In the course of a full month, I wrote just one article. That’s an extremely low output compared with my writing frequency since this blog started. The hustle and bustle of the NYSC orientation camp provided a convenient excuse for not writing. Now that the camp is over, that excuse has expired. It’s time to write again.
Here’s my journey to Kaduna.
Being posted to Kaduna State was both a shock and a relief to my family. They didn’t want me up North, but they were willing to accept Kaduna in lieu of other northern states facing serious security challenges. Since I was drafted to “Stream 2”, I had a month to chill at home in preparation for the service year.
The camp was billed to open officially on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. Ever the “prepare early” guy, I decided to arrive there a day early. That meant leaving two days earlier (no one volunteered flight money). On Sunday, May 31, I strolled to Church, and then returned after the service to pick my already packed bag. Off to the bus park I went.
The bus was supposed to depart by 12.30pm for the 1000km journey. As we waited for the bus departure time, I interacted with some co-travellers, and discovered that a number of them were also heading to camps in different northern states. It seemed that not a few had the intention to arrive early. After a one-hour delay, we were asked to board the “luxurious bus”. As I told a friend, the only thing luxurious about the bus was the name.
From Port Harcourt, we headed towards Owerri. Seeking music as a companion, I switched from my “big” phone to the “small” torchlight phone whose battery’s faithfulness I could trust. At Owerri, we picked up more passengers at the park. As passengers came down to relieve themselves, one common problem with many motor parks was encountered—the lack of good toilet facilities. The guys quickly secured locations for urinating (spelt “bush”), while the ladies had to apply military-grade manoeuvring tactics to get out of sight.
From Owerri, we set off for Onitsha. We descended a flyover as I returned from one of my personal music-inspired intercontinental voyages. We saw a crowd gathered around what appeared to be the smouldering remains of a building and some vehicles. I later read that a petrol tanker accident scorched people and vehicles in Onitsha that day, but I’m not sure if that was the scene we encountered.
We crossed the Niger Bridge and entered Asaba. At the park, the bus driver calmly left the bus for over an hour without offering any explanation whatsoever. When he returned, some passengers offered him an unsweetened piece of their minds. It turned out that the park was a major loading point for the transport company. I was shocked to see a number of northerners (“mallams” or “abokis”) entering to stand in the aisle. For the records, I have stood in a bus from Port Harcourt to a community in Bayelsa. I just never thought that anyone would want to stand from Onitsha to Kaduna or Kano even if that meant paying a considerably lower fare. Hopefully, I would always be able to afford a seat for such long journeys.
From Asaba we continued our northward journey while I continued my cyclic intercontinental mini-journeys. At Asaba, a certain man had taken the hitherto empty seat next to mine. With his fluency in Hausa, I assumed he was a northerner. I was proved wrong when he spoke in Igbo to the bus conductor. This man and I made use of any opportunity when we were both simultaneously awake to discuss various issues.
As the bus sped on, arguments broke out between some members of the seating community and members of the standing committee (“attachment”). Being in a window seat, I was unconcerned. Those sitting next to the aisle kept complaining of discomfort caused by those standing. Some also claimed that those standing were smelling. I couldn’t perceive any foul odour (fresh air through the window ensured that), but I could see that even if some of those standing were to be smelling, the generalization was certainly due to preconceived stereotypes about northerners.
When the bus conductor shouted, “Abuja Get ready”, I knew my journey was ending. About two hours later, it was the turn of Kaduna. As I stepped down from the bus at Television Garage, Kaduna, I checked the time: 3:27am. My cross-country journey had ended. For some others in the bus, the journey would end at Kano.
I stood in the large park, within all-embracing darkness, at a loss as to my next move. Then, someone close by pointed to the only light source in the vicinity, a shop in the distance, and advised me to head towards it. On reaching the shop, I saw some people watching Nigeria’s U20 “Flying Eagles” play Brazil. Too tired to have any interest in the match, I looked for the nearest bench to sit. As the cold night dragged by, I hugged my bag for some warmth, while discussing with another occupant of the three-person bench who was also a prospective corps member.
At the break of dawn, two of the prospective corpers who sat in front of the shop left to join acquaintances in the town. That left the three remaining ladies and I to find our way to the orientation camp. As we proceeded on a hired tricycle (“keke”), we discovered that all of us were based in Port Harcourt. It was quite an eventful journey in the tricycle. PH girls are surely a lively group. At 6.30am, we reached the NYSC Kaduna State Orientation Camp, nicknamed “Black Gold”, ready for the next year of our lives.