Kunle (name changed for security reasons) finally touched the ground of Kano after his flight from Lagos was delayed for two solid hours.
The Borno-deployed Nigerian graduate whom the government could not risk sending to his state of deployment for insecurity purposes was alongside his mates automatically redeployed to Katsina State for the compulsory three weeks orientation camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
The Lagos boy who opted to go to the northern state despite advice from many to apply for remobilisation proceeded from the airport to begin the adventure he signed up for as he admired the beautiful sight the streets of Kano holds.
He would soon find out whether or not his excitement would stand the test of time.
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), a one-year mandatory program in Nigeria, has gone from being a prideful adventure to a controversial topic of discourse.
During the 1973 military rule, the government in a bid to promote nation-building, unity, and service set up the NYSC scheme to include successful Nigerian graduates whether home or abroad-schooled.
NYSC which used to be a pride to graduates and parents alike is gradually becoming one to dread.
Graduates would give whatever it takes to ensure they are mobilised for service in a state they consider ‘safe’, given the relentless rise in insecurity, especially in the northern part of the country.
General knowledge has it that while graduates mobilised to some parts of Southern Nigeria have to deal with the fear of consuming human flesh as meat, those posted to northern states with an exceptionally high level of insecurity like Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe States have a lot more to deal with.
AllNews Nigeria spoke with a number of Nigerian graduates who camped or served in some northern states of the country to get first-hand information on what really happens in these states.
Kunle, whose story was first captured earlier, opened up about the journey to his state of deployment, saying, “In terms of going to the camp itself, I would say NYSC sort of knows what they are doing.
“On your portal, you are shown the best and safest route to take to the camp so you don’t go otherwise.
“So, for me, I think that contributed to a certain amount of safety for corpers who were coming.
“I did not go by road for a part of the journey; I flew into Kano then to Katsina.
“So from the airport in Lagos to Kano, it was pretty okay, though we had a late departure (2 hours flight delay) that made us arrive very late in Kano.
“So landing in Kano, we were worried about safety already but as soon as the airport cabbies knew we were corpers they treated us much nicely, ensuring we got a hotel to stay, though I must say where we stayed was really bad in terms of quality. But we were not there for long.
“We tried to take a stroll but we were cautioned by people around us that we should not do so because we were not accustomed to the area, plus we were Christians and southerners, so we just stayed back.”
Describing the environment, Kunle shared, “Another thing I noticed is Kano is prevalent with drug abusers. These guys sniff a hell of things.
“Mosquitoes are also prevalent in the city. The city is overrun by Almajiri kids. Everywhere was dirty and rough, and the air was dry and dusty.
“If you are not accustomed to the area you would fall sick in less than a day. I had stockings all through my stay.
“In fact, I fell sick already because I remember visiting the pharmacist. So we slept late around 3 am or so because all I was thinking about was the insecurity. And you know parents calling left and right.”
Kunle and his fellow corpers commenced their journey from Kano to Katsina the next morning.
“So in the morning, we set out to go from Kano to Katsina by road because we had booking issues so we could not fly.
“Kano is tight, Kano is choked, Kano is just Lagos in another dimension. The security architecture in the state was more of vigilantes and all of that.
“Military bases, yes, but less police presence than I expected for a city like that.
“After all the argument back and forth because the language was a huge barrier, fortunately for us, our cab man helped us interpret to them before he left (really nice man).
“Northerners can be really nice people. I believe the country has a wrong perception of them.
“They are really nice people, especially if they see you can speak the language. You could get crazy discounts if you spoke the dialect.”
Explaining the strange experience he had during the journey, he said, “And then something really peculiar that we noticed was that despite the roads being tarred on both sides because it was a four-lane FG road sponsored with the Sukuk bond, the driver remained on one side of the road facing the opposite traffic, yet running at top speed.
“I kept asking him what’s up. He could not hear me because I was speaking clear English.
“Luckily, he understood pidgin and when we communicated, he said the other side of the road was not safe and that anything could happen on that side of the road.
“So, we understood and did not question him again. We were like that for a long while.
“Sometimes he would switch lanes to the other side. It’s like everyone knew the roads well.
Despite the level of insecurity in the region, it came as a shock to Kunle that the security was far from what he expected.
“I was expecting to see a pretty robust deployment on our way, but nothing of the sort.
“After a while, we came across a police checkpoint. I was shocked because compared to the south, these policemen were not armed, they were just with batons.
“And with all the insecurity, you would have expected much more. Funnily enough, they singled us out because we looked different as per Lagos boys.
“They asked us a few questions and as soon as we said corpers, they stepped down.
“They tried to inquire about our haircuts but the stern looks did not give them the ‘liver’ to try anything funny. I have never seen police concerned with haircuts.
