So We Become Otondos

At some important events, the National anthem is sung, with the pledge usually following soon after. The third line of the national pledge is a promise to serve Nigeria diligently. Over the course of a Nigerian’s lifetime, many opportunities would arise where national service is required. None is as organised nor as glamorous as the National Youth Service Corps.

Every year, millions of Nigerians seek admission into various tertiary institutions. Successful ones start their academic sojourn knowing that the government has an expectation from them. All bachelor’s degree and Higher National Diploma holders who are less than 30 years old at the time of graduation are expected to spend one year in compulsory national service.

Having completed our undergraduate degree programme in 2014 (thanks to ASUU’s friendly fire), my classmates and I waited for our results to be compiled so we could proceed for “service”. A smattering of administrative issues ensured that we could not join the 2014 “Batch C” in November 2014. Then we looked forward to February 2015 when 2015 “Batch A” was to start. Out of the blues, rumours started making rounds about the postponement of the start of Batch A.

We held our breaths. Did NYSC really expect us to stay almost one year at home after graduation? Like a Nollywood movie, the rumours materialized, confirming our fears. “Batch A” had been postponed to May 2015. While some persons who were productively engaged were happy, those who could not think of a way to stay meaningfully engaged sunk their faces in sadness. A long wait was lying ahead.

March 2015 came, and NYSC opened its portal for registration by prospective “corpers”. Then began another “wahala”–names not found, data mismatch, a server that chose when to be available. Although my registration and payment went smoothly, many of my colleagues almost got frustrated by the registration process.

The call-up numbers were released after registration. Apart from indicating that a person had been listed for mobilization, the number was very important to those with “long legs” or the resources to influence their posting. As we held on to our call-up numbers, we awaited the “real deal”–the call-up letters that would determine where most of us would spend the service year.

Tick tock went the time as we awaited April 27 when the letters were to be released. Our class WhatsApp group witnessed reduced activity as all eyes were on various web browsers, awaiting the much-vaunted letters. We never knew that NYSC had a drama scripted for us. The delay-induced apprehension lasted until the afternoon of April 29 when the letters were released.

With Buhari about to head the presidency, the powers at NYSC decided that my class needed a tour of the North to better appreciate the diverse cultures of Nigeria. As each classmate mentioned his state of posting, every Northern state was mentioned, from Sokoto to Borno. If we were more in number, some would have been posted to Chad or Cameroun.

For the members of Stream 1, the 21-day orientation camp begins today (Tuesday 5th May). Some of our most punctual colleagues arrived at their campus on Monday, and some even reported that they were beaten to second place by persons who arrived on Sunday (talk about eagerness). At the end of the camp, some would redeploy, some would abscond, some would be sent to cities, towns and villages to spend the service year in teaching and other activities.

For me and others in Stream 2, we still have a month to enjoy the comfort of our homes before we head out as “otondos”. Whatever we face in the next one year, even if the situation were to get bad enough for us to wonder about the essence of the scheme, we hope that at the end of our service year, we can hold our heads high and say that we served Nigeria with all our strength.

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