By Timileyin Akinkahunsi and Ojoi Ijagah
Punch Nigeria. SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2018.
For Dorcas Ifeji, the best time of her life was in 2016, the year she participated in the one-year mandatory National youth service programme. And all of the excitement was down to the three weeks she spent in the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp in Taraba State.
Ifeji described her experience in camp as the time of her life she would always relish. As a fresh graduate, she had thought that the regimented life in the camp, with soldiers keeping a watchful eye on corps members, would be stressful, but she was wrong. The experience was almost like nothing changed for the party-loving lady.
"We had a place called Club Zero behind the Mammy Market (usually a market in military barracks where food, beverages and other things are sold); it was like a clubhouse," she said with a sheepish smile.
"Club Zero was where everything unimaginable happened in the camp. It was just behind the Mammy Market. You could get to smoke weed, party and indulge in everything irregular; some adventurous people even made out in the open.
"What made Club Zero interesting was because the soldiers in the camp usually let their guards down there, looking for free beer from the guys and willing girls to flirt with. Some soldiers were lucky enough to find drunk and vulnerable girls who would follow them to their quarters for private business.
"It was normal to see corps members in pairs, kissing, groping and doing sexually suggestive things in Club Zero. The place was dimly lit so the atmosphere was conducive for certain actions. A day really stood out for me: people were shouting and I was wondering what could have happened. Then I realised that a guy and a lady had just been found having sex in a corner at Club Zero.
"The act should have attracted serious punishment but people actually hailed them and after the noise went down, all the soldiers present there said was 'una must buy us one crate of beer o' (you must buy us a crate of beer)."
Since the national youth service is compulsory for Nigerian graduates under the age of 30, those seeking employment are required to show proof of participation or formal exemption from taking part in it as a prerequisite for getting jobs in the country.
According to the NYSC Code of Conduct during the period of orientation, any member who comes late to any official engagement on the field, at lectures or places of work shall be tried by the Camp Court and, if found guilty would be thrown out of the camp.
It also states that the member shall only be allowed to come back for service by joining the next batch for the orientation exercise.
Similarly, the Code of Conduct states that a corps member shall "not leave orientation camp or absent himself from any official activity without the written consent of the State Coordinator but when absent from his duties on account of illness, ensure that such absences are covered by an 'Excuse Duty Certificate' issued by a medical doctor on duty at the camp.
"Any member who leaves the camp without the permission from the State Coordinator shall be tried by the Camp Court and, if found guilty, be liable to be decamped and sent out of camp.
"The member shall only be allowed to come back for service by joining the next batch for the orientation exercise."
It also states that any member found to be drunk shall be tried by the Camp Court and, if found guilty, be liable to extra drill and/or confinement to the camp rehabilitation room for 30 minutes.
But like Ifeji, the NYSC orientation camp gave Uwazie Mark nothing but a thrilling experience. For Mark who camped in the Ogun State orientation camp, Sagamu in 2016, the favourite point of call for all fun lovers was Slim Bar. There was no disparity between officials and corps members there as long as you had some money to spend on drinks.
"If you were a guy and you had never been to Slim Bar, then your camping wasn't complete. It was more like buying and selling. The rich guys came to show off in order to impress ladies and the ladies also showed up with the hope of finding rich boyfriends in the camp.
"All the soldiers in the camp that we considered as strict joked with us there, telling us stories about how they joined the force. You would find some of the soldiers begging to dance with female corps members. Some would drink and insist the corps members there should pay for their drinks," Mark said.
Mark also revealed that while in the camp, he learnt about a small shack with a bed in the Mammy Market, which corps members could use to get intimate with their colleagues, but at a cost.
"Only few people knew about the brothel; it was all in code. The bed and room were made available on demand. Once you paid, they would set it up and secure the place for you while you had fun with your partner. I didn't find out about the price because I was never interested in it," he told Saturday PUNCH.
He also shared the story of a camp photographer who did more than taking fancy pictures for corps members.
"There was also a guy who was a camp photographer, but that was only used as cover for the main thing he did. He sold tramadol and other hard substances to guys who wanted to get high. He had a stand where he also sold soft drinks and snacks. Some guys would buy soft drinks from him and also buy other substances that would make them high to mix with the soft drinks.
"He used to sell cough syrups with codeine to so corps members who could mix their drinks with the drugs. Sometimes, you would see a guy in camp spending hours to finish a bottle of coke. Some female corps members also patronised the guy, but the interesting thing is that the soldiers knew about it and would even joke with corps members misbehaving that they must have been buying too much of tramadol and codeine from the photographer," he said.
Maxwell Adim had his service year in Imo State in 2015 and would relive the experience if given another chance to.
At the NYSC orientation camp in the state, Adim had friends at the security post who readily took a bribe to allow him leave the camp.
