THE JOURNEY THAT NEVER BEGAN – Chapter1
“The journey that never began actually did began; it only didn’t start the way you wanted it. The paths are never as straight as you want it so follow the path before you and keep your goal in sight; it will take you there.” –Abidemi Babaolowo Oderinlo
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
The stories I am about share on this journey are true stories, real events with real names and sometimes pseudo names to cushion the beautiful and the not very beautiful stories and events that I am going to be sharing for days, weeks, month and may be years to come. If you are a part of my life and you find an event that is “us” in any part of this series and you remember it differently, please feel free to drop the better version in the comment section so the world can know us better because I won’t be taking out anything for any reason or anyone. This series is essentially about my life and journey as an employee, the ups and downs, the events and uneventful lessons learned and shared and absolutely nothing about my employer(s) (as in company), but a whole lot more about the people that I met along the way, the experiences I had through and with them, how we lived, loved, laughed and frowned at each other along the way. This is a story about how the past has shaped the now, and how the future might seem in all. Thank goodness I never signed a non-disclosure agreement with any of my friends in this life so join me as I share a series of disconnected stories with you, and help me in connecting the dots if it’s a story of you and I.
Let’s begin the journey on that afternoon in the month of September 2009. The sky was clear a minute before but suddenly, it began to rain and pour without giving any sign before it did, but it was a relief to see it pour from the window of our tatty room without a storm; “the heat will reduce tonight” Ademola Adesina retorted as he picked up a shirt and pulled it over his tanned, dark, ripped chest and mappable abs. I turned to look at him as he pulled the shirt over his chiselled body, and turned back to the quirky logo I was designing in Corel draw on the laptop in front of me. We were discussing about the possibilities, the opportunities and potentials beyond where we sat. I was cocksure I will always be writer, and evidently a diplomat and politicians either by appointment or election, but I wasn’t going to live my life on public funds so I’d thought about how I was going to start up an IT Services firm, annex the superpower of my very resourceful friends and bringing it all together under my business identity on a platform that provides solution to IT needs. The plan was to design solutions and use the expertise of my friends to build these solutions, especially the programming and application development end of it since I wasn’t really a fan of coding. Ademola moved closer to see what I was chipping at on the computer as the rain poured heavily without us having the need to lock the windows, and began to laugh when he saw what was on the canvas. I threatened to break his head if he didn’t stop laughing, and that didn’t stop him from laughing, but only less hysterical because he knew I could. He asked, “Guy! wetin be this?” in his rusty but near sonorous voice that has landed him a few voice-over jobs, and I answered, “well I am trying to create a logo for my company and that’s it in the making as you can see”. Well, I think I did a great job with it.
I guess he could see what I was doing, what I didn’t see myself is what NYSC was planning for me. I had played many NYSC scenarios in my head, but none prepared me for what went down when Tomilola Omojola told me was “you’ve been posted to JG and I don’t even know where that is”. I was confused at first as well, I didn’t even know what JG meant, nobody around me knew where it was until I checked online and discovered that I’d been posted to Jigawa for my service year. I had told myself that I wasn’t going up North beyond Abuja, I enquired immediately to see if there is anything, anything at all I could do to change the posting from Jigawa, but I was told I will have to get to the Jigawa orientation camp before I can get redeploy elsewhere. I called home and told “Iya Toyin”, I needed a medical report that I will use for the process immediately because I wasn’t ready to risk both my lungs and my plans for some NYSC program that I had classified as modern slavery back then in Jigawa. I was disrupted. I had always been in Lagos and I wasn’t ready to head into a new world of uncertainties, I was going to do anything to protect myself. I knew Samson and Adedayo had gotten Lagos and Abuja respectively because I’d called them immediately. I called Adewale aka Sanya too to see if I could get any info that will aid my redeployment and was a bit surprised when he started complaining about being exempted. He was angry that he was being exempted from service because of his age (Baba done 30+), he felt since Paul Meme was going, he should as well since they were age mates even though he was older by a couple of months. Here I am, angry that I was being sent to some unknown world in the name of NYSC, and here is my friend; craving the opportunity to get sent to the ends of the earth for as long as he was going for NYSC. For a minute I played with the joke of “maybe Baba was trying to run away from babysitting my beautiful Eyimofe… (his daughter)”, but then I remembered how much he loved his wife and how hard he prayed for a daughter; the real reason he named her “Eyimofeloluwasefunmi” meaning “it is what I desired that the Lord did for me”.
