“You have to redeploy. Find your way back home”. This aptly sums up the reactions of several friends and family members when they heard I was posted to the north. With Boko Haram making the news regularly, only a “fewish” few spoke nicely of Kaduna, and encouraged me to make the best of the service year. Today, certificate in hand, I can look back at one year of my life, and say it was a worthwhile experience. Here are my memoirs from the “Centre of Learning”.
After spending a mere six years for a five-year course at Nigeria’s premier Obafemi Awolowo University, thanks to a conspiracy by ASUU, NASU, SU, MU (“management”) and the federal government, I looked forward to the compulsory one-year national service. Then the school management failed to process my entire class for the adjacent NYSC mobilization. This failure, along with NYSC shifting the next available batch, meant I wrote my final examinations in May 2014, and had to wait until May 2015 to start the national service. My mobilization letter ordered me to report to Black Gold Orientation Camp, Kaduna State. Born, “breaded and buttered” in the South South, educated in the South West, the government just arranged a tour of the North Central region.
An early bird, I left for Kaduna two days to the orientation camp’s opening, not wishing to be late for any reason whatsoever. Thanks to NYSC’s two-stream operation, my stream got the whole of May 2015 as a full-salaried leave, so camp for us started on June 2. After an interesting journey in which I was shocked to see people standing in the bus for a cross-country journey, I arrived at the camp. Registration began, and thanks to some nifty movement, I was among the first persons to register, allowing me to avoid the stress many others faced.
The camp experience began with me been pre-selected for the opening ceremony’s march parade, and then getting dumped at the final selection. So much for my grand illusions of a camp GI Joe! I settled into my platoon, made friends with my roommates and quite a number of hitherto complete strangers. Wanting to catch as much fun as permissible, I participated in all camp activities. I danced, acted, joined some really cool persons to organize my platoon’s social night, offered moral and muscular support to platoon members cooking for the camp carnival—anything to keep me from getting lost in reading.
I shouldn’t forget to talk about the day a sandstorm invaded the camp while we were in the parade ground. There’s a YouTube video showing corpers hiding their faces from the whirling sand. The soldiers ordered us to stay put in the parade ground. However, when the garri finally passed the water, all living things, both soldiers and civilians, ran for their lives. In the heavy downpour that succeeded the sandstorm, my roommates (“Platoon 22”) decided to increase the fun tempo. We marched around the camp in boxers and singlets, chanting the NYSC anthem, to the blended admiration and shock of fellow corpers, soldiers and other camp officials.
Finally, the camp ended after an interesting 21 days. I got my marching orders to a “rural town” at the outskirts of Kaduna State. The long journey to my PPA (Place of Primary Assignment) made me wonder what the service year had in store. Apart from a vacation in Jos, next door to my host community, all was silent until September when I was assigned to teach Maths, Physics and Further Math to the three senior classes. Seems someone told the school management that a “workaholic” was present for juicing. Here was I, with a degree in engineering, but no “official” teaching experience nor training, being tasked with teaching students in a rural community.
Despite my efforts to tackle my teaching responsibilities head on, I faced a serious challenge. My students did not seem to understand my lessons, nor recall lessons from their previous classes (junior classes). Having studied with some very smart contemporaries, I couldn’t understand why “simple” things should be a problem. I encountered SS3 students who couldn’t define “physics”, nor do mundane multiplication like “4 times 7”. Thinking that my lack of training in education might be responsible for my students’ dismal output, I asked some teachers to attend my classes and help appraise my delivery. When my delivery wasn’t faulted, I had to look elsewhere.
I realized that the students lacked a good reading culture, and had a fear of maths, seeing it as a tough nut to crack. Something had to be done to fix this. I decided to conduct weekly tests as a way to force the students to read. I assumed that the word “test” would make them open their books. To sweeten the pie, I offered a cash reward for anyone who could score at least 90% in any of my subjects for two consecutive weeks. On the other hand, anyone who scored below 60% had to kneel in all my classes for the following week.
Unfortunately, no student ever qualified for the free cash, although some smart ones threatened my wallet. Despite repeating class examples and previous test questions for which solutions had been given, several students failed to score above 60%. It was demoralizing to see that some students actually preferred kneeling in class to reading their books. These students would later ask me to commute kneeling to sitting on the floor. The dust that embellished their uniforms was not enough motivation to work hard, nor was the financial bribe I offered.