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Opinions of Friday, 30 April 2021

Columnist: Olukorede Yishau 

The good, the bad, the ugly of NYSC

As a young woman, what will your reaction be if a toaster tells you: “Let me be your nightmare if I cannot be your dreams”?

Please permit me to ask another question: Will you be shocked if you tell a male soldier not to come into your room because you were naked, and he replied in a voice laced with anger “na breast I never see before, stupid girl.”

These two scenarios happened at the Kano State Orientation Camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme. It was also at this same camp that pandemonium broke out because soldiers were said to have caught two ladies and two guys playing ‘rough’— the euphemism for having an orgy.

You need to hear this too: An asthmatic Corps member suffered an attack and there was no oxygen at the Orientation Camp to help him. Even at a nearby clinic in town, help was unavailable.

A number of lapses in the scheme have made many call for its scrapping. But NYSC Director-General Brig-Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim believes those calling for its scrapping will not do so if they know that without the presence of Corps members, the health and education sectors would have collapsed.

Some weeks back, Ibrahim said Corps members in rural areas were holding the schools and hospitals in the country. He spoke at the opening ceremony of the 2021 NYSC management’s meeting with representatives of state governments, FCT administration and local government councils in Abuja.

Ibrahim said: “Without the NYSC and Corps members, the education and health systems would collapse. In the rural areas, they are the ones holding the schools and hospitals.”

Reading ‘Memoirs of a Lazy Korfa’ by a dentist and writer, Tunmise Usikalu, has shown me that as good as the scheme is, there are issues that must be addressed. Usikalu participated in the programme over a decade ago, and the challenges faced then are still experienced now. With the book, she threw open the doors to the Kano Orientation Camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and reading her memoirs was like being there with her.

The book is a frank and hilarious account of her 24-day orientation programme that always kicks off the one-year compulsory NYSC scheme. The memoirs offer many a dramatic scene, moments of laughter and instances that provide reasons to be worried about the security and infrastructural development in Nigeria.

The author recalls interesting characters such as Man O’ War men and soldiers who derive joy in cracking their whips, petty traders who go everywhere with the Corps members (even Endurance Trek), itinerant photographers, boys and girls not afraid of breaking from the norm and ‘victims’ of unrequited infatuation or love.

The first entry in the memoirs starts in Lagos, where Tunmise is seen boarding a flight from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport to Kano. Her flight is scheduled for 11.15am but by, there is no sign the flight will leave in the next thirty minutes. She is due to resume at the Kano NYSC Orientation Camp that day. All other flights are also experiencing delays. She eventually gets to the Camp at 2.30pm and her baptism of fire begins.

Completing her registration is hampered by a lack of proper organisation and Nigerians’ love for shunting queues. Officials get angry from time to time and abandon the exercise, thus prolonging her ‘suffering’ in the sweltering hot hall where the Corps members queue. Getting the NYSC kits is another kettle of fish. Only a few get all the kits at once. Many get footwears that don’t fit, leaving Corps members searching for colleagues to exchange the right sizes with. Tunmise gets a crested uniform that she likens to her father’s agbada.

The sanitary condition at the Camp, the author finds out, is terribly low.  She and many others are left with no choice but to take their bath in the open very early in the morning or very late at night to keep away prying eyes! Another shock is the low-quality food served in the kitchen, which she avoids throughout her stay.

Religion, she soon discovers, rears its ugly head at the Camp. Christian and Moslem fellowships take stands that Tunmise finds herself worrying about. Perhaps none disturbs her like an incident during the parade. A Moslem sister finds herself in between two male Corps members during an exercise that involves locking hands. A protest ensues and is only resolved when the two guys are replaced with two ladies! Memories of Kano’s past religious crises also hang in the air and always make the author consider running away from the city after the orientation programme.

In the book, Usikalu does not shy away from proffering solutions where she has them. Aside from being an account of her days at the orientation camp, themes, such as, influence-peddling, the failure of those in authority in Nigeria, loyalty to loved ones and boredom-induced sex and romance, jump out. The work also echoes the power of temptation and how to deal with it.

She also highlights the military command structure in the camp, which expects people who are intellectuals to obey without complaint, a development that is antithetical to intellectualism which their university years were all about. But, trust students, they forget fear from time to time and challenge the powers-that-be at the camp. The book has a curious instance involving a lady, but it climaxes ironically with her being bribed with a malt drink!

The author highlights how loneliness can make unlike poles attract even when they have a commitment outside of the restricted environment they currently find themselves in. The solemn and vivacious moments in the book are presented in simple language with the capacity to pull the reader into its world. Usikalu’s dexterity in presenting the good, the bad and the ugly with panache makes the about 100-page book worth every time invested in it.

My final take: ‘Memoirs of a Lazy Korfa’, which displays the beauty of journaling, should be read by intending Corp members, undergraduates, administrators, and others. They will find the information in it useful, and its humour, wit, and uncomplicatedness will make assimilating this documentation of a once-in-a-lifetime effortless.