I served with Wesley Theological Seminary's Institute of Computer Technology (WITS) in Orji, Owerri, Imo State. By the way, don't go looking for WITS, the institute has undergone a name change: it is now called WATS - West African Theological Seminary and the HQ is now in Lagos.
Brief Description of my stay in Owerri.
I arrived the NYSC camp on a hot dusty afternoon in mid-June after seven straight hours on the road. The camp was in the middle of nowhere with neither electricity nor pipe-borne water. It was in the middle of the rainy season and it was literarily raining cats and dogs in the area.
The food was awful and the mud was up to our ankles. The camp generator was put on at dusk and shut down at 11p.m. The gen. was put on again early in the morning at 5a.m. so that we can dress up for parade. I spent 4 weeks of rain, mud, and more mud at "Umudi" - the location of the camp. Of course, looking back, I can say I had some nice times too!
Priest or Nerd
Luckily I got deployed to WITS - a computer appreciation training school belonging to a self-funding seminary. On arrival, we (I and two other men) were shown to our new quarters - our home for the next one year. Since the school hadn't made adequate preparations for us, we had to sleep on mats for the next couple of days. Come Friday of that week, we all headed south (Lagos, Ibadan and Ekiti) for a well-deserved week's break after that energy-sapping month at the camp.
Back after the one week holiday, "we" attempted to settle down. The house that was made available to us had three rooms - two for corpers and the third one for the school's driver and his cousin. The problem was that the previous NYSC corpers (two of them plus another two squatters) were still around and occupying one of the two "available" rooms, so all three new corpers had to share the single "actually" available room. No problem, we just slept sardine-like on the two available beds. Smell my feet-I smell yours and if you are lucky to be against the wall, why, you are free to smell the old peeling paint instead!
Are we three or thirty-three?
Like all good corpers, we soon acquired squatters of our own and before long there were more or less six (6) of us in the room. But somehow we survived for the next couple of months until the previous NSYCs finished their service year and vacated the second room. How do we share two rooms among six-plus occupants?
Married or Single?
By this time, there were two distinct classes of corpers in the house. The first group had as members all the newly wedded guys together with the ones with one or more girlfriends. The second group to which I belonged had only one other member to be exact - Yinka. So when it came to redistributing the room allocation, the married ones wanted us ALL to furnish the second room which would thereafter be used for "entertaining" "guests" and for any other clandestine moves. The room we were currently using at the time would continue to be the community room for living and sleeping in. It immediately became apparent that the proposed allocation formula would not favour the singles and so we put our foot down. In the end the rooms were shared out roughly fifty-fifty. The three married guys took the newly available room, and the three singles stayed on in the "old" room. Oh! I didn't mention the third single guy? Sorry, he in fact is somewhere between the two groups, being fully in neither of the two. His name? Let's call him Ebebedike. Don't be fooled. He is Yoruba.
1. Ayotunde Itayemi. (original member)
I was the loner in the pack. I blended to a large extent but stopped short at a few things. For one thing, I declined to participate in the community cooking/feeding program and chose instead to patronize the local eateries around. My daily life was straightforward and somewhat boring - school in the morning, teach till break, back to teach some more after break, wrote a few lines of C++ in between. Later on, I got a small PP which involved me going to town to teach an Ophthalmologists the rudiments of using a computer. I was later "employed" as a part time lecturer at a computer school down the road from my office - teaching BASIC programming and Data Structures. I taught BASIC programming and Lotus 123 at WITS.
2. Tosin (Ebebedike)
Tosino started out as a bad guy - jovial but smoking like smoke was the next best thing since sliced bread. He normally came home late at night with two sticks of cigarettes in his breast pocket - smokes one of the two right before he hit the sack and the second immediately he woke up. Then he eases himself, and goes out with Nasir for some more smoke. But things changed.
Tosin became a practicing born-again Christian before he left Owerri. And when I still heard from him a few months ago he was still going strong. His conversion was nothing short of a miracle especially for its simplicity. He was a roamer back then (he still is.) Went to Benin Republic twice when we were at Owerri. Went once to the Jamaican embassy at Abuja and various other places in the East. He is in the States at the moment if I am right (via U.K. :-)
3. Nasir (original member)
Nasir was born a Muslim but became a "Christian" later. I suspect it was the simple demands the faith makes on one that caused him to "change" - like many other professed converted Muslims I know. Nasir smoked like a chimney. He started out hiding it from us, but after a while and a lot of "... you are not a kid, if you are going to be bad, be real bad, bold and proud ..." he cast all caution to the wind and made his status known in the public domain. Nasir eased the load on the weary old house by practically moving in with a young uncle of his that was living in Owerri at the time - we still had the pleasure of his company first thing every morning though. He taught Economics
Yinka is a practicing Christian. he was the only real McCoy among us at the time. So among other nicknames, he was called Brother Yinka. Apart from serving with an Insurance company, he played for the Imo State NYSC soccer team that came second in the Federal NYSC soccer competition among states that year. I must mention that Yinka sneezed almost none stop - guess he must have been allergic to something in the air of the place. He also founded the morning devotion meetings where the household members had a chance of washing away the previous day's sins before going out to commit some fresh ones. Nothing like a clear conscience to get one going first thing in the morning.
5. Kehinde (original member)
Known as "Elder One" among other things. Kehinde was an un-repentant womanizer. They came in various sizes and shapes. And some of them were our students! In fact most of them were from the school! And you wouldn't believe the goings-on if you met Kehinde on a Sunday morning. He taught Computing Basics
Elder Three. Immanuel was the oldest among us. Not all that old but still older than the rest. Sometimes he cast his lot with the "ayounges." He started out with a roving eye but within weeks he came home with a beauty that became his single and steady companion throughout. As far as I know they still have it on.
Elder Two. Jacob is from Plateau state. He likes his women and I guess his preference is more for Hausa girls.
The common denominator of course is that all these guys were easy-going jovial and honest beings - which is why about nine of us (Emmanuel's wife and one other mobile corper) were able to live and survive in that two-room abode for more than a year.
The separate and joint exploits of the residents of Number 8 Street, Orji, Owerri is enough to fill a 500-page journal. I may return to share some more of my experiences later.
Back To Civilization
I returned to Ibadan (finally) approximately a year and a month after my original trip to Owerri - of course I made a few trips back home during that one year - for Christmas, my graduation and my father's seventieth birthday at least. I spent about two weeks in Ibadan then headed for Lagos to join the throng of the late Johnny-Just-Comes (JJC) looking for work in Lagos. Luckily, I only spent two months at my aunt's place before I got a job.
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