This week’s subject of Navigating Nigeria is Mike, a serving corps member in Rivers State. He spoke to Citizen about his camping experience in Yobe State, and the twists and turns are straight out of a Nollywood film.
Walk us through the moments leading up to NYSC
I was supposed to graduate in 2019 but had school issues . Then 2020 came and COVID-19 struck which meant another year wasted. Eventually, I graduated from the University of Lagos in 2021. The Senate published the call-up list and that’s when I knew I’d be a part of Batch A2 for NYSC.
You know how the process for NYSC is na — printing letters, photocards, this document and that. Everything was quite stressful because I was already working at the time. Taking permission from work was a big issue and I really had no idea how to go about the registration process.
I resigned from work two weeks before my resumption to NYSC camp. One of my brothers was staying around UNILAG so I stayed at his place. I went to the cafes around and thankfully those guys knew everything about what was needed for registration. After they were done they gave me a printout and asked me to wait a few days to know where I’d be posted. Oh my God, I was so nervous.
What was the problem?
On one hand I’m an adventurous guy, yet on the other I was praying, “God, don’t let them carry me to Jigawa, or Borno or Benue”. Still I made up my mind that wherever I was posted I wouldn’t redeploy because that’s where God wanted me to be.
I remember the day I got the posting. March 12, 2022. I wasn’t online. I was playing at home when my phone rang. “Guy, how far, you don see your call-up”? Omo, that’s when I turned on my data. First place I checked was the WhatsApp group chat. I saw people wailing. They were lamenting about being posted to places like Gombe, Jigawa and so on.
I had issues with accessing the site. The tension was mad. To calm myself down, I just told myself I’d go do something else. I was supposed to pick up my statement of result and some other documents from UNILAG, so I took a cab there. When I tried to visit the NYSC portal again, it asked me if I wanted to download my call-up letter. I clicked yes. As I opened it, what did I see? “You’ve been posted to Yobe State”. I shouted “Jesus”.
I just kept shouting Jesus inside the cab. The driver was asking what was going on? I was asking him “How would they carry me to Yobe”, as if he could fix the issue. It was crazy. I know I said I wasn’t going to redeploy but when I saw the posting, there was just no way on earth I would do my youth service there.
The first person I called was my mum and she too screamed. I have three older brothers who have served and I called them too. They told me I had to go to the camp, and could only redeploy after I’d completed the three-week camping.
Yeah, you can’t skip that
I was so sad. Anyway I started planning to travel. I went to the market to shop. I had grown so big, the items I bought didn’t even fit but I took them with me anyway. After much debate with my family, I eventually took a cross country bus that had nine other prospective corp members going to Yobe.
At first everyone kept to themselves and some were pressing their phones. I brought three novels with me and my power bank in anticipation of boredom. It was about an hour into the journey that we loosened up and started making friends. It was the longest journey of my life. We were on the road from 7 a.m. till we got to Abuja around 11 p.m. where we had to stop for the night.
I wanted to stay at a hotel but it was a Friday night and the one I saw was fully booked. So I settled for the bus park. We resumed our journey the next morning. and arrived in Yobe around 10 p.m. We were searched and cleared and eventually settled in the camp.
How was the experience at the NYSC camp?
The first thing that surprised me about camp was people wearing their whites even late at night. Apparently there was strong enforcement of the rule against mufti. Then lights out was also a thing. They’d turn off the lights and it would be pitch black.
Camp was fun. I was assigned to a platoon. I ran from parade duty at first because Yobe was so hot. It was like the state was the headquarters of the sun. But seeing the soldiers parading was beautiful. After a while I took interest in it. It was a good way to shed some weight.
But there were three things I disliked about camp. One was the skills acquisition programme run by the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Department (SAED). The programme bored me to death. I still hate it, till now.
Another was being woken up by the annoying bugle at 4:30 a.m. I used to silently curse the soldiers, “Una no dey sleep”?
