Young people were all over the place, most of them were strangers and non- indigenes. Bike men and other transporters had an uncanny way of detecting these new comers; they were having a field day, charging the unwitting newcomers exorbitantly for the shortest distance. The National Youth Service Corps Orientation Camp had just been opened, and Corps members were arriving.
This influx of youth and vivacity happens almost every three months in Shagamu town, Ogun state. The town seemed a contrast to the hopeful disposition of the youths. There was nothing good-looking about the town, nothing sexy. Everything was grayish and rusty, no shine. The sun itself had a different mien. There was a pervading, depressive atmosphere about the place, a certain heaviness that weighs on the shoulders, like you get in Benin City. Much Juju and Devil worship had been fingered as the cause… but that is another matter.
It was late evening and Olisa Charles Uzoma was astride an Okada, and for the umpteenth time wondered why he had been posted to Ogun State. He had been assured that he would be posted to Lagos state. He had paid the requested amount, but the NYSC official claimed no such name had crossed his eyes. Imagine that! The country was surely on a fast track to hell, Charles thought. If a man’s money could no longer buy him influence or recognition or even just a simple name inclusion on a desired list, then, all hope was lost. Well, Charles had given the official his mind- or some parts of it- before the line went dead; but he still gave him the rest via text message.
The motor bike rolled to a stop besides the road, and for a while neither the rider nor passenger moved. Then the bike man said from beneath his helmet:
“Oga, this be the place, we done reach”
“This be which place?” Charles asked incredulously, looking around, he couldn’t believe they were actually at the Orientation camp already. It was merely a walking distance from where he took the bike.
“Are you trying to tell me that from that junction to this place is 200 Naira?” Charles queried.
“Corper, I tell you price before you climb, agreement is an agreement, abeg, I no want trouble.” replied the biker pointedly.”
Charles was offended, he thought of a lot of things he would have loved to do to the man, things that would challenge the man’s health, but this was not the place, nor the clime. Enugu was quite far away. And so in much pain and feeling very cheated, Charles paid the biker the disputed fair, breathing very hard from the exertion. Like most Igbo men, Charles believed he had the God given rights–signed and handed to him on the occasion of Biafran war –to cheat, and not be the cheated.
A crash and clatter interrupted his frown and depression and inserted his attention into the matter on ground, for someone was literarily on the ground. Two Okada carrying two Corps members had entangled themselves in front of the Orientation camp, nothing too violent; however, the embrace was enough to deposit one passenger ceremoniously on the road. Sadiq Danbala Mairuwa, picked himself up hurriedly and began to gather his stuff from off the road. His mode of dressing picked him out to be an arewa from the northern part of the country. He was dressed in a caftan with sandals on his feet. If the fulla on his head had obeyed gravity too, one would have observed the mango shaped dome. Their heads were always thus, these northerners. Sadiq was as simple as his people, both in mind and appearance, an epitome of honesty. Honest not by choice, but by default, having no cerebral ability to outwit or beguile another. His mind at this time, however, was thinking Daggers; a northern weapon of choice, used for just about anything, from peeling oranges to slitting a cow’s throat…or the occasional infidel. He wouldn’t be able to sit down now to count his chesbi during prayers. One would think he had gone for a horse riding rally. The stupid shege of a bikeman had galloped into every porthole on the way. Allah be praised that he arrived alive. These infidels had no patience, always at a rush. They thought rushing would bring them more money. When would they learn that one would only get what Allah had deemed necessary for man to have? He took an inventory of his goods: his bucket, his sleeping and praying mat, his plastic kettle for ablutions and his stash of kwulikwuli. Things were still in order. Satisfied, he looked around him, and moved towards the gate where Charles was observing the situation, not without mirth.
The other Corps member involved at the forceful union was also walking towards the camp gate. He had lightly jumped off the bike just before the two bikes cuddled. He was putting on dark goggles, white fitted short sleeves, dark jeans and white Addidas sneakers. His swagger was apparent. His name was Osaretin Oghenero, a.k.a, Osas. Motor bike crashes were normal where he was coming from, he knew the drill. He had better things to worry about .This national youth service business was spoiling his runs. He had marks to work, mugus and magas were waiting aplenty online for him to bait. Yahoo waits for no man, he knew this. All his contacts would soon be lost to other members of his art, all because of NYSC. God will punish this country!He shrugged his Hp back- pack into a more comfortable position and observed the two other corpers in front of him. The stocky one gave his name as Olisa Charles, which made him Igbo, confirmed by his accent. The other youth who had fallen from the bike introduced himself to the others as Sadiq. Osas and Charles couldn’t help but notice Sadiq’s array of belongings, Charles even wondered if the Hausa man intended to cook his own meals on camp.
The Orientation camp was a former Teachers Training College built in the early 60’s and looking every bit as old. The three youths were each observing their surroundings and from time to time looked at each other in dismay. The disrepair and shabbiness was disheartening. Three weeks in this place wouldn’t be to their self interest. The place was chaotic and in great confusion. They didn’t know where to go, or who to follow. Hawkers and traders were everywhere. Someone told them to go to the football field, pointing vaguely to the southern part of the world. They took that bearing and arrived at the field and their hearts sank down lower. There were about ten rows of very long queues of Corps members waiting to be registered. It would be quite a while before it would get to their turn.
“Allah be merciful,” sighed Sadiq, the day was still going to be longer. The others were at a loss for words. Osas contemplated jumping the queue, as a “sharp” man, but soldiers were at the head of each row and they were on the lookout, watching closely. The trio had no choice but to join one of the rows. Somehow, a feeling of camaraderie had developed between the three. Sadiq deposited his things, spread his mat and advised the other two that they should all sit while waiting for their turns. So they made themselves comfortable on the mat and began to get familiar and sociable, and soon they were fast asleep.
