Memories of the Coal City… An NYSC Member’s Reminiscences 


By Atonye Alagoa

Even at the best of times, it’s always an anxious moment waiting to know the state to which one has been deployed for the one-year National Youth Service Corps programme. So receiving a posting letter indicating deployment to one of Nigeria’s most peaceful states is often an understandably calming experience. That was exactly how I felt on learning I had been posted to Enugu State – or The Coal City State as it’s also called – for my service year.

So it was with enthusiasm that I headed for the NYSC Orientation Camp located at Agwu Local Government Area of Enugu. Arriving at the camp site itself yielded a number of revelations such as a legendary age old stream that flows just to the left of the camp. There were also some bunkers that reputedly offered shelter to the late leader of the short-lived Biafra Republic, Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, and its radio station during the Nigerian civil war.

The camp officials were very hospitable but still ensured that everyone obeyed the rules. The stewards too were just as keen, introducing some Igbo delicacies such as okpa, locally-made soy milk, akidi, and other numerous recipes to us during the three-week course. Another remarkable hallmark of the orientation camp days was the Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED), a programme made compulsory by the NYSC headquarters. Entrepreneurs from within the state were engaged to lecture corps members on skills which included book-making, paint manufacturing, catering, fashion design, event management and lots more to enable graduates become self-employed when they leave the NYSC programme.

There were activities covering a diverse range of human endeavours from physical drills that starts as early as 5.00am to lectures and a variety of social events such as Mr/Miss NYSC, carnival parade, bonfire night and others. Of course, the medical team deserves a special compliment for their dedication to duty and round-the-clock commitment to ensure the wellbeing of all campers.
It was an ambivalent feeling beholding what was unarguably an amazing passing out parade on the last day. While for most it was a sad feeling leaving the orientation camp, the joy of moving on to a new phase was palpable nonetheless. The stress that would have ordinarily been experienced traveling from the camp to different Places of Primary Assignment (PPA) was eliminated by the then state coordinator, Mrs Nwano Ukagha, and churches such as House on the Rock, the Catholic Church, Winners Chapel and some Muslim associations.

A predominantly Catholic state, Enugu indigenes were very welcoming and eager to help corps members locate their various PPAs. Settling down was very easy but somewhat expensive especially for corps members surviving on N19,800 federal government stipend. A modest and dignifying apartment ranges from N180,000 and above. And, of course, shopping for household items mostly at Kenyatta Market and Ogbete Market is not helped by the traders’ presumption that Youth Corps members are fairly comfortable, a misconception often accompanied with the refrain – “na corpers get money pass”.

Needless to say, this struggle to make ends meet is often a morale dampener especially for Corps members whose places of primary assignments do not pay extra allowances to augment the cost spent on transportation and other basic needs, or are generally lukewarm towards their professional development.
One unanimous point among Corps members in Enugu borders on the enduring peace and security in the state incomparable to the situation in perhaps the entire southern states. This is not to say there are no crimes, but such unpleasant incidents have been reduced to the barest minimum unlike the experience in some states where corps members are regularly mugged.

Another pleasant hallmark and favourite talking point for corpers is the largely remarkable state of roads in Enugu metropolis and many parts of the state. The many link roads help reduce traffic congestion, thus making commuting particularly in Enugu a tolerable experience. Equally worth mentioning is the general aesthetics of the state which reflects in the well-planned and tidy streets kept clean by workers of the Enugu State Waste Management Agency (ESWAMA).
Enugu State teems with captivating tourist sites from the waterfalls at Udi and Awhum to Ngwo Cave, Ozalla Lake, Udi Hills and lot more. Of course, the classic grandeur of the Nike Lake Resort still stands it out as a foremost hospitality outfit. It was indeed a memorable experience serving in such beautiful and peaceful state.

– Alagoa, a Corps member (​En/16b/1853) from Bayelsa State, had her primary assignment at the Press Unit, Enugu State Government House.