Friday the 8th day of the month of July 2011 will forever go down as one of my most memorable days in camp. For the very first time I felt like a corper even though it was a day after the swearing in ceremony and four days after I arrived camp.
It was indeed a big relief when I read in my call up letter I was posted to Ogun state for the mandatory NYSC. Due to the infamous post election violence, the fear of being posted to the northern states of the federation became the beginning of wisdom so to say.
I arrived the Sagamu camp on Tuesday the 5th, the official opening day of camping which was to last three good weeks. I was in high spirits. My hopes for a wonderful and promising three weeks of camping rose to a whole new level immediately I set eyes on the camp environment from outside the gates.
The building was impeccable; the walls wore new paints and the surrounding environment was serene. Saying I was ecstatic would be a laughable understatement, it was far better than I had imagined it to be going by the tales I had heard from past corpers about how unkempt the camps usually are. The camp was newly built and I later learned we would be the second set of corpers to inhabit the premises.
I didn’t let the long queue ruin my joy, actually that was the longest queue I have ever been on my entire life and I sincerely don’t plan on being on such a queue in a long time to come, hopefully. I waited patiently under the scorching sun, interacting with fellow prospective corpers to pass time till it got to my turn .After several hours of waiting; I was finally on the line facing the camp gates where the registration was going on.
To my greatest surprise, the bright rays of the sun were replaced by dark clouds and the sound of thunder rumbling in the distant skies could be heard. The cool feel of breeze caressing my skin wasn’t welcome at such critical moment. In fact, the harsh rays of the sun was a million times welcome than the breeze. I refused to lose hope as the officials kept on working, paying no attention to the threatening rain.
I could see great fear in the eyes of everyone as I said a silent prayer to God to hold back the rain till at least immediately I went through the gates and registered. Selfish, I know but it seemed it was going to be a game of survival of the fittest as people started jumping the queue in order to get registered before the rains came down. Few minutes later, the heavens gave way and the rain came pouring down. I watched in horror as the first drop of rain hit my luggage with each subsequent drop breaking my heart into pieces.
Confusion became the order of the day as everyone scampered for a place to hide not caring about any other’s safety. Even Benjamin Orubor, my dear friend who was among the last persons to arrive camp but found his way close to the gate due to my help by allowing him enter the space at my back fled before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’. It was every man to himself. I felt dejected. There I was, standing close to the gate believing I would be registered after several hours of waiting. So close, yet so far.
I picked my bag and ran along with the crowd, pressing hard to get to the nearby hall before my bag and its contents became drenched. As I pushed my way through, I felt my slippers cut. I couldn’t believe my day which started on a rather great note was fast turning into a nightmare, only that the nightmare was indeed my reality.
I picked up my cut slippers and ran to the hall, struggling all the way with my bag even though its weight was a huge burden all the while, bare footed on one leg. The rain kept falling for hours washing away every brick of hope I had left of being registered that day. It subsided and desperate prospective corpers itching to be registered ran outside the gates under light showers queuing up again to be registered, but alas! They were all dispersed by the soldiers; registration for that day was over. Night came and we were given temporary hostels. I went to bed that night hoping for a better morrow, little did I know my misfortunes had just begun.
The next day, Wednesday was indeed drama filled. We all woke up early to make front position on the queue outside the gate. On getting to the gate I saw several long lines, no one knew which the authentic line was. I kept jumping from line to line till early afternoon before registration commenced in earnest. When I was close to the gate a new queue was formed, this time we had to stand according to the institutions we graduated from. I ended up at the far end of the line. Soon enough to my delight, the arrangement was abandoned and this time I just had to jump the line to the front before I eventually entered the gates.
Inside the gates, I had to wait patiently on another queue once again in order to get a bed space while also trying hard to resist the urge to throw stones at those jumping the queue. I got my bed space which was up bunk, though I wasn’t surprised because that seemed to be my lot right from my undergraduates days, always getting up bunk which I hated passionately. Well Ben proved to be a good friend as he exchanged his down bunk with mine even without me asking because he could see depression written all over my face.
Finally I had to register formally in the hall, which turned out to be the climax of the day’s drama. At exactly 11:30pm my tag number was called up after hours of waiting on one spot on a queue to get a tag number, then another five more hours of waiting for the number to be called so I could get a file. My joy knew no bounds as I received my file from the official. The wait was over, so I thought. I was a registered corper after two days of serious hustling.
Once again, my joy was short lived as the officials in charge of giving out the NYSC kit, otherwise known as platoon instructors closed a few minutes before I got to their table; so much for a wonderful camp experience. I went to the hostel tired and in dire need of sleep.
The next day was really painful to live through as it was the swearing in day and everyone was expected to be dressed in their ceremonial wears. But there I was in my mufti looking all sad and blue, watching all my roommates dress up excitedly as I lay on my bed a little depressed. Stepping out of the boys’ hostel turned out to be a great mistake as I was greeted by excited corpers, hugging and taking pictures.
Everywhere I turned, smiles radiated. In the midst of the crowd I felt all alone. I waited patiently in the camp for the wearing in ceremony which was took place at the stadium beside the camp to be over before going to queue up for my kit. I didn’t even bother attending the ceremony. This time I made sure I was among the first persons to get to the hall and stood proudly at the second position on the line awaiting the arrival of the officials.
Platoon instructors came in one after the other attending to corpers in their various platoon. I waited patiently for mine to come. I took it as a test of my patience. A few minutes later, my platoon instructor arrived and dropped the bomb on us. He informed us the kit in the store was finished and we had to wait till the next day for new set to arrive. At that moment I was finally convinced my stay on camp was definitely jinxed. I stood staring into space in utter bewilderment as his words sank in gradually.
Friday came, by this time I really didn’t care anymore if I got my kit or not. I couldn’t take any more disappointments. I was officially the laggard of my room. Some of my roommates even believed I had long collected my kit but hid them to avoid attending parade. I couldn’t care less what they thought, I had lost interest in everything and if a genie was to appear at that moment, my wish would definitely be that the days be fast forwarded to the passing out day.
I strode into the venue for collecting kit nonchalantly filled with so much apathy towards the system. As usual, my platoon instructor was fashionably late and didn’t even bother to apologize. It felt really great to hold my kit in my arms. That moment was priceless. I felt like a winner, a champion, a conqueror. After all my trials and pains I was finally free. Now I was indeed a copper.
After three days of hardship and stress I was relieved but then I spent the next thirty minutes looking for someone who had a bigger size of sneakers to exchange with as the pair I was given were way smaller than my feet. I didn’t mind, all that mattered was I was good to go.