“Some distance again and we met a customs checkpoint.
“Again, they were not as armed as the customs here in the southern part of the country and they were not looking interested in the job.
“We exchanged a few words with the driver who stared at us because we obviously looked different, questioned us and let us off on our journey.
“These guys were constables, they were dressed shabbily, looked like Hausa boys who were just recruited for police's sake, not serious officers.
“If you visit the north you would come to understand stories of how soldiers get ambushed, and how they get killed so easily. Things are not like the south over there.
“So when we read that news, we are quick to insult the soldiers for lack of training and all of that because we think everywhere is like Lagos or Ogun or Delta or Port Harcourt.
“But over there, there is the hot steaming sun, dry land with no water, acres and hectares of unused land with almost zero trees. It’s so porous.
“The driver was at max speed all through. All we saw on either side were thatched huts and acres of ungoverned land plus maybe one or two persons using a donkey or cow as a means of movement.
“To cut the long story short, we arrived finally at Katsina and I must say that city is a ghost town.
“Even NYSC advised against landing at the Katsina airport and coming via road to camp.
“They said to land at Kano or one another airport (I can’t remember the state) and then make your way by road towards the camp.
“We entered the state and headed straight for the camp after taking the advice of the cab driver that we should not lodge due to the insecurity.
“Besides, the hotel we had in mind told us that once we lodged there and it’s 10 pm, they would lock the gates and shut everywhere till the next morning.
“Since when did hotels operate like prisons? So I waved it and moved to camp to avoid stress.
After his adventurous journey, Kunle arrived at the orientation camp where he would spend the next three weeks learning, unlearning and surviving.
“Arriving in camp, I was disappointed because compared to the videos I had received, the camp was nothing like it.
“I found out later that the real Katsina camp was decent but since we were Borno corpers, they housed us separately for reasons I don’t know. The news was that they rejected us.
“So we entered the gates. The security was a combination of mobile policemen and women from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
“The Army taking major control of providing security to outer layers and maintaining steady patrols.
“Then after registration or should I say during, I took a stroll into the mammy camp. It wasn’t really mammy market, just some thatched places converted into makeshift stores.
“As I was strolling, I strolled beyond the mammy place and I met two soldiers who immediately asked me to turn around and go back because corpers were not allowed beyond the market area leading to the fence.
He noted that they lived by warnings dished out by the Commandant-in-Charge who was deployed from Borno and was stern due to their encounters with Boko Haram insurgents.
“Don’t go near the fence; don’t leave general gatherings; this is not a ground for sex shit; don’t wander anywhere, and so on.
“He warned us to be aware of where we were and that anything can happen and so every level of caution should be exhibited.
“Network was being restricted purposely to reduce communications so bandits don’t have a means of attack.
“Once it was 10 or so, If you like, use the most expensive phone in the world, that network would disappear.
“Security was their priority in the camp. They always made that an anthem. As long as we get through three weeks unscathed and return home, then they have done their job.
“Every day one security advice or the other.
“Social night that was supposed to be free for corpers, we had soldiers in attendance and it was only for 8-10 pm or so, and boom lights out.
“Soldiers escort you all the way to your rooms.”
Regarding posting, Kunle said, “They strictly warned corpers not to come to Borno State. They said they had enough corpers already and that corpers only worked in Maiduguri.
“In camps in Nigeria, mostly south, you don’t have armed soldiers guarding the hostels.
“For us, we had armed soldiers, at least four each to every building, keeping guard.
“Yeah it was very tough, the soldiers were very nice. It’s like they all understood the situation.”
Surprisingly, when asked his stance on deploying Nigerian graduates to northern states, Kunle said, "Yes, in fact, more of them should be sent to the north, because we are living in dreamland up south.
"Not that I am saying safety is not good or should not be the ideal standard. But at least it would help them understand diversity, realities that we face as a nation and the equity gap in wealth.
"... And it will help change the narrative about northerners being devils. They are really nice people.
"It will help strengthen the bond we lack.”
In contrast to Kunle’s experience, Funmi (name changed) who is from the Western part of Nigeria says Bauchi is a peaceful state.
“As someone from the west, with all the news we've heard about northerners being posted to the north being scary and bad news, I tried redeployment it didn't work out so I accepted my fate.
“I don't know about other northern states but I know for a fact that Bauchi is one of the peaceful ones.
“I didn't have a lot of bad experiences at all, all I heard were stories and other people's experiences.
“But the conclusion I made from my experience in the North is that northerners are extremists; the good ones are extremely good and the bad ones, extremely bad."
Funmi’s peaceful stay was only marred by a religious conflict, one which ended up rocking the entire nation.
“There was an issue in late May after the case of a Christian named Deborah who was killed in Kaduna.
