by Sanjo

Before I went for NYSC camp, I had heard a lot about it – the drills, the disciplined life, the sleep-inducing SAED lectures, the social activities, etc. Most of what I heard about the experience can be summarised in two words: stressful and fun. The integrity of the former had already been confirmed for me as I can still remember how sickly my sister looked when she returned from camp two years ago. Concerning the latter, however, I knew (and my sister reiterated this point to me before I left) that the 21 days being fun and exciting was entirely up to me.
If you know me well enough, you would know that I am inherently an introvert though I identify as an ambivert. If made to choose between going to a fabulous party and staying all day indoors, I would pick the latter every time. Nevertheless, with time and much exposure, I have learnt to switch modes whenever the need arises. So I decided that on getting to camp, I would make “extrovert” my default mode, switching over to “introvert” only when necessary.
I arrived at camp on Friday, 26th November, two days after it began. We were given different dates to report so as to avoid overcrowdedness during the registration. Though quite laudable, this move did little to prevent the chaotic process that was my camp registration. Anyway, the registration finally ended after hours of queuing in the sun. Afterwards, I found myself in my room, more like a large hall with over 300 men lodged in. There were rows and rows of double bunks in the room, leaving very little space for easy movement. Plastered all over the walls were words like “4get me not”, “(so so person) was here” and certain words of wisdom written with different colours of permanent markers. It reminded me of my secondary school hostel days. One of the inscriptions that struck me was that which read “make the 21 days count”. This was exactly what I had in mind and I hoped to God that I would be able to achieve it.

The daily schedule on camp is somewhat repetitive and very regimented. The day begins at 4:30am. This is when the soldier’s bugle is blown to wake us up, though many people wake up way before then to avoid the long queues at the taps. Then by 4:45 am, the Orientation Broadcasting Service (OBS) opens for the day, playing the same set of songs in the same order every day. First, the National anthem, the NYSC anthem, and some selected Nigerian pop songs fit for that day. The soldiers begin to blow their whistles around this time, signalling us to double up and move to the parade ground for morning devotion. Between 5 am and 7:30 am, we are engaged in a series of activities, including praises and worship, prayer, meditation, briefings, language study, and parade rehearsals. After this, breakfast lasts till 9 am, when we all assemble at the pavilion for a series of highly dull lectures. This lasts till 2 pm, which is lunchtime. After lunch, there are sporting activities and then parade rehearsals. This is followed by dinner, social activities between 8 pm and 10 pm and then lights out. Though the schedule is slightly readjusted on certain days, each day on camp follows its primary order each day.
Something I admire so much about the camp is the division of corps members into platoons – groups of about 200 or less, and involving them in various competitions, blatant and subtle alike. The former includes contests such as debate, drama, dance, football, volleyball, Miss NYSC, Mr Macho, to mention a few, while the latter includes stuff like kitchen duty performance, sanitation and security performance, general comportment at functions, etc. Despite the differing backgrounds of corps members in each platoon, we were expected to work together as a team to achieve the same goal. To make it more difficult, we had limited time to prepare for the contests and coupled with the usual conflicts that are bound to arise, it proved a Herculean task. My platoon, in particular, was notorious for being the most troublesome platoon; however, due to the exceptional leadership of our inspector and leaders and the commitment of many members, we emerged as the overall best platoon on camp.
Wherever many youths are gathered like this (we were about 2000), there is bound to be loads and loads of fun. We made fun of our pains, inconveniences, and helplessness in the face of it all. We laughed at those who quickly succumbed to sleep during the SAED lectures complained about the soldiers’ stupid bugle that forcefully sent us out of our hostels and the endless parades, yet we grooved together at the end each day. We made friends and foes alike. We crushed on others and got crushed on. We formed relationships, some that would stand the test of time and others that would end at the camp gate. We were young, free; it was the worst of times yet the best of times.
Following my resolve to make the 21 days count, I participated in a handful of activities. I was on the debate committee and the drama group. Also, I volunteered to give the morning meditation on behalf of my platoon. I met some fantastic people I wouldn’t have encountered if I had chosen to be a lone ranger in the process. Osagie, Adetoun, Abisola and Peace, whom I worked with within the debate committee. These guys were simply the best, entirely committed and dogged despite the clumsiness of the debate topic. It was no different in the drama group as Iyanu, Tolulope, Deji, IBK, Prince, Ebinabo, Ope, to mention a few, made the experience worthwhile. Not to forget our amiable platoon inspector, Mr Makanjuola, alias Makay whose fatherly advice and encouragement led us to victory.
There’s a particularly hilarious experience I had on camp I would like to recount. It was not so funny at the time it happened. It was one regular evening when we were usually pursued to the pavilion for a social night. I happened to be unprepared at that time and as the soldiers’ whistles began to sound, everyone around me began to prepare to move out. As is customary in Ajimobi hostel, sarcastic innuendos were being thrown at the advancing soldiers during moments like this. Maybe because I was in a good mood that day or just to feel among, I decided to join them so I shouted, “If you’re blowing a whistle, you’re wrong!” Hardly had the boys around me begun to laugh when the soldier (who I had thought was a reasonable distance away) shouted at me, “Hey! The boy that said that. Remain there! I’ll deal with you today!” At that moment, my heart was somewhere very close to my mouth. At the end of the day, the officer just seized my cap and tag, which I was able to retrieve a few days later. Whenever I remember this experience and other (far worse) soldier–corper clashes, I chuckle and also marvel at the level of self-control these soldiers embodied during the camp.
There are many things about camp that I miss. I miss the daily physical training, which is usually accompanied by exercise-friendly songs from the OBS. I miss Ajimobi boys and their endless shenanigans. I miss my NACC (National Association of Catholic Corps members) family and our vibrant chaplain. I miss my camp acquaintances turn friends – Faith and Lydia and how inseparable we were towards the end of camp. Ultimately, I miss hearing our state coordinator’s name repeatedly – “Mrs Grace Ogbuegebe” and how everyone seemed not to know how to pronounce it correctly. The only thing every other corps member and I don’t miss is the annoying bugle of the soldiers.
Many corps members, past and present, have differing opinions about the NYSC orientation camp. Some say it’s something worth experiencing, while others say it is a total waste of time. From my experience, I would say it is whatever you make it to be. If you go there as a lone ranger, choosing not to associate with others or participate in interplatoon contests, the three weeks would seem like a tremendous burden that gets heavier as the days go by. On the flip side, however, if you decide to make the 21 days count, you might even end up sad about leaving on the last day, just as I was.
PS: On the last day of camp, I had mixed feelings. I was sad about leaving my friends but happy about the prospect of finally getting some well-deserved rest!
Written by:

Joshua Ebuka Ugwu

A graduate of English and Literature Education at the University of Benin

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1 comment

Olabayo February 12, 2022 - 10:52 am

A fascinating story to read. Well done bro!


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