December 2014 would always be remembered as the month that began a new phase in my service year and directly contributed to one of the most painful events that I regret till date. To fully understand this, I would have to fill you in on some backgrounds.
Our local government area is made up of five villages. But the local government is divided into two CDS areas. My village and its nearest neighbour make up CDS Area 2, while the other three villages make up CDS Area 1. Each CDS area has one CLO (Corper Liaison Officer). The two CLOs manage their units separately, supervised by the local government inspector except once a month when the entire local government corps members meet to sign the payment voucher.
The CLO is a prestigious office, and as the Corpers are responsible for its appointment, this has always resulted to serious politicking, arm-twisting, petty blackmail and social corruption. The last CLO was from the neighbouring village’s Community School. This present CLO is from St Thomas Grammar school. The next CLO would naturally fall to our school which I would refer to as Memorial. Yes, the CLO has always rotated among these three schools, even though there are around eight PPAs in our CDS area. There are, however, few strong reasons for this. For one, they are government schools; for another, these three schools put together usually constitute eighty percent of the entire corps population, so it had never been hard for these three schools to pass around the office of CLO among themselves.
But there was a problem with our batch. It was rumoured that no one from my school was good enough to be CLO. One Samuel, a Batch A corps member from Community, confirmed this to me. He listed all the corps members in Memorial and condemned them.
“You can’t give Dayo CLO because he carries NCCF on his head,” he told me.
“What about Micah?” I asked.
“Micah is too soft. People won’t respect him. He does smeh-smeh, like a woman.”
Samuel continued, “Edwin is too arrogant and won’t carry people along. You know Corper Agu can’t spell. As for you” – he winked at me – “Never mind.”
“What about the ladies?”
Samuel smirked as though I have served him a dish of worms. “A woman cannot rule over men. A woman cannot be CLO.” Samuel then told me that they had more or less decided to give another school outside of the big three a chance. “Glorious Secondary School will produce the next CLO.”
I swallowed hard. Glorious is a private school with just three corps members, two of them females, which meant that the only guy Chiemeke, a most annoying fellow, would emerge CLO. I didn’t like the chap and I didn’t think he was crazy about me. (I won’t say why I didn’t like him, you will soon find out yourself). But it would be double tragedy if Chiemeke emerged CLO.
“Micah will make a better CLO,” I said.
Samuel shrugged. “This is December. He has two months to convince us that he can. But I doubt it.”
“We will surprise you.”
That was when the campaign line was drawn. I drew a timetable of visitation for Micah. He would visit the lodges in the area, charm the girls and humour the guys. He would watch football in alternate viewing centres where he would get to relate amiably with the guys. No more skipping of Saturday morning trainings for him. No more lateness at CDS meetings. He would clear his CDS group debts. During CDS meetings, he would contribute cogently—making only conciliatory and way-forward speeches. Once in a while, he would visit the current CLO and take him to Baba Laje Joint.
Micah sighed. “Guy, this is too much. It’s like acting a seasonal movie.”
“Yes,” I concurred. “But we can’t afford to let another school take our right.”
“It will be very expensive.”
“Don’t worry about resources,” I said, hiding my own worries. “And stop wearing pencil jeans.”
I sighed. “Oga, pencil jeans don’t command any leadership respect.”
I looked at Micah. Tall, good-looking, smooth voice, excellent smile. The perfect portrait of a CLO. My goal was to turn this beautiful woman into a CLO material.
The first opportunity for Micah to display his leadership prowess came when the committee for the send-forth party of Batch A was formed. Dayo (as our Corper Principal) nominated Micah and I to represent Memorial in the committee. There were ten corps members in the committee, the big three producing two members each and the remaining four members coming from the minority PPAs. One of these was a certain Chiemeke.
Our names were called out during CDS meeting. The CLO asked us to go out and appoint a chairman.
“Let’s nominate a chairman,” I said as we converged outside. We were nine men and one lady.
“I nominate Micah,” Jude said. Jude was a Law graduate, serving in the magistrate court. Jude would never represent me in court (but that’s by the way).
“I second the motion,” Taju said. Taju of St Thomas studied Theatre Arts in LASU and sometimes behaved stupid in the name of comedy.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Chiemeke said. “We can’t keep rotating chairmen among Memorial, St Thomas and Community. When we first arrived here, the chairman who welcomed us was from Memorial. The chairman of the last Batch C send-forth is from St Thomas, the chairman of this present Batch C Welcome is from Community.”
