By Sheriff Ibrahim
Unarguably, my year of mandatory service to my Nation, Nigeria was an interesting and intriguing one. A year that proves to me, the nullity of the stereotypes that hitherto creates believe of some sociocultural mythology and behavioral patterns (good or bad) of specific ethnic groups on our minds.
Conversely,it was a moment that proved the potency of every man with his own personal characteristic. This is however not without regard for the possibilities of influence of general behavioral pattern, which informs the generalization of behavioral patter of the majority in a community as a common social order of such community.
Even though I had concluded my secondary education a decade earlier, I had the grace to complete my first degree in 2015 and mobilized for the mandatory national service same year. I was posted to Imo state, with my bosom friend from Kwara state polytechnic and roommate in KWASU, Ibrahim Majeed (Bentnal). We left Ilorin together and were in same hostel on camp, which made the camping experience more enjoyable, notwithstanding the personal challenges I had at that time which greatly affected my liveliness on camp. With Bentnal, I was able to cope.
Right from camp, I met a number of my people from Ilorin; Mall. Abdulhakeem our Alfa, Femi the photographer, Alfa Lanre from my very own hood, Oke andi, Comrade Oyan of COED Ilorin among others.
Right from camp, we’ve been adapting ourselves with some of their foods we weren’t so used to; those hard fufu and yellow garri. Needless do I talk about the very poor meal usually served by the NYSC (one of the bad experiences), which I don’t often eat because of my selective nature when it comes to food.
Fast forward, NYSC separated my friend and I, when they posted him to Orlu local government as a class teacher while I was posted to a private school whose address couldn’t be located in Owerri west. I had to complain to NYSC that the school I was posted to was nonexistent and I was asked to go find a place of primary assignment myself. I later found a private school in Okuku, a suburb in Owerri west local government, Umuguma. My new PPA agreed to pay me N3,000 monthly stipend and provide me an accommodation. Wetin man go do? 😂, we take am hold body.
I made new friends right from the LG Corpers’ lodge in Umuguma, while searching for a new PPA for over 2months; Idowu and Funmi from Osun state, Jude from Delta state, Aminu and Bosun from Oyo, Panama from Plateau, Churchill from Ondo, Omolola and Kunle from Lagos, Lydia and Uju from Akwa Ibom and Kisito among several others.
After working in my new PPA for few months, it was time for a senatorial bye election in Imo state, for which we were to participate. Alas, the school proprietor insisted we won’t participate. We had had a brief misunderstanding over an extramural class job my Corper colleagues and I took up to upscale our monthly income in addendum to the N19,800 allowance from the Federal Government and N3,000 from the school.
Against his order (which of course was ultra vires, as NYSC who invited us for the assignment had superior authority over us), 3 of us working with the school went for the INEC assignment and upon our return, the proprietor summoned a meeting where he queried us for ‘challenging his authority’. He did so in the most demeaning manner, which speaks to the level of disregard for Nigerian graduates even by some Nigerians. There and then, I couldn’t hold myself back from cautioning his continued denigration of our trip; I told him we deserve some respect and fair hearing as much as we accord him.
Man was provoked that a ‘small boy’ like you dare challenge me, but politely, I stood my ground I wasn’t going to stand him talking down on us when we actually committed no crime by heeding the call of NYSC who brought us to the state and consequently, his school in the first instance. He said I must leave his school that day and vacate his accommodation the next day. I told him I was even going to leave both, that same day and I did. One of my colleagues, Churchill followed me, while the other begged to stay back.
We returned back to the Corper, unfortunately, there was no space available there any longer. We were faced with two challenges; securing accommodation and a new PPA.
Luckily for us, one of our friends, Omolola had gotten a new apartment. Although a female, she doesn’t mind us squatting. We had no other option because accommodation was dawn expensive in Owerri. It looked awkward, but the three of us lived together for the rest of our service year. In fact, another guy from Ekiti state, Gabriel later came to join us to make four. Indeed, Lola was my greatest MVP in Owerri!
‘Our house’ was a sort of Corpers’ family house; always bubbling. Other Corpers in the area usually come to play around. This may be unconnected to the availability of stable power source of our landlord, who housed a MTN mast in his compound and was very generous and accommodating.
We got a new school, public this time; Ara Secondary School, Okuku, just beside my previous PPA. Even though the school’s infrastructural facilities were badly deteriorated, the school principal and staff made our work experience fascinating. It feels great working in an environment of mutual love and respect for one another. Even though we weren’t paid a dime at the public school, because we were valued and respected was enough gratification.
I need to also mention that I had one of the best and understanding LG Inspector of NYSC – Mr. Ovu Steve, whom after about 8 years of my service year, we still maintain contact and will continue to do. I was glad sometimes recently, when he called me to assist a corp member he knows, who was posted to Ilorin. I wish I could do more for such a man who discharged his duty as a public servant with great level of diligence and empathy.
One odd experience worth mentioning that I had within that one year was the fact that I lived in an environment where I was the only one observing Ramadan fasting. For a whole year in Umuguma, I never heard adhan, my phone was my adhan. I eat my sahur alone, broke my fast alone for the whole of Ramadan. It was sickening!
I had another Muslim brother who lived a little distance away, he observed few Ramadan that year but couldn’t resist the urge to discontinue midway 😂.
As I reminisce over some of my experience as a youth corps member, it is my wish to let all those mentioned and those whose name I cannot recollect; from the southern and northern parts of Nigeria, who demonstrated the beauty of ‘Nigerianness’ by showing me love and care, know that I noticed every bit of their efforts and I will forever appreciate and hold it dear to my heart, with a resolute mindset to always payback by being my Nigerian brothers’ keeper, regardless of our sociocultural diversity.
Another takeaway was that the unpalatable experience my colleagues and I had with the proprietor of our first PPA was not a product of his tribe or religion. People with same tribe and religion as him treated us right. It would therefore be preposterous to stereotype on the basis of ethnic or religious profiling.
Sheriff is a PhD candidate at KWASU, the Editor of Fresh Insight Newspaper, a PR Consultant and former Special Assistant to the Speaker, KWHA on Media