Asmau Adeoye was a nursing mother preparing to participate in the ongoing National Youth Service Corps or NYSC 2023 Batch 'B' Stream II Orientation Course.
Before, all she understood was that she could leave the camp if needed. But she didn't know the steps or papers required because different people told her different things.
Until she saw a WhatsApp post that a sister was organising a virtual orientation programme for Muslim women preparing for NYSC and opted in, she wouldn't have known how to go about the process.
"When we did the orientation, I got to know that I needed to do some registration. I wouldn't just be given an 'exeat form' just like that to leave the camp. I had to ask one of the facilitators whether or not the newspaper change of name was compulsory. It was her position that I needed to do it that made me rush and do it before the day I went to the camp", she told Prime Progress.
NYSC camp could be enjoyable but often dangerous. For women, the stakes are higher. At least 11 corps members have died between 2021 and 2023 while finding their way to the camp or inside it. So, Muslim female corps members anticipate the orientation course with fear of the unknown.
Even so, Khadijah Kareem has had five older ones go for the NYSC orientation course and has listened to tales of how it panned out. “They all went to serve in different states, and apparently, they have all returned to gist us.
"When my elder ones went, there was nothing like this whole Boko Haram and Shahid stuff, so virtually everyone is always anxious now while going mostly to distant neutral locations", Kareem revealed.
The anxiety is not a joke
Ghaniyyah Adepoju camped in Jigawa state for her orientation course in May 2021. Many uncertainties, ranging from how to find her way to far Northwestern Nigeria by road to how she would maintain her religious sanity in camp, unsettled her during her preparation for the course.
"Because I was posted to Jigawa state, I was really afraid. I couldn't make up my mind as quickly as expected. So, when I did, airfare had become too expensive. Besides, there wasn't a direct flight to Jigawa, one has to get to Kano first, and I don't know anywhere in the state nor understand the language."
Adepoju saw a travel and logistics company's advert that it had arranged a package to take every corps member from Ibadan to the camp gate in Jigawa state and decided to settle for it.
"I paid N19,000 and was told we would have a seamless journey, but we didn't. We left Ibadan in the afternoon. They had to drop us at Lokoja because the bus that took us had issues. The following day, around 6 o'clock, we got to Abuja. I called my parents to say that the company treated us the opposite of what they promised.”
The following day, all parents and guardians of the prospective corps members on that bus were gathered at the company's office in Ibadan while their wards were being taken from one point to another.
"Even from Abuja, they didn't take us straight to the camp; they took us to Kaduna, then to Kano. Even the driver didn't know the camp. We had to be using Google Maps to navigate our way around 12 AM the next day."
They promised them meals they never had, struggled for comfort and lived in panic. “I even had a small knife with me for self-defence because I don't even know what next could happen.” The next day Kareem heard that a lady was raped while finding her way to the camp.
Because of what Adepoju faced on her way to camp and the alarming rate at which prospective female corps members were reaching out to her on what they needed to have or do during the period, she decided to organise a virtual orientation.
"Like three weeks ago, a sister reached out to me and asked me what she needed to have while going to camp. A day later, another sister did the same. So, it occurred to me that instead of giving these individual responses, why don't I organise something like a prep orientation for Muslim sisters preparing for NYSC camp", she says.
Shaping up the programme
The program took place on August 11 and 12, 2023, as a two-day online event. It started on WhatsApp on the first day and moved to Telegram the next day due to a significant increase in participants.
Adepoju explained that the training focused entirely on guiding females to reach the camp safely, getting ready for the experience there, learning self-defence for any challenges during the journey, and ensuring Muslim women could have a positive camp experience.
"When we reached 282 on Whatsapp, we migrated to Telegram. We brought experts to tell the women how to navigate life before, during and after camp. We used voicenotes and texts. We invited Muslim NYSC officials to talk to the participants.”
The first day was about documentation, while the other was about navigating camp and the NYSC programme as a whole unscathed.
"The facilitators touched on a lot of areas. They even talked to the participants about Sickle Cell patients and how they could enjoy the camp.”
It wasn't easy still
Adepoju had to organise the event amid her post-graduate exams. Creating publicity and awareness and getting the right speakers for the event was challenging.
"Sourcing around for speakers, getting the first day of the training off the mark and preparing for another one the next day was very challenging," she said.
All she did was a source of social capital, and she was happy that despite starting small, it reached many intended beneficiaries. "People got across to me from both the north and the east. I was amazed and happy. We had to accommodate some non-Muslims, too, along the line. Even some male corps members wanted to be part, but we were resolute not to have them".
Did it work?
Adeoye is now back at home in Oyo Town, Oyo state. She spent just a day at the NYSC camp in Isehin local government area after following the step-by-step guide the speakers gave at the virtual training.
Kareem is due for the next stream's orientation course. She said the course has renewed her knowledge of what she used to know. She is fired up for her NYSC.
Safiyyah Abdulhadi, another participant, found the training extremely valuable. It taught her how to navigate the camp environment without being influenced negatively by the system, other corps members, or the uncertainties she might face. The lessons on dealing with the camp's limitations will always be something she remembers.