I also didn’t like the food. Maybe I ate camp food only four or five times. I sorted myself at the mammy market. I made a wealthy friend who used to take me and a couple of other ladies on spending sprees at the market.
Must be nice
My platoon was mid and always finished in sixth or seventh positions at competitions. But we won the Macho competition and finished second at the march past.
That’s something. Were there other good times?
Well, the weather during the morning parades was so cold. There was this babe who couldn’t stand it and would come and hold me tight to keep herself warm. Ah, camp was sweet. In those moments all my troubles would disappear.
The three weeks went by quickly and we had our passing out parade. Everyone was sad at this point because we’d bonded. We said our salutes to the state coordinator and then it was time to get to the real thing.
During camp, we were told that anyone interested in relocating from Yobe State should fill a form. I didn’t have to pay anybody. When I heard this I told myself, “Forget the promise you made to God that you’ll stay here. Wetin you dey find for Yobe?”
I filled the form and thought that was done but I found out later from my platoon leader that my application wasn’t submitted for some weird reason. I was worried. The government really wanted me to stay in Yobe. I’d given up hope but another opportunity came up, thank God.
Apparently, a lot of other corp members had failed redeployment requests so they had to do another round of applications. This time I ensured it was properly submitted and I noted I would stay anywhere but the North. I chose Rivers State for a funny reason. I’m a good chess player and I knew Rivers had the strongest chess players in the country after Lagos.
I wasn’t sure the request would be successful. My folks at home were already thinking I’d remain in Yobe and were suggesting I sit out service year and try again another year. But I’d lost enough time. My mates had served in 2020 already.
On the final day at camp, I got my letter. I had been posted to a polytechnic in Potiskum.
There were lots of tears that day. Some corps members had paid money but got postings to remote villages. Among those of us that didn’t have success with our earlier relocation applications, I was congratulated because Potiskum is the largest city in Yobe.
Almost everyone had left the camp, and there were just five or so left. I decided to stay back a bit and relax before heading to my place of primary assignment (PPA) to secure accommodation and other documents. I left to take my bath and before I got back, my school bag had disappeared.
I was just away for like six or so minutes and that was all the time needed for this bag to find legs. I went around looking for it. It had a distinct red and yellow colour and had all my documents in it. Omo, where didn’t I search?
It was getting lonely so I just went with the rest of my stuff to my PPA. When I got there, they had closed for the day. This was just around 1 p.m. or so, and that’s when I learnt it was a Muslim state and they don’t work long hours there. I went to a nearby market to try and replace a few of the items stolen from my bag, like toiletries and my charger. It shocked me to discover how very cheap things were. Afterwards, I had to stay the night at the corpers’ lodge.
I was going to resume the PPA for documentation the next morning when one spirit told me to check the NYSC portal again. That was when I clicked the relocation option and downloaded a document. That was when I shouted “Jesus” again, but this time it was good news. My redeployment was successful, I had been moved to Rivers State.
I was so happy, but also a bit sad because I’d already made friends at the corpers’ lodge. They had this Calabar market they took me to where we had fun. Potiskum wasn’t a bad place after all. I was introduced to some of the beautiful ladies there — I still remember Jumai who was so, so lovely.
I was having second thoughts about staying back but when I called my mum and told her the relocation process worked, she talked sense into me like an African mum would and told me to get set to leave. From Yobe, I said my goodbyes reluctantly and took a bus to Kano where I arrived around 9 p.m.
I didn’t want to risk traveling at night so I had to lodge in Kano. I noticed that when I got there almost all the shops and kiosks had shut down. A Lagos boy like me found that very strange because that’s the time nightlife ordinarily begins. It was tough for me because most people didn’t understand the English I was speaking. I was also low on cash at this point.
I had to find a nearby NYSC secretariat to spend the night. My phone’s battery was dead, and I couldn’t communicate my whereabouts to my parents. The next day, I bought a power bank at the park to charge my phone. We left late, at around 1 p.m. and arrived at Port-Harcourt at 10 the next morning. That was how my camping experience was. I’d say those three weeks were a bit of a rollercoaster.