Diary of a Corper

Diary of a Corper: Orientation Camp or Concentration Camp

diary-of-a-corper-bookcoverThis is a diary I kept for 21 days will at the NYSC orientation camp in September, 2005. It’s a true life diary compiled as the events rolled by. You can read a preview below. The kindle book can he purchased on amazon (just search ‘diary of a corper).

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PROLOGUE

Having graduated from Nigeria’s Premier University, the University of Ibadan, earlier in 2005, I was glad, after a 6-month wait, to be going to serve my fatherland.  One really begins to wonder if the word ‘patriotism’ has any meaning, after all many people get to ‘work’[1] their posting to any State of their choice and countless others become ‘gsm corpers’[2] right after reporting to their State of deployment.

Well, I hadn’t ‘worked’ my posting, neither was I planning to join the special breed called ‘gsm corpers’. I was excited at the prospect of going to an unknown State and abiding there for a whole year.

As the mobilization date drew near, I found my way back to school in the ancient city of Ibadan. I had to get my documents and other things ready, so I could collect my call-up letter[3].  I nearly went hysterical; I couldn’t stand the suspense.  ‘Where will it be?  Where will I be spending the next one year of my life?’ Like many others I had secretly nursed the hope that I would be serving in Lagos (how foolish we human beings can be). Those of us ‘Christian’ enough not to work our posting thought we could trick God into manipulating our posting down to Lagos.  We had our reasons, of course, some of them were even good ones, but ‘God moves in mysterious ways; His wonders to perform’.  At this point I wish to make a recommendation for people who are doubting God. Just go through the NYSC scheme and I can assure you’ll come out with faith as strong as a rock.

So, on Thursday the 1st of September, 2005, at the brink of hysteria,  I got out of bed early enough to be one of the first in school, but late enough not to appear to have gone crazy to the members of my family.  I got to school long before 8.00am, but as you can imagine, some over-zealous students were already there. Hey! Disaster (or was it excitement?) was in the air.  Some faces were radiant, some were morose, and others just wore a blank expression leaving you with the unspoken statement ‘you’ll soon find out by yourself’. Needless to say, those with the loudest voices and happiest faces were those posted to well developed States – the ‘Lagoses’, ‘Abujas’ and ‘Port Harcourts’.

I met a few friends who told me where they had been posted to, and I congratulated them, ‘good for you!’ So I went to find out what my destiny (and destination) would be. I marched down to the board (still stupidly hoping it would be Lagos), ran my eyes down the list, since there were a whole lot of people; it took a while for me to get to the correct list. Finally locating the right one, I scrolled down till I got to my name. The number before it didn’t make much sense to me but I later discovered it was my call-up number[4]. With a lot of apprehension, I read the line on which my name was written and there it was – my date of birth and age, state of origin …then the big one… state of deployment. Our eyes met and I’m not sure what the feeling was, (definitely not love at first sight!). Boldly printed were the letters KG[5] – the code for Kogi state. As if to deny the fact, I read that line again, I scanned the list again and checked all the parameters-yep, everything checked, and it was very accurate (to my utter dismay!).

Being a very analytical person, I immediately went into analysis mode. I checked for the number of my classmates posted to the same State, and found two. I went on to check friends in other departments. Where was everyone going? (it was also an opportunity to get some extra information, you guessed? Yep, their ages). So I ran through all the names I could remember. Well, it seemed no one else was going to the Lion’s den after all. There I was with destiny calling me to Kogi State (Toooooyyyiiiin, I seemed to hear). Kogi was actually the last place I ever thought I’d get posted to.  I called home and told them about the development.  Mum said that was God’s best for me (she can say that again!). At that point in time, it was surely not the best I was hoping for.

The once sunny day gradually turned cloudy and then rainy – truly depicting the mixed mood of the day.  But who said you couldn’t be happy in the rain? Rain or no rain, we struggled; and as a Nigerian student, I mean struggled to get our call-up letters.  Oh! How we were treated – handed over our letters through window louvers, standing in the rain (thank God for my umbrella).  I wonder when Nigerians will start doing things with some decency and self-respect (dat one na tori).   I was glad when I finally got my letter.  I checked it for errors – none!  Thank goodness.  The camp address was there in bold scripts – NYSC Permanent Orientation Camp, Asaya, Kabba-Bunu L.G.A Kogi State.  I placed the letter in an envelop containing my other documents.  I was determined not to let it out of my sight.

