Tests, Temptations and Triumphs; my 11 months NYSC Journey – Part I

” Finally I’m releasing my NYSC memoirs. The writer in me has refused to allow the Oyo experience to go untold. Everyday I try to put it aside, the story keeps nudging me until I decided to take out time to put pen to paper. I must confess it’s not the best story that has been told as I’ve had to write this in between work, sleep and meals, just to ensure that I cover enough ground in good time. Well, for whoever reads, I hope you find my story compelling enough to want to finish it. I’ve released it in parts, to avoid boring anyone with an overly long story.”

I cannot remember clearly how I felt when news filtered in that I had finally been mobilised for NYSC, but I know there wasn’t any excitement that some other people may have felt. I felt relieved that finally I would be able to get done with it. I had missed two (2) previous service batches and was perhaps on the verge of missing this batch but for some frantic calls and eventual turn of circumstances. Immediately I got the news, I communicated with a few friends I still had at the OAU campus and pronto! My call-up no was delivered to me via SMS and BBM. *Runsing* started in earnest as I began pressing every button available at my disposal and in a few days, I was made to understand that Lagos was perhaps out of the equation and I should instead pick a nearby state. While all this was going on, I still lived the life I had become used to for a period of about 1 year; working as an intern in a consulting firm in Lagos. When the reality dawned that Lagos would be impossible, I saw my well-planned service dreams pulled to shreds. Now I was left with choosing any other state in the south west and Oyo was my pick- It was the closest to Lagos I knew, since Ogun is my state of origin.A few weeks down the line, posting letters were released and I headed back to my Alma mater to complete necessary documentations and receive my letter. While many people were nervously anticipating their states of posting, I remained calm, perhaps because I felt I had a “sure” leg ( so much for trusting in man) and when the list was finally released, I was not surprised when “OY” was written beside my details. Documentation done, posting letter collected, I headed back to Lagos for some last minute shopping and preparation for the 3 weeks orientation camp at Iseyin. My journey to the Iseyin orientation camp started a few days earlier than required. I travelled to Ibadan, to stay over with a friend from my OAU days who happened to be posted to the same camp and was driving down. After the gists, catch-up and all we had to, we eventually retired to bed, although not without watching Spain trounce Italy at the European finals. On Monday 2nd July 2012, the journey to national service began as we left Ibadan as early as 6am, in a bid to avoid the unfavorable treatment that late-comers to camp are usually subjected to on arrival. After over 3hours on the road, we finally arrived at the Oluwole Iseyin NYSC Orientation Camp. Quickly we settled in to the registration rituals and the culture shock of unfriendly treatment that the soldiers subjected us to ( Hey! Carry your box on your head, no walking, keep moving). In about 45mins, I was done with registration and before 10am, I had been assigned a code no (114), a mattress and a bed-space in an overcrowded room. Barely had I settled in the room, when the soldiers had come calling, and this time it was for us to strip off our mufties into the all-white wears required of corpers and hurry down to the parade ground *are you kidding me? But I barely just got here!* I hurriedly changed my clothes in compliance and pronto, I was on the parade ground (among the first 100 corpers to arrive the parade ground).The first few days in camp passed by quickly and we were sworn-in with the usual 3 hearty cheers and many speeches. The remaining few days of camp were a combination of fun, stress, frustration, and anxiety. The stress came during the early morning exercises and parades, while fun happened in the evenings, when we all had times to get together and mammy revellers blow hard-earned money on drinks. Frustrations came with the many meaningless lectures we were subjected to, the bulk of which were marketing opportunities for business owners that thronged the camp (from project managers, to so-called recruitment consultants and perhaps fish farming experts). As we neared final exit from camp, I was excited to leave though quite apprehensive about where I would be posted to as I had refused to meet up with people that would help me ensure posting to ibadan. In camp I did almost everything – football trainings, kitchen duties, inter-platoon debate (where I came first in the preliminaries) and the ultimate of all, was joining the platoon dance troupe. Reflecting on the last 3.5 weeks I had spent, I could say that camping was not a bad idea afterall. Last day of camp came earlier than we thought and we all woke up as early as 2am in order to quickly finish up parking and return our mattresses (this perhaps reminded me of holiday packings in Ijankin). It was 3 hours after returning our mattresses and getting dressed that we realised that we had perhaps done things too early, as we were all set as early as 5am, but the representative of the state Governor did not arrive until about 1pm. After waiting for over 4 hours, the deputy governor finally arrived to the chagrin of corpers. Parade done, displays done, speeches done, we all hurried to pick up our posting letters. The point of collecting posting letters was indeed a drama scene to behold, as you could see different displays of emotion, some people cried for being posted to bushes, others because they were going to part with their camp loves and friends. Some other people were filled with joy, perhaps because they were posted to their desired areas (in most cases, the state capital – Ibadan). Unlike the confidence and calm that I displayed before call-up, I was a little nervous this time around as I waited to see where I would be posted to. My wait was not going to be for long as I finally got my letter and the reality struck: Community-Oyo, PPA-Ladigbolu Senior Grammar School, Oyo. That was it, I was not considered good enough to be posted to the capital rather the ancient town of Oyo was to be my new home.

