I am continuing from where I left off, the scene in my hostel when I announced to my friend, Fiyi with a mischievous twinkle in my eye that I would find the girl I had last seen on the second day of the camp.
My earnest search for the ‘shiny girl’ began the next day, on the parade ground. I saw that it presented my best chance of finding her and since I had no clues that could narrow down my search, I decided to patiently search sequentially. At some idle point early that morning before the first break, I strolled over from my platoon, hands in pockets to the first row of platoon one (at the extreme left) and casually went down the rows, one by one, after glancing at each single person. I was thorough and patient, if you’d seen the seriousness on my face that morning, you could be easily forgiven for believing that some urgent exercise of critical import was underway. I managed to scrutinize every single person in that platoon, but I did not find her. So, I moved over to platoon 2, walked to almost the front of that formation too and continued my search. I had to stop prematurely, when the morning meditation resumed.
Sometime that day on the parade field during yet another lecture, out of the blue, everything changed. I could still not find a satisfactory answer to the question, “What has Nigeria done for me?”. The answer was still more or less, “nothing” but for a brief moment I saw another question, I saw a different way of perceiving the NYSC scheme, and I was frankly captivated.
It was late October 2011, and it was already clear to me that my country was in trouble, well…much more trouble .We always have trouble. Nigeria was, in my estimation facing the greatest threat to national unity since the civil war. Some vicious group wouldn’t stop going after innocent people in some zones of the country and unfortunately, because the members of that group were primarily from a particular, identifiable region, there were increasing calls for separation and a much heightened state of worry, and insecurity. Nobody knew where they would strike next, and it was very inconvenient to say the least.
The strange new question that flashed into my mind was, “What have I done for Nigeria?” .Yes, She had done very little for me but when I thought about it, I had to admit I hadn’t done very much for her either.
She was spiraling out of control, her future, dark and foreboding and like her or not, whether I hated her or felt let down or betrayed by her, the simple truth was that whatever happened to her, to Nigeria, would not only affect me but also, most of the people I care about.
The current speaker was a humorous, south-eastern man in the middle or upper level of NYSC state hierarchy sporting a protruding belly and he had just stated that if any of us, (corpers) saw anybody else (not serving) with/wearing anything carrying the NYSC logo, we had the right to simply, seize it. Now this was funny and interesting, because in Mammy Market, many traders sold clothing or badges or…whatever with the NYSC logo clearly printed on them. “Was he saying we could just go and impound such goods? ”. Despite the heat, I couldn’t help but join in the deafening laughter that erupted across the field . When it subsided, someone stood up to ask that question and then he clarified in a friendly, distinct tone that “ Mba. Er…you see, the things in Mammy Market are not really included….you still need to pay for them but outside of here! you can…”
I returned to my thoughts, this time about the NYSC. The program was clearly a pain, but at a dire time like this, when more people were becoming isolationist (i.e. wary of the other half of the country, not as willing as before to travel, and relocate to that section of the country out of pressing concerns for safety), the value of the NYSC as a contributing factor to unity had just increased. Young Nigerians like me, were being given, I mean forced to accept an opportunity to interact with other Nigerians from all parts and form friendships, move closer to mutual understanding.
Now, if splitting the country could bring peace and progress, a split would be desirable but…there was one major flaw in the ‘let us go our separate ways’ argument. If a united Nigeria could not subdue that violent group, then what is the likelihood that the only one half of the country will be able to do so? And if the radical group gained control, became the legal rulers of that part, essentially, a terrorist state at our doorsteps, what is stopping them from continuing to harass us at an even greater level?
I thought it was the classic ‘divide and conquer’ scenario and the wisest choice would be unity even though it was painful. By the time the lecture ended, I was no longer a prisoner trapped against my will, and I now saw the NYSC as an excellent, noble idea that was very badly implemented, and needed to be fixed but not scrapped.
Till today, I am not totally sure whether those thoughts were the effect of brainwashing, or it was a natural side-effect of ‘too much sun frying brain for long time” but as I walked back to my hostel to rest, I was very happy and elated. I was now a solid patriot and finally believing some of the NYSC rhetoric about unity, service to the nation, dedication…’all that kin tin’.
Na so I reach my hostel o, sitdown for bed make I relax small before d next wahala session. E no tey at all, when one fellow corper enter room to ask 4 room leader.
I told him that Firstborn wasn’t in, so he handed over a broom, small padlock and dustpan to me and asked me to give it to Firstborn when he arrived. A few minutes after he left, the room Treasurer came in, saw the items and said I could release them into his care. We talked for a bit about the camp experience, and then I asked him a simple question because I’d been looking for a broom to clean up my corner.
“How much did you pay for this anyway?”
“Seven hundred and fifty naira” he replied.
“750?! I bought a bigger padlock for 80 naira ,that broom should not cost more than 100 naira in this place and the parker can’t be much more . How come?”
“What you’re saying is exactly what I think too, but that is the amount of the money (our room previously contributed) that an NYSC official demanded at a meeting of room representatives. In fact, that parker is not entirely for us, but to be shared with the room beside us. “
Ï exploded in boundless outrage and fury. Just when I was changing my mind about NYSC, I had discovered (what appeared to be) a petty scam.
“What?! How on earth could they do that? Rob us blind in the same camp where they make us stay in the sun for hours to hear repetitive talks on duty, discipline, loyalty to Nigeria, hard-work, patriotism…do they think we’re IDIOTS?!”. I kept on going, “That we do not know what will happen to the remainder of the money?! How many rooms in all the hostels paid? Multiply that, and you will get a sizable for somebody to greedily divert.”
When I calmed down, I unclenched my fists and asked him what he intended to do about it. He was at a loss for words, “What can we do? Do you have any idea?”
“Why don’t you report this ?“, I suggested.
“To who?” He queried.
“Someone higher than that official”
“Someone higher?! will it do any good?, I’m not sure if this a good idea…but you can go if you like”
The next day, I consulted with Tanya and a few other friends about a plan to bring that to the notice of the NYSC Management. Tanya thought I was funny, and the rest of my friends basically said I was crazy, idle and putting myself at unneccesary risk but I was very angry, my mind was fixed and I would not be stopped, or dissuaded regardless of the potential consequences.