The first CDS meeting after the national elections took place on the last day of April. The top agenda – election of a new CLO. Bako, the chairman of Road Safety CDS group, had been mandated by the LGI to conduct the election. But the LGI thought we didn’t need another blood-splitting election in replacing a deceased CLO and suggested we amicably deliberate and appoint someone to replace Micah. The CDS meeting began by nine, the LGI was expected half an hour later, which meant the new CLO should emerge before nine-thirty.
Bako met with the other CDS chairmen, Lawrence (NEMA CDS) and Amos (MDGS CDS). They approached me where I was seated with IBK and drew me aside.
“Micah’s death is a major shock to all us,” Bako said. Amos and Lawrence made supportive grunts. “He was a great guy, he was an excellent CLO.”
“He was. What’s up?”
“The LGI asked us to appoint among us a new CLO,” Lawrence said.
“We believe you should take the post,” Amos added.
There was a momentary silence. I didn’t see this coming, but my answer was ready. I would never bring myself to take a post that would constantly remind me of, and was in fact, a symbol of Micah’s death, and I hadn’t the energy to lead this mob, nor the patience to stomach the corresponding insults. I told them so. They sighed.
“Let’s offer it to Chiemeke,” Bako said.
Lawrence explained that Chiemeke was no longer interested, and he wasn’t even in town.
“This is really a Memorial School office,” I said. “Someone from Cemetery Lodge ought to take it.”
So we offered the CLO-ship to Dayo. He declined. He was already a Jesus Corpers’ CLO. We offered the post to Edwin. He said no; no excuse, just no and was going to start shedding tears. We left him.
“We can’t offer it to Agu,” Bako said. “Perhaps it’s not meant to be for Memorial.”
“But we still have six corpers in Cemetery Lodge,” I said.
“IBK will make a fine CLO.”
“No, we can’t give CLO to a girl na,” Amos said.
“A woman cannot rule over men,” Bako said.
“Why not? Is it penis you use to run CLO?” I snapped.
“Guy, bring your voice down.”
“Bring what nonsense voice down? You guys are pure misogynists and you call yourselves graduates. You are all eyeing the post. And you can’t even hide your hatred for Memorial.”
My rant was harsh and not entirely true; the last point was false. Amos was one of those who nominated Micah on Election Day, and if they hated us, they wouldn’t be offering the post to us one by one with genuine sincerity. But I didn’t care about little details. I called them names and began to walk away.
“Guy, wait! It’s not about us. What if the LGI rejects IBK?”
“Listen to yourself, Bako. How can the LGI reject a fellow woman? It’s not possible.”
“No one hates women like women,” Lawrence said.
Amos sighed. They didn’t want to fight me over this because the LGI had warned against drawing blood over this post; arguing this would turn a smooth deliberation raucous; they knew all about my warlord credentials.
“IBK is not bad sha,” Amos finally conceded.
“She’s not a snob,” Lawrence added.
Bako shrugged. “What is her full name?”
I told them her name and code number and Bako wrote them down on a jotter he must have been given in one of the numerous uninvited weddings he attended.
“Mehn,” Amos said, “this is first in history. The girl should be proud of herself.”
“She should give us a kiss each.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “she will kiss me on your behalf.”
And we sealed the deal with laughter. Just like that.
IBK had her body and soul on her phone screen when I returned to my seat. For one crazy second, I wished FG would place a ban on phone games. “I want to talk to you,” I said.
“I am all ears.” But her face and fingers were still on the phone.
“What game has eaten this deep into your head?” I tried to remove the irritation from my voice.
“Na, na, guess again.”
She laughed. “Blockhead.”
“Our new CLO is a woman.”
She turned sharply as though I had pricked her delicate skin with a pin. “A woman? You’re kidding.”
I shook my head.
“No, we don’t want a woman CLO o,” she protested.
“She’s a Yoruba girl.”
IBK smirked. “Yoruba? What’s her name?”
“She’s from Ogun State?”
She scrunched her face as she thought. “Ogun State? Do I know any girl from Ogun?” She bit her lip thoughtfully.