 Early days in Oyo

I got into Oyo late in the afternoon of Monday 23rd July 2012. The representative of the State governor had delayed us beyond the usual and as such set our journeys back by a few hours. On arrival I was initially greeted by the rude shock of the kind of houses that lined the way on the “Isehin-Oyo expressway” – old, mud houses with thatched roofs. I really hoped this was not the true situation in Oyo as I had always dreaded the possibility of serving in a remote place without the necessary conveniences of the modern age. My fears were later put to flight when we drove into the expansive complex that was the Oyo-West Local Government Secretariat. Perhaps recently painted, the secretariat complex was a sharp contrast from the other buildings I had encountered on my way there. Making our entry into the secretariat, we were greeted by shouts of excitement by the old corpers jostling with one another to either take our bags or help pull out our khaki trousers from inside our jungle boot (the mandatory parade dress-code in camp). Shouts of “Otondo” continually rented the air as they smiled sheepishly at the new set of perhaps “unfortunate” people to make their way to Oyo. We soon settled into the legislative chamber of the local government for a small welcome party by the representatives of the NYSC and the local government. After initial introductions by the officials in the room, up came the LGI. She spoke extensively on the dos and don’ts of serving under her leadership, promising hell and brimstone for whoever had the guts to break the rules. At a point in her speech she asked to know those of us who had jobs in Lagos or Abuja and when nobody raised up their hands, I sure did raise up mine in anger. For all I cared at that moment, it was unfair for her to greet us in such manner, besides, I had always heard tales of people who served in places as ghost corpers and I was more than ready to be one of such. I considered her threats as just soft punches in the air that would mellow when met with the right amount of truancy, persuasion or perhaps currency.We must have spent an hour in the legislative chamber listening to all manners of addresses and encouragements and after a while, we all recited the NYSC Anthem and exited into the waiting arms of representatives of different corper organisations – NCCF (Nigerian Fellowship of Christian Corpers), MCAN (Muslim Corpers Association of Nigeria), NACC (National Association of Catholic Corpers) and WCF (Winners Corpers Fellowship). I did not hesitate to go with the NCCF representatives as it seemed the closest to what I could tolerate. I got into the bus they had brought and in less than 15 minutes I was at the NCCF Oyo Zone Family house. If I had found the noisome greetings at the secretariat a torture, I wasn’t prepared for the shock I received at the family house. As soon as our bus drove in, we started hearing loud shouts of Eyiiii !!! Eyiiii! Eyiii!. It sounded absurd to me, I had just gone through one of the busiest of days and was just in need of somewhere to lay my head and the only place I sort a quiet abode turned out to be a noisome one. I quietly got a chair in one corner of the large open space in front of the family house as I watched proceedings from afar. As more buses arrived from other local governments, I observed an interesting cycle – the shouts would erupt, new corpers would alight with shock, tiredness and gloomy faces and then the somewhat lucky ones would find a friend or two whom they had known from school, or from camp. I also saw a few people who I knew from camp, but I was in no mood to fraternise with anyone. All that mattered to me at that time was how I would get my butt out of the sleepy town of Oyo. While sitting in silence, I felt a soft nudge on my elbow and as I turned I saw that it was one of my platoon mates from camp, Ibukun. She was excited to see me and was perhaps surprised that I wore a sad look on my face. Apparently she never wanted to be posted to Ibadan as she bore the notion that the standard of living in Ibadan would be too high for her to cope with the meagre N19,800 corper allowance. In the midst of her excitement, she told me that she was already making plans for accommodation, she had seen an old corp member who told her she knew of a few places that were unoccupied, which could be gotten at a moderate fee. In as much as I was not interested in staying back in Oyo, my gut told me just have back-up plans in case of any eventualities. With this in mind, I told her I was interested in the openings and we agreed that we would start out the scout the next day, after concluding registration. While all this was going on, we were served a dinner of Semo and some burnt vegetables. A lot of corpers complained of the quality of the meal, but not me, I was too hungry for my taste buds to have picked up any bad taste. After the meal, we had a fellowship session which I endured, rather than enjoy and retired to sleep. The room I slept in was far from convenient, making my room in camp look like a mansion, but I was more than grateful for the kindness of the NCCF for providing food and shelter to a group of corpers whom they had never met. It felt like I had barely slept for five minutes when I heard the bell ring. It was time for fellowship already? I just couldn’t believe it as I checked the time to realise that it was really the dawn of a new day. Lazily I got out of bed into the fellowship arena, to meet a group of sleepy corpers as we all forced ourselves to participate in the routine for the morning. Once we were done with fellowship, everyone scampered into their rooms to grab the necessary toiletries. As was the custom in the family house, the male corpers (aka Mighty men) were required to fill up all buckets and drums with water, so that the ladies would have enough to make the meal for the day and as well do their necessary clean-ups. I joined the guys to draw water from the well as I had begun to losing up from my previous pent-up and gloomy demeanour.  