I woke up with a slight pain in my ribs, the exact place where Chiemeke shot me in the dream. It was Election Day. I stamped to my feet. Not even a bullet in real life would keep me away from today’s exercise. I didn’t even have time to pray, so while applying paste to my toothbrush, I talked to my Father in my heart.
Papa, thank You for the gift of life.
I fetched water.
It is not by my might that I am in this day.
I opened Micah’s door. He was already dressed in his khakis; he was talking on the phone. I waited long enough to confirm his phoning was about the election. It was. I shut the door.
So many slept last night but didn’t see this day.
I began to brush.
Papa, thank You.
Through with my mouth wash, I turned to see Micah leaning on the pole, sad looking. “What’s this?” I queried. “You can’t carry this kind of face to election ground.”
“Forget my face. Have you spoken to the guys in Snake Lodge?”
“What is wrong?”
“Just check on them.”
I handed him my cup and toothbrush and headed for Snake Lodge, where Gowon and the four Batch C guys lived. We called the place the Snake Lodge, because it was an apartment surrounded by bush; so far, they killed an average of one snake per week. At the lodge, I entered Gowon’s room first. He was seated on the carpet with a mighty bowl full of cocoyam before him. His cheeks were bulging, his stomach seemed like he had swallowed half a bag of cement, and yet he was peeling a tuber of inferior yam with hungry enthusiasm and dipping it in a lame green vegetable sauce.
“You came for the right time,” he said.
“Are you not going to the Owa Palace?” I managed to keep the annoyance from my voice.
“What will they doing there?”
I looked at Gowon’s Adam’s apple, which looked like a cocoyam was trapped there, and a desire to put a sharp knife to that cocoyam gripped me. Micah was in for election, and this guy was asking a useless question?! Knowing that anger wouldn’t help, I squatted down and picked up a cocoyam.
“Cocoyam is my favourite tuber,” I said in Hausa. I hadn’t eaten cocoyam since 2002.
“Walahi!” Gowon declared. “If you wan me happy, gas me cocoyam.”
I wished he’d replied me in Hausa. I was the English graduate here, for God’s sake! I bit into the cocoyam and nodded with faux happiness. “This is classic.”
“Ah, if you taste cocoyam in my village, you know something.”
It was less than an hour to the most important event in my service year, and I was here eating and talking cocoyam. “Guy, today is CLO election and we are getting late,” I said. “Hurry up with this. We need to give Micah a landslide.”
“Wait, if Micah win the election, they gas give him land?”
My temper poked me on the nose. Landslide is not the same as farmland, you fool! I wanted to scream. But that would cost us a vote. So I smiled tightly and said, “Anybody who wins the CLO will be given a land. And I will make sure we plant only cocoyam in the land if Micah wins.”
And the general began to shout, “Sai Micah! Sai Micah! We must win, we must win!”
I made for the next room. Corper Reuben and Judah said no problem, that they would cast their votes for Micah. Corper Austin, who calls himself Jay-Jay, said he was hungry. I asked him to come eat breakfast in the Cemetery Lodge. Then Corper Tosin told me he would vote for Micah’s opponent. Ho-ha! I sat down on his mattress. Micah had squatted Tosin when he first came, and they hadn’t seemed to like each other. So it had gotten to this extent?
“Me I no fit vote for that guy,” he reiterated.
I asked to know why, and after beating about the bush, Tosin finally said that Micah was responsible for his burnt small pin Nokia charger. I was ashamed. This bad blood because of an ordinary 200 naira charger?! I swallowed my shame and asked Tosin to come take my own charger on his way to the palace, and he was appeased. I ran to Cemetery Lodge.
The hall was filled almost to capacity. There were ninety-six corps members in this CDS area, and eighty-eight of them were present. This was a record. It was a little saddening that out of the few absentees, two of them were from my PPA; Mercy and IBK were in the hospital. But we would still win without their votes, I was very sure.
The NYSC anthem had just been sun. Everyone settled down. The tension in the air was suffocating. On the high table facing us was the LGI and the CLO, whispering.
Then the CLO rose to his feet. “The LGI will be going to the other CDS areas to conduct election too, so let’s proceed quickly. We start with the nominations.”
Corper Toby rose up and nominated Micah. Amos seconded. Micah stood up and accepted his nomination.
“Any other nomination?”
Someone nominated Chiemeke, and someone else seconded. Chiemeke accepted his nomination.
“Any more nominations?”
Silence greeted this question. The CLO declared the nominations closed, and asked the two nominees to step out to the front where everyone could see them.
The hall before to clap as the two guys stepped out. Then the hall went wild with cheers when the two, full of charm, turned to face us. The shout came mostly from the ladies. From my experience with campus politics, I knew most ladies, when they didn’t know the candidates personally, voted based on looks. But it would be difficult to pick the handsomer guy here. Two Michael Scofields wouldn’t have caused more commotion. Next to good looks, women appreciated a sweet voice. And knowing that Micah’s voice could melt a sculpture’s heart, I smiled with confidence.
The candidates addressed us. Chiemeke spoke first. He said NYSC had been encroaching on the rights of corps members and had not treated corps members well; he blamed this on poor representation and promised to fight for corpers if elected. The corpers clapped. He added, “This is a job for a strong man, not a woman.” The cheer was firm and the jeer on Micah. I felt like throwing something at Chiemeke. Micah simply smiled.