Watching those pink lips did a warm jingle inside my belly. I felt a strong desire to kiss her, to get those little bites that killed. If only a strong wind would blow everyone in here into deep slumber and leave us alone. If only…
The LGI walked in just then, and the scrambling and readjusting to seats gave me enough distraction to tear lustful eyes away with a sigh.
“Talk to me joor,” IBK queried.
I couldn’t answer her as Bako asked the house to rise for the NYSC anthem. We began chorusing:
“Youths obey the clarion call
Let us lift our nation high
Under the sun or in the rain
With dedication and selflessness
Nigeria’s ours, Nigeria we serve.”
Then we said the national prayer (second stanza of the national anthem). We got seated.
“Which girl is the CLO?” IBK was persistent.
She hissed. “Be serious jaré.”
Bako briefed the LGI, who said something to him. Bako nodded. She began to write. Then she nodded, gave Bako an appreciative smile and rose to her feet. Bako returned to his seat among us.
The LGI welcomed corps members back from the break. She thanked and congratulated them for their brave performance in the elections. She regretted the death of Micah and praised him for the humility and grace with which he handled the CLO post. NYSC already missed him. She went on to say a lot more. Then she came to the issue of a new CLO.
“On the day of his election, I remember Micah saying that the post of CLO wasn’t a man’s thing, that ladies, if given the opportunity, could do even better. Today, I can’t think of a better way to reward Micah’s memory than making a woman his replacement.”
She paused for the words to sink in. They did. She continued:
“I have been working in the NYSC since 1991, some of you hadn’t been born then, and I have never seen a female CLO. Isn’t it diminishing, even shameful? I have seen female LGIs, of which I am one. I have seen female ZIs. I have seen female state coordinators. But never a female CLO. Why? If a woman can handle the entire corps members in this state, why not be a common CLO?”
We listened, regretful, the stark injustice burning us.
“With the post of CLO being very sensitive to corps members, I never singlehandedly pick my CLOs. I consult the corpers. So after careful deliberations with your CDS group leaders, I present to you Corper Adebayor Joyce Ibukun as your new CLO!”
IBK slapped her mouth, sniffling shock. Then she turned to me. “I will kill you for this.”
I blew her one of her copyright kisses in response.
“Please come up here, Adebayor,” said the local government inspector.
IBK got up and began a self conscious walk to the front. The hall was drenched in total silence, not even a clap, no matter how insincere. There was just graveyard silence, very heavy, a clear rejection of IBK. My heart sank. In my quest to retain the post in the Cemetery Lodge, I had picked someone no one cared about as CLO, someone no corper would respect. This was outright humiliation, oh God…
“Is this Miss NYSC or CLO?” Corper Sharp-Sharp demanded.
“Everything na double-double,” I said, and half of the house chuckled.
“Boys will no longer miss CDS meeting,” Sharp-Sharp added.
The whole house laughed, then began a small clap of applause which soon became a roar when IBK shook hands with the LGI. A handful of corpers even went out and took snapshots of the brand new CLO.
“Hip-hip-hip!” Corper Sharp-Sharp shouted.
“Hurray!” And then followed the song: “For she’s a jolly good corper…!”
The feeling of relief was so much, it knocked breath out of me. I suddenly desired fresh air and began to make for the door. I stopped at the door and turned to steal a look. IBK was about to address us. I held my breath and waited.
She swallowed. “I want to thank you for this. It’s a shock. I never dreamed this… I… I am speechless!”
“Say you love us!” Sharp-Sharp screamed.
“Just say you love us!” the boys began a chorus.
IBK blushed. She opened her mouth, then closed it. She bit her lip. We waited. Then, slowly, in a honeyed voice, she whispered, “I love you.” And the boys went wild. Out of this jungle, Corper Sharp-Sharp emerged and grabbed my hand. “We must celebrate this, I swear.”
Never had a single corps member owed another so much like I owed Corper Sharp-Sharp. He had saved me once again. “What do you want, just name it.” I would make him a minister if he wished.
“I want to eat dog meat. Bingo, bingo!” he sang.
“I will get you one full dog.” The promise was so unexpected that he began to bark like a dog.
“Corper Sharp-Sharp!” I hailed.
“Wooh-wooh!” he barked.
In the over forty years of the National Youth Service Corps, I swear, there had never been a crazier collection of corps members than this. Phew!
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu