As I looked at my NYSC call-up letter, I wanted to shed tears.
Lagos? Lagos? Lagos! It truly said. My dad’s runz had worked. I had dreamed of one year out of Lagos. So standing in the Faculty Officer’s office was a real bubble-bursting moment for me. As I walked through the door, my classmates looked at me questioningly, no different from the way they looked at the others who had walked through the same door.
“Lagos,” I said, flashing my broad smile. I nodded to the various ‘congrats’ thrown at me.
The NYSC orientation camp began four days later. Camping at Iyana-ipaja turned out so much better than I anticipated. The officials at the camp liked to boast that Lagos camp trumped all the 36 others. I’m afraid I agree with them.
The first thing that struck me upon getting to camp was the excitement. I never knew people held the NYSC program in such high esteem. A friend told me of how a guy had vigorously shaken her hand, congratulating her on the completion of her registration.
On the first night, the girls in my room barely slept. They kept chatting well into midnight, and by 2.00a.m, they were up, having their bath, brushing their teeth, and most importantly, applying layers upon layers of make-up for morning drill that was to begin by 4.00a.m. I really could not understand the excitement. Maybe it was because they were in Lagos… but I like to exaggerate that about half of the Lagos corpers were University of Lagos graduates. I could not think up any other excuse, but I and another friend would later infer that people who were overly excited about NYSC were probably those who faced major challenges in their undergraduate studies, and were only too thankful to be out of school… and onto the next phase. I would particularly believe this more after hearing a couple of testimonies corpers shared in church services.
The man-o-war songs, I found very funny at first:
You go born mumu,
If soldier marry soldier, you go born mumu.
Na who go tire?
Lazy corper na you go tire.
Shoe get size
Okrika get quality.
…but after chanting the same couple of songs everyday, they got excruciatingly boring, and we had to endure them till the very end of the orientation program. I spared a moment of thought for the soldiers who have to sing those same songs year after year after year.
During my last days as an intern at NAFDAC, I & Mr. Dan had spoken at length about a lot of things. He told me his stories as a corper, and how revered they were even by the soldiers as medical personnel at camp. Medical personnels didn’t always have to suffer like the rest of them corpers, didn’t have to stand in the scorching sun, or parade for long hours. He wasn’t the first to tell me that doctors, pharmacists and nurses were a special breed at orientation camp, and that flaunting the ‘MEDICAL PERSONNEL on duty’ tag worked wonders.
I had also heard that University of Lagos graduates were usually given preferential treatment. So, I braced myself up for double preferential treatment.
When I arrived camp, it was one of my immediate concerns to get a ‘MEDICAL PERSONNEL on duty’ tag.
If indeed UNILAG graduates got preferential treatment, I was not aware.
Once, I was running late to the parade ground after the bugle had sounded. I and another pharmacist were the only ones left in the room, but we took our time to moisturise our bodies and cleanse our faces, our medical tags hung on our necks in defiant defense. Then a soldier entered the room, her face contorting in anger at our guts. Before she spoke, we flashed our tags before her eyes. She squinted, trying to pronounce the words. “We are pharmacists,” my colleague offered sweetly.
“Pharma… Pharma… Wetin that one mean?” she asked, confused. “Na like doctor?”
“Yes,” we replied hurriedly, glad that she was able to figure it out.
“Ok, well done ooo,” she bade us and left the room.
There and then, I and Tosin agreed that for the three weeks we would be in camp, we would be doctors. It would save us a lot of explanation about who pharmacists were and how they differed from doctors.
What nobody told me, however, was that the soldiers at Lagos camp lack respect. It was a rude shock therefore, when I and Tosin got downstairs and the gates were locked. One of the soldiers barked at us to join the rest of the defaulters to frog-jump. “We are doctors,” we said confidently, making for the gate, and expecting them to grant us a grand exit.
“C’mon, will you come here and join your mates?”
“That one wey una dey speak na English. If una be doctor nko?” the sarcasm was unadulterated.
“Ahn ahn, but we are doctors,” we shrieked this time.
“Will you join your mates? You don pass to frog-jump?”
Common sense began to prevail upon us, and just as we were about to squat our way to frog-jumping, they opened the gates and let us all out.
As we walked to the parade ground, I remarked on how I may totally quit using the medical tag, instead of chopping insult. But of course, I did not. I later realised the male soldiers had more respect for medical personnel than the females. Every time I flashed the tag, they graciously let me surpass boundaries, calling me ‘doctor’.
The only thing I did for my platoon aside cheering others when they were competing in other activities, was play volley ball. At first, our volley ball team was like a group of five-year-olds trying to play football, but before my very eyes, we grew remarkably. With lack of luck and a series of impromptu games, we took our exit from the stage with the unofficial tag of ‘BEST LOSERS’.
I pray for you today, that you will never be referred to as a best loser. One of the guys in my platoon who claimed to be our coach always taunted us with that title. My hands itched to slap him, but the mercy of God kept me.
There are a lot more to tell. The pictures dance before my eyes, but my fingers are weary of punching the keypad of my phone.
Till we meet again…