He woke up the following morning, all too glad that it will be his last day in camp, but with trepidation regarding where he’ll be posted as his place of primary assignment. The best scenario for him will mean been posted to the same place as his sociologist girlfriend, but having done absolutely nothing about it, he knew deep within him that only a miracle will bring that to pass. Days preceding that morning he’d noticed movements suggestive of attempts by corpers to influence their postings. The administrative area/block of the camp had become a beehive of activities, especially since more NYSC officials had come in from out of town, with some serving corpers from the earlier batch, to assist with administrative work, and also to act as liaison between corpers and the officials. Fingers had already started pointing in the direction of certain female corpers in the camp, alleged to have slept with certain officials right from the camp commandant, to camp director even to the platoon commanders, just so they can get juicy postings, especially at and to the capital in Dutse.
Not everyone needed to lobby or give sexual favours to get posted to the capital. Those who had shown outstanding capabilities in various activities, like the brightest girl in the anti-HIV group he belonged to in camp, automatically got placement there. Others who made the sporting list of the camp year in games like football, basketball, volleyball (which is how Chi got to go to Dutse), etc, including intellectual sports like scrabble and chess were also selected based on merit, not to forget the platoon leaders (chosen by his/her fellow corpers with the platoon commanders approval) of the ten platoons, amongst other criteria. He couldn’t be bothered about his placement, though in hindsight he felt he probably might have opted to go to Dutse if he had been aware that chances of a job after service was better when one serves at the capital in backwaters such as Jigawa State. The only thing that mattered to him then was only in relation to his girlfriend.
After the ginger spiced “shayi” and bread that was that morning’s breakfast, he was off to join the other corpers at the parade ground for the last of it before dispersal. He wasn’t marching so he stood with many others on the sidelines, while those who’d had days of grilling on the parade ground did the work. Unfortunately because the camp commandant and other dignitaries arrived late for the event, corpers were made to stand in the heat of the early afternoon, just before noon, awaiting their arrival, such that when they eventually arrived and the “march past” event started amongst others, some
corpers were seen collapsing, including a few amongst those observing, under the dry harmattan-aided scorching northern Nigerian sunshine of the latter days of February 2006.
Those were immediately whisked away by medics to a safer less congested part of the parade grounds to receive medical attention. Soon enough the parade was over, the representative of the Director-General of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) program, made his speech, followed by the camp commandant and camp director, who outlined the next line of action after declaring the camp closed, amidst the staccato of voices of restless corpers who just wanted to be away from the arena but couldn’t because of the presence of platoon commanders, who through platoon leaders ensured that none of the corpers left till after the dignitaries had walked out of the arena, following the singing of the national anthem, and the NYSC anthem.
The fact that there was a huge cow (which according to some unofficial sources was donated by the Emir of Gumel) tied up to a tree near the kitchen that morning, didn’t positively affect the size of the piece of meat that adorned his and others’ plates of “jollof” rice, in fact it looked smaller. So small that it was described by one corper on the food-queue as a cube of “maggi” seasoning. The process of collecting food on that last day of camp was hastily conducted as simultaneously, corpers were also receiving the last camp stipend, before been handed their letters of placement to their places of primary assignment, and then herded into waiting buses (that had besieged the camp premises from the motor park nearby), to the different parts of Jigawa State from the NYSC camp site in Gumel.
He didn’t even bother eating after filling his food bowl. Behind him was his sociologist camp-girlfriend, whom he’d gone straight to meet once camp was dispersed at the parade grounds. It was while he was been processed that he saw someone he knew amongst the NYSC officials, an alumnus who’d remained behind in Dutse after “service” less than five years ago, managing a small dental clinic there privately, while working at the Federal Medical Center, FMC at Birnin-Kudu as a Dental Officer. Unfortunately, when he intimated the alumnus after exchanging pleasantries, of his preference to be posted to the same place with the sociologist, he was told that it was already too late to make any changes. In the end they were parted, as he was posted to eastern part of Jigawa in Hadejia, while she was posted to the west, in Kazaure. It felt to him like someone in “admin” noticed their closeness and thought to throw them as far apart as possible. He was heartbroken, and he could sense that she was as well, but they promised each other to keep in touch.
When it was time to go, he walked with her to the bus going to Kazaure, where they kissed, and she boarded, while he waited for the bus to leave before going over to the bus heading his way. He was pleased to see Mimi without bags, standing beside the bus he was about to board bidding one of the passengers and fellow corper goodbye. She wouldn’t have to move anywhere because her place of primary assignment incidentally was Gumel, the camp’s location. It was from her he learnt that Chi was posted to Dutse and had already left with the first bus to that destination. He told Mimi he’d keep in touch, before boarding the bus to Hadejia, unsure if he truly meant it but he collected her number just in case. As the bus started out for Hadejia, he began to think about what could’ve been had he meet the alumnus earlier and was able to manipulate the posting such that he’d be with the sociologist in the same place of primary assignment. He surmised that if indeed they were meant to be together, fate will find a way of bringing her back to him regardless. It could also be the prayer of his girlfriend in Lagos, to put asunder the possibility of him forming any concrete relationship with any female while away from her for the period the youth corp service program lasted. All that and more (including the new word “Otondo” he’d learnt from the many times the soldiers in camp referred to corpers) occupied his mind while the bus roared on through the sparse Sahel Savannah vegetation on both sides, from Gumel to Hadejia, encountering only a couple of human habitation and settlements in clusters severally before the bigger conurbations in towns and villages, in what was beginning to seem a never-ending journey.