They were kicked awake a long while later by a soldier who had no sympathy for “Bloody, lazy civilians” as he called them. His kicks were able to wake Osas who swore and sprang up in anger, mellowing quickly down when he saw the assailant was in military fatigues. The other two were heavier sleepers, it took more kicks to get Charles awake, and the mat had to be dragged from under Sadiq to get him awake.
“You think you are in your bedrooms?” the soldier asked, looking sufficiently disgusted.
The three young men scrambled towards the registration office. During their sleep, the queue had slowly dwindled, and they were among the last left to be registered.
Charles went in first, rubbing his eyes. He approached the NYSC official sitting behind a desk. The lady looked tired; she too had had a long day. She had a thick book open in which she entered the details of the Corp members.
“Name, surname first?” she said.
“State of origin?”
“School?” The lady asked again.
The lady looked up, almost pleading:
“Young man, what is the name of the University you graduated from?”
Charles paused for a moment, surprised at the repeated question, hadn’t he just told her? He gave the lady the same answer as before, but this time, he helped her out by spelling the acronym.
The lady shook her head from side to side, overcome with pity for the nation and for the parents of this idiot who probably had celebrated and spent money on thanksgiving for their son’s graduation. How could a graduate not know the difference between an acronym and the actual name of his school?
From the lady’s reaction Charles was becoming worried, had the school been removed from the NYSC list? Or didn’t she believe he went to that school? He fumbled in his front jeans pockets, and then groped in the back pockets; his search yielded a wallet and some loose change. He pulled out a battered and stained I.D card from the wallet, and offered it to the lady. She glanced at the card and with a smirk, asked Charles to read out loud what was written boldly on the card. Charles complied and read:
“Enugu State University of Technology”. He did this very slowly as if he was reading to a child. Maybe she would get it this time, he thought. The lady saw that she might have to wait a while for the young man to note his error, and she was tired, so she decided to let it slide.
Charles was feeling much relieved, his confidence was coming back. For a while there, he had thought he was in trouble. He should have known that some of these NYSC officials just loved to show their self, and give corpers stress. What was the point of asking him to read from the card the same name he had been telling her all along?
“What was your discipline?” she continued, Charles simply stared blankly at her.
The lady didn’t want to cause the young man further intellectual strain, so she apologetically asked him again:
“What course did u read in the University, in…ESUT?”
“Oh, ok, Ecostats,” he replied, nodding his head in agreement with himself.
“You mean Economic and Statistics?” the woman asked, rolling her eyes.
“No, I mean Ecostats.”
The woman threw her pen down in despair, this young man needed help. She had no doubts as to the grade he must have graduated with. After regarding him pitifully for a while, she corrected him in her register and told him he was to be in Platoon 7, and would be staying in hostel room two, and then she dismissed him. Of course, Charles knew he was not to be in any Platoon 7 and had no intention of joining anything with that sort of name; he was not interested in joining any cults, those days were behind him. She should be in the Platoon thing herself, he would no longer be intimidated. These thoughts ran through his mind as he exited the office.
Sadiq’s registration went smoothly; he gave his school as Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and an indigene of same Zaria. The course he studied, however, surprised the NYSC official. She had never heard of Arabic studies and Sharia law.
Osas’ registration went hitch free until he was asked for name of the school he attended. At this Osas had to pause, he had gone to a lot of higher institutions, was he supposed to list all? He hadn’t lasted long in the first two; he had to run for his life. The senate of the third school he attended had politely advised him to withdraw, he had obeyed; after all, they knew better. He decided to tell the lady of his last school, if she rejects it, he would then ask her to choose from any of the others. So he told the NYSC official that he had graduated from Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma.
The lady seemed to accept it, but her next question sent fear into Osas’ vitals. She wanted to know his discipline? Now, Osas, knew he had always had problem with this discipline of a thing, he decided that the moment was one of those rare moments in a man’s life, were the honest truth would serve him best. So, he bent conspiratorially closer to the perplexed woman and began in very low, grave tones, thick honesty oozing from every pore:
“You see, ma, I will be honest, I have not been of a much disciplined nature, many people will agree. It has cost me much, yes, but those days are far behind. My discipline now, I assure you is very proper and good.”
At each word the lady’s eyes were further widening and perplexity was killing her. She finally decided that laughter would be in appropriate order, and indulged herself in great gulps of this elixir. Osas, straightened up, slightly relieved, at least she was laughing; laughter was a good thing, provided she didn’t choke on it, with the way she was carrying on.
When she had quieted down a bit, she explained, while wiping her eyes, that she only asked for the course he had studied in school. Osas told her he had read Secretarial studies, he was feeling quite embarrassed and didn’t know what she had found so funny. This NYSC people would never use a simple word were a complex one would do, always trying to impress on the young graduates that they too had been there. When the woman told him he would be in Platoon 7, Osas had reasonably told her that he wasn’t interested in joining any groups; he didn’t need any distractions that may prolong his stay. Laughter, again, began doing things to the NYSC official, unable even to speak; she had to use her hands to wave him out, while struggling to remain in her seat. Her job was stressful but it had its perks. A body needs this kind of distraction to keep on blinking in life. It was a pity that the nation’s incompetent and unschooled graduates were her source of entertainment, but that could not be helped; one should derive joy wherever one could.
But the fun part was yet to begin.
to be continued—-