Everyday by 12pm for the next 21 days, I’ll be telling you what life is like at NYSC Camp. I was posted to Borno State, but the camp holds in Katsina state due to Boko Haram insurgency in Borno. You can read all the stories in the series here.
I wake up in an NYSC lodge in Katsina on the first day of camp. I’m not supposed to be here, that much I can tell. My memory is a bit foggy, but when it all returns, I remember how I got here. It starts with getting my posting on a Friday and seeing that I had been posted to Borno, which means I would be camping in Katsina since Borno is a no-go area. Then packing my things with a twinge of dread and excitement, blocking out all the varied reactions from friends and family on what to expect. And then making the longest trip ever only to end up in the wrong place.
After arriving in Katsina, my friends and I picked up bikes to take us to NYSC camp. The bike men heard “NYSC” alone and brought us to the wrong place — this NYSC lodge where corps members who have their primary place of assignment (PPA) in Katsina stay.
Just as the sun is beginning to light the skies, my friends and I head out of the Lodge to continue our journey.
Let me tell you about my friends. There’s F who was a course mate. We left Lagos together. Then there’s A, the third party we met during the course of the trip. He studied Pharmacy at Cyprus, and for me this is quite a wonder. A foreign-trained person going to the same NYSC with me? As we head out of the Lodge, he tells me he is going to camp to make money.
Me? I came to chop the life of my head.
It takes us four hours to get to camp from the lodge. We first enter a cab driven by a Hausa man. What’s supposed to be a quiet journey becomes a tour of sorts. An Alhaji in the backseat points things out to us even though we don’t ask:
“Katsina is farther than Kano.”
“If you’re coming through Zaria, don’t trust those parts under the bridge that look dry, they actually contain water.”
After the cab drops us, we take motorcycles and arrive at the NYSC camp on them.
Katsina is cold. Too cold. Alhaji had warned us about this before we got off.
At the gate, NSCDC officials accost us. They ask us to open our bags and provide all our documents. They ask us to upend our bags so they can be sure we’re not carrying sharp objects, metal spoons, or other objects they perceive to be harmful.
Beside them are confiscated items: spoons, extension boxes, etc. I wonder if they will confiscate condoms too. After all, sex is not allowed on camp. But take your mind out of the gutter, please, I am not carrying condoms. My grandmother packed my bags.
When they are satisfied, I am asked to write my name in a book and allowed to go in. I wait for my friends who are still being checked. In the meantime, I decide to take photos for this diary. The soldier takes offence.
“Go inside!” he barks and I’m gone before he can say another word.
Look where friendship got me.
Registration: If you’re posted to Borno state, then it’s very likely that you’ll camp at the Peace and Disaster Management Centre, NSCDC, Barbar-Ruga road, Batsari, Katsina. This, to a large extent, is what will happen:
After the soldiers allow you in, you’ll meet two guys claiming they own a coverage business. They’ll tell you that they will take pictures of everything you do in camp from day 1 to the end, all for N1,000. If they notice a reluctance, they’ll tell you to pay half of the money; you can pay half later. Ignore them. That’s what I did. Because why pay a coverage business to follow you about, are you Kim Kardashian?
Here’s a picture of the things you can take to camp. Photocopies are essential, so you don’t enrich the hungry pockets of those people at Mammy Market.
When you get to the registration point, a soldier will give you two forms to fill. One is for bio data, the other is the oath form. After filling, you take it in to a man who asks for your certificate, call up letter, green card, NYSC ID card. He’ll stamp your call-up letter and direct you to another table. Here, your details are entered into a computer, and a printout is issued to you.
With this printout, you’re given an office file with a serial number on it. Assuming you are number 197, then you’ll fall under Platoon 7, according to the last digit of your serial number. There are 10 platoons. Now that you’re in Platoon 7, find the spot of Platoon 7 and submit originals of the documents requested: medical and school certificates, call up letter and green card, print out page, bio data and oath form.
Here, they’ll give you your kits (which will NEVER size you, my dear, forget that NYSC asked you for your size during registration), a handful of booklets (camp rules, etc) and your meal ticket which will serve you throughout your stay. Lose it, and Mammy Market traders will rejoice. A new customer. Relax though, a plate of white rice and meat is N300. Sharon, the sales girl, assures me it’s big meat, but maybe she does not understand big things, sha.
Before or after you open your bank account, you’ll need to go to the admin block to get your mattress. It’s not a tug of war, but you’ll have to dig deep to find a good one. Most mattresses there are as flat as pancakes.
This is quite a process, and with the Harmattan, dust and sun, be prepared to look like an abandoned child by the end of it all.
But think about it: only you in Borno, no true love holding your hands, patting your back and saying “It’s gon’ be fine, love.” Are you not abandoned?
PARADE! This is shaping up to be my scariest moment on camp. One minute, I am looking peng, selfie-ing, and the next moment a soldier is yelling, “Double up!” and coming to our hostel with a kondo. Mans had to flee to the camp ground.
Lowkey, there’s a little bit of ignoramus in everybody: After the soldiers explain what to do and dish out instructions (raise your left leg! Shout hurray! Don’t touch your cap! Stop saying Catch), many people still do the wrong thing. It becomes so bad, a guy is called out and told to keep shouting “Hurray.”
Fainting/falling down/collapsing is a sure way to escape marching: Now this requires tact to pull off, so you don’t jeopardize yourself. In the heat of the instructions, my dear, just give up like you are giving up on Nigeria. Drop. If you can fall on the person next to you, do it. If your wig can fall, do it.
Like that like that, you’ll be taken to Red Cross, pampered, like the queen/king that you are. Hold on a sec, in your fainting, don’t invalidate the true fainting of people who are truly weak and can’t cope. A friend who I met during registration fell down twice. A girl in my platoon fell down too. Another one gave up the struggle and went to beg soldiers. I considered fainting too, but before I could finish plotting/planning the logistics, the parade was dismissed.
Well, there’s always another day.