"In camp, I met all kinds of ladies from every part of Nigeria but I was only interested in the beautiful ones. A colleague that shared a bunk with me was the one who told me that I could bribe the soldiers manning the gates if I wanted to leave the camp to have fun with ladies outside, even for days. Interestingly, I tried it and it worked," Adim said.
"Later, I realised the lists of attendance that we used to sign wasn't taken seriously by the authorities. Perhaps, they only used such lists to threaten those who didn't know the trick.
"I had a friend who pretended that he was ill and he was let out of the camp under the guise of going to a hospital; but he got a hotel room where he stayed for the remaining days we spent in the camp. Female corps members who were his girlfriends went to meet him in his hotel room.
"Those who had money could bend the rules. He would call his soldier friends in the camp and make arrangements for them to allow the ladies to leave the camp and return by evening."
Olarenwaju, as he wanted to be identified, served in Cross River State in 2014.
The experience was hellish for him until he met 23-year-old Folashade and things started to look up for him. With Folashade, Olanrewaju, 28, thought "finally, here is a woman I could spend the rest of my life with."
"It was when I met Folashade that I finally started enjoying myself. She was the most beautiful lady I had ever seen. She was the leader of my platoon, while I was her assistant, and that was the beginning of our love affair.
"I really loved her and enjoyed her company. I asked her out and she agreed to be my girlfriend. I didn't even have to stress myself for so long as she even told me that she knew she wanted a relationship with me the moment she met me. We went everywhere together and it was really nice," he added.
However, after the camping experience, Olarenwaju received the biggest shock of her life, learning that his lover was married with a set of twins.
"I was very shocked to learn that she was married and was only having fun with me; it was as though I should disappear from planet earth. I found out about the situation from one of her colleagues that they did the primary assignment together.
"When I confronted her about it, she didn't deny it. That was how we ended the relationship on a sad note. She confirmed that the twins were boys. I just kept my cool and asked God for forgiveness because if I had known she was married, I wouldn't have had anything to do with her," the insurance officer said.
It is often said that all manner of things happen on parade grounds in most NYSC orientation camps across the country. For Ifeanyi Oguabor, who served in Abuja in 2017; he was able to learn about the kind of things that went on on parade grounds at first hand.
"In my platoon in the camp, I was deployed to serve in the sanitation unit for some time. And I had to clean up the parade ground. I was very irritated as I had to pick up many used condoms on the field. That was my duty post and the job had to be done.
"I thought I was the only one that experienced such until my friends started narrating to me all the nasty experiences they also had while cleaning up the parade ground. Many corps members see their service year and their time in NYSC camps as a time to misbehave and have fun. Some married women I served together with went about without their wedding rings so that they could mingle with guys.
"Even me, I never thought I would smoke in my life but while I was in camp, I found myself smoking and doing things I would ordinarily not do," he told Saturday PUNCH.
Anthonia Momodu experienced being left out of the "big girls" clique in camp when she refused to do what some other female corps members did to get posted to good companies for her primary assignment in Ibadan, Oyo State, where she served.
She said "I always prayed to God to be posted to a good place of primary assignment where I would be able to add to my knowledge to the service of the country and earn good money, but that did not happen. But I still feel better because while we were in camp, many ladies, including some of my friends, were sleeping with military officers to get posted to good companies in Ibadan, but at the end of the day, we all got posted to the same local government. They sold their bodies to military men in camp for nothing.
"Although, a senior military man asked me out a week after we got to camp, I said no without thinking twice about it because my elder sister had warned me to stay away from soldiers in camp. The soldier promised me a good time in camp and even after leaving camp, but I didn't give it a second thought at all."
Similarly, Abisoye, who is now a professional hair stylist, narrated how she was deceived into sleeping with one of the parents of her pupils she was giving home coaching.
"I served in Delta State and was posted to a public primary school to serve. I wanted to make more money for myself, so I started home coaching for two pupils, whose parents were interested in paying me for that.
"One of such parents was Mr. Ephraim, who introduced himself to me as a single father and businessman dealing in electronic gadgets. I would go to his house to teach his seven-year-old son, Joshua, Mathematics. Soon, his father said he liked me; he claimed he was never married to Joshua's mother.
"I agreed to date him with the intention of getting married to him as he had promised. He also promised to get me a job in a top real estate firm in Warri, but he didn't do any of those things. Through some of his neighbours that I had go to know while coaching his son, I found out that he had been lying to me. I was told that his wife was on a leave of absence from her job and was doing a PhD programme in the UK," she said.
Abisoye said she never heard from Ephraim again after the completion of her service year.
The Director of Press and Public Relations, NYSC, Mrs. Adenike Adeyemi, was contacted many times through phone calls and text messages to get her comment on some of the activities allegedly going on in camps which are against the agency's guidelines and code of conduct for corps members and handlers; she did not respond.