NYSC was created as an Avenue for the reconciliation, recommending, reconstruction, and rebuilding of the nation after the Civil war. By doing this, fresh university graduates were posted to states other than their state of origin where they were expected to mix with people from different ethnic groups, social and family backgrounds, and learn the culture of the indigenes in the location they were posted to and get familiar with Nigeria’s tribal diversity which led to the country’s first civil war.
In March of 2018, I travelled to the capital city of Abuja for my one-year compulsory internship after I had completed a 6years Optometry degree at Imo State University, Owerri, a prominent school at the heart of the south-eastern part of Nigeria, which is dominated by the Igbos who happen to be one of the major tribes in Nigeria. In the twinkle of an eye, a year had gone by and I had already applied for the National Youth Service Corps. I quickly checked, It turned out that I was posted to Abia State, a neighbouring state to my state of origin. Filled with so much excitement, I had to empty my account to get the basic requirements for a compulsory 3 weeks camping. I was totally excited about all that I had heard from ex-corp members, the fun in the NYSC orientation camp.
I went to ‘God is Good’ Motorpark as early as 6AM as I left the North for the East a day before the start of the Orientation Camp. I got to my destination very late in the night as it was a 16hour journey owing to the bad roads. As I approached the camping gates well guarded by military personnel, I felt more excitement within me. I saw this beautiful Igbo lady from the east but she was born and raised in the south-west. I walked towards her to help with her load. I quickly introduced myself as Hardy. While she fancied my help, she wasn’t so sure of her feeling when I walked up to her. “I’m Ifunanya”… she replied. We both made it through the security clearance into the camping ground.
Daily activities in camp began at 4am, because that was when the soldiers woke us up with a beagle. By 5am, we were expected to have assembled at the parade ground for the morning meditation and physical exercise which was followed with a lecture series and a pathetic breakfast afterwards. All these activities particularly made the first week of camp boring.
The second week however, was a little bit better than the first week because there were more activities going on, the activities included: sports competitions, inter platoon drama competitions, debate competitions and the popular Man’ O war drill. Exercises at the drill range from jumping fences to climbing ropes, crawling under barb wires, martial arts. These drills were given to Corp members to encourage physical fitness.
The third and last week of camp was probably the most exciting week of camp because there was a carnival. During this carnival, different platoons were expected to portray the different cultures in Nigeria by wearing their native attires as well as speaking their language. It was more of a competition among the different platoons. Each platoon was made to portray a different tribe and every member was expected to dress in the native attire of the tribe they are expected to portray.
The last day of camp was very emotional fillled with mixed feelings, not only because you might not see the friends you had just made within your short stay ever again but also the day you find out your PPA (Place of primary Assignment). These postings are made based off of your discipline in school. For instance, health workers were posted to different community health centres, general hospitals, some corp members were sent to teach in community schools, lawyers to several law firms etc. We accepted our respective fates as we received the letters. We smiled, some cried, as we left the camping ground. Different buses were made available for Corp members to be transported to different family houses and corpers’ lodges. Trying to settle down in the corpers lodge was a bit of a challenge because there was no security. The next challenge was locating your PPA, some found this relatively easy while others found it difficult. Finding mine was difficult because local commuters extorted me because they were aware I was new to the town. It took me quite some time to find a short and convenient route to my PPA.
As medical personnel, I was posted to a general hospital in my community (Isiukwuato). After reporting at my PPA, I attended to a lot of geriatric patients in the community. While making use of the hospital facilities, I got to find out that they were under-equipped and as health workers attending to aged people with countless health issues, we battled each day to make do with what we had at the hospital. So, it was a bit of a challenge when we knew within ourselves we had limited resources to fully diagnose a patient’s condition. Few health workers were being posted to my PPA and we were overwhelmed daily by the patient inflow and as corpers, our supervisors would always leave us to attend to basically all the cases. We felt overworked most times. Another challenge I faced as a corper was when I realized a good number of patients were not able to afford even the least of services. They were living in abject poverty and there were no foster homes to take care of them. Most of them were dependent on farming which was their major source of livelihood. During the counselling sessions, they would always want to pour out their hearts which made me feel sympathy towards them. Seeing this on a daily basis at the general hospital made me realize I had to do something for the community so I started sourcing for funds, resources such as: ophthalmic drugs, glasses, sponsored surgeries etc.
Programmes like this are classified under personal CDS (community development service) and we were meant to give monthly reports on the progress of the programme to the Local Government inspector and the zonal inspector of the local Government. I partnered with Engr Ndubuisi Mbaka foundation who primarily sponsored the programme with ophthalmic drugs and 2000 pairs of glasses, friends sponsored a few surgeries with cash. The weekends were not particularly free for me because I was busy with my personal CDS. One of the weekends however, I had a little bit of time to visit a friend of mine, Nanya who I met in camp, we talked about a lot of things.
One interesting topic we discussed was our federal allowance/stipend. The period most corp members looked forward to the most was the end of the month when we got paid by the federal Government. We received #19800 monthly from the federal government. Nanya said a lot of things which included how she managed the federal allowance monthly. She lives alone somewhere in Umuahia, the capital city of Abia state where the rent is a bit on the high side. She complained about the high prices of foodstuffs and provisions in the town. The only good thing about the town was the cheap transportation. She also made it clear that sometimes the allowance wasn’t enough to last her for a month especially during months that the allowance came in late.
After the service year, Corp members begin to face life, some get retained at their PPA’s, others go back to their respective cities while others leave for other cities to start life. On the last month, we surprisingly got an increase in the federal allowance and it felt like the service year should not end just yet. My passing out came as a shock to most of my patients as they did not expect me to leave when I did. It was a very emotional day for me seeing my patients sad at the thought of my leaving. The day of POP(passing out parade) had finally come. That was the day we were given our discharge certificates – a vital part of the service year.
In the end, good friends were made during the course of my service year while a few died. Some of the aims of this programme were achieved. There were ups and downs but the experience was worth it. It was an honour serving my country in my little capacity.