Just when I thought my water worries were over – as I had fetched a full bucket of water, which I pulled into the room upstairs – I was greeted by the rude shock of my missing bucket of water. At this time, the “Ijanikin boy” in me was the first to react as I quietly took the next bucket of water I saw and judiciously used to freshen up my dirty body. Once we were all done with bathing, we were called into the open area, to have a warm breakfast, which I must confess was much better than that from the previous night. Breakfast done and in my full NYSC regalia, I hurried into a waiting bus – that had been chartered by the fellowship to drop us off at our respective places of primary assignment – enroute Ladigbolu Senior Grammar School to start out necessary documentations.As the bus drove into the expansive compound of “Ladigrams”, my heart froze for a few minutes. I had a couple of times pictured myself standing in front of pupils, impacting knowledge, but the picture of my new PPA didn’t fit into what I had always envisioned. Yes, the school was expansive, but that was where it ended. Just like every public school, this one had its fair share of uncompleted buildings, broken window panes and chairs strewn across the compound and a host of other things gone wrong. I endured this sight and thought to myself that there was no way I was going to stay in this school – solidifying my resolve to exiting Oyo and perhaps getting reposted to Ibadan, with the next available phone call – taking long quiet steps towards the administrative block. The principal was not on seat when we arrived and we were attended to by one of the members of staff, Mrs Adetoro (who I was later to discover was the mother of one of my roommates from University). Mrs Adetoro welcomed us with a great deal of warmth as she was excited to have us in the school. She assured us that we would all be accepted, advising that we should however ensure that we were of good behaviour as the school had previously experienced cases of corpers who caused more harm than good in the school. After we had waited in vain for the principal’s arrival, we requested to be allowed to leave, so that we could do other things on our itinerary for registration. While all this was going on, we had won to our side an old corp member who volunteered to be our tour guide, although I guess he was more interested in one or two of the females amongst us. Leaving the school premises, the next point of call was the house of this old corper as we all hurried over to plug our phones. We didn’t stay too long in the corper’s lodge as we decided that we should perhaps start the search for accommodation in earnest. My first experience searching for a house in Oyo was indeed an interesting one. The potential landlord was a man who could perhaps pass to be in his early sixties. He had a huge frame like someone who had spent a huge part of his life with bottles of beer and when he spoke, I was surprised at how eloquent he was. “Daddy” (as he was fondly called by our search help, an old female corper), was in no mood to mix business with pleasure. As much as he was pleased and excited to meet us, regaling us with tales of the different places his children had served in, as well as his many encounters with other corpers, he told us point-blank the available accommodation options and the associated costs for securing them. Yes, I was new to Oyo town, but those rates! They weren’t nice at all. To make matters worse, we took a quick tour of the house and realised that it didn’t match the stated costs in any way. We thanked him, promising to come back (As is often said, “A bird in hand is worth more than a thousand in the bush”) and hurried back to the school, based on the new information that the principal was back in the office. Mr Ibikunle, the principal of my new PPA was already seated when we arrived in his office. He looked every inch like the village headmaster, with his bowler hat and jumpy trousers. When he was done attending with the other corpers I met in his office, he took a quick glance at my credentials and lit his face into a smile, he was also a graduate of OAU (BSc and MSc) and felt good to meet another “Great Ife” alumni. It was as though he had seen a fellow brother, chatting freely about a few quick things from way back, enquiring about who my lecturers were and asking a host of other questions that I was less interested in answering. Without much ado, he signed my papers, gave me my acceptance letter and welcomed us all into the school. As we left the school, we hurried over to the Local Government to complete registration, open our files and open new account numbers. From the Local Government, we headed for another place we had heard there was accommodation. This house had a very nice front view, was gated with high fences, giving me a first impression of a very nice accommodation. On entering however, I was confronted with a huge shock, it was not what I had thought; it was face-me-I-face-you styled, with a modern latrine and outdoor bathroom system. Despite my disappointment, I began to consider paying for this accommodation. I was tired of my searching for accommodation and considering the fact that two other ladies (Ibukun – my camp friend, and Seun – also a platoon member) had already paid and were looking forward to sharing the building with someone who they at least knew, for the sake of congeniality. I weighed the pros and cons carefully and then concluded to secure the accommodation. While all these activities were on-going, I had already moved out of the NCCF Family house to stay with one of my friends from OAU (Niyi Akinyemi). I stayed there for about three days, paid for my accommodation, waited for the Thursday CDS and then on Friday, 27th July, I headed out of Oyo, for my first trip home in about a month.

