At about 6am we marched haphazardly to the R.S.M Yamusa Zakari Kumasi Parade Ground. This basically was where the cadre course was to take place. The cadre course, as the name implies, is an orientation programme meant to acquaint entrants with the prerequisites and prospects of training in the military school.
The duration of the cadre course was two weeks – two weeks of life-transformation – from a raw civilian into a useful tool for the army, as they call it.
Other companies were already assembled on the parade ground by the time we arrived there. We were a few minutes late and were punished severely for this. The Sgt Korfo, another name for the penal officer, commanded us to hop from the cook house, to the parade ground. We hopped until our limbs ached. When we arrived, we were sweating profusely. Some of my classmates staggered and fell when they tried to get up after the brief putty.
The orientation speech was the first programme during the cadre course. It was read by Captain Adebiyi, the Administrative Officer (AO). The unmistakable Yoruba accent that coloured Captain Adebiyi’s speech announced his identity as a typical Yoruba man. For instance, he kept pronouncing words like institution as “institusion” and Charlie as “Shally” I wondered what Capt. Adebiyi was doing in the military; I thought he would have done better as a Yoruba teacher in one of the high schools in Lagos. His speech, in the main, was to welcome us and highlight impending challenges. He followed this with the orientation speech. In spite of his awkward accent, I was able to jot down the following points after reviewing the speech over and over again.
“The Nigerian military school Zaria was established on 20 may 1954 as the Boys Company. It was a forum for exploring the talents of promising career men in the army. In pursuing that objective, she admits young and adroit youths to an initial five-year programme (now six years) upon the successful completion of their course they are adorned with the title “ex-boy” which was a pre-requisite for further professional training relevant to the military profession, with the overall aim of producing skilful and adequate manpower as a reconstructive measure for the army after several incidents resulting in the dearth of skillful manpower in the army. “Ex-boys” from the military school are highly disciplined, intelligent and outstanding compared to their civilian counterparts, it is a …
The speech went on and on. The most challenging part of the speech was the conclusion. It said “remember that the heights that great men attain are not due to a sudden flight, but while their companions sleep, they toil upwards through nights” this part of the orientation speech gave me the impulse to determine to do my best in all my endeavours.
After the speech we all moved to the middle of the parade ground for first period, which was the “drill” exercise. This entailed the uniform co-ordination of an individual’s psychomotor skill by the alternating swing of the arms and legs in a definite pattern such that the overall movements were harmonious. In addition, the drill exercise was aimed at inculcating a high level of self-discipline and concentration in the individuals, which is the bedrock of every soldier. The instructor for the drill class introduced himself as Sgt Gasket. Sgt Gasket was tall, slim and dark complexioned. His bushy moustache matched his protruding stomach that held his belt firmly and slightly above his waist. For a slim man with a protruding stomach Sgt Gasket did not feel in any way awkward, he was complacent and full of himself. We attributed his protruding stomach to excessive consumption of a local brew called burukutu, usually sold at the mammy market in the little town of Angwan Godo. This made us secretly call him Sgt kwashiorkor.
“Akuya” (which means goat in Hausa) Sgt Gasket yelled as he stood akimbo to introduce the lesson of the day. What an awkward way of welcoming freshmen!
“My name is Sgt Gasket and I am your drill instructo” (Trying to say instructor). “We are going to beginning with attention by lamba (trying to say by number). When I say attention by lamba skwad one (trying to say “squad one”), you raise your lept poot off pipe inches above the ground( trying to say “Left foot up at five inches above the ground”) like this (demonstrating). Remain still and shout one! Am I loud and klia (trying to say “loud and clear”). He boomed after talking for about seven minutes non-stop.
“Yes sir” we screamed in response.
“Now wait for the next word of command”. He ordered.
By this time we watched him as he demonstrated.
