It was not long after Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960 that the country slid into a bitter civil war that spanned between 1967-1970. The two warring sides were divided between those who wanted to secede from the country and the Federal Government who was determined to keep the country one and united at all cost.
The war ended in 1970 with an official declaration of no winner and no vanquished. This prompted the earnest task of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country. Among the strategies put forth for the rehabilitation of the country was the mandatory National Youth Service scheme through Decree No.24 on 22nd May 1973.
The scheme has been in existence for 50 years now and has been undergone by millions of Nigerian graduates from every part of the country. The scheme is basically a one-year service to Nigeria in a place that is not one’s locality and not where the person’s alma mater is located. The idea is to foster the exchange of persons between regions of the country in the hope that such exchanges will foster a deeper understanding of the country’s deep and wide diversity. To foster cultural assimilation and of course boost a sense of patriotism and unity.
The scheme is only restricted to Nigerians who graduated from either Nigerian or foreign universities and polytechnics before they reached the age of 30. Those who graduated after the age of thirty or have served in any of the military or paramilitary arms of the country are exempted from the exercise and issued an exemption certificate.
This essay will focus on the short phase of the one-year-long service which is the orientation camp activities. Each state of the federation has an orientation camp. This is where prospective corps members are trained and grilled for a 21-day period. They are completely detached and isolated from every other urban or rural life.
As it is, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians graduate every year and are deployed to 37 orientation camps across the country. This means each orientation camp hosts thousands of corps members. During my service year, the orientation camp I was deployed to hosted no less than 2,800 corps members. The coming together of thousands of people from different parts of the country no doubt creates an avenue for cultural exchanges. These cultural exchanges will be assessed under the following camp activities:
List of activities at the NYSC orientation camp
Camp carnival and bonfire
The camp carnival and bonfire are usually reserved for the last week of the camp stay. It is essentially a celebratory moment designed to ease the stress of corps members and give them a glimpse of light at the end of their regimented camp stay. Corps members are allowed to dress in their cultural attires away from the monotonous all-white kits that prospective corps members are enjoined to wear all through their stay in the camp.
This allowance of cultural display of attires and other traditions for the 2,000+ corps members in a restricted space creates an unforgettable cocktail of memories and experiences in the minds of corps members. The depth and range of the cultural display can be argued to exceed the coverage of the NTA, who are known for the promotion of Nigerian culture and heritage. And unlike viewing from the TV screen, at orientation camps, one actually lives in such revered moments of cultural camaraderie.
The atmosphere during this carnival is jovial and less tense. Even the military personnel who are charged with controlling and regulating the activities of corps members are somewhat relaxed during this period. Friendships and contacts among the corps members is easier to make and little sparks of crushes are given the perfect medium to thrive.
Unlike the cultural carnival where every corps member dresses in his or her traditional attire, the fashion parades and drama are platoon-based activities. When corps members first arrive at the camp and complete their registrations and are issued an NYSC state code, the last digit of their state code determines the platoon in which they belong. There are a total of ten platoons which are 0-9. The platoon serves as a mini family for corps members and their successes or pains are first and foremost shared by their platoon members.
Therefore, on the back of this platoon arrangement, fashion parades, and drama are designed strictly based on themes that reflect the Nigerian culture. Male and female corps members participate in the fashion parade but as the general Nigerian psyche limits the display of beauty as a feminine trait, the ladies mostly take all the limelight and glory in the course of such parades.
As a token of encouragement, the NYSC has an arrangement that seeks to reward corps members who are from different parts of the country, fall in love, and tie the knot within their service year. Monetary gifts and other inducements are offered to such corps members. In some cases, these fashion parades often serve as stepping stones towards the marriage union objective.
Dance and Drama Competitions
Dancing and Drama are two theatrical arts that have an important place in the culture, history, and traditions of Nigeria. With an estimated 290 tribes in Nigeria, it is important to note that each tribe does not only have its distinct attire. But signature dance moves and themes of theatrical arts.
The NYSC orientation camps designed this activity for prospective corps members to get exposed to the wide array of dance styles and stories of other parts of the country.
As a corps member can only be posted to one state at a time, it doesn’t mean that he can only learn about the peculiarities of the state they are posted to. Corps members from other States of the federation take to the stage to dazzle and entertain other corps members with the dance styles of their tribes. And they share didactic stories of their culture through well-written and acted scripts on stage.
The entrepreneurial lectures at camp are perhaps the least popular activities. This is owed partly due to the timing of the lectures between the hours of 10 am to noon. This comes after corps members have been awoken by the sound of the bulge at 4 am and pursued out of their hostels to the parade grounds for morning meditation and parade practice. Tired from the morning activities, corps members are immediately directed to the dining area where they are served breakfast. And shortly after eating, directed to attend the lectures when all they would want to do is rest.