“We don’t need a strong man for the post of CLO,” Micah began. “What we need is a good listener who will carry our grievances to the authorities. NYSC is our parent here and you don’t need to be strong to relate well with your parents. All we need is to be responsible and resourceful. I want you to elect me as CLO to serve you, to bridge the gap between us and the authorities in a sensible manner. CLO no be fight.” The hall cheered thunderously. Micah added, “And this post is not just for men. I am a man, but it’s just a matter of opportunity, not because a woman cannot be CLO. Remember, what a man can do, a woman can do…”
It was at this point that I brought out my phone and posted congratulations to Micah on the Local Government Whatsapp group. He had murdered Chiemeke and the election was bound to be a mere formality.
The candidates returned to their seats. The CLO asked us to tear a piece of paper and write out the names of our preferred candidate.
“This is a mere formality,” I assured Micah.
After writing out the names, we went to the high table, row by row, starting from Batch A, and submitted our votes in a plastic bucket, like offering. After I voted, I almost danced back with joy.
For the sorting, the CLO asked two representatives of the candidates to come forward. Me and a raw material named Tayo came out. This Tayo guy was so enormous I thanked God it was observation and not wrestling we were out for.
The sorting began. The CLO would bring out a vote, show it to me and Tayo, and then gave it to me if it were Micah’s or to Tayo if it were Chiemeke’s. I had expected a clear victory from the onset for Micah, but the votes seemed to be equally divided. The further the sorting progressed, the harder my heart beat. My palms became unnecessarily damp and beats of sweat crowded my forehead. After sorting and seeing that the wad of papers in my hand looked smaller than the one in Tayo’s hand, my breathing became laborious with imminent defeat.
“We start counting Micah’s votes,” the CLO said before collecting my wad of votes. He counted out in unison with the audience. There were forty-three votes for Micah. Eighty-eight people voted in all. If Micah had forty-three votes, then it meant his opponent had forty-five! Defeat stared me in the face. I could almost hear it giggling. And I’d already congratulated Micah on WhatsApp! If only IBK and Mercy were here! It took me great effort to maintain a deadpan expression as they began counting Chiemeke’s votes. Perhaps two people didn’t vote for either candidate, I prayed.
The more the number grew, the more sweat my forehead gathered. I reached for a mental hankie and wiped my face when they approached thirty-nine. Then ‘Forty… Forty-one… Forty-two… Forty-three… Forty-four!’
Chiemeke’s supporters began to buzz as a sigh of defeat escaped Micah’s lot.
“The votes are 44 to 43,” the CLO announced.
“One vote is missing,” I heard myself say. “There are eighty-eight votes, but the tally is eighty-seven.”
With annoyance, the CLO grabbed the bucket that served as ballot box and turned it face down. A ballot paper fell from the bucket. With quick adroitness that must have materialized at the sight of hope, I caught the paper before it reached the floor. I turned it and ‘MICAH’ stared at me. I handed it to the CLO.
“The vote is for Micah,” he announced. “The tally is now 44 to 44.”
“Yeah!” Micah’s support base exclaimed with relief.
The CLO turned to the LGI. “It’s tied, ma.”
She rose to her feet.
Just then, Corper Sharp-Sharp burst into the hall, ran through the aisle and came to a slippery stop before our INEC headquarters. The hall burst into laughter, releasing a much accumulated tension. The LGI didn’t find it funny and asked the crasher if he had ever seen a university wall before.
“I am very ill,” the corper cried, “and I’m from the hospital. See.” He brought out a nylon bag from his pocket and poured out an assortment of sachet drugs on the floor.
The LGI relented somewhat. “I think you should visit a real hospital. Anyway it’s good you are here to serve as tie-breaker.” She asked the two contestants to stand up. Micah and Chiemeke stood up. “Which of these two do you vote for as CLO?”
The corper looked away from the two, a sudden cunning expression on his face. Our eyes met and held.
How much? I asked with my eyes.
Corper Sharp-Sharp wiped his face with his five fingers, meaning five thousand naira. I scratched my jaw with two fingers, two thousand. Sharp-Sharp slapped an imaginary mosquito on his chin with four fingers, four thousand. I began biting three fingers (three thousand) and frowned with finality.
“You are wasting our time!” the local government inspector told him sharply.
I bit my lip, deal?
He gave me a half-smile… Deal!
Then he cleared his throat. At this stage, he was the most important corps member on earth. “I…” he began slowly, “hereby cast my one and only vote for Corper Micah.”
It took a full moment for the message to hit home. In fact, it was only after the LGI said, “Your next CLO is Micah”, that rapture happened. The triumphant noise was deafening, like a celebration of a Super Eagles World Cup goal. Micah was lifted shoulder high and whisked out of the hall, to the Owa Palace for the traditional CLO blessing.
Corper Sharp-Sharp packed his drugs and began to walk away. He didn’t even look my way. This guy was a professional. I felt like screaming with joy, but big boys don’t celebrate openly. Patience, boy, tonight, there would be no sleep in the Cemetery Lodge. So with a straight face, I shook the CLO’s hand, shook Tayo’s hand and bowed to the LGI. I began to walk away with slight swagger in my steps, the kind of swagger reserved only for Corper Tinubu.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu