The Poor Don’t Cry

by Dele Oluwole

“You won see oga? For wetin? Oga don go defence head-kuatas for Lagos, na dia be im new office now”. It’s about eight years now yet the memory of this remarkable conversation registered itself indelibly in my mind. Suddenly this afternoon the event again restores in my mind and I could recollect everything just like it occurred 24 hours a go.

I had just completed the national youth service corps and was in dire need of a job to keep the battered body from failing and the soul from going astray. Five days before the conversation with this army sergeant I had visited the naval headquarters in Abuja to see a navy admiral after obtaining the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) officers short service form as a graduate. I remember holding the form tightly like a trophy as I was among the lucky few who took the initiative to travel from Lagos to Abuja for the priceless form as the army headquarters in Lagos claimed it had run out of it, but the same form was still exclusively available for applicants that could afford to part with the unofficial N5000. This development was coming especially at a time when the last NYSC stipend, ‘alawi’ in my account was expended on public transport to interview venues.

I couldn’t afford the supposedly free form that was being obtained for N5000, instead of climbing the mountain I thought of a way round it, and that was after a tip off from a friend that the same form was available for free in the federal capital territory, Abuja. That evening I decided to embark on an impromptu trip to Abuja.

At the popular Oyingbo motor park all I had was N760 and unfortunately a one way trip to Abuja on the popular Ekene Dili Chukwu luxurious bus would cost me N750. I resolved to buy the ticket anyway and was neither bothered about how to come back nor what will sustain me while in Abuja. My immediate concern was to obtain the supposedly free form that was going for N5000 in Lagos for free; I therefore threw caution to the wind, after all I was already equipped to the teeth as I had originals of all academic qualifications, photocopies, and passport photographs, and some toiletries (Dailyneed tooth paste, brush, and Joy bar soap) in my Bagco (cement) super sack bag.

I was about handling over the N750 to the conductor when I decided to walk round the park for the last time, come back to pay for the fare and take my seat in the Abuja bound bus when suddenly I heard a conductor calling out for 2 more passengers for only N550. I dashed toward him and asked ‘N550?’ ‘Yes, come in’ he replied. I stood at the door, looked in the bus and saw that the seats were all occupied with a lot more people standing. I then turned to him asking where I was going to seat. He replied fuming ‘I beg commot for road if you never ready to go make better passengers enter, no be people dey stand from Lagos to Maiduguri for 18 hours?’. As I was about stepping out my eyes caught three people at the door waiting impatiently to take my place. In about 3 seconds I joggled my brain for alternatives and found none. With immediate effect of alacrity (apology, Chief Eleyimi of village headmaster fame) I took the fastest reverse ever to join my ‘comrades’ to stand for 9 hours in a bus to Abuja. After securing a standing space, I began to encouraged myself; after all I would still have some change left to feed with while in the capital city. I was not prepared to bother my head over the return trip and as far as I was concerned ‘I shall cross the bridge when I get there for now the most important thing is to obtain, complete, and submit the NDA short service form’.

As we travelled through Ore town nature took its toll, while standing I went into hallucination; I saw myself doing well at the NDA interview and eventually offered admission into the academy in Kaduna for the six month short service course… I passed out as one of the best cadet officers ever and was posted to the Apapa garrison command where I further learned the military artistry.

Three months after graduating from the NDA as army 2nd Lieutenant we were each given N800,000 to settle down and get a house privately as our flats in the army barracks were under renovation. Each of us was also given the keys to a new Volkswagen Jetta car, as 2nd Lieutenant the army could not afford to see us disrespected in the free Lagos Molue and Danfo buses like the ordinary Corporal or Sergeant Recruits. After 2 years I became a full Lieutenant, in five years I was promoted to the rank of a captain and in just 7 years an army Major rank was fastened to my shoulder by my commanding officer. I was immediately named the new garrison commander. After putting ten meritorious ten years in the Nigerian Army with yearly frequent trips to Australia, Germany, and America for military training my commanding officer put my name forward to the Chief of Army staff for promotion to the rank of a Major General and suddenly the ‘bust’ driver shouted “we go soon reach Okene junction for Ajaokuta, everybody make una lie down. Na dia armed robbers road block always dey, I go fire pass for high speed, if you remain standing na your own wahala be that ooh”. I was very angry; at least the yeye bus driver could have just allowed me to receive the major general rank before shouting. That rank was what I was waiting for to shoot me into the political arena of the country and put my name in the history book, suddenly it was dawn on me that I was standing and a potential target for the merciless armed robbers. I looked down and between my feet were two commuters, by this time there were two layers of people already on the bus floor. It was either I joined to start the third layer or remain standing to face the armed robbers fire force, ‘just that this time in a real life situation and not a mirage’.

When I got to the Army headquarters in Abuja I was able to obtain the form for free. I completed the form and returned it the next day. As I walked out of the army office a corporal who I saw in the officer earlier approached me and asked if I truly wanted to join the army as a cadet. I looked at him and thought of what would happen to me if should utter the right answer to his foolish question, I calmed down and nodded gently. He asked, “Do you know a major general or know someone who knows any military officer from the rank of a major general or equivalent?” I said ‘No’. He laughed and said “that ya form no go reach Kaduna”. Immediately I knew what he meant, he offered to help me but that I must raise N27,000 in 48hours for his colleague who could talk to a major general that can include my name in his annual NDA quota. I did not take the bait, not because I did want to but simply because I couldn’t possibly raise the money. As I walked back to where I was putting up in Abuja I ran into an old friend who advised that a stamped Royal letter from the Obaro of Kabba to a Navy Admiral who is from Kabba will get me into the academy. I still had some change left from the N760, so I took the next bus to Kabba my home town but alas the King’s guard who took my name, father’s name, and grand father’s name to the king came back to me that the Obaro said I should just go to the Admiral and mention that I was from him. I knew that was simply a road block and I understood the message perfectly and walked away more disappointed than I was before making the request ….. and I left in shame.

Those days, I do not understand the word ‘No’, so I went to a lesser and third class king, Obajemu of Egbeda, Kabba who was happy to give me a scribbled royal note for the Admiral in Abuja …


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Dave D. A. November 11, 2008 - 10:07 am

I think what the writer’s narrated here is a true story of his ordeal at the hands of authorities who apply illegal method to making money. Truely, the short service form should be for free or for peanuts, however the channel through which it is distributed to the public is corrupted. It is my suggestion that adequate monitoring machinery be put in place to stop the trend where officers use the forms as a means of enriching themselves. The military is a respectable and responsible organisation and as such it’s decency should not be addulterated by corrupt officers. An effective and proactive monitoring team could be put in place to arrest this development. It is our responsibility to guide and protect the decency and respect of the military. Let’s show that we love the military. For me that’s the best place to be. I love the ‘BIG BOYS’ I love ‘THE MILITARY’.

mr okpara anthony December 10, 2007 - 4:35 am

practically purtrials the experience between the rich and the poor in the nigerian economy in all this the poor still dont cry instead the rich do.

Ngozi September 15, 2007 - 5:42 am

wonderful piece, is it a true story? i can not wait to read the part two

Rosie September 14, 2007 - 5:03 pm

Love the humor.


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