But the challenge of the timing of the entrepreneurial lectures does not discount the importance it has on the career of prospective corps members. With the acute shortage of white-collar jobs and rising levels of unemployment in the country, the need to be versed in entrepreneurial skills has never been more dire.
The skills taught at the lectures range from leather processing, tailoring, interior decoration, tying and dying, shoe making, painting, sculpting, and a wide range of other activities.
Different parts of Nigeria have different things they are specialized in. For example, any corps member interested in leather processing or tying and dying will have ample resources available at his disposal in the north where animals are commonly reared. And that region is famous for tying and dying. In fact, the Institute for Leather Research and Technology is located in Zaria while the largest conglomeration of dying wells is located in Kano.
By streamlining these entrepreneurial activities along the lines of where their practice is most feasible or profitable, the entrepreneurial lectures at orientation camps instill a sense of respect and admiration in the minds of corps members who might have an impression that a certain region of the country contributes nothing to the economy of the country.
Mami Market Food
Although the orientation camps have provision for three square meals for each corps member to be collected at the kitchen after presenting a meal ticket. Many corps members resort to buying food at the Mami Market, which is mostly a temporarily erected structure where varieties of national dishes are up for sale to the corps members.
As many dishes from different parts of the country are made available to prospective buyers who have come from all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. Prospective corps members have a rare chance of trying different Nigerian dishes within the shortest possible time.
This trial of dishes other than that which one is used to in his or her locality creates a connection with the persons of the culture who make the food. There is no better way at dispelling animosity than through the sharing of meals. For it is only when someone trusts and is comfortable with a source of food that they agree to consume it. In an unintended way, the presence of Mami Markets not only provides an avenue to satiate corps members’ hunger and appetites. But it creates a lasting bond between cultures through food.
Needless to say, having to host 2000+ people will have to make available space for accommodation which is the hostel. Male and Female Corps members reside in different hostels in order to avoid unpleasant stories.
In these hostels, where corps members pass the night and perform other routine activities, a healthy space of camaraderie and mutual respect for one’s compatriots is enshrined. Sometimes, corps members stay well into the night sharing tales of their university experiences and of course their respective localities.
It is through those fora of sharing stories and ideas that long-lasting friendships and bonds are made. A Hausa lady from Kebbi State may share the same bunk with an Ibo lady from Anambra State. Such close cohabitation is essential in breaking all forms of conceived stereotypes as corps members get to see the full humane side of their fellow compatriots.
As all members are graduates and expectedly civil, social relations in hostels observe impressive decorum and order with no tussles or issues.
After camp, corps members are posted to their respective places of primary assignment within their state of deployment. Their 21 days stay with other Nigerians in the camp hostels often create a deeper bond than the remaining 11 months of service. Perhaps, this bond is only second to those corps members who are posted to places of primary assignment that offer designated lodges to corps members. In such cases, the bonding sojourn continues all year long.
Parades and March Past
The parade and March Past is the cream of the camp activity. It’s perhaps the only activity that runs through for all 21 days of camp.
The parade is an activity that seeks to train prospective corps members in the art of obeying instructions, following orders and observing physical endurance. It follows a carefully choreographed sequence of movements involving legs, arms, and the head.
When done to perfection, the synchrony achieved by the parade march past is a delight to behold and an embodiment of hours of practice and dedication.
As the parade training is divided according to platoons and training is done bi-daily in the mornings and evenings, corps members spend ample time at the parade grounds training.
Although in this exercise, participants are stripped of their unique cultural idiosyncrasies and dressed in uniform attires. The unity that match past creates between compatriots is strong and long lasting.
At parade grounds, everyone belongs to a single unit and works collectively towards creating perfection in their match past with the hope of impressing the State Governor. Who usually attends the passing-out-parade proceedings on the final day of camp.
Comrades receive and obey orders from their platoon leader without regard for their religion or tribe in a display that perfectly captures the essence of the NYSC scheme. One and United Nigeria for all.
The National Youth Service Scheme is a real game changer in fostering unity and cultural assimilation between Nigerians. For fifty years now it has continued to create limitless doors of opportunities for millions of Nigerians. To have a better and closer understanding and appreciation of their country.
The orientation camp activities serve as a portal through which Nigerian graduates can have a panoramic view of their country. By engaging with their fellow compatriots in a string of stimulating activities over a three-week period of confinement and regimentation.
No matter the reforms the NYSC scheme may be subjected to in later years, the idea of bringing together thousands of Nigerians together in orientation camps is one that may never get out of fashion.
As a country of great diversity, Nigeria is always in need of programs and activities that will bolster its unity and cohesion and the orientation camp activities perfectly fit the bill.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.