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 should 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 see this day. I opened Micah’s door, he was already dressed in his khaki; 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 be thou exalted…
Through with my mouthwash, I turned to see Micah leaning on the pole, sad looking. ‘What’s this? You can’t carry this kind of face to election ground.’
‘Forget my face. Have you spoken to the guys in Snake Lodge?’
I didn’t get it. ‘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 live. Of course, your guess is correct, we call it Snake Lodge because it is 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 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 in that cocoyam gripped me. Micah was standing for election and this guy ask a useless question! Knowing that anger wouldn’t help I squat 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 replied me in Hausa. I am the English graduate here for God’s sake! I bit a cocoyam and nodded with fox happiness. ‘This is classic.’
‘Ah, if you taste cocoyam in my village you know something.’
Less than an hour to the most important event in my service I was here eating and talking cocoyam. ‘Guy, today’s CLO election and we are getting late. 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 and said, ‘Anybody who wins the CLO will be given a land. And I will make sure we plant only cocoyam on the land if Micah wins?’
‘I swear.’ And the general began to shout, ‘Sai Micah, Sai Micah, we must win, we must win.’
I made for the next room. Corpers Reuben and Hameed said no problem, 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, hoha! I sat down on his mattress. Micah had squatted Tosin when he first came and they didn’t seem to like each other. So it had gotten to this extent?
‘Me I no fit vote for that guy?’ I asked to know why and after beating about the bush Tosin told me that Micah was responsible for his burnt small pin Nokia charger. I was ashamed, this bad blood because of 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 96 corps members in this CDS area and 88 of them were present which was a record. It was a little saddening that of the few absent two of them were from my PPA, Mercy, and IBK who were in the hospital. But we would still win without their votes, I was very sure.
The NYSC anthem had just been sung, everyone settled down. The tension in the air was suffocating. On the high table facing us were the LGI and the outgoing CLO, whispering. Then the CLO rose to his feet. ‘The LGI will be going to the other CDS area 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, someone seconded. Chiemeke accepted his nomination. ‘Any more nominations?’ Silence greeted this question. The CLO declared nominations closed and asked the two nominees to step out to the front where everyone could see them.
The hall began to clap as the two guys stepped out. Then the hall went wild with cheers when the two, full of charm, faced us. The shout came mostly from the ladies. From my experience with campus politics, I know most ladies, when they don’t know the candidates personally, voted base on looks. But it would be difficult to pick the handsomer guy, two Michael Scofields wouldn’t have caused more commotion. Next to looks, ladies appreciated sweet voice, knowing that Micah’s voice would 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 laughter on Micah. I felt like throwing something at Chiemeke. Micah just 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 name 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 an offering. After I voted I almost danced back with joy.
For the sorting, the CLO asked two representatives of the candidates to come forward. I and a raw material named Tayo came out. This Tayo guy was so enormous I thanked God it was observation, not wrestling we were out for.
The sorting began. The CLO would bring out a vote, showed it to me and Tayo then gave it to me if it were Micah or gave it to Tayo if it were Chiemeke. I had expected a clear victory from the onset for Micah but the votes seemed to be equally divided. The more 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 collected my wad of votes. He counted out in unison with the audience. 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 at me, I could almost hear it giggling. And I had already congratulated Micah on Whatsapp! If only IBK and Mercy were here! It took me great effort to maintain a civil face 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 43,’ the CLO announced aloud.
‘One vote is missing,’ I found myself saying. ‘There are eighty-eight votes but the tally is eighty-seven.’ With annoyance, the CLO grabbed the bucket that served as the ballot box and turned it face down. A ballot paper fell from the bucket. With a strange sharpness that must have materialised 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 44.’
‘Yeah,’ Micah’s support base exclaimed with relief.
The CLO turned to the LGI. ‘It’s tied ma.’
She rose to her feet. Corper Sharp Sharp burst into the hall, ran through the aisle and came to a slippery stop before our INEC headquarters. The hall laughed, 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 from the clinic. See.’ He brought out a nylon bag from his pocket and poured an assortment of sachets of 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?’ Sharp Sharp was asked.
Calmly, Corper Sharp looked away from the two; cunningly, our eyes jammed. How much? I asked with my eyes. Corper 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 frowning with finality. ‘You are wasting our time,’ our local government inspector told him. 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, ‘thereby 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 carried 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 is a professional. I felt like screaming with joy but big boys don’t celebrate openly, patience boy, tonight, 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 a slight swagger in my steps, the kind of swagger reserved only for Corper Tinubu.
Tweets to @Oke4chukwu