The practical session begun, we partook in the attention by number 1 drill. On our first attempt, we succeeded at producing a clutter of sounds after dangling one foot before we struck the foot on the ground. Sgt Gasket was angry at our response after successive demonstrations “you are all a baggers!” He screamed while piercing the defaulters with a sharp end of the wooden rod in his hand.
“You think you hab came hia to flay, ba?” He continued angrily (trying to say, you think you have come here to play?!
“Now watch me,” he said demonstrating. This time we watched the procedure attentively and were able to perform better after consecutive attempts. However, we enjoyed every bit of the attention by number 1 drill after repetition. We proceeded to attention by number two after our drill instructor was pleased with our performance.
The drill lesson extended to the hostel as students rehearsed the day’s lesson individually. The end-room was livened with shouts of “attention by number squad one and two” respectively until dusk when we all retired to our beds.
I was engrossed with the thoughts of the drill class as I recalled the events of my first day at the military school. Everything was indeed, fun and I was prepared for more to come.
The next day rolled in on the crest of a refulgent sunshine it was the second day of the cadre course. I got out of my bed and prepared for the day’s lessons. The lesson for the day was WEAPON TRAINING and the name of the instructor was Cpl Okon, whom we later called “Oga Commando” because of his stout and muscular physique, and the passionate way he held the rifle like the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his movies. Oga commando’s light complexion and good masculine posture was a sharp contrast to the lanky and awkward looking Sgt Kwashiorkor whose protruding stomach had taken over his flat chest. Anyway, their physical disparities suited their fields of specialization. Should they have any reason to swap areas of specialization, it would have been the quirk of fate because Oga Commando’s stiffness would to permit the efficient movement of his limbs in a drill class. In contrast, Sgt Kwashiorkor’s gangling limbs would simply have detached if he had attempted to lift a sub-machine gun.
We assembled in the open field, the venue for the lesson. Oga Commando came in a few minutes after we arrived. He began by apologizing for coming a bit late. He thereafter introduced the lesson by educating us on the various parts of the rifle and ways of handling it. His hot-tongued expression made it seem as if he had a saucy hot dog in his mouth; his own case tempted me to believe that the staff’s native language interference in English pronunciation was an epidemic in the military school. Oga Commando’s English pronunciation readily gave him away as a typical Calabar man. At the end of the lesson, I was able to jot down the following points.
“The rifle is your personal weapon
You must love it as your wife
It is your license to life.”
With the foregoing, therefore, we were to give the rifle priority over life because, with the rifle, you have life; without your life, you are a dead man. These assertions sounded quite absurd when I first heard them, as I was unable to see the importance of an inanimate object over man. However, I was later made to understand the mystery behind this ideology. The lesson was interesting especially now that we were being introduced to the rifle for the first time. The class ended with a great applause after Oga Commando’s successive display of different firing positions.
Two weeks went by with the speed of light and the last day of the cadre course was suddenly on us. The physical training class was the final event of the two –week action packed programme. The instructor for this class was Staff Sgt Akpai. I tended to infer from his name that he hailed from Kogi State. His petite physique and lithe body suited him for his specialization.
Several exercises were lined up for the physical training class. After performing the various static exercises we proceeded to the 3 – km fitness race. This lasted for the next forty-five minutes during which we were able to display a high level of perseverance and teamwork as we ran across the four walls of Chindit barracks and back. Unlike the interview fitness race, this one was lively because of the dramatization added to the morale songs. This took much stress out of the race.
We ran and sang at the top of our voices as we replied oh!oh!oh! in response to the song leader.
Song leader: mama come and see we dey suffer!
All: Oh! Oh!! Oh!!!
Song leader: come and see we dey suffer!
All: Oh! Oh!! Oh!!!
Song leader: Dem go give us water!
All: Oh! Oh!! Oh!!!
Song Leader: Dem go call am tea o!
All: Oh! Oh!! Oh!!!
Song Leader: Dem go pin our head o!
All: Oh! Oh! Oh!!!
Song leader: Dem go call am training!
The song went on and on until we returned to school.
All we did was respond Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! to the verses.