By Kalu Ndukwe
I did my national service programme in Gagarawa, Jigawa State. It was a personal decision to go wherever I was posted to, despite family concerns to the contrary. I remember a godmother calling me back then and requesting that I should just give her my details and I wouldn’t have to continue to serve in the North. Their concerns where clear to me. Their suggesting that I should serve somewhere else but North was connected to security situation and distance. But I had made my resolve. You’re right if you have guessed that I didn’t forward my details as requested.
After the orientation camp, I arrived my place of primary assignment (PPA), in Gagarawa. For sure, the place was nothing like anything I’d ever known before. That made it even better. I liked the opportunity to experience something quite different from my familiar life and environment. I liked the plainness of the locality. The rare presence of familiar culture added some sweetness. I reported to my PPA some minutes after our arrival and the following day, I resumed work and remained in the North for a whole twelve months without taking any leave to go home, even during the Christmas. Well, that’s a personal choice though.
During my stay in Gagarawa, I had so many opportunities to make so many little contributions and didn’t let any pass me by. These included planting trees, conducting a school wide research to understand the real reasons for the students poor performances in all subjects taught in English Language, pioneering a two months community wide holiday classes to address the English gap, spearheading of over five health campaigns aimed at addressing rampant drug abuse cases etc. My reason was, I had serious need to build capabilities and grow skills in some critical areas. NYSC offered a very fine opportunities to do just that. In addition to that, I knew that whatever good result I created during that national service programme will readily serve as anchor point to sell my brand in the job market where results speaks louder.
One of those days, I had left the classroom after teaching to return to the office and caught sight of a male student urinating in an open place close to the classroom building. That left a painful impression on my mind. I learnt from the principal later on that there’s only one two-rooms available facility, built by MDG, where students can ease themselves. Naturally, it was allotted to female students. There’s no need to ask why male students should not have one out of the two rooms. Having spent a good number of days associating with members of my host community, I had known enough to understand that the culture of the people is strongly opposed to such an idea. It’s either a separate facility is built for the boys, which must be far away from that of the girls, or the male students continue to ease themselves in open spaces. Period.
I came up with a proposal for the construction of a modern toilet/urinary facility for the boys. The principal loved the idea and supported it. Through his advice, I went to the local government office, in charge of development to get their approval, and equally initiated project execution team with one of the local teachers as the team adviser. Four months passed and the approval of the council headquarter didn’t reach us despite persistent visit to the office and appeal to hasten the process in order to beat time constraints. Having waited that long without getting the approval, we became convinced that those in the office probably had so many things to worry about and the intended project wasn’t one of them.
With this conviction, I sought for and got the suggestion, from the project’s team adviser to get an NGO to support the project through their advocacy. After careful considerations, we settled for State Accountability And Voice Initiative (SAAVI), a popular NGO in the state which has its office in Dutse. I left for Dutse, met with the NGO, and before I left the NGO’s office, a community advocacy meeting was slated to hold the a week after my visit, the aim of which was to sensitize stakeholders in the community on the challenges of the students and agree on the way forward. This was followed by drafting of invitation letter for the meeting which I did with meticulous care. Through the guidance of the team adviser, Mallam Abba Cheche, the duly signed invitation letter was given, in person, to all the stakeholders in the little community of Gagarawa Tasha. The guests arrived at the stated date and venue, and the meeting started with officials from SAAVI anchoring the discussion.
The success of the meeting was largely due to the school principal’s love for good work. While I was really busy attending to other critical aspect of the task on hand, the school’s principal, Mallam Nasiru Yahuza, fondly called Dan Bulama, saw to it that all logistical related needs were adequately met, including the provision of light entertainment for the guests. The meeting unearthed myriads of challenges facing the school of which the one identified by me was just one out of many. Resolution was passed to explore avenues to address the problems. This was followed by setting up of a committee to drive the progress. Well, that was all. Nothing more was heard then after.
Weeks passed without any specific feedback. And My house-to-house visits to solicit for funding to commence operation was largely fruitless. The reason: the community is more of farmers. The few persons that could make cash donations were largely averse to doing so. I learnt from reliable sources that their reason may not be unconnected with trust concern. That was, of course, understandable. We corps members were new in the town. Those who made cash donations where so small that the money realize could not be of any significant use.
The strive to change the narrative and get something meaningful happening continued daily for a long time. I didn’t skip classes which was my primary duty, except the days I obtained permission to go to the capital, for meeting with stakeholders. We continued to push but after a good deal of time had elapsed, it appeared that my adviser felt the thing was a failure. He became indifferent towards it. Most times when I meet him for directions, he would refer the matter back to me, asking me to use my discretion.
It was during the heat of this confusion that the principal called me privately one day and said “Even if you are not able to finish the project, you have tried. We all know that you’ve tried “. Those words didn’t go down well with me. It made me feel ashamed. If I can not finish it, why start in the first place. I knew the sincerity of my boss, otherwise I would have felt I was being mocked. I left for my house after school that day and spent a good deal of the evening and far into the night in deep reflection of the whole challenges of that time. These continued for several days, after which I resolved that if the people of the town can’t raise cash, they can give materials, and free labour. It was an evening time when I concluded to explore that line of solution. I checked the details of the idea, it made sense, and would address some of the concerns that is causing low response in cash grants.
After discussing the idea with Mr Yahuza, he too made great sense out of it, and then gave me the additional excitement of promising to supply stones, and rods. I saw the beam of light and knew we’d finally found the right path. One week later, the items started to pour in, two bags of cement, three, four five bags etc, from different individuals, trips of sands, stones, rods, blocks, water, and so on. Then