NYSC@50: A degree in Physics is not just an ordinary ‘single honor’ program
I made two attempts to serve my fatherland; firstly I was posted to Kano State but because ASUU was on strike we were only given a letter each instead of our Statement of Result to accompany our NYSC call-up letter. On getting to Kano and surprisingly the same letter that was accepted from my school mates was rejected when it was my turn to be cleared.
One NYSC official studied the letter carefully and noted the language “I write to introduce …….. who has written his final exams of this university but owing to the ongoing ASUU strike his results could not be duly processed. We would be pleased if you could admit him to the NYSC program”. He argued that a result that has not been duly processed can’t be confirmed as good enough for graduation. So I was kicked out of the camp. I cried!
The following year I was posted to Rivers State. On the day that I got the second NYSC call-up letter and my Statement of Result I didn’t even have money to go to my village from Ilorin talkless of traveling to Port Harcourt and the camp would be closing the next day. Friends rallied round to contribute transport money which was enough to take me to Port Harcourt for me.
While they were doing the contribution, someone gave me a name and telephone contact of one man who was a top manager in Shell Petroleum Development Company. He told me to contact him that he would help because he was the President of Unilorin Alumni Association in Rivers State. I was happy. In fact, he told me to visit the man first before proceeding to the NYSC orientation camp in case if there was need for him to make early contacts for me.
I got to Port Harcourt around 7:30 AM the following day and went straight to Shell’s gate. I explained myself to the security man called Blessing, he was dark and tall. He put a call to the man and handed me the phone. In my tired and shaky voice I managed to tell the man who I was and why I wanted to see him. He told me to wait at the security gate till 12 noon when he could leave his office and I waited.
At noon, he came out and asked that I tell him what exactly I needed and how he could help. I responded that in order of priorities I would appreciate if he could assist me to serve in Shell, secondly I asked if he could help me with accommodation until I was able to find my feet and lastly I told him that I have exhausted all my money, was hungry and would appreciate if he could helped with some money to take me to the orientation camp as well as buy food.
In response he asked if I made a First Class or 2:1 to which I responded No then he dropped the bomb! He told me that Shell would never accept anyone who didn’t make a First Class or 2:1, he told me that he would be unable to accommodate me and had no alternative. Lastly, he told me that he does not go to the office with cash so all my requests fell flat right on my faces. As he was delivering the last verdict, he turned and left me standing. I didn’t intend to cry but somehow hot tears started flowing down my dry cheeks.
My life was already full of bad lucks, disappointments and failures I didn’t expect them to start with me that early in Port Harcourt. Somehow the security man Blessing noticed my situation, he wrapped his arms around me and comforted me. It was my first contact with an Ogoni man and I remain forever grateful to him. He gave me 60 Naira and expalined how I would board commercial vehicles to the orientation camp. I only needed 40 Naira according to him so I should use the balance of 20 Naira to buy food.
I got to the orientation camp and got registered without any hiccup. I was given my kits and assigned to a hostel. I was happy and thanked God to at least made it possible for me to be the first person ever from my lineage to become a corper. Trust me, wearing that national khaki was and is still an achievement.
The three weeks camp activities went smoothly for me even though I didn’t partake in most of the activities. While we were in camp, some people went round asking for people who wanted to be posted to oil companies to pay 300 Naira. Apart from the fact that I didn’t have money I knew that even if I paid I wouldn’t still be posted to any oil company because I had neither a First Class nor a Second Class Upper. I studied B.Sc Physics from the University of Ilorin and I was prepared to teach in a Secondary School.
On the day that we were discharged to our places of primary assignment against all rules of play I saw myself being posted to SPDC. I initially didn’t know what it meant until someone told me it was Shell Petroleum Development Company!!! The same Shell? I asked myself and my spirit was dampened by what Oga at Shell already told me.
Anyways I went to Shell to register myself as required and I was number 507th on the registration list. Shell requested for only 100 youth corpers! We were told to come the next Tuesday when they would have pruned down the list according to different criteria such as course of study, class of degree, university attended, special request from departments etc. As a B.Sc Physics (single honor) holder who had neither a First Class nor a Second Class Upper my chances in this race was almost zero but the head of my mother did not sleep!
On the Tuesday that followed we were told that the list had been pruned down to 200 and that a further pruning would happen but we should listen to our names. If your name was mentioned then you have scaled the first hurdle, you would need to come the next Thursday. My name was called as number 15th! Iya Wahabi’s head was unrelenting!
On the Thursday, I was called as the number 5th on the list, given a letter of acceptance to serve in Shell, with all the allowances and benefits. I was deployed further to the Department of Reservoir Engineering where I had the first opportunity to work directly with foreigners (Dutch, French, British, Belgian) and few Nigerians.
I was trained as a Reservoir Engineer for a whole year, my primary roles were accounting, developing, managing calculating and estimating the amount of crude oils in different oil reserves. I worked on Adibawa, Cawthorne Channels and Kolokuma Creeks among others. It was a turning point in my life because it was the first time I knew that a degree in Physics was not just an ordinary “single honor” program but a well sought after discipline. If I knew that Physics was worth that much I would have made a First Class too. What happened was that I never planned to study Physics. I applied to study medicine but didn’t make the cut-off mark. In Unilorin of those days, if you didn’t make medicine you would either be dropped to Agriculture or Faculty of Sciences. The options were very limited.
It was in the third month of my service year at SPDC that I met the Oga who had written me off earlier. He was shocked to see me with my Shell ID card in the Shell restaurant. He couldn’t help himself, he asked who did it for me and I told him it was God. He asked that I should please forgive him to which I made him realized that I never took offense but saw him as one of the many scenarios that I must witness to appreciate God.
My year at Shell prepared me with solid foundation in petroleum industry, I met people who became lifetime friends and confidants like Dr. Rahim Ajao Ganiyu, Mr. Zakari Sime Salih and other great people. During my NYSC year I made friends with great personalities like Engr. Sulaiman Omoniyi. I came out of Shell with a clear path to navigate in the oil and gas industry. Over the years, I’ve risen through the ranks of many companies to become executive director. I am a CEO of my own company and I’ve partnered with various multinational companies including Shell on different projects.. To the glory of God, it has been almost three decades and God has always ensured that my hands are still reaching my mouth.
I congratulate NYSC on achieving the 50th Anniversary and I propose a toast to more national integration, unity and development in the next 50 years.
God bless Nigeria.
Salmon Tunde Alabi, PhD
11th May, 2023