Unlike Sanya, I didn’t get what I desired in NYSC posting which was anywhere in the South West Nigeria, Port Harcourt or Abuja. He didn’t get a posting at all so it was a double round of disappointment for two friends, and I wished I could trade his disappoint for mine even though I wasn’t qualified for an exemption certificate; I was younger. Jigawa was the destination so I took a breathing test at LASUTH so that I could get the needed medical report; went to Yaba market to do last minute shopping for tea-coloured khakis and white Tee-shirts, but I was only lucky to get a horrible looking “kembe” and good Tee-Shirts still; the market had been raided by thousands of corpers, and there was practically no single ready-made khaki trouser or shots in the market. I packed my loads in the next few days, armed with medical document I needed and headed for Jigawa on the day I was actually supposed to report to camp even when I knew the journey was going to take more than a day.
Getting to the NYSC camp in Gummel, Jigawa State was another tale entirely. An average of 18hrs in transit on a very smooth ride to Kaduna, a terrible one to Kano after being transloaded plus spending a night at a shanty like hotel before heading to Yankaba Garage to get a bus to my final destination. I was already tired and frustrated, I managed registered at the entrance with the officials checking me in at the gate, only for a soldier to start screaming “drop that your bag over there and come and sit on the ground, you’re late to camp”, I simply replied him with “I’m here for youth service, not to serve punishments” and I continued walking towards building that had a hoard of people that I suspected to be corpers in front of it. The solder barked this time, “Sule, I am talking to you” and one Man’O War dude that was close raced towards me saying “no be you I dey follow talk?” in thick Hausa accent; I simply turned to look at him with a slight grin and just continued walking. He stopped in his track as if he was remote controlled by something, but I couldn’t care less. I got to the crowd, found the right group, got myself sorted and I was assigned a bunk mattress and directed towards a building which turned out to be just a classroom without bunk beds. Men were sprawling on the floor comfortably like refugees that have finally found a place to breathe something other than burning flesh and carbide from explosives, but I wasn’t having it. I dropped my luggage in a corner, stuffed the NYSC uniform they gave me inside it and went back to the accreditation point and told the officers there that there was no way I would sleep on a dusty floor for three week without choking on dust and they just ignored me. I got brassier with my demands and one of the officers directed me to the camp director’s office where I was told to see the health officer. The health officer was a fine man who listened and explained that the hostel facility available was strictly for females because “Okunrin o raye wa”, he explained the men are to manage in classrooms, he feigned being helpless but promised to help me secure a bunk and he did before everything got dark. I got two of the boys lurking around to help me move the bunk, and that was how I ended up being the only man in the particular block that had a single bunk to sleep on. I remember running into a couple of people I knew from school including Segun Sarumi, Ayoola and Toyin Fagesi, but I was a wild a fire in camp and beyond.
I remember writing the speech that won the inter-platoon competition, and also talking back at the Camp Commandant for verbally harassing me because of a girl whose name I will not mention although we later became friends (I’ll share that story when the need arises).
One month later, I was back in Lagos preparing to attend Seyi and Busola as well as Tope and Timilehin’s weddings, and planning to pack my bags and head back to Jigawa afterwards. I am sure you are surprised I am packing my bags to head back to Jigawa right? You see! NYSC Camp wasn’t fun but it quite interesting for me. The call for redeployment application was three days after I got to camp but for some unknown reasons, I didn’t go ahead with the redeployment even though I had everything I needed to do so. Again, I was tempted to apply when the first redeployment list was announced but I didn’t, I’d decided for some inexplicable reason to wait till I get posted for primary assignment before attempting at all, something in me was just at peace with my environment even though I was at war with everyone in camp; military and NYSC officials without breaking any camp rules. Few days after I got back to Lagos, I received an email from the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), one of the core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy and affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that I’ve been offered a slot to study International Development at the CIPE Development Institute for the 2010 Fall semester, and classes were going to be online. The slots were limited and I was required to confirm my participation. Although I had unrestricted access to computers in Lagos, I didn’t have a personal laptop and couldn’t guarantee access to the internet in Hadejia; I was in a perfect dilemma and I had begun to almost regret not applying for redeployment immediately I got to Jigawa because I wouldn’t even be worried about either computer or Internet if I was in Lagos. I knew I couldn’t say “no” to the offer so I confirmed my availability and registered for school.
