"Welcome Ayodeji. You will be camping in the Niger Delta"October 15th, 2011
The Niger Delta, famed for its oil and kidnappings, is where Commonwealth Correspondent Ayodeji Morakinyo, 24, finds he has been posted to complete his national service military training. Here he recounts his epic coach journey across three federal states.
Having fulfilled all the requirements for graduating, I was mobilised for the National Youth Service Scheme on June 30 this year. When I first received my call-up letter, I wondered what Issele-Uku in Delta state would look like, but nothing tangible appeared in my mind. So, suspense had its way.
On July 4, I travelled down from Ibadan North local government in Oyo State to Issele-Uku. As the approximate 6 hours spent on the journey offered the opportunity to observe the features of cities I had read about but never seen before, I took a pen and paper to make note of what I saw.
A few days before my trip to the camp, I had gone shopping with my recently-discharged corps member sister to procure the items I would need during the 3-week orientation camp. For many it would be a 21-days and 20-nights experience. But I was going to spend an additional night because I had scheduled to arrive a day before the official date.
So, at the market, I had bought beverages, antiseptic bathing soaps, detergents, a bucket, a rechargeable and white shorts, shirts, two tennis foot wears (to supplement the kits that would be provided free at the camp after registration), toilet rolls and every other thing that was needed.
My older sibling had advised on what I must take with me. As such, I was probably more prepared than some other graduates heading for the Delta camp. On the said day, July 4, the bus zoomed off after I had exchanged goodbyes with my Dad. He and my older sister had woken up early to transport me to the Park at 7 o’clock that morning. My sister had done more by buying me a lunch pack at the park. But my hungry stomach had to be patient because I had refused to devour the delicacy immediately.
During the trip, I saw diverse cultural behaviours. And of all the peoples I observed during the six-hour journey, I was particularly fascinated by that of the Edo because their ladies were allowed to ride motor bikes, just as men do in my part of the country. In my state, a woman riding a bike would not be punished in any way but many people will laugh at her. Though not a law, it is a quiet belief or societal norm in Oyo state that women should not partake in certain activities ordinarily perceived as manly tasks. But back in Delta state, even married women were riding bikes and no village elders were their raising eyebrows. It was simply allowed.
As the journey continued, we travelled through three other states before arriving at the junction that led to my Orientation Camp. During that time, I listened to my favourite gospel rock playlist, wrote down my thoughts, observed the villages and communities near the expressway, snapped pictures and read a book. That same morning, I had phoned a friend, Ige Damilola, who was already serving in Delta state (because he belonged to a different batch) to gain insight on how I would find the orientation camp in Issele-Uku.
So, based on Damilola’s advice, I had informed the driver that I was a first time Delta-state traveller and would love to be informed when we arrived at Issele-Uku junction, lest I get lost. The driver agreed and also requested that I remind during the journey. The bus transited through Ogun, Ondo, and Edo states before arriving at Delta state. Along the way, we stopped on two occasions for both feeding and convenience sakes. One of the stop points was Olaitan Filling Station where passengers quickly alighted to purchase snacks and ease themselves.
The other stop occurred at a local canteen close to Delta state where I met Seyi Esan. Seyi had been a friend since my third year at University. We were in the same minor classes and attended the same church and at a time, we lived in the same neighbourhood off campus. During our brief discussion before his bus sped off, I found out that he was posted to Anambra state and had boarded a bus to his orientation camp too, a day ahead of the slated registration date. Really, those of us that arrived at our various camps a day ahead did so because we saw the need to settle down promptly and escape the rush.
Later on, our bus returned to the roads and after several minutes, the driver stopped, informing me that we had reached Issele-Uku junction. I was surely delighted while alighting because the journey had seemed endless and I had grown fatigued. In retrospect, Issele-Uku is a community in Delta state close to Agbor where farming and trading activities dominate the people’s occupation. After alighting, I wished all the other passengers a safe trip to their diverse destinations and was soon surrounded by a crowd of friendly but chatting local traders who were somewhat convinced, without my mentioning so, that I was heading to the camp.
Among these young but older people was a motor bike rider who asked if I was going to the camp. Once I nodded, he courteously took my biggest baggage and swung it onto his shoulder. Then, without asking, he helped me cross the very busy highway. The rest of the crowd, still chattering, were attempting to sell one essential article or the other to me at fairly exorbitant prices. Unfortunately for them, I already had most of them. Thanks to my older sibling! So, I only purchased a bucket and a waist belt.
At the other side of the highway, the bike rider had positioned my bag carefully on his motor bike’s engine. Again, I negotiated the cost of transporting me to the camp’s entrance based on prior information provided by Damilola, my corps member friend and ex-high school mate. I reached a compromise with the bike rider and boarded his bike. By then, the traders had run to the other side of the road to welcome other newly arriving would-be corps members. The area through which we transited was well-developed as I lost count of the number of modern buildings (banks, schools, companies and banks) situated on the streets.
There were some very old buildings made out of muddy cement in the area. After about ten minutes, the bike rider parked in front of an open gate where other young persons like me were also alighting. By instinct, I knew I had arrived at Issele-Uku camp. I paid the bike rider who quickly sped back in the direction from which we came, probably in quick search of another prospective corps member.
I knew I had found the camp yet, for some unknown reason, I waited outside and simply observed the movement of people through the gate. I guess I was wondering where I would sleep. Or maybe, it was because I had come to a place where I knew no one and was innately cautious of my surrounding. Then I observed, while waiting, that once someone entered, they would write down their names in a register and head to the inward part of the camp, towards a place where the hostels were situated.
After a while, I prayed, carried my bags and buckets and entered through the gates. After writing down my name, a photographer suddenly appeared and began persuading me to pause so he could take my first picture on camp. I was initially adamant, but with his unceasing request, I had a second thought and he was successful. I paused and formed a quick smile and he clicked the button on his camera. As I walked on, across the large football field, I remembered the many banners that were welcoming corps members to the camp. Then, a message loomed large in my mind, “Welcome to Issele-Uku, Ayo Morakinyo. You will be camping in the Niger Delta to serve in Lagos state.”
“I am an animated and artistic writer hailing from the southwest region of Nigeria. I hold a degree in electronics and electrical engineering and am certified as an IT professional.
“On days when I am not busy with engineering and management activities, I write prose poems, short stories and journalistic commentaries. In the coming years, I hope to help other people’s lives around the world and aid in the reformation of Africa.”
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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