NYSC in fiction: Salient message from Gimba’s a trail of sacrifice – Part 2
The failure of the NOFB in Gimba’s Kokania and the apparent lack of interest of the young Kokanians are also as a result of the antithetical attitudinal dispositions of the waver biscuit-weight pillars behind the formation of the scheme.
The rulers righteously and sanctimoniously emphasise the need for the brigade members to act and serve the nation selflessly but the “leaders of tomorrow” search in vain for the atom-size act of altruism in the official conducts of the rulers.
The whole system as superintended by them reeks of official sleaze, bad management and administrative inefficiency and ineptitude. This is why the Principal of Redemption Crusades, Mr. Dan Sepopa, with a tinge of sorrow in his voice, tells Sadiku and Makanjira that, “the government has no interest. Even the so-called interest of the people is a big myth. Only interests of the individual exist.” (p.91). Later on in the novel, Joseph Makanjira would be heard as deadpanning, matter-of-factly, that
“In this country today, nobody does anything that will not be of any direct gains to him quickly too. Sacrifice is dying. And people are selling their entire manhood in pursuit of self. Honour for the glory of the larger society is dead. And who cares! Self-aggrandisement is on the ascent. Aren’t people much richer now than before? Yet poverty’s stare is much harsher than before. And who cares! We worship materialism. Sacrifice? Sacrifice to any other, other than self. […] Everybody wants to make it to the top. No matter how; societal interest is very secondary, if at all considered. It’s sad. Very sad. I don’t know where this will take us to.” (p.159)
It is in the same Kokania that the young are expected to act selflessly within the bound of national interest, or the good of all that we find a public office holder, precisely a university lecturer who left the noble profession for politics, in possession of many well-built houses “with the people in slums all over the city”. For such governmental people, that is development.
The novel provokes a litany of questions: Just what is it in the Kokanian/Nigerian politicians that can endear a young person to the lofty ideal of selfless services? What are the people-oriented programmes that the forcefully conscripted corps members are to consolidate in their places of primary assignment? Need it be shouted that “development and progress is not a box of golden flowers which people have to be taken to see”? Is it not a no-brainer that wherever development exists, to quote the novel’s narrator, no one needs introduce anyone to it? Does it not introduce itself? Would any sane fellow not smell it? Being like a smoke or gas, would it not strike anybody? Or make them see it? Is it any surprise, therefore, that in spite of the astronomic increase in the number of corps members, we can hardly point concretely to the evidences of their one-year forceful services?
On the whole, Kokania is at once evidence as well as a paragon of what a failed state is. It is an alarming example of how not to be a state. The human condition there is frightening. The infrastructural decay is dispiriting. Its citizens have chorused many times, like the poet, there is no sweetness here. Corruption of the virulent order has become the second nature of its severely base rulers and security agents. Its ethnic groups are both time bombs and kegs of gun powder. There is so much disaffection in the air.
But is Kokania’s NOFB all a tale of woes? Is it all about backwardness and frustration? Are there no signs of hope, however incipient? Aren’t there one or two persons in Kokania that demonstrates positive character? Are there Brigade members who can epitomise the ideals of the NOFB? This is where Gimba proves himself as not being either the author of a deathless prose, or an iconoclastic prophet of doom. By this single measure, we can also see that he does not focus his creative lens mainly on negatives like the critical realists who only glory in painting the horrible and horrifying conditions of people without providing an alternative vision of how to escape the awful condition.
In Trail of Sacrifice, the author uses Sadiku to illustrate how the participants of the NOFB, and by extension, of the NYSC, can rise, in their own little way, above the eyesores of both the land and the scheme. It is Gimba’s way of proffering solutions to the mind-bending problems of the scheme and also the nation.
How does Sadiku give meaning to the meaningless NOFB? As we examine this, we shall simultaneously point out the requisite lessons the Nigerian corps members and the youth generally can appropriate therefrom. For, as Abdullahi Yunusa (2015) rightly observes, Gimba’s “literary interventions (are) quite legendary, very enlightening and laced with strong lessons. His arguments (are) people-driven, broad-based and filled with penetrating anecdotes needed for deep reasoning.”
When Sadiku Baba gets mobilised for the national service, he expresses no interest at all in it. All the afore-mentioned vicissitudes bedevilling the scheme and the inglorious state of the country are not alien to him. But he reckons that he has no choice in the matter at all. The narrator clarifies this: “He became torn between a sense of mission and a revulsion against what he saw as exploitation; a preparedness to serve the country repulsed by a determination not to be used to serve narrow ends. But there he was. And he knew whatever his thoughts were, those in power had won.” (p.51).
His reservation about the scheme notwithstanding, he makes up his mind to achieve something remarkable in his service year. If the nation’s rulers do not know about patriotic service, he will demonstrate it. He will not see the NOFB as “Notorious Order From Bastards” (Recall that for over a decade, Nigerian graduates have come to regard the NYSC as a suffering-aggravating venture, rechristening it as “Now Your Suffering Continues”). His is to fulfil the outlined objectives within the best of his ability. This informs his decision not to swear to any oath: “He was not prepared to give his service to the nation under oath. He was not prepared to make promises he was likely to break.” (p.72).
He is of the opinion that a person who is willing to render selfless service does not need to be made to swear to an oath of God-knows what. After all, even if he must serve “dutifully and selflessly” a nation that has lost its soul, it must be “predicated on several other things. If they did not hold,” then any promise made under oath “would fail”. But he still forges ahead with determination to do his best in the face of dispiriting and discouraging realities.
This is the kind of foundation that serving or prospective corps members need to first put in place. It is on this that every other thing will be built. Those who do not have this may not be able to lay claim to any lasting success during their service years. Many who have “served” and some of those who are at it find it insufferable because they lack the Sadiku-like kind of mind, a mind that is set on making the best of a pretty bad situation and one which is blinded to the subsisting culture of tribal prejudice, ethnic chauvinism, and hate. Corps members are not encouraged here to have amnesia. No. While they have it laden within their minds that they do not have selfless leaders to emulate, they can as well determine to be different with their readiness to serve truly.
The Nigerian corps members can also learn from Sadiku the fact that it is a totally misplaced act to transfer aggression or serve with bitterness of mind. As soon as Sadiku gets the opportunity to walk his talk (note how he differs here from our ubiquitous politicians who promise and swear to serve but usually end up being served with what belongs to the people), he indoctrinates himself with this thought that the work should be done as if it is originally his idea. He will teach and serve his students well: “The students have done him no wrong. And why should he dash their expectations of him through no faults of theirs? The students did not plan NOFB as it now was. He felt, therefore, that they must not be held to ransom. He must serve them, teach them faithfully and to the best of his ability. He would do his best for them.” (p.96).
And within his one year at the school, Sadiku lives up to his decision. He spends and spent for the student. He revives their hitherto moribund Current Affairs Club as the patron and leads the school to victory nationally in a Brain Test Contest. This singular acts resuscitates all other clubs hitherto in limbo. It is his sphere of duty and he does it well. He immortalises himself while alive in the hearts of the teachers and students of the school. Herein is demonstrated the self-same act that corps members and youths who find themselves saddled with responsibilities for the progress of people are called to emulate. It should matter very little, if at all, whether people appreciate it or not. It is service to humanity and it must be rendered in humility and diligence and within the right frame of mind. For those who may be asking, like Sadiku does initially – “How does one rationalise a pleasurable participation or anticipated involvement in a scheme for which one stands to be self-accused as a traitor to oneself?” -, the way out is to forge ahead with that already-made decision to serve. The oddity of the scheme must be rationalised as part of the overall adventure it represents. Hear Sadiku: “I believe I owe myself a duty to play my Messianic role wherever I deem necessary.” (p.122).
Service to humanity will surely yield reward. According to the American educator and author, Booker T. Washington, “No man, who continues to add something to the material, intellectual and moral well-being of the place in which he lives, is left long without proper reward.” Sadiku gets his in form of the plaudits and accolades that come his way. Happiness wells up within him upon the realisation that people recognise his being instrumental to their success and progress. This is how the narrator puts it: “Sadiku received many congratulatory messages. He loved it all, and further strengthened his poise for higher heights.” (p.154). Makanjira also sums it up thus: “I wish we had more people like you around here. I mean people with selfless dedication” (p.158).
This goes beyond fiction; there certainly are rewards for true selfless services. In any case, it is the duty of literature to mirror societal happenings and envision what could and should be. The acknowledgement of Sadiku’s contributions to the good of the students by the school administrators provides a good lesson for not only the NYSC leaders, but equally leaders generally in Nigeria on the importance of deepening the culture of reward for worthy causes.
It should not only be about meting out condign punishment to offenders. When bad and graceless conducts by corpse members are punished so as to discourage others from taking to them, good and graceful acts must also be celebrated to encourage more young people to embrace them.
Again, the novel shows that the desire for a better, developed, and habitable society can be achieved when leaders and followers learn to imbibe the spirit of selfless service. As Sadiku contends, “Enhanced salvation still lies ahead if we come to the realisation that our current rat race individualism leads us nowhere. We must realise that we are on the wrong track. And take a quick turn-about.” (p. 159).
Another striking message that can be gleaned from our fictional hero is his ability to recognise his capability and not solely his need for money. During his registration before the Initiation/Orientation programme into the scheme, he indicates interest in serving in the Department for Economic Development. But later when the clarion call comes for people to volunteer as teachers, Sadiku thinks it through (he always allows deep reflection to take the lead; not just meaningless emotion) and discovers that, given his experience of government offices, in the department he has decided to serve all he will do is “sit, yawn and doze. Then someone would bring a file, and ask him to acknowledge the receipt of some letter that was long overdue and the purpose for which it was written had passed and perhaps forgotten by those who wrote the initial letter in the first place. That was the cycle. And at the end, one succeeded in doing a week’s work in one month. Everything was unexciting. No room for initiative. And there was every chance for atrophying.” (p.73).
Sadiku rather elects to teach than wasting away in one government office with nothing to do. It must be pointed out that his choice is not influenced by money or other materialistic concerns. He is basically interested in making impact within the confines of his capability. In spite of the discouraging practice prevalent in his social milieu, he is still consumed by the passion to remain relevant and productive.
Contrariwise, the rather tragic tradition today is for corps members to think of money and the material benefits they will derive from their places of primary assignment with little or no deep thought on their abilities and capabilities to deliver. Thus we have uncoordinated mad rushes for the sepulchre-like new generation banks and other adjudged juicy establishments. We blame them little.
Still, it is very important to seek and fit into a place where one can acquit oneself appreciably. The process of wasting away starts with fixing oneself up into a place where one will certainly underachieve, be obscured and relegated to the abyss of making money without making positive impacts, however fleeting. Young Nigerians who participate in the now tellingly ordinary and innovation-stifling NYSC should draw this lesson from Sadiku’s position. It is not all about money-making. In a situation where one is confronted with what is totally a Hobson’s choice, one can still, like Sadiku, brace the hurdle and make a mark. It is all about the right attitude of mind; not thinking only of the mundane, and of course not relapsing into limbo or excruciating inactivity. The one who can impart knowledge professionally or averagely adequately should not be off to another industry.
