It is surprising how times flies. This year, 2013 makes it twenty since I passed out of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
The real NYSC is, to be frank, in the orientation camp. When one remembers his time during the NYSC, it is the events of the orientation camp that come to mind due to the depth of the impression they leave in his/her mind. Our orientation camp was at Abudu in Orhiomwon Local Government Area of Edo State.
Initially, Auchi Polytechnic was scheduled to host the orientation until it was changed to a secondary school at Abudu.
I traveled from Jos through the glamorous emerging capital city of Abuja; through Lokoja, the confluence town where, for the first time, I saw water sold in a plastic bladders called “pure water” (“pure water” has a long history in Nigeria); through the city of rusty roofing sheets and rocky terrain of Okenne and into the tropical rain forest vegetation of the south of Nigeria. Soon I was in Auchi (Bauchi with the B taking off).
There was disappointment; the orientation has been moved to Abudu town. It was late but the fair and spotted-skinned security men were good and found a room for me at the hostel. It was probably the first time I slept without covering myself and still felt cozy; I come from Jos, the coldest city in Nigeria where this is impossible.
I rose with the sun the next day and hit the road en route Abudu. I was there within two hours. I entered the orientation camp with just N5.00 left from the N100.00 with which I started from Jos. Now one would have to pay fifty times that amount. Hardly had I arrived that my pocket was made full again. My dad wasn’t there, it was the bicycle allowance. I was handed my uniforms: khaki shirt/trousers, a white NYSC T-shirt, a pair of shorts and a brown jungle boots that I wore like an intelligent hoodlum by allowing the tongues to stick out.
The Mami Market brought a colorful atmosphere into the camp so that it was like a kind of thirty-day party. There we had corps members who called themselves members of the Palm Wine Club. At the time the African-American music genre, New Jack Swing, was just emerging and the music of Men-at-Large raged from huge speakers administered from the camp’s broadcast center. There was also Scarface’s my mind is playing tricks on me, Kriss-Kross’ Jump Jump.
One of the most thrilling experiences was lining up to take our meals. At Abudu we were served eba and stew, yam and stew, yams and weevil-infested beans which we ate with crushing sounds. There was beef, fish but no exotic meat like those of rodents, snakes, dogs, donkeys, horses …
There were characters at the camp. The first one was I for being taciturn. Eventually I became a star after an encounter with a scorpion an event that made news. There was the daughter of Paul Unongo who was said to have schooled abroad but insisted she must serve in the NYSC back home. My observation is that it was a very meaningful decision. Other such kids actually consider themselves too superior for such service but fail to realize that they would be branded as lazy bunches that cannot succeed without their parents, a reflection of the ignorant Nigerian attitude. She laid bare her understanding of the allusion that will come from her refusal to serve by insisting she participate, as a leader, in every event. There was Douglas Oronto who asked the national commandant a question about the possibility of placing ballistics in the hands of corps members. The respond was a impressive “no” from Colonel Hafeez Momoh. One other character was Bob Manuel from Rivers State who surprised spectators during a football match by throwing the whole weight of his huge body to the ground and with a thudding sound each time he squandered an pricey scoring window.
At the dormitories I saw that thing about Nigeria that drives me crazy the most: its diversity and its brains. Nigeria’s diversity seems like a spectrum of colors that makes it alluring. There were the brains coming from all over. I sometimes wonder whether Nigeria still has those brains in view of the way things are going today.
There were picture-taking events. Every corps member wanted to have a photo with at least one female colleague. I still remember a hairy and fair-skinned Ibo lady with whom I had a portrait photo. Other photos of mine have endured till today but not this very photo that used to stir emotions in me each time I looked at it.
I would say that those who handed down foreign religions are our worst enemies. Whatever they brought should have just been purely secular. The only bitter experience was a religious altercation that led a guy from Borno State to pull a knife at a guy from Rivers State with whom they had become admirable friends. The fact that Boko Haram was born and raised in Borno State makes me wonder whether that was an extension of a ferocious religious tradition or a mere coincidence.
There were visits by personages. Apart from the national commandant, there was also the modest John Odigie-Oyegun, the Social Democratic Party Governor of Edo State at the time. Oyegun came, inspected a guard of honor and gave a speech.
Nigeria is good but only if we can brush aside the wormwood. Funny how time flies.