The Corper Chronicles: The Call-Up Letter Debâcle
After spending longer than we had originally signed up for studying for our first degrees, quite a number of us were more than ready to bid farewell to the institution we had called home for way too long and hitch our wagon to the next available gig.
For most of us this new gig was the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC)
The NYSC was set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria to enable graduating students in the country to explore the eclectic national space which we all called home. For one year, graduates are dispatched to various corners of Nigeria to ‘serve’ the country in various capacities according to the expertise that they had acquired during their period of university study. This meant that medical doctors would inevitably be assigned to practice medicine in a clinic away from their resident state…etc, if you get the picture. The way it is set up all persons of Nigerian origin who wish to pursue a career in Nigeria and graduated at a certain age (irrespective of where you graduated from) are mandated to undergo the National Youth Service.
I am not sure what the process is now, but in those days, the process of the NYSC seemed quite simple enough – at some point in your final year of study, once it had been determined that you had met the passing grade, your name and qualifications were sent to the folks at NYSC HQ and call-up letters were sent to your institution assigning each individual graduate to a different state. Your time of service was preceded by a two-week sojourn on the NYSC camp enduring paramilitary-style training and all that good stuff. In principle graduates are not meant to be assigned to their state of origin, however, the reality is that it not difficult to get away with spending the mandatory period on the NYSC camp for orientation and then wrangle a redeployment from the folks at NYSC.
So back to my story, on our part, when it was time for us to say the customary adieu, and receive the call-up letters sending us to various frontiers near and far on our NYSC missions. The university staff – teaching and non-teaching alike were on a strike and most activities had ground to a halt – remuneration issues always played a prominent part in acting as a catalyst for these strikes, and I am sure it was the case this time as well.
Insiders informed those people who made it their duty to find out these things that the call-up letters had been received just before the university authorities had shut down operations and were to be located in a certain office in the academic building. Word of this quickly spread round.
And so, one lovely afternoon in the city of excellence, a group of students who had decided that they they had had enough of strikes did what any oppressed group would do when they felt that it was unfair at this crucial point in their lives to be held back by yet another strike – they broke down the door of the office where the alleged call-up letters were stashed. Well, okay, the more audacious and brawny among us did the breaking down while the rest of us cheered them on.
The call-up letters were located and a sympathetic and cooperative member of the academic staff crossed the picket lines and did the graduating students the honor of signing off their call-up letters.
As names were called and students scanned their letters to discover where destiny was leading them as they embarked on this much anticipated time of their lives, groups of people were forming of students whom fate had flung together by sending them to the same state for their NYSC. There were brief interludes of loud jocularity – as friends who had walked the lecture halls together discovered that they were still indefinitely attached in their walk through life and would be going to the same NYSC camp and by extension would be serve their nation in the same state.
At the same time, another group was quickly forming – the group of students whose names were yet to be called. As the pile of letters dwindled to a handful, this group of students also grew and some watched quite avidly, realizing that the letters that were left did not correspond to the number of students who were left. It was somewhat disappointing to realize that after what had been gone through to keep us in step with each other there were some people who – due to no fault of theirs – would actually be left behind.
The reality set in solidly for me because I was part of the group.
When the last name was called and everyone came to the realization of what was going on, the self-appointed leader brought it to the attention of all gathered that there were some of us who were for some reason being left behind…because our number was pushing close to fifty a group of people offered to return to the office to look for the missing call-up letters. While they were away, enquiries were made – Did you sign up for at the time you were meant to? – at which point the group reduced as two students realized that they had not actually followed the proper procedure but the rest of us had and we were all the more worried when those who had gone on the hunting for call-up letters expedition came back empty-handed.
We could probably have given up at that point and gone our separate ways but we were a resilient bunch, years of enduring incessant strikes as undergrads had created a spirit of solidarity among us and besides we were still riding on the wave of euphoria that had been created when the office had been broken into to get those call-up letters. It was decided that one of us would have to go to the NYSC HQ in Abuja to investigate and possibly obtain the call-up letters for those students whose names had been inadvertently omitted.
Kayode* volunteered to make the journey to the NYSC HQ and the onus fell on those of us who felt the urgent need to get on with our lives to contribute money for his airfare and transportation. Those who knew about these things made a rough estimate and when the figures were divvied up – money changed hands as the necessary details were quickly scribbled onto pieces of paper – name, date of birth, sex, matriculation number…etc
Time was not on our side, the NYSC had a strict rule regarding corpers reporting to camp and at midnight on the scheduled last day, the gates of all NYSC camps nationwide are shut and no other corpers are registered regardless of whether they had a call-up letter or not. We were 72 hours away from ‘midnight’ and those of us who had not received our call-up letters were holding on to a prayer wondering what direction our lives would take. It just seemed so unfair to have to endure another year of exclusive redundancy and so Kayode was quickly absorbed into the group who had been posted to FCT Abuja as they made their travel plans, a few from that group volunteered to accompany him to the NYSC HQ to lend moral support earning a barrel of gratitude from those of us who contemplated our uncertain future.
* Names have been changed