So you are a Nigerian Corper. What this means is that you have Nigerian citizenship and have gone through a university or college as the Americans who eternally want to be different from the rest of the world call it. You might have gone through one of the many federal and state owned universities in Nigeria where you are not alien to missing results, sciences without labs and libraries with books that are no longer relevant. In fact, you did not get your certificate at your convocation ceremony, you simply got a “to whom it may concern letter”. Certificates are too complex for the public universities to have ready that quickly. You will have to come back many years later, be asked for all your receipts and if you make the mistake of looking successful, will be made to see hell by the university staff who detest the fact that you now make money they can only dream of making if they follow their former colleague who is now president’s footsteps.
You might have been more fortunate to be able to afford the numerous private universities in the country. Or better still you went to a foreign university. You are in the minority that have your certificates and also had functional laboratories.
Now the government is ready to give you orientation about how to be a Nigerian. Therefore they have designed this ingenious scheme that you have to go through. It is called the National Youth Service Corps. You will spend three weeks in an orientation camp. In the camp, even if you have never experienced it before, you will see how Nigeria is run. First, the system of registration will be designed to be as inefficient as possible. You will be made to suffer through grueling queues, convoluted processes and angry NYSC officials. The requirements will not be displayed so you will have to find out yourself. There will be no maps, signs or directions. You must arrive camp somehow knowing exactly what to do and where to go and where everywhere is.
Then you are issued with your kit. Nothing fits. Nothing is adequate. The clothes are already tearing at the seams and the material will shrink on first wash. The mattresses look like those you see issued at refugee camps on CNN. Ladies who wear their t-shirts will leave guys able to tell the colours of their bras.
The camp itself is filthy. There are no real facilities whatsoever. But you are lucky if you are in a state where there is a permanent camp. If you have offended the gods, you will end up posted to states where secondary schools are commandeered for the orientation period. There are few toilets and they are filthy. You will learn how to dump your load into black nylon bags which a sharp corper a batch before yours now has sole distributorship of in the camp. It is called shot-put. You will learn to bathe outside in the frigid hours of the morning. You will learn to wash your inadequate number of white t-shirts daily.
Of course the food will be terrible, so you have to go to the mammy market to supplement it. What shines through to you as you go through the three weeks on camp is that no one has really prepared for you. You are on your own. But your lessons are not done. The whole year is designed to reinforce this idea in your mind.
You are deployed to organizations within the state you are posted. But NYSC did not confirm from them before sending you there. So they write you a letter of rejection, without apologies. You race back to NYSC, surely they will fix this. It is their responsibility. But you get a shocker. You must go into a state where you know no one and find an organization that will accept you, all by yourself. Otherwise, you will not serve and get the all important certificate. You are on your own.
If you are lucky and finally find somewhere that accepts you, don’t be surprised that your allowances are delayed. It is all normal and the NYSC expects you to survive. Do you have somewhere to live where you are posted? You will be lucky if there is a corpers’ lodge there. Otherwise, you are on your own. You must find accommodation for yourself, at your own cost. So you join your colleagues and laugh, calling the NYSC ‘Now Your Suffering Continues’
By the time you are through the one year NYSC, you have received proper orientation on how to be a Nigerian. Your most important lesson perhaps is that Nigeria has placed duties on you as a citizen. And you have no choice but to fulfil your duties, otherwise you will be deprived of something, from a means of livelihood to your freedom. But the Nigerian state will not fulfil its responsibilities and provide what you need to fulfil these duties. The state won’t make plans for you. And yet, you must still be a good citizen and do what is expected of you. The lesson you have learnt, and which you will hold to heart to your grave as a good Nigerian is that you are on your own.
Otherwise you will wonder why it is difficult to organize that a scheme like the NYSC will be run properly. Build proper camps that can be expanded as the number of graduates increase with the years. Make sure the camps have all sanitary requirements, toilets, baths and the likes. Have proper people come and share real ideology in the camps, to share the narrative we want Nigeria to carry. It is after all, an orientation camp, so do just that, give an orientation camp. Provide adequate and quality kits to corpers. Make the registration process sensible. Provide lodges where corpers can stay in the communities they will serve. Make part of the service year, maybe six months of it compulsory military service to demystify military and also have a pool of young Nigerians who can be called up. Basically show excellence so that rather than leave the NYSC with an “you are on your own” ideology, young Nigerians can have a “let’s go and replicate this excellence” passion burning within them. Or just scrap the scheme if you cannot.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.
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