Yola, Pola, Kano and life lessons
The setting was Nigeria of 1998. I graduated from the University and I had to proceed on a one year compulsory service to my fatherland which included a one month paramilitary training as part of the experience. The service scheme is called the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). The NYSC scheme was established in 1973, being a child of Nigeria’s post civil war musings. It was meant to promote unity and development of common ties among Nigerian youths. As such, it became a law that every Nigerian graduate must participate in the scheme otherwise the person cannot be employed in either private or public sector. Except of course, if you previously served in the military for more than 9 months, are above 30 years of age at first degree or earned any national award.
And so in January/February 1999 I took off to Yola, the capital of Adamawa State where I was posted. It took me 2 whole days of road travel to arrive in Yola from Lagos State. Being naturally adventurous, I was excited. I had been to the northern part of the country before courtesy of my dad who was well traveled but I had never been to Adamawa State. On arrival, I fell in love with my host town immediately. Along with my set, I was in NYSC camp for a month under the tutelage of the Nigerian military. As part of platoon six while in camp, the training involved a considerable level of difficulty and required great determination to complete but it was fun being a part of a team of military newbie. Indeed, my life did not remain the same again. I made new friends, took a number of risks, took on some exciting projects and had a couple of epiphanies.
At the end of the one-month paramilitary training, I was posted to work as a subject and class teacher in a village called “Pola” under the territory of Jada local government. This was where my adventure began for the next eleven months or thereabout. Pola means ‘Dove’ which is symbolic of peace and indeed the location was a peaceful place. As at then. I learned a lot of lessons from my service year but I’ll touch on just a few:
1.Nothing beats unity of purpose: Pola was such a remote village that vehicular movement only happened once a week – every Sunday, their market day. If you miss it, you had to wait till the following week. Because of this, passengers often had so much luggage to transport leaving us with no other option than to sit on the luggage loaded onto the vehicle. And while we all scrambled for our spots, it didn’t matter who sat beside us; be it a male, female, Muslim, Christian, atheist, child, physically challenged, elderly – nothing else but space mattered.
And the road network was bad. I lied. Actually, there was no road and there was no network. It was there I learned the meaning of “ku sauka tura”. In Hausa language, it means “everybody get down and push”. And I heard that as frequently as I traveled the land – I’ll avoid using the word ‘road’ again. The vehicles got stuck too many times on the journey that you had to get down and push the truck or whatever you were travelling on. Again, when the vehicle got stuck, it didn’t matter that not everyone on board spoke the same language or had nothing or anything in common. We had two aims – to arrive at our destination even if not on time and safely too. Therefore, we quickly set our differences aside and created an effective means of communicating amongst one another while we pushed the vehicle out of the horrific holes. And we always succeeded. We were not even bothered whether our driver was male, female, Christian, Buddhist or whatever – we had faith the person had enough experience to get us to our destination safely. If you must succeed on any venture, focus on unity of purpose. If you can achieve that, you will succeed on that venture.
2.When faced with a decision – quickly analyze, take the decision and move on: Don’t look back. It was funny that whenever we traveled, some stretch of the land were so bad they were all filled with pot holes. You couldn’t avoid any, you had to choose the pot hole that was your size. Lol! In each instance, the driver would come to a halt, look round, ask everyone to hold tight and just drive on. We didn’t have a choice, we had to pass through one. So he just analyzed the situation quickly perhaps based on past trips across that area but he never vacillated, he was always decisive. Of course he knew the risk involved was that if we didn’t hold on tight enough, one of us could fall out and therefore delay the journey. When on a team, whatever affects an individual progress will ultimately affect the team progress. Take care of it.
3.Make assumptions but test them because you might be wrong: Because I was born and grew up in the southern part of Nigeria, had been taught that there is northern Nigeria, the Hausas live in the north and because it seemed that everyone only talked about the Hausas, I naturally assumed that all of the northern part of Nigeria were occupied by Hausas. I also erroneously assumed that all Hausas were Muslims! O’l boy! I was so wrong! This was a major shocker for me when I traveled and lived in the North for one full year! Thanks to NYSC. Then I knew the North had several other tribes. In Adamawa alone there are the Chambas (amongst whom I lived and worked), Baburs, Bachamas, Bansos, Bayas, Komas, Billes, Bileis, Botleres, Giras and a host of others. I also realized that not all these tribes spoke the Hausa Language. In fact, a good number of the Chambas among whom I lived did not even understand or speak Hausa Language. What am I saying? To make progress in life, we need to make assumptions but test the critical ones among them. When you do, you will grow. And it can save you from untoward bias and prejudice. In my case, it saved me from myself.
