From last week, “With or without my assent, I had just become an official property of the Nigerian government, and I would need the help of God.”
The morning was fairly routine and identical to most of the other mornings in camp. I woke around 4.30am to a frosty cold that whispered temptations of sleep to my mind, even as a light mist obscured the narrow grassy path leading to the tap barely two hundred meters away.
On my way back, I ran into a group of ‘man-o-war’ jogging through the halls and singing at the top of their voices to wake anyone still asleep.
About the same time a lone out-of-sight soldier, starts to play a teasing tune on his bugle again (trumpet-sounding musical instrument). The tune was purely harmless, except you happened to understand Yoruba in which it suspiciously matched this humorous and provocative line, perfectly:
“Eyin le pe wa wa, fun ra yin le fajugbon”
Translation : You are the ones who called us i.e who brought us (soldiers) here, By your own selves, you caused this trouble, this mischief.
I later tracked down the soldier in question, but even though he didn’t know the meaning of the tune, I do not think it was a coincidence.
By 5.25am I am at the field where I remain until 7.25am, to sing the national anthem, learn such wonderful songs as
Okrika get customer,
Ashewo get quality,
during exercise and march again before a one-hour break.
When we returned the sun had fully risen and it was time for the opening lecture, which was delivered by the highest-ranking military officer present. It was a very simple affair really with the usual markings of camp: excruciating heat and boiling frustration. Those of us that had not managed to hide in the halls, or escape with clever excuses sat in a huge circle on patches of dying, brown grass inter-spaced with mildly red sand.
The Captain, (for that was his title) stood in the middle of the circle and addressed us. He started by saying that he was a university graduate too and (according to him) the reason Nigeria was in such deep trouble was because we were in-disciplined and unpatriotic but since the government had kindly provided us (corpers) on a platter of gold to the army, they would teach us a few things about ‘discipline’. I wondered if the discipline he meant would be at all similar to the time when my friend’s head was pounded with a stick for a simple mistake.
He went on talking for quite a bit but mercifully, he finally ended. I was exhausted and longed for another cold shower if I could somehow find the water, but while most of my colleagues were allowed to leave the field, Tanya and I were part of a small unfortunate group that was singled out to be punished for making noise. Some other soldiers instructed us to remain seated, and recite ‘Morning Sir’ for an indefinite period of time. Let me add though, that the both of us had been in too much discomfort to talk.
We were innocent but it didn’t matter.
We kept at it even though though we clearly hated it, because if we didn’t (shout) they could pull us out of the group for even worse punishment. However, an innovative corper nearby came to our rescue by changing our sad chorus “Morning Sir!” to a much more interesting one, “Monster!”. The volume went up instantly, “Monster!” “Monster!” “Monster!” . We were still being battered by the terrible sun, still suffering but amazingly, it had just become, fun. Each time we joyously screamed “Monster!” at their confused faces, the impact of our predicament lessened. We had the power now and a strange type of smug, soothing happiness. But the soldiers soon noticed this shift, and responded by dismissing us. I suspect that like me, some of my colleagues had wanted to shout “Monster!” just a bit longer
The first week of camp slowly proceeded in repetitive, tedious fashion. You might have noticed how the weather, specifically heat is a constant part of my narratives; it’s not that I don’t have a lot more to say but it’s difficult to understand what we endured in that place without considering the extreme heat although the nights were often happily cold. Continuously standing for hours on consecutive days is obviously very tiring but having to do it in the full glare of a vicious sun only multiplied our torment. It was as if each rainmaker in the ancient town had been personally, purposely hired to ensure that not a single drop of moisture survived in the air above the camp. When I did leave camp, I was determined more than ever, to not end up in hell. I’d tasted it in camp and it was nasty.
With all this discomfort and unhappiness, it didn’t take too long before I found a new, powerful objective for my life. Some people had eradicated small pox, a brave woman long ago helped to abolish the slaughter of twins in a local ethnic group. Why couldn’t I contribute my own quota to humanity by helping to to eradicate, NYSC?
I was going to fight as hard as I could so young graduates no longer had to spend 3 weeks of their lives in excruciating pain and then an additional year in often harsh conditions.
Not to mention, I was very outraged at the unfortunate and avoidable deaths of some corps members in the set just before me. They had faithfully obeyed the commands of a country that was clearly unable to protect its own, most vulnerable servants.
All of my life, I had succeeded despite the government, not because of it. As they lectured me on patriotism, giving back to the nation and some official even dared to say we should be willing to pay the ultimate price i.e die, I couldn’t help but sarcastically wonder, “What has Nigeria ever done for me? “ I thought very long and hard, but I did not find an answer to that question.
Another time, when they asked us to sing the NYSC anthem for what was like the sixth time in a row, I was so disgruntled that I tweaked the anthem as I sang it.
“Youths obey the clarion call”
“Let us lift our nation high” ,became
Youths obey the clarion call?!
She na me make this nation fall?
“Under the sun or in the rain” to
Under the sun but not in the rain …
After carefully reviewing the (military) decree that established the NYSC, I decided that it was an old relic from the past that needed to be struck out of our ‘democratic’ Constitution. I was in over-drive mode; planning an elaborate campaign, considering whether to make a predominantly emotional or logical appeal to scrap NYSC, talking to corps members
I told Tanya a bit of my plans and while she clearly thought I was crazy, she didn’t stop hanging out with me. We took to each other quickly and despite our fairly opposite personalities, she’d laugh at my peculiar habits and I’d make fun of hers too. I liked her but I couldn’t tell, didn’t know if we would ever be more than friends. So far it’d been good and I enjoyed our solitary walks in the evenings.
But the second week was about to start, the first week had been a bright match stick and the second would be a bonfire.