Corps members who eventually find themselves in a place where they do fit aptly into should still ensure that, somehow, they deliver. Sadiku is posted to Redemption Crusaders to teach Economics. But at a point the post for an English Literature teacher becomes vacant and he is called upon to fill it up being that he is an arty-farty fellow. He rejects it at first. But he later encourages himself and takes up the challenge. Corps members in similar condition must confidently express that “can-do” spirit. A caveat: Corps members who are drafted to teach subjects they know they cannot appropriately disseminate knowledge in should be implacable in their rejection of them. Accepting such is the road that leads to unenlightened self-interest and no doubt, one will self-destruct.
This is also where the government and the officials of the scheme should be more serious, at least if here alone. Round pegs should not be placed in square holes. If the excuse remains that there are no enough places to rightly post corps members, then participation in the scheme should either be made optional or be totally scrapped! There is actually no befitting sense in wasting young people’s lives and time under the guise of one otiose service to an undeserving and unappreciative fatherland.
In another vein, Sadiku encounters raw and terrific tribal prejudices. Note that the first thing that he does is to empty himself of such base sentiment. With the strong scent of non-prejudicial stance, he douses all malodorous odours of prejudices of whatever shades, and easefully blunts the swords of all ethnic discriminations pointed against him. The disgruntled rulers of Kokania may fan alive the embers of ethnic hatred, he will always douse them. And this he does. The all-knowing narrator testifies of him thus: “He was always smiles wherever he met even the residents of Mwene who had now known Sadiku and Makanjira as strangers in their midst. Sadiku felt very much at home. He felt like one of them. He identified with their hopes and aspirations. He treated the people as he did his own in the Plains. Suddenly, he discovers that his old prejudices were dead, almost. And he was on friendly terms with virtually everybody.” (p.122).
It is no moot point that Nigeria is more riven by sectarian, ethnic and tribal iniquity and inequity than by any other thing. It has been established time after time that many an unscrupulous politician play these cards wherever they are willing to achieve any self-interest There is hardly any tribe in the country that is not suspicious of the moves and actions of the other. Yet, the principal goal of the NYSC is to foster national unity.
Nonetheless, the individual corps member must try to live above board in this regard. The starting point, as in Sadiku’s case, is to drain oneself of any fear-induced prejudices. It is even belittling to observe that corps members who by virtue of their education (or is it just schooling and no education?) should be crusading against such act are themselves in the vanguard of it. Corps members, like other Nigerians, must understand that the humanity of one ethnic group is not superior to another.
They must understand that mutual respect among members of different ethnic groups is a recipe for national unity and development. This is the type of gospel that corps members and the country’s must propagate, for as Nkem Okoh asserts, “A sense of a shared cultural background can unite the citizens and build pride in the nation,” adding that “the chief weapon to fight against national disunity and instability is to embark on the massive education of Nigerians, regarding the similarities which we share as a people.”
To be genuinely detribalised, the novel suggests, may not after all be a Herculean task. Though the thorny and knotty issue of our collective co-existence as prospective different nations within one geographical location has not been attended to with the utmost seriousness it deserves, corps members and people of various tribes need to see to it that they put the fact that their host states and communities and people from tribes other than theirs are first human beings before any other thing. The sacred feeling of humanity should be the determinant of their relationships with other people of different ethnic persuasions. It is when we do this that we can find it untasking to overlook some of their natural foibles and follies; that we will not exaggerate their shortcomings as if our own people are perfect beings; and only then we will respect their culture and tolerate their weirdness. The task of corps members here is to smash the magnifying lenses of tribalism and ethnicity to pieces.
Corps members are equally encouraged to do the same in matters touching on religion. We can be anything in issues of religion without slighting or denouncing the tenets of other religions. Sadiku is a practising Muslim in a predominantly Christian region. Instead of being a hermit there, he freely mingles with the people and they in turn feel very free to celebrate Eid-el-Kabir with him. That is the hallmark of a truly educated mind. This is the road to a peaceful, prosperous and productive society.
• Adesola (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches Literature at Kings University, Odeomu, Osun State. His research interests are in child-soldier narratives, postcolonial studies and African studies.