Somehow, though, I couldn’t shake a weight off my mind; there just seemed to be something clogging my channels – something I couldn’t blame on the overdose of the previous day. The words hit the roof of my skull as I bent over for a routine stretch: “leadership” and “take charge”. “Whatever do these mean?”, I mused to myself. “If any words have the gumption to invade my mind and contend with “cake” and “fried rice”, should it be “leadership” and “take charge’?”. What could be more “taking charge” than bagging an airfare and deciding to travel home by road – being infinitely more dangerous, fifty times more strenuous, ten times more time-consuming but, ultimately, twenty-three thousand naira cheaper? [btw, all facts double-checked]. And, what could be more “leadership” than investing some of that “hard-earned loot“ in a new battery for my laptop? There must have been some terrible network error; that ‘leadership and take-charge’ message definitely wasn’t for me.
If you’re wondering about my mini-adventure, we’ll get to it in a bit. I should start by saying 2010 had been a real cakewalk for me; even rocks were wrapped in chocolate. Everything fell into place long before due – and with minimal effort. It was as if someone had activated a walk-through for me. However, that easy year had been over for a while now and, though I didn’t know what the new year held for me, worrying was never been my favourite pastime. What did I know? Maybe I should have worried!
It took less than 72 hours of the new year for me to say – and with all sincerity, too – “this is my craziest year ever”. Almost everything that could possibly go wrong had appeared to do so. I had made a (crooked but profitable) trip down home without official leave and news had now reached me that the date for ‘clearance’ was fixed. It was time to go back, but due to “logistic problems”, I couldn’t repeat the same money-spinning feat. I was, however, still resolved to squeeze as much from the fare as I could. The master-plan was to fly to Abuja, pass the night, then do the remaining eleven hours to Maiduguri by road. It’s no news that the ancient city of Ile-Ife still cannot boast of a port: air-, sea- or even rail. So, by the second day of the year, I was off by road: Ife to Osogbo, Osogbo to Lagos to book an Abuja-bound flight for the evening of the next day. I was to spend the morning of the 3rd playing host to a very special somebody. And, after many weeks of planning, five short minutes to her supposed arrival, she called to cancel. With all that planning, how could anything have possibly gone wrong? She probably didn’t know, but seeing her amounted to about 80% of the “interests” I told my folks I had to attend to in Lagos. What a way to start the year; nothing had appeared straight-forward so far! Still, what did I know? The movie was still at the first scene!
I’m usually the guy to wrap my head around details before making a move; precision, precision, no surprises! No matter how small or simple the task at hand, extensive planning usually preceded my mildest attempt to execute. Truth is: if men were snakes, I’d have been a Boa Constrictor; forget the King Cobra. Yet, as soon as the line went dead, I ran thoughtlessly for a bus headed her way, fully aware that there was every chance of missing my flight – and without any semblance of a back-up plan. As I made my way to her house, I remembered thinking –like I had on the home-bound bus – “thankfully, this doesn’t happen every day”. The thought helped paint a picture of compliance with my hitherto sacrosanct ‘play-it-safe’ rules. The visit was soon over and I was left to make the craziest dash for the airport I had ever seen: foot-race to small bus, small bus to first BRT, to the second, to another foot race, to a rocket-propelled bike-ride. In fact, if I had my way, the bike would have taken me straight to the counter! Boarding had closed by the time I entered the airport, but they let me through after some nervy ‘dialogue’!
You could not have guessed that I bought the ticket to Abuja without enough time to think my accommodation plans through. The first few options I tried were a dead end, as everyone was down south for the yuletide. It wasn’t the most inspiring news of the year but one thing was for sure: I wasn’t prepared to spend all my transport allowance – and whatever sacrifice (aka inconvenience) made that possible was welcome tolerable. The final piece of good news came on the way to the airport when a long-lost pal said his doors were open. Terrific, except I had absolutely no idea how to get to his house; another blessing hidden behind a rock-themed veil! The standard ‘please turn off all mobile devices’ sing-song smashed any hopes of getting (cheap) directions.