On the night of Seyi’s Bachelors Eve party, Samson showed up with the gang and I gave him a load down of what I’ve been up to… and how I need to rob a bank to buy a laptop before I head back up north. Instead of helping me get a gun or grenade for the robbery, he backed up his own laptop instead and gave it to me so I can use it for the things I needed to do, his flimsy excuse for such a cowardly act was “I am not ready to come visit me at Kirikiri prison”, instead of admitting that he doubted I will succeed at robbing a bank. He didn’t believe in me even though he did with every drop of blood in his veins. Armed with the laptop, I headed back to Jigawa and by the end of the year, I had finished the program, written a few essays that got recognition and awards, one of the essays even won the best in Africa region at the World Youth Movement for Democracy 2010 Essay Competition. No drums were rolled, but the essay was published in print instead and distributed across the World Movement for Democracy network and published online as well. I was eligible to attend the award ceremony for the competition in Lithuania all expense paid, it was like I’d imagined it and I wasn’t excited about it a bit. I had even started a movement christened “Read 2 Lead Africa”, an organisation positioned to teach the values beyond classroom reading or academic education with the soul purpose of raising informed leaders for the Africa of tomorrow. I was fulfilled that my service year had been so productive even though I was operating from a world that was almost disconnected from the real world.
How I thought I had it all on locked down at this point before things went south. Hell went loose up north when election results were announced on the 18th of April 2011, Jigawa and Kano became a slaughter ramp of the innocent but I made it back to Lagos in one piece and somewhere within that maze, Solution Media and Infotech Ltd. came into the picture with the promises of Limitless Possibilities. The plan was to be unlimited no matter what, so “limitless” sounded similar. I only wanted to walk my own path and not trail the footprint left by anyone or do things because of anyone, but when Oluwakemi texted me an email address with instruction that I should send in my CV immediately, I simply obliged and titled the email “Application” because I didn’t get to see the ad I was responding to by myself before I did. I checked out the add the next day and discovered it was for fresh grads with good IT background, I had more than the requirement so I wasn’t all charged up based on the CV I sent to the address without a cover letter. Six days later, I got an email inviting me for an interview at Protea on Isaac John street, Ikeja and I got really curious. I searched the internet to see if I could dig up any information about the company but I found nothing. Out of curiosity, I replied the email address that sent the interview invitation with
“Sir, I have scoured through the internet looking for information about Solution Media as a company to no avail, can you please furnish me with more information about the company (locally or internationally)… so that I can intimate myself more with the activities of the company in preparation for the interview”
and a few hours later I got a reply “You will get to know more about the company tomorrow, see you at the interview”. the same email address.
Out of curiosity, I went for the interview the next day on the 28th of May, 2011 and it’s been exactly nine years of getting to know more about the company as promised. Nine years of smiles and frowns, sweat and blood, friends and foes working together for the pleasure of that which is desired and perhaps sort-after like a hidden treasure even when it’s out in plain sight, basking in the sun. It’s been a never-ending story of “what ifs” and “maybes”, with lots of laughter and tears when required; a whole world of learning, relearning and unlearning, especially how not to do things, and more importantly, how to get things done; a cluster of undesirable knowledge and the desired that is required to keep things alive and working as an individual and a business. It’s been a long drift from the path I set out to follow in the beginning, but a necessary drift that has horned every skill I had, and endowed me with a whole world of knowledge needed to get back on track and on the path of the journey that I never began.
The truth about a journey is that the terrain determines how you get to your destination no matter how well you are prepared for the journey. I am already on a path in my journey to succeed, this is only a peep into my diary on the path i’m taking and the terrain on the journey.
I am Abidemi ‘BABAOLOWO‘ Oderinlo.