“Who do you suggest we make chairman?” I asked, not successful in concealing my distaste.
“I nominate Glorious,” Chiemeke replied, with no effort to hide his distaste either.
“We have already nominated Micah,” Jude said edgily.
“The majority hasn’t nominated him.”
I tried not to lose my temper. “You are the only one from Glorious here. Are you nominating yourself then?”
“I am nominating Glorious,” he said simply.
“Let’s do an election then,” Lucy, a veterinary doctor with the local vet clinic, said irritably; she was obviously impatient to get back to her pinging.
A St Thomas corps member crazily referred to as Corper Sharp-Sharp became the umpire. He wore a big unkempt hair that could sustain a legion of lice. And he considered speaking good English a weakness. Guys like this sometimes made me suspect that NYSC mobilised some corps members from the streets and motor parks.
“If you wan make Micah be our chair, make we see your hand!” Corper Sharp-Sharp hollered.
Jude, Taju, Lucy and I raised our hands.
“People wey wan make Chiemeke be chair, oya, your hand!”
The three silent corps members and Sharp-Sharp voted for Chiemeke. The election was tied—four-four.
“Well, we will have to toast a coin,” one of the dumb corps members finally found his voice.
“No, let’s take it to the main house,” Chiemeke said, and began to hurry into the hall.
Micah was sure to lose inside the hall.
“Hey,” I said, drawing Sharp-Sharp aside on his vest.
“Yes?” He didn’t smile.
“Guy, you didn’t vote for my candidate,” I said. “Nawa to you o.”
He shrugged. “Na so I see am.”
“Well, this evening, I will be going to Baba Laje Joint for hot point and kill. Why don’t you join me?”
His Adam’s apple pumped with joy. “For real?”
“I hate going there alone and you are my main man,” I said, lying smoothly.
Sharp-Sharp slapped me on the back, excited.
“… Since they are unable to pick a chairman among them,” the CLO was saying, “I will now have to appoint the chairman –”
“The election wasn’t tied,” I shouted then.
“It was tied,” Chiemeke fired back.
“The election wasn’t tied, Micah defeated you.”
Chiemeke chuckled. “You’re crazy. Weren’t you guys all there?”
The whole hall began to murmur and shove their feet with impatience. “Let’s repeat the election here and now!” someone shouted. A series of yeses were chorused.
The CLO nodded. “Micah and Chiemeke, move to this side.”
The two rivals stepped aside, leaving the eight of us.
“If you want Micah to be chairman of the committee, raise your hand,” the CLO said.
The eight of us raised our hands. I was shocked by this miracle, but managed to keep a straight face. Most of the seated corps members thought it funny and laughed. Chiemeke couldn’t hide his embarrassment, humiliation even.
The CLO shrugged. “Micah is chairman. You guys can go outside and select other posts.”
Outside, I grabbed Sharp-Sharp on his hand, which was covered with ambitious veins. “What happened?”
He laughed. “Cassidy, Toby and Amos all want to go to Baba Laje.”
It was my turn to slap his back.
And then, someone tapped me on the back. I turned and scowled at Chiemeke. “Can I have a word with you?”
I walked with him a little distance from the others.
“You have had the first laugh,” he said, without opening his mouth. “I can see that you are tough.”
“And smart,” I reminded him.
He nodded. “Yeah, smart too. I see that you really want this CLO thing for your guy.”
“You can see whatever you want to see,” I said and made to leave.
But he stepped in my way. “I want you to be my campaign manager. Will 15 thousand naira buy you anything?”
I frowned. “I am not for sale, so perish that thought!”
He slapped me on the shoulder. “I am not talking of a bribe. I’m talking of your salary as my Campaign Manager. I am ready to pay you 15 thousand naira every month till I become the CLO… No, don’t give me an answer now. Take your time to think about it.” And he bounced away.
I swallowed a lump as Micah approached me. The other appointments must have been concluded.
“We run things!” he hailed.
I was supposed to reply with, “Things don’t run us”, but my voice suddenly proved uncooperative. It was as though someone had filled my mouth with wads of naira notes, choking me, making it impossible for me to hail my friend.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu