“Don’t come in, we are naked o.”: A review of Memoirs of a ‘Lazy Korfa’ – Olukorede S. Yishau
“Don’t come in, we are naked o,” a female Youth Corp member serving in Kano screamed as a male soldier tried to access the female hostel to get the ladies out for the early morning drills.
“Na breast I never see before? Stupid girl,” the soldier yelled back.
On another day, there is pandemonium and information soon filters out that soldiers have caught two girls and two boys playing ‘rough’— the euphemism for having an orgy.
And wait for this: An asthmatic Corps member suffers an attack and is going blue. Oxygen is required, and there is none at the Orientation Camp. Even at a nearby clinic in town, help is unavailable.
Welcome to the Kano Orientation Camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
A dentist and writer, Tunmise Usikalu, has thrown open the doors to the Camp through her first book, ‘Memoirs of a Lazy Korfa’. It is a frank and hilarious account of her 24-day orientation programme that always kicks off the one-year compulsory NYSC scheme. The memoirs offer many a dramatic scene, moments of laughter and instances that provide reasons to be worried about the security and infrastructural development in Nigeria.
The book teems with interesting characters: Man O’ War men and soldiers who derive joy in cracking their whips, petty traders who go everywhere with the Corps members (even Endurance Trek), itinerant photographers, boys and girls not afraid of breaking from the norm and ‘victims’ of unrequited infatuation or love.
The memoirs kick off from Lagos, where Tunmise is seen boarding a flight from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport to Kano. Her flight is scheduled for 11.15 am but by 11.am, there is no sign the flight will leave in the next thirty minutes. She is due to resume at the Kano NYSC Orientation Camp that day. All other flights are also experiencing delays. She eventually gets to the Camp at 2.30 pm and her baptism of fire begins.
Days later she is yet to complete her registration because of a lack of proper organisation and Nigerians’ love for shunting queues. Officials get angry from time to time and abandon the exercise, thus prolonging her ‘suffering’ in the sweltering hot hall where the Corps members queue. Getting the NYSC kits is another kettle of fish. Only a few get all the kits at once. Many get footwears that don’t fit, leaving Corps members searching for colleagues to exchange the right sizes with. Tunmise gets a crested uniform that she likens to her father’s agbada.
One of Tunmise’s first shocking finds is discovering the terribly low sanitary conditions at the Camp leaving her and many others to take their baths in the open very early in the morning or very late at night to keep away prying eyes! Another shock is the low-quality food served in the kitchen, which she avoids throughout her stay.
Like its effect on almost every facet of Nigerian life, religion rears its ugly head at the Camp. Christian and Moslem fellowships take stands that Tunmise finds herself worrying about. Perhaps none disturbs her like an incident during the parade. A Moslem sister finds herself in between two male Corps members during an exercise that involves locking hands. A protest ensues and is only resolved when the two guys are replaced with two ladies!
Memories of Kano’s past religious crises also hang in the air and always make the author consider running away from the city after the orientation programme.
The author does not pull her punches and does not shy away from proffering solutions where she has them. Aside from being an account of her days at the orientation camp, themes, such as influence-peddling, the failure of those in authority in Nigeria, loyalty to loved ones and boredom-induced sex and romance, jump out. The work also echoes the power of temptation and how to deal with it.
The work also highlights the military command structure in the camp, which expects people who are intellectuals to obey without complaint, a development that is antithetical to intellectualism which their university years were all about. But, trust students, they forget fear from time to time and challenge the powers-that-be at the camp. The book has a curious instance involving a lady, but it climaxes ironically with her being bribed with a malt drink!
Usikalu also raises the issue of how loneliness can make unlike poles attract even when they have a commitment outside of the restricted environment they currently find themselves in.
‘Memoirs of a Lazy Korfa’ is a mixture of solemn and vivacious moments presented in a simple language with the capacity to pull the reader into its world. Usikalu’s dexterity in presenting the good, the bad and the ugly with panache makes the about 100-page book worth every time invested in it.
Intending Corp members, undergraduates, administrators, and others will find useful this book presented with humour, wit, and uncomplicatedness. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience well-documented with its lows and highs!
On a last note: If you as a guy need a pick-up line for a babe who is being ‘difficult’, try this: “Let me be your nightmare if I cannot be your dreams.” You will understand why when you read this book that displays the beauty of journaling.
Olukorede S. Yishau is the author of ‘Vaults of Secrets’ and ‘In The Name of Our Father’.