The author, third from left.
02.45 AM, November 21th, 2016.
Yemi, a friend, checks my NYSC posting for me. The website was not accessible on my end as I was browsing the site with my smartphone. He accessed the site via his PC and tells me I have been mobilized for youth service. ‘Where’? I ask. My heart racing as the internet relays his message back to me. ‘You’re going to the far north, bro’ he replied. I got the message. By far north he meant Sokoto state. ‘Are you sure’? ‘Please check again’. He sends a picture and I see ‘NYSC Orientation camp, wammako, Sokoto state’ written in faint lines across the screen. I slouched. My earlier excitement at being mobilized ebbing away. Sokoto was not where I desired. Abuja, Cross-rivers and Enugu outranked her in my order of preference. But the joy of not having to wait for stream II in 2017 stemmed my angst. I accepted my lot with propitiousness and discontent.
10.00 AM, November 21st, 2016
We (mobilized corps member) converge in school (University of Lagos) to collect statement of result and other necessary documents. Those who were not mobilized for stream I tell us how lucky we are, and how unlucky they were. We chat, laugh, eat, take pictures and review travel plans.
07.00 AM, November 24th 2016. (Location– Cross Country Park, Yaba)
There are more people than buses here. I know this is supposed to be the case; more people than buses considering one bus can convey nineteen passengers. But the disparity here is quite obvious, worrying even. In the usual Nigerian fashion, I deduce, tickets have been oversold and cross country can’t handle the demand. Three gun wielding policemen are outside trying to control the raucous crowd. Some people have boarded buses, but the majority have not. I stand with a group of co-travelers, asking if anybody has seen the bus going to sokoto. There are buses here with the destination written on placards placed in front of the windshield, but nobody has seen that of sokoto. This hassle was totally unexpected, because I had booked a ticket with oya.com, not cross country. The tricksters didn’t inform me they were going to merge us with another transport company. Only later did we know they are a travel agency, not a transport company.
‘Are you the one going to sokoto’? Chinedu(not his real name) calls out to me. ’Yes’. ‘Oya follow me’. Chinedu works with oya.com and he was there to make sure we’re not left behind. I hurried after him to the other end of the park and there sat a luxurious bus, with sokoto as its destination. I ran inside the bus, seeing there were passengers in already. Luckily, I found a seat in the midsection of the bus. I sat.
2.00PM, 24th November 2016. (Location – Ibadan)
The greedy idiots running cross country oversold tickets like I suspected they have. We are being merged with Abuja bound travelers. The bus is packed full as more passengers make their way in. Many sit on the floor, while others stand. The driver pleads that we adjust so those standing can sit. I hiss at the ridiculous offer and face the window. Then I remembered Chimamanda adichie’s speech at the UN World humanitarian day about how a friend took in her father during the Nigerian civil war. I whisper to my partner and we agree to make space for someone. We ask a skinny, bespectacled girl clasping a novel to join us.
5.00 AM, 25th November 2016. (Location – Cross Country Park, Abuja)
10.00AM 25th November 2016. (Location – Cross Country Park, Abuja)
12.00PM 25th November 2016. (Location- Abuja – Kaduna express road)
4.00PM 25th November 2016. (Location – Zaria, Kaduna)
Break time: Legs are stretched, bowels eased, and food eaten. We move again.
8.00PM 25th November 2016. (Location – (Zamfara state)
12.00AM 26th November 2016. (Location – (Zamfara state)
We just missed the official registration deadline. ‘Did someone delete sokoto from the map, how come we’re still in zamfara’ I ask.
1.00 AM, 26th November 2016(Location NYSC Orientation Camp, Wamako, Sokoto state)
It’s been a long day. Long days sounds more like it. I lay on a large wooden table along with two other guys in a hall littered with paper and dirt. Registration has closed for the day, expectedly. We’re told to sleep here until registration starts in the morning.
Finally done with registration, or should I say most of it. I am in platoon 4. I have collected my over-sized khaki and jungle boots. I change into a white shirt and short, in preparation for evening parade.
Forget everything you’ve heard about NYSC camp, it’s an overrated piece of shit. And if you attended a university with a bubbling night life ambience, the mami market hype becomes even more annoying. Here are some things to note though.
The first ten days: The first ten days of camp are the most strenuous. The tiredness from an often long journey, stress of registration, struggle of adapting to a new environment and its demands, waking up at early hours for parades and other tasking activities the body isn’t used to. My theory is that whoever survives the first ten days of camp will survive the three weeks.
