The Dental Clinic at Hadejia General Hospital was just a room of three by two metres dimension, with a single dental chair that looked more like an old Barber chair, and couldn’t be reclined, but can be raised or brought down, by employing a foot pedal behind it. Ventilation was by a window at the back and the main door in front, hence it is dark when “there’s no light” (in Nigerian lingo), due to Nigeria’s perennial power challenges, and except one looked closer it would appear like an empty and abandoned part of the hospital. His “Boss”, Mallam Bukar a native of Birniwa also in Jigawa State was also one of the members of the hospital’s dignitaries at the Medical Director’s office earlier that morning. Bukar would later confide in him, that he chose him over the other dentist, because he felt he could work with him. Bukar seemed a nice man, he’d graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka as a Dental Technologist, and usually handles the Dental cases at the clinic, when no dentist is posted by the NYSC to the hospital.

Mallam Bukar was guardedly friendly towards him, and it was quite understandable, especially if that boss-employee relationship (where Bukar is boss) is to be maintained, even though the dentist should ideally be the head of the team, and Bukar should be the one answerable to him. He wondered what it was that Bukar saw in him in the few minutes they spent at the medical director’s office, that influenced the decision to take him and not the other dentist. Could he have presented himself as one that is more agreeable, more compromisable or that can be easily taken advantage of? If those attributes favoured him in terms of getting placement at Hadejia General Hospital, will it not in the long run disadvantage him in the future? It’s not like it’s cast in stone that the rejected dentist won’t find an altogether better alternative that will give bounce to his career, and in the future be grateful for that setback that came in the way of rejection, which in actual fact he (Uche, the other dentist) took stoically, appearing indifferent when he was told he had to look further for deployment as there was just one slot open at Hadejia. These thoughts, and many more occupied his mind as he accompanied Bukar to the location of Dental Clinic within the General Hospital.

There was no other staff besides him and Bukar, and the latter didn’t waste so much time explaining how things worked there. He was promised a free hand to work, and he should be free to make any request concerning things he’d need or suggestions he thinks will enhance his work at the clinic. From the look of things, he could tell that much of the work will be Atraumatic Restorative TreatmentsART seeing as the dental chair wasn’t fitted with the necessary apparatus that would’ve made that possible. Bukar did show him a newer dental chair with an air compressor in a bigger, better ventilated room that was yet to be installed to function. He shook his head, understanding that the way things work in Nigeria, except Bukar or the medical director was particularly interested in setting up the dental facility to work optimally, that dental chair and it’s accoutrements will rot there, as is the lot of many an equipment state governments allover Nigeria will purchase, and distribute to relevant institutions in the state, but fail to follow up to see to their installation and subsequent deployment to use for desired purposes, especially when they are located away from the state capitals where oversight functions is easier (as peculiar with Nigeria) to carry out. When Bukar explained to him the protocol involved in getting things done, it was clear to him that it will require more than the less than a year he had to spend in Jigawa to work towards the eventual setting up of the dental clinic to what it should be. He decided there and then, to be content doing just Tooth Extractions and Scaling and Polishing, hoping that when next he’s able to leave for Lagos he’d replenish his stock of the Composite (Tooth) Filling Material he’d brought along with him for the service year.

The only beneficiary of the filling material so far, was Gold. He’d met her at the camp clinic, a dashingly fair lady, of small stature, and a hustler in her own right, who knew how to hold her own in a conversation, especially when it concerns things she has interests in. She was one of those corpers from Batch B (outgoing batch to his A), who’d been selected to help camp officials with his batch while at camp. She had come to market a book she’d written, for corpers aimed at helping them understand simple day to day Hausa words, to ease communications between corpers, who don’t understand the language, and the people they come in contact with daily. She had made a tape too, and he opted for that because he felt he’d assimilate that better than reading it. It would also solve the intonation challenge, which was more important if he wasn’t going to stand the risk of insulting someone in Hausa because of the issue of homographs, homophones and homonyms, that have landed many non-native speakers of the Hausa language in trouble, even to the extent that a man from southern Nigeria escaped lynching by the whiskers in Kano, because he was said to have blasphemed Islam and the Prophet, whereas it was a case of wrong intonations. He had resolved that only in English, or the pidgin would he hold conversations with people he encounters daily, for the one year he’d spend in Jigawa, and if he comes across those who wouldn’t understand the language, he’d simply let go, if there was no one to stand as interpreter. The book and the tape Gold hawked provided a veritable tool that would change his resolve, and he wondered why someone else, especially a northerner, or a native speaker of the Hausa language hadn’t thought to do same, not in writing a translation of simple day-to-day Hausa words to English (which he was sure would be in their multitudes), but in making it available to corpers, especially from the south, to ease communication challenges between the natives and the visiting corpers. Though he paid for the tape, he was too carried away by the sonorous voice of Gold, and the hope of a future engagement with her, that he helped her restore a fractured aspect of one of her upper central incisors, with a composite filling, that interestingly matched the shade of her teeth, for FREE.

It was testament to the neglect Dentistry was suffering at Hadejia General Hospital, that Bukar explained to him that materials for dental work will be sourced from revenue made from the clinic. What Bukar proposed was a variant of the Drug Revolving Scheme (DRS), which he was accustomed to while doing his Housemanship/Internship at the Military Hospital in Lagos. Unlike the situation in Lagos though, where the appropriation of such funds/revenue was at the discretion of the Head of Department, Bukar informed him that proceeds will be divided in three places, one going to replenishing stock, while the other two goes to them both. He was happy at the prospect of earning something daily besides his monthly ALLOWEE (stipend paid corpers by the National Youth Service Corp, NYSC office), and had in fact been thinking of what business he could engage himself in while serving in the north, when he was in camp and this was more than welcome development to him. It did occur to him, that the much that will accrue to him may not amount to so much, but he was glad that he’d have something, no matter how little to cater to the most basic of needs, putting him in better stead than his fellow corpers regardless. He thanked Bukar for his generosity and promised to give his best, such that the latter wouldn’t regret choosing him over the other dentist for the single Dental Surgeon slot at Hadejia.

At twelve noon of that day, Mallam Bukar asked that they close for the day, after they’d both spent much of the time knowing things personal and impersonal (at least the much that either were comfortable to share at that point) about each other. The only patient who had come, was one woman who had a Dentoalveolar Abscess owing to a badly broken down lower molar, but wanted to consult with her husband, who wasn’t present with her, concerning the cost of, and treatment that needs to be carried out, before returning at a later date. He felt sad seeing her go without treatment, but felt compelled to write for her, antibiotics and analgesics she could buy for some relief till she was able to come again for treatment. Mallam Bukar had already warned him to be wary of treating women who aren’t accompanied by a male, either a husband or brother, and seeing a typical example of how things worked in the north of Nigeria, especially the predominantly Muslim part of it, he knew that he was in for what would be an interesting year as a Corper Dentist in Jigawa State.





Published by m'khail madukovich