“As a result of this, a fight started in Bauchi, other local governments, not Bauchi local government.
“I served in Bauchi local government, and after some weeks, it extended to my area.
“It was a fight of religion, Muslims killing Christians and vice versa.
“I remember clearly when my northern Christian friends were complaining because they came to the realisation that their co-workers and friends were actually in support of Christians being killed by Muslims.
“The co-workers in question are lawyers, they are supposed to be educated, instead they are blinded by religion.
“So, I came to the conclusion that insecurity in the North isn't exactly as a result of the type of people northerners are, instead it's as a result of religion,” she expressed.
Gift (name changed) is a 2021 graduate who was posted to Kebbi State to serve her fatherland.
She said although she did not have any personal experience like several others, she and other corps members in the state were requested to take quite a number of precautions to at least guarantee their safety throughout the service year.
“We were told not to wear our uniforms anytime we're embarking on a journey within and outside the state.
“We should always move in groups and make sure the corps members in our area identify us as one of them.
“We shouldn't take free rides (especially females). In fact, they said it wasn't necessary to travel to our states till we are done with the whole service year,” Gift explained.
Ade (not real name), an ex-corps member who like Kunle camped in Katsina State, although posted to Borno, recounting his experience said serving in the north is not as bad as people make it seem.
He, however, maintained that the major challenge was travelling down to the state.
The corper who eventually completed his service in another northern state considered to be safer, Kwara State, said the journey to and from Borno State, the most dreaded state where he camped was no joke at all.
“The orientation camp in the Northern part isn't as bad as people claim. The hardest and most tasking part is the journey. I'm based in Ilorin and I got posted to Borno State for Orientation camp.
On how he felt after receiving his posting letter virtually, Ayomide said, “When I saw Borno State, I wasn't happy because I wasn't expecting I would be posted that far, to that part of the country known for terrorism and banditry.
“I did all I could to have it changed even before the posting letter came out but it had gotten to that point where I had no choice but to report there.
“I saw the posting letter on Sunday and I was expected to report to camp on Tuesday (27th of August, 2021), an interval of three days maximum.”
To get himself to the camp, he said he had to make arrangements including joining a WhatsApp group for those posted to Borno and Katsina States where he found a lady with whom he travelled.
According to the ex-corper, he travelled in a Marco Polo bus with convenient seats but the vehicle moved slowly and broke down at many points.
“We were a few kilometres out of Bida in Niger state when the bus finally broke down and couldn't pick up again. We were in the middle of nowhere and all we could see were bushes.
“You need to see panic and cry everywhere. The lady and I weren't the only PCMs on the bus; there were others too. We mingled with two others, making four of us.
“The driver of the bus was a Hausa man and wasn't helping, he wasn't even talking or telling us what happened. The next thing we saw he was leaving us behind, not saying a word.
“Well, luckily for us, a guy in our midst had a family member in Bida. As God would have it, a car passing by going to Bida stopped to see what was going on.
“He was a Yoruba man and without any hesitation, he gave us a lift back to Bida without collecting a dime from us. He was God's sent you can say.
“We spent the night in Bida and had to continue the journey the next day which was Tuesday, the day we were expected to report to the camp.
“This guy's family welcomed us gladly and fed us for the night.
“The next morning, we prepared to continue the journey. Calls had been made to complain about the incident and the way forward to get a refund for the money we paid.
“We boarded another vehicle from Bida to Kaduna.
“We left Bida around 7 am and arrived in Kaduna around 6 am. We board another vehicle from Kaduna to Zaria. We got to Zaria around 7 pm.
“Took another vehicle again from Zaria to Katsina. It was dark and there was fear in every one of us including the driver because of the insecurity around that side.
“It took about 3 hours and 30 minutes from Zaria to Katsina. We arrived in Katsina safely and sound.
“A tricycle conveyed us from the park to the camp. We got to the camp past 10 pm. We registered our names so we could get a bed space,” he narrated.
Ade, despite the transportation issues, said he had a great time in camp where he made a number of friends and took part in some activities.
He noted that he had reasons to stay back in Katsina State but decided otherwise due to his transportation experience.
“There were opportunities and reasons for me not to relocate but with my experience travelling between Ilorin and Katsina, it wasn't a great journey.
“Coming back to Ilorin wasn't that bad but the encounter I had with mosquitoes when we had to sleep over at one of the car parks in Niger state was terrible. I couldn't sleep throughout the night because of mosquito bites,” he lamented.
Ade who relocated to Kwara State to complete his service said serving in the north is safe as long as one does not have to travel to attend to emergencies.
“Serving in the north is great and safe for corpers if you're planning to be based there for that one year of service but if there will be a need to travel for emergencies or so, it's a risk.
“Well, all that is now history because it's over,” he concluded.