As such, the plane landed with me having absolutely no idea how to get where I was headed. After enlisting some help from Zamfara, I finally found my way. Another part of the journey had been completed; the last was to commence the following dawn. Midway through that very long trip from Abuja to Maiduguri, I kept pondering the risks involved. Again, the voice in my head said “thankfully, this won’t happen every day”. Many hours later, in spite of all that could have happened during that very long journey, I was back in my flat and a few quid richer too! It felt damn good to have “taken charge”. Of course, I’ve never had issues with taking charge – as long as it paid me. I mean, don’t we all do that? Maybe that’s what the message sought to address; maybe not. Whatever the case, I was way too tired to think straight!
The next day, while putting my room back in order, it hit me between the eyes like a sniper’s message: It had “paid me” way too rarely to take charge. Yes, planning is critical for success, but after all my careful preparation, what next? What do I do when things don’t go to plan? Do I just “try something else” – or do I have the requisite brawn to force a result? Do I sometimes refuse to start because the chances of success are too slim? Saying everyone has a bright idea in the shower is anything but sarcastic; it’s simply an “in memoriam” of those revolutionary ideas that didn’t make it out. It’s probably more striking that their death isn’t always caused by bad memory; rather, an unwillingness to quit the “comfort zone” – an over-evaluation that only serves to stifle creativity. Maybe it’s about time I closed the rule-book and took my guts to town! No one ever changed the world by “playing it safe” – not even Gandhi; unless you’d call a hunger-strike safe. Leaders take charge, take risks, make mistakes, then grit their teeth and take more risks.
I must have swallowed a tank-full of nothing in the time it took me to process the revelation but I had now gotten the point. Somebody had to take charge of those “little areas” – and that was one privilege too big to afford my neighbour.
The INEC exercise was going to be my first true test of my new resolve. Naija-ristically, despite conscientious attendance at the training, I wasn’t drafted. Funny how I wasn’t disappointed; you seen the news [#EnufSaid]. After a few idle days, however, the “freedom and safety” stopped being enough. So, with that mindset, when a friend called for assistance at his unit a few days later, there was only one possible answer. Some of you already heard that for a long time, I was saying “I am deaf” in Hausa, while I really meant to say “I don’t understand”. Still, those days were some of my most exciting ever; I felt as alive as “freedom and safety“ could never make me. In about ten days, I connected so much with the locals that they offered me three wives [one of them was eight months old, btw]! Though the germs, flies and sun got to me and I caught a fever, I couldn’t regret any part of it! And, over what? The fat pay? My pal was only to cover my transport expenses; it was all for the experience – the pride of surviving something “risky”.
In spite of how many jobs I juggle, when the space opened up a few days later, I asked my CDS to make me her president. As a rule, I never contested any electoral office but, as you rightly guessed, somebody somewhere was now eating Suya off the pages of what used to be my rule-book. Before even saying anything, while everyone waited for a rustling of the leaves, I picked my phone and called up as many of my peers as I could reach – telling them how important taking up responsibility was. It didn’t matter that our superiors often accused us of foot-dragging whenever there was work to be done. I talked each one through their strengths and, together, we decided on an office to vie for.
When it came time for my manifesto, I opened my tiny mouth and said “I wish the our president didn’t have to leave but life often makes demands of us – and how we respond to those determine how history would remember us……… I’m not seeking a platform from which to bark others at them but the honour of riding side-by-side with them as siblings of the same parents, partners in the same business and soldiers of the same crusade……. I’m convinced that, working together, we could take our potentials past reality, into immortal history”. The results were jaw-parting: 100% unanimous in my favour. In that moment, I couldn’t help feel bigger than a winner – like Obama’s grandmother, Hamilton’s dad and Tiger Wood’s coach all rolled up in one person!
How much prouder did I feel when those dubbed ‘dissenting voices’ by previous administrations led the line to take up responsibility at the last meeting. It was quite a scene: a diminutive me sat there moderating proceedings while men with chin-forests stacked idea upon idea to forge a new future. Then, the rest of the cryptic message sifted through my mind. Maybe somebody had seen the movie “2011” that had me playing lead – but why was the message ever paraphrased? It was now crystal clear; the message had taken on a fuller and more meaningful form. The message now reads “Leadership and taking charge should not be an occasional habit. They should be an everyday vocation”.
And, while I cannot say I’ve passed the exam, I sure have taken the first impromptu test in stride. 2011 can bring on whatever; I’ll grab its horns and ride. So, head-start, headlong, I’ll play it a little “headless”; 2011 can only mean headway!