 The Many journeys

Leaving Oyo on these said day, I was leaving with one thing in mind – I was not going to settle down in due time. Even though the LGI had breathed fire and brimstone, I was not to be deterred by my plan. I looked forward to returning to Lagos, to at least see my family after over one month and to return to the job I had come to miss. Immediately I got to Berger, I saw how much I had come to love the city of Lagos and how much of it I had come to miss. I resumed back at work on Monday 30th July to the warm welcome of my colleagues and to the heat of projects and tasks that I had missed. My birthday was 3 days after and I had the best birthday celebration in a while – my cake read, “Happy Birthday African P- Setter”, me I don’t know what that means o”. It felt like I had stayed a few days in Lagos when I was due to attend my first Community Development Service (CDS) meeting in Oyo, after two weeks of staying away. I had come to terms with the impossibility of getting a re-posting and so decided that the least I could do was shuttle between Lagos and Oyo for as long as I could. Since secondary schools were still on holiday, shuttling was not a difficult thing to do, I would leave Lagos on Wednesday evenings, to sleep over at a friend’s place in Ibadan and then return to Lagos after CDS on Thursdays and resume for work on Friday mornings. This plan worked perfectly without the LGI noticing my absence and save for the stress of the trips, I was beginning to enjoy the adventure. My enjoyment was not to last for too long as schools resumed and I was informed by my fellow corpers that the Vice-Principal of the school was a no-nonsense veteran teacher who despite nearing retirement, was never tired of keeping a record of corpers’ in the school. As much as I tried to resist the reality, I eventually began to allow it sink. If it was just the LGI I had to deal with, I may still have handled that, but with my V.P also a tough nut, it was definitely going to be difficult continuing my many escapades. So, contrary to my initial thought, I had to settle for the hard decision of staying in Oyo. On Monday 1st October 2012, I finally moved my luggage into Oyo town. I was lucky enough to have met an Alumni of my fellowship the previous day, who informed me that he was enroute Ilorin and since he was going to pass through Oyo, he could drop me off. The opportunist that I am was not going to let such opening go by, I jumped at it with both hands and was at the designated spot the next day, with the few things that were my first belongings in Oyo. After an over three hour journey (prolonged because we had to stop over to fix some mechanical issues in the car), I arrived in Oyo to meet a huge disappointment. I had paid a young carpenter some money to help make some necessary repairs in my room (replace the window and door nets, fix a cloth hanger and a book shelf) and to my utter amazement, he had done not of it. That I was shocked was to say the least, I had called him on countless occasions and he promised to fix them up and now that I had arrived, he still had not moved a nail in the room. In the midst of my bewilderment, I concluded that I would have to settle in temporary with the other mail corper that was in the house (Akindele Isiyemi) pending when I would be able to get the carpenter to fix my room. Fixing the room did not happen until after over 3 weeks and countless trips to the saw-mill. In the end, he did not deliver on the quality I had expected for some of the items, but at this point, I was too burnt out from pursuing him that the standard of quality didn’t matter to me anymore. While all these went on, I had made about two trips to Lagos in the space of three weeks, to both attend the wedding of one of my colleagues and also get some more items that I would be needing in Oyo. Although, I settled in quickly to life in Oyo, holding a record as one of the best corpers in the school, I was not done with travelling. I travelled at least twice every month to Lagos, Ibadan and Ife, returning unnoticed many times and blending back into the life I had left behind. In the midst of these boredom I had been thrown into, travelling was my reprieve and this I planned to make every use of, until something happened.

