By Rilwan Ayodeji Tinubu
When the news about the Federal Government of Nigeria Commissioning the Mfum-Ekok border broke out to my notice, I quickly recall a first hand experience I have had about the place called Ajassor and a very important question that came to my mind was that “Why have you travelled so far from Lagos to that end part of Nigeria”?
Fantastically, The National Youth Service Corps came to my mind even though a debate has been on as to why the scheme was introduced by the Government of General Yakubu Gowon in 1973? Has the scheme achieved its reason?
The Programme according to sources was established to enable Nigerian Youth acquire the spirit of self reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self employment, to also contribute to the accelerated growth of the National Economy, to develop common ties among the Nigerian Youth and promote National unity and integration, it has also been argued to be at the fore front of National development efforts, as well as serve as profitable platform for imparting in our youths values of Nationalism, Patriotism, Loyalty and accountable leadership.
Let me state here that my adventure to the Ajassor community was a result of communal conflict that engulfed Riyom in Plateau state in 2012 where I was first deployed to enable me participate in the scheme. The conflict was so intense that our 3 weeks orientation program was full of fear despite report going around the the NYSC camp has been attacked, unknown to many who paraded the news it was few meters away from the Bukuru camp that was attacked leading to a repraisal mob attack that led to the killing of Senator Gyang Dantong and several others in 2012.
The news going around that period was very alarming why many Nigerians call for their wards be posted to states within their region of abode or the scheme be cancelled. Going forward, this lead to mass redeployment of corps members after our compulsory orientation and fortunately, though it was not my sole wish at that time, I was redeployed to cross river state where I completed my service year.
From the above, I can boldly say my service year was full of acquired knowledge in all spheres of life making me conclude that the National Youth Corps even though with many shortcoming has come to achieve its aim but may need to be re-modify to cater for emerging challenges of our time. That spirit was self-reliant was re-engineered into my system which has continued to help my career growth till date, should we then say the scheme has achieved nothing?
The National Youth Service corps indeed expose me to many life experiences from hospitality, culture and tourism to include many others. It also helped a Political Science graduate like me who is from Lagos and have learnt about theories and historical and political development of Nigeria having well over 250 ethnic groups, our party system before and after independence particularly The National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) which later became National Convention of Nigerian citizens after both northern and southern cameroon were taken out of Nigeria.
Upon my resumption to the National Youth Service Corps office in Calabar while those of us who were redeployed from various states with different reasons also showed up, a fellow corps member who was deployed to Boki Local Government of Cross river with tears on his face crying rejecting the place, we quickly sat him down and raised too many questions of why he was shedding tears after his posting? He narrated experience on his way to his place of primary assignment, he was acousted from behind by a monkey who removed his cap.
At this point many of us became very curious and sceptical to know much about local government in the state, for those who have been pre-informed, they only prayed to be deployed to about 3 local council which include Calabar South, Calabar Municipal and Odukpani LGAs but for me and many others who do not have the overwhelming influence to mastermind a place of primary assignment, we were introduced to one Mr Idowu who was the only Yoruba man working in the Calabar office of the NYSC, we were made to understand he is practically in-charge of posting but our simple approach to him only met a dust of sand as he said nothing came be done as everyone cannot remain in Calabar and that the essence of the scheme was for National unity and not selective posting.
While many of us were waiting to get a posting, shelter was another challenge for those who have been deployed to various place of primary assignment within Calabar, it became very tough that prices of accommodation doubled the entire allowance we will receive for a whole year, a few of us stared making contact while some already lodged in hotels. At this point religion also played a vital role of rescue as those of us from the Muslim faith resorted to the Muslim Association of Corpers lodge located at Goldiee road (arguably one of the longest street in Calabar) those who are Christians also found refuge at the Christian Association of Corpers lodge until our posting came out.
Consequently, I contacted my former lecturer and mentor Dr. Sylvester Odion-Akhaine who then linked me up with a felllow Comrade Dr. Edwin Madunagu who is the Editor of Guardian newspaper in Calabar, he invited me after a phone conversation and instructed his driver to pick me up to his Library where we had discussions about NYSC and Nigeria’s socio-economic and political challenges of our time, he told me frankly “I do not cut corner, where ever you are posted to is your final destination” he also gave me some books to read together with his biography and gave me an unfettered access to the Library any time I so desire to do so, his driver also took some time to take me around the city of Calabar such as Atim-Mbo, Marian road, bogobiri and the University of Calabar finally, he gave words of admonition and mobilized me to face the coming challenges of the scheme.
Few later, the much awaited posting was released where I was posted to Goodwill Secondary School in Ajassor, Etung Local Government of cross river state, there I met another colleague who was posted to Government secondary school Ikom, we started discussion and proceeded the next day. On our way, it was like a journey of no return to include bad roads travelling along Odukpani, Abi, Yakkur, Obubra (where their NYSC orientation camp is located) and Akamkpa before getting Ikom. It took us about 5 hours from Calabar. We both departed in Ikom which is a major town before Etung, it is a 27kilometers journey on a motorcycle which a major means of transportation along the tarred road at that time.
Days after I had settled down at my place of primary assignment, I engaged fellow corps members on getting to know more about the community whose people are very hospitable to visitors with all they have, we took a swipe on a visit to the mfum border to have a first hand site seeing of house the place looks like, I feel so ashamed of what we saw as a border linking Nigeria and Cameroon, here I equally agreed with those proponents who have who keep raising questions as to the porous nature of our land borders. There the law enforcement agents do not allow for pictures to be take with mobile phones, so you have to keep them away while you approached the border. This is not a good omen for us as a Nation.
After much ado, I took time to study the behaviour and culture of the good people of Ajassor, their food, culture of discipline where I saw that it was a taboo for a young person to engage in any form of gambling and particularly their marriage rites. Mfum is a town in Cross River State where it is not uncommon to find traders and articulated lorries crossing the lines that separate Nigeria and Cameroon. Items like foods, fruits and petrol are conveyed across the border. But these are not the only things that exchanged between the two countries as one could add marriage ties to the list. Inter-marriage between them and the neighbouring Cameroon town is very rampant and both speak Ejagam which is one of the dominant spoken language in Cross river, they eat similar food and share many other good things.
Very importantly in 2018 when I heard about the federal government plan to re-construct the Mfum-Ekok link bridge, I was so happy to hear because it will foster more trade and development for both countries and the economic community of west African state who also supported this development plan, quoting from the minister of works and housing Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola who says Nigeria, Cameroon border will facilitate free trade, yes I do agree with according to the 2022 United Nations COMTRADE database whose report that says Nigeria exports to Cameroon was about US$550.58 Million in 2021. Free trade can also boast standards of living, raise incomes and reduces inequality, boast employment.
Hence, it is equal to say that life time experience which the National Youth Service Corps have afforded me is not just only an eye-opener opportunity but also an effort towards Nation building, it has also increase my frontier of knowledge, the socio-cultural, economic and political relations that may exist between two countries. More importantly, it is also a push forward for any serious government who has the political will to bring about development to clearly understand the for infrastructure to drive it and finally, the just commissioned link bridge will have a comparative economic advantages for both countries.