2015 – Omolęwà.
Though an introvert, my father is a beautiful story teller who never makes the mistake of repeating a story to the same audience.
Dad cultivated a good reading culture in his children by simply having a vast ‘library’ and casually discussing books with us.
Just days ago, we both agreed that while we can’t decide who is better, we understand Chinua Achebe’s literature more than Uncle Wole’s. Wole Soyinka speaks far too heavy grammar by our own standards.
Travelling with Dad is always fun, because he tells stories of his early life to us. For some reason I don’t know, he only tells stories when he is behind the wheels.
When I was not sleeping or reading the ‘There was a country’ by Chinua Achebe that my sister lent to me, my Dad told me the story I narrated above on our way from Ife earlier today.
I always wanted to write a historical narrative, so I used my Dad’s story. Because the story -coupled with the sentiments I’m getting from Chinua’s book- made me wish I grew up in the 60s, I wrote in first person. Father didn’t beg me to write a biography, but I hope I did justice to his story.
This post is a long one, I know. Thanks for reading.
*Father’s name is Michael.
°I christened his friend John, he didn’t tell me his name.