It was now time to pull myself together, set my things in order and leave home for my destination.  One thing I definitely had on mind was to spend enough time with my fiancé, who had just finished serving in the north-eastern State of Taraba, three weeks earlier.  I wasn’t going to waste a second of the little time we had together (I needed all the love I could get).  We took time to talk and pray about the service year and he encouraged me a great deal.  I was ‘good to go’.  I got some personal effects and money together and also took some vaccinations. I had to get vaccinated at the University Health Service against CSM (cardio-spinal meningitis).

I also got my spirit ready.  I had been praying for quite a while about the year ahead, and as it had begun unfolding, I gathered my heart together and held on to God’s reassurance for me.  If nothing else, I wasn’t setting out without being assured that God was going with me.  Better still – going ahead of me.


DAY 1

This is the beginning of a year out of time! I got up early (by 5.00am), got my stuff together and waited for the driver who would drop me off at the motor park. I bade farewell to my aunt, uncle & cousins as I was driven to the motor park at Gate, Ibadan to commence my journey.

On getting to the motor park, I looked out for a car going to my destination. I met 3 other students who were on their way to camp at the same place with me (Asaya, Kabba). We all trooped into the car and off we went quite excitedly. We left Ibadan at about 8 a.m. (after haggling over the fare for my luggage). The journey was quite uneventful (bordering on boring); we made one stop to have lunch. I read a book my fiancé had loaned me – Where Did All My Money Go? It was a true representation of my situation (I had barely enough to last me for three weeks!).

At about 2pm we arrived at Kabba, the land of the proud Okun of Kogi State. As we drove from the outskirts of the town towards the heart of the city, I was quite impressed; I didn’t expect the kind of scenes I saw. The communities at the outskirts of the town were sparsely populated, with buildings scattered about and they apparently had the basic amenities – electricity, good roads and, possibly, pipe-borne water and bore-hole systems.

As we moved towards the Kabba central community, activities picked up and the settlements became denser, giving the impression of a nucleated settlement. Our car drove right into town and stopped at what might be called the town centre. There were a lot more vehicles, motor bikes and people going about their various businesses – hawking all the ‘hawkables’ , mechanics, provision stores, general foodstuff traders, traders in ready made clothes and electrical materials among others. There seemed to be a little of everything for sale all around. There was only one sizeable store which looked impressive, at least, as far as I could see.  That gave the town an outlook of one with hardworking but not prosperous residents. Notable was the fact that there were quite a large number of youths living in the town. A very interesting fact since Nigeria is said to be plagued with the urban drift syndrome. I just wondered what these young people were contributing to the community – or are they the dropouts and societal rejects finding refuge in quiet Kabba? Well, enough of the sight-seeing.

Our car ground to a halt. I looked around trying to locate any sign of the NYSC orientation camp. ‘This is Kabba right?’ I asked the driver turning to my colleagues for any positive responses…their faces were blank. We all faced the driver.

‘Is this where you are dropping us?’

‘Where is the camp?’

‘But we said we were going to camp, why are you dropping us off in the middle of town?’

‘You have to take us to the camp.’

‘Please, take us to the camp.’

Everybody talked all at once. As for the driver, he just shook his head and affirmed that was where we had to alight. He was on his way to Lokoja, the State capital, and couldn’t afford to take a detour deeper into Kabba.

‘But we said so in Ibadan.’

‘But you didn’t tell us this before we left the garage in Ibadan.’ ‘But…’ He finally won and with the support of the remaining passengers, we were appeased with the fact that the camp was not far from that point.

We alighted from the taxi and picked another one with the driver insisting on collecting forty naira from each person. Within minutes, we saw the sign ‘Welcome to NYSC Orientation Camp, Asaya’. We looked at one another in amazement. We had been swindled! I wonder when Nigerians will learn to be truthful.

Anyway, we paid the guy off and looked around, breathed in the fresh air and sight of what was to be our home for the next 21days…. well, not quite yet. Without any guides, welcome note or direction, I instinctively joined the group, actually queue, of corpers. Soon, I was up close (and personal) with the other corps members. I filled my name in a note book and was handed over a number tag – 277.