Beagle: The most annoying thing in the entire Nysc camp is the sound of the beagle. Nobody likes to hear it. I fear even the soldier that wields it hates the very sound of it. Be it in the morning, afternoon, or night; the beagle always never brings good tidings. If it’s not rousing you up from a peaceful sleep by 4am, it’s disrupting your siesta for evening parades at 4pm. The exceptions perhaps, are times when it announces breakfast, lunch and dinner time. This steel object, the shape of a horn controlled my life for three weeks. It got to a point I began to hallucinate; hearing the sound even when it hadn’t been blown. To make matters worse, my room was in the soldiers block as I got to camp late. So the guy with the beagle blows it at the very entrance of my room before going to the other hostels. It was hell.
Soldiers: Preh! Preh shun! Stand at ease. Preh shun! By the left, quick march: left-right-left-right-left-right-Halt. Soldiers make Nysc camp thick. Without them, it’s more or less a secondary school hostel. These military men are tough, mean and rigid. One thing I discovered in camp is to always say ‘yes sir’ whenever they’re ranting at you. The sound of this is like music to their ears. Trust me. The Camp R.S.M (Regiment Sergeant Major) caught me one morning taking pictures on the parade ground and seized my phone. I got it back by saluting repeatedly, yelling ‘yes sir’ at the top of my voice. Soldiers are easy, once you know your way around them. And after 10 days in camp, the sight of them doesn’t evoke fear as much. But they have their boundaries, though. Example is the parade ground; nothing can excuse you from going for parade. Not even sickness. Tell them you’re sick and they call you a lazy liar. Only exception is if you’re admitted in the camp clinic, on kitchen duty or Man-O-War drilling. Only these can save you.
Parade ground: if the beagle is the most annoying sound in Nysc camp, then the parade ground is the most annoying place. Every corper spends at least 40percent of their time there. But soldiers consider it a sacred ground. Nothing irks a soldier more than seeing you play around on the parade ground. When the harmattan wind from the Sahara blew in the morning, and the mean sokoto sun blared down with fury in the afternoon; I stood there- in the parade ground. Many fainted; men and women alike.
Mami market: In one word: Overrated.
Camp commandant: This soldier, usually the rank of captain, heads all security agencies on camp. He determines to a large extent, the mood of the camp. If he’s the boisterous type, the mood of the camp will reflect this. And vice-versa. Ours was a young, arrogant captain who thought himself lord of the 7 kingdoms. His restrictive orders harmed sociability in a place that was trying hard to be sociable. The slightest affront to his ego was met with punishment. We squatted down on at least 7 occasions.
Food: kitchen food was poor. But they have their good days. There were days when the meal was surprisingly good it’s hard to believe it came from the same kitchen. The queue for food is longer than usual on days like this because someone has told someone ‘kitchen food make sense today’.
Platoons: These are more or less classes, with a class rep and assistant called platoon papa and mama respectively. Platoons 3,7,& 8 were the best in my camp. I heard from some Batch A folks that some platoons traditionally do not do well; they are platoons 4,5,6,9 and 10. I was in 4 platoon myself and we didn’t we win shit. We were a disorganized bunch. We were a mess. I met some corpers in kebbi on my way back and they told me exactly the same thing about the platoon 4 in their camp. So I guess there’s a problem with the number 4.
Queue: Queue for registration, food, bank registration, transport allowance, photocopy, Nysc I.D Card, etc. Everything in camp revolves around queues. Everything.
Nigeria sleeps and wakes: Yes, you read right. Nigeria wakes up every day by 6am and sleeps by 6pm. Little wonder why Nigeria is not productive. How can Nigeria sleep for 12 hours every day?
The last five days: If the first ten days of camp are strenuous, then the last five days are the very heavens. Marchers have been chosen for the final parade so life becomes easy for everyone. Also morning parades aren’t as frequent as they used to. Social activities and the various sporting events are concluded. Everyone is happy.
Final day: This is a day of heartbreaks. Many who wanted a PPA (place of primary assignment) in town got village schools, and many who sought redeployment didn’t get their letters. There is wailing and gnashing of teeth.
7.45pm, December 30th, 2016.
I am here wondering if I have done justice to this writing. I fear I haven’t. Please pardon me. I haven’t been my ‘writerly’ (this is a word right?)self of late. Ciao.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!