4.Follow peace with all men: When you attribute the same value to human life regardless of tongue, gender, age, color and any other standard we have created as humans, life assumes a new meaning. While I lived in Pola, everyone I met and interacted with became my family. I learned to trust and depend on them for my very existence because my closest sibling was at least about 1,500km away nonstop driving and under perfect road condition. Yes my background was different but we had the same red blood flowing through us. To integrate well into the new life I accepted, I chose to live in the same kind of house majority of them lived in even though they offered me what they considered luxury but I declined it. I learned to farm because my host community were predominantly farmers so when they left their houses to the farm in the evenings, we left together. When they returned, we returned together. Yet most of them spoke a different language from mine but I soon learned how to communicate in their language. The experience was symbiotic – I taught them English Language and they taught me the Chamba Language!
Seriously, when we respect our differences and choose to live in peace with one another, life can be full of bliss! My brother is Yoruba. He Schooled in northern part of Nigeria. He married a beautiful Igbo lady who grew up in Kano. But wait for this – even though she is Igbo and speaks her tribal language, she mostly speaks Hausa Language! It does not even end there; because she married my brother who is Yoruba, she also learned to speak and live among the Yorubas! They have very lovely children and I love my in-laws, they are so warm and are always there for you! How beautiful can life be if we choose to value every life equally and live in peace with everyone?!
5.Let your driving force in life be to add value to the next person: It was the late Dr. Tai Solarin who taught me that “we measure life by loss and not by gain, not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth.” I am not sure of the original source of that wisdom filled saying but it has impacted my life a lot. When I was in Pola, through a combination of efforts, I was able to create a library with books for the School in addition to two block of classrooms. I saw the need for a library and the block of classrooms but the community was quite poor. I took it upon myself to pressure the government for assistance. I traveled severally from my village to town. I got the buy-in of the School Principal – that was easy peasy hey? He would often convey me on the back of his old bike to meet the necessary government officials. I booked and attended meetings, presented our case to both the Local and State governments. The government eventually accepted but insisted the community must contribute something. I was baffled. How do people who are struggling to feed their family build classrooms? Negotiation began. We called a meeting of both parents and teachers. We had to do something. Finally we knew what to do. We decided to contribute building blocks for the classrooms. The community was endowed with red earth (mud), so we decided to mold them into blocks! Then the government agreed to provide everything else including man power for erecting the structure. This was eye opening for me. Life never leaves you without an option – there is always something in your life that you can use to catapult yourself into your next level. There is no hopeless situation, there are only a people without hope. What do you have in your hand?
I set out to add value, I was determined to leave the village better than I met it – and I did. No other members of the NYSC scheme had ever agreed to stay in that little village of Pola. But Gaiya Ishaku and I agreed to stay. The others got there and saw problems but we saw opportunity. It was tough. It was lonely. We faced fear regularly. We were without electricity the whole time we spent there. Initially we were even without pipe borne drinking water but thanks to the Federal Government’s Petroleum Trust Fund project then executed by President Buhari, the current Nigerian President. Severally we had reasons to quit, pack our bags and leave but we had a dream. At the end of our service year, the NYSC directorate honored me with an award for service excellence to the people and government of Adamawa State while the local government rewarded me with a handsome cash award. The cash award particularly surprised me. But here is the point; I didn’t set out to earn a cash or government award. I had a dream that was bigger than me and just could not execute it without getting others involved. It’s amazing the resources that life opens up for you when you have a dream that is bigger than you!
6.Get comfortable with solitude: One of the great things about Pola is the fact that it is secluded. I used the time to my advantage. I read a lot (yes, I took lots of books along), did a lot of research on the village called Pola, got more in touch with my humanity, grew in my spirituality and eventually wrote a book. It was my first book and I titled it, “Welcome to Pola”. Solitude is part of life and you have to be comfortable with it and with yourself. When I was in high school, we used to have a special moment we called ‘Silence Hour’. Everyone in the School was required to lay down on the School field for one hour doing anything but talking and moving around. You could sleep, read, do your assignments anything but open your mouth and walk around. Talk of dead silence. And we did this daily for six straight years. I didn’t understand the value until I left School. Little wonder silence or solitude is the foundation of meditation?
When I read the news of bombing in Yola again – it had happened severally in the past, I was quiet. A part of me was touched personally. I lived there and even when I was about to leave at the end of my compulsory service year, a leading private School in Yola offered me a job with accommodation and it was attractive because Federal University of Technology Yola also offered me admission into a Masters degree program. I was happy. They did not bother about where I came from, who my dad was, what tribe I was from etc. That was the northern Nigeria of those days. There was peace everywhere. Judging from reports of past bombings, I suspect the village where we served is no more and I have often agonized over this possibility. Hearing of another terrorist attack got me morbid because I lived there. And then this morning, Kano also came on the news and I have a family root there too. It’s sad. Naturally this sparked some reminiscences and it’s why I decided to quickly put up this piece before the thoughts disappear into oblivion again.
I will conclude by saying this – I believe in life after death but even if you don’t, in the end, what counts on this side of life is not your color, race, religion, gender, tribe, tongue, age or your possessions. It is your contribution to the world and what you will be remembered for. What are you living for? Hate, dissention or ________? Fill in the gap!