 Fellowship, food and fun

My integration into the NCCF system came much later than many people expected. I had heard so much about the dogmatism that had taken hold of the system from senior friends that had previously gone through it and I told myself I was not ready to do any of such. I was going into NYSC to live my life and I was not ready for any other burden. I simply told myself that I was done with fellowship activity in the University and was just hoping to live a simple quiet life in service. My first entry into the NCCF Camp fellowship further made me recluse into my shell; I saw one of my faculty mates from University (Abayomi Jayeoba), who was serving with an earlier batch and was the incumbent Music Director of the fellowship. After we exchanged pleasantries and caught up on old times, he began teasing me that it was good that I was here, calling on the Bible Study secretary (Rabbi), to come meet someone that would perhaps take over from him. I thanked him for the suggestion and hurried off. This on its own further hardened my desire to stay away from fellowship as much as possible. I chose when I attended fellowship meetings, majorly on Sundays and a sprinkling of week days. At the end of camp, I remember attending fellowship only about 6 days out of a possible 21 days. I tried to continue this trend when I got into Oyo town, attending only the fellowships that held after CDS meetings, achieving relative success since I attended just one Sunday fellowship meeting in over a period of 3 months. Things however took a different turn sometime in November. I had been invited by the incumbent leadership of corpers in the Local Government to represent my batch for an upcoming debate between Batch A and my Batch (B). After initial resistance, I was persuaded into accepting the offer. The D-day came and we trounced the Batch “A” corpers we were up against, with me as the chief speaker. It felt so cool afterwards, as lots of people saw me as a smart guy and I kind of basked in the attention I was getting. It was with this masked excitement that I went for the NCCF CDS fellowship meeting, but this time around I realised that the Zonal Co-ordinator was watching me closely during the meeting. I shrugged off any suspicions I may have had, only for my fears to be confirmed when a few days later I received an SMS that I had been invited for a meeting in the family house. I knew immediately that this was no ordinary meeting. The fellowship was in a transitional period (Batch A corpers were preparing to leave and so selection of prospective replacements was already on-going). I chose to ignore this message even after receiving it two more times. Perhaps getting tired of my refusal to honor the interview invitation, the Zonal Coordinator came to me personally to inform me. At this time, the guilt had begun to eat into me that I was running away from God’s work. I eventually chose to honor the invitation, but not without putting up an attitude. I portrayed the image of someone that was not ready for any appointment, insisting that I was too busy with many other things to consider an executive position in the fellowship. As I walked out of the family house on that day, I believed that I was finally off the hook, since there was no way they would consider me, especially with the attitude I put up in there. It was quite surprising however, when a few weeks later (precisely on the day that I had a re-run of the debate and won it again) I was told that I had been appointed into one of the positions in the fellowship (Oyo-West Sub-zonal Evangelism secretary). Although, I was disappointed with this news, I accepted it nonetheless, who was I to turn down the work of God. I could run for all I cared, but now faced with the reality, my games was up. I humbly responded that there was no problem and would take up the appointment, but I was not ready to resume for it until the next year, since I was already scheduled for a return trip to Lagos on that day or the next. Despite all entreaties to me, to stay back and attend a leadership conference that was organised for the new EXCOs in Ibadan, I stood my ground and opted to return to Lagos for the festivities.Serving as an Exco in NCCF, Oyo Zone was more fun than I had bargained for. I initially resumed duty with some level of scepticism, waiting for the day that I would be angered and I’ll just resign my appointment. This day never came or rather, my perspective changed for the better. I fell in love with every minute of serving in this capacity as time went on. I never imagined that I would attend any State conference or Rural-Rugged evangelism program, but before the end of my tenure, I had attended two Rural-Ruggeds and one State conference. In NCCF, I met great people who made the tenure worthwile. Every GENCO Meeting (including the one that lasted for almost 10 hours), was a great privilege for me. At some point, I earned a reputation as the most critical member of the meeting, as I always had something to say about every matter, thereby contributing to the length of the meeting. I really did not have a problem with this though, since I had always earned such reputation right from my days in University fellowship. After an initial hiatus, I became a regular face at the family house, staying for long periods with the house occupants (zonal executives) and dining with them. Well, another theory to this should be that I looked forward to the food that was served here, as I am proud to say that “mama’s kitchen” was the place to be. As the days drew near and I was rounding-off my service year, I took a deep reflection on the role that NCCF played in my fruitful Oyo stay, and I can clearly say that I really enjoyed every minute of the sacrifices (time, money, effort) made for that fellowship. It was indeed a life well lived. In saying this, I do not make a claim to have been absolutely faithful in the discharge of my duties, but I can say that within the confines of my available resources, I did the best that I could.

… To be continued. (Watch out for Part 2 *smiles*)

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