Our bags were then searched for sharp objects e.g. forks, knives, pressing irons, ring boilers and what ever else they were looking for. Well, bag searched and tag in hand, I was ready for the rest of the day’s events. From the moment I joined the queue, a little boy started tugging at me, signalling his intention to help with my luggage – of course for a fee!  Immediately I handed my bag over to him, I acquired a guide. He directed me to the place where I could get a mattress, as they were being handed out at one of the hostels. The next step after this was to find a bunk (if you were not lucky enough to find one, you would have to buy space from one of the little boys who appeared to be a permanent feature of the camp).  Well, I was early enough so I got a bunk and space in one of the female hostels.

The hostels were built in the typical common room style, with 3 rows of about 18 metal; double bunk beds each – do you get my idea of a concentration camp? I set my newly acquired mattress on one and set out to perform the remaining part of my registration. I then paid the boy off (I actually hate seeing such kids who had to drop out of school in order to work).

Remember I had talked about my friends posted to the same State with me? Well, that’s lesson number one I learnt about the NYSC camp – you are strictly on-your-own.  All those huddling together back in school comes to an end, and in camp, its every man for himself and God for us all. Your friend is the person right next to you per time.

The registration centre was located at a building a little distance from the hostels. Registration was basically an 8 step procedure. The first step was verification of documents i.e. call up letter, school I.D card, and statement of result, then you were issued your meal tickets. The next step was to fill the registration forms and finally the collection of a nine-item kit: a pair of white sneakers, 2 white t-shirts, 1 crested vest[6], a pair of khaki uniform, 1 face cap, 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair of jungle boots, 1 belt and 2 pairs of white shorts.

By the time I collected my kit, I was tired and hungry.  I had gone with Jane (one of my school friends), so we decided to stop over at the mammy market[7] and put something in our stomach before we fainted out of sheer exhaustion.  We had a plate of rice each; with two of the most miserable looking pieces of meat I had ever seen in my life, for N70.  Well I was too hungry to look for an alternative and in any case, the jollof rice tasted good.  So, munch I did, all the way, sipping from a sachet of pure water I had bought.  At least it was a mammy market; I didn’t have to expect too much.

As we entered the camp, we were met by a guy who gave us some handbills with information about the NCCF (Nigeria Christian Corpers Fellowship).  I had always liked the idea of NCCF, especially the rural (village) evangelism. I had heard from others who had passed through it. Having an opportunity to experience it was a dream come true.  While I was standing on a queue during the registration exercise, I read the handbill and I ‘m not exaggerating but as I went through it, shivers ran down my spine.  I hadn’t even attended a meeting but I was already longing for the fellowship.  I just couldn’t wait to get into the groove.  I could tell I would definitely love this family of God.  I made up my mind to check out the fellowship as soon as they held their first meeting. I heard it would start by 7pm. Count me in!

I made a new friend – Nnenna, who graduated from Nnamdi Azikiwe University. Her bunk was next to mine.  Everybody was stressed because of the long registration process and the awkward sleeping arrangements. The surprising thing was that there was constant electricity supply and pipe borne water. I prayed things remained that way at least for the camping period. From the look of things, I could tell I was really going to enjoy my stay in the camp…my day was made when the love of my life sent me an sms telling me how much he was missing me…bitter, sweet…he promised to send me one sms every night and that was the best thing that happened to me all day. I turned in at about 10pm.

 

Buy the kindle book online now on Amazon.  Amazon.co.uk  or Amazon.com


[1] An arrangement by which students lobby NYSC officials in order to get posted to any State of their  choice

[2] Corpers who do not stay in their State of primary assignment. Such corpers arrange with colleagues who help them sign necessary documents and also collect their monthly allowance.

[3] A letter from NYSC stating the camp resumption date and a corps member’s   State of deployment

[4]    The identification number given to every member of the NYSC scheme

[5]     NYSC code for Kogi state

[6]      An NYSC-branded T-shirt

[7]   A market usually located within Nigerian Army barracks, operated mostly by the   wives of the soldiers

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2 responses

  1. Wow! This is really nice Toyin!!! I bet you can’t remember me? This is Ada nee Emecheta…Colporteur IVCU 2002/2003. Would have loved the hard copy…I’m not into kindles when I want to read a book…love me the old fashioned hard copy 🙂

    1. Hi Ada, of course I remember you!! no need for the looong introductio :). Thanks for your comments. The paper back is in the works and I’ll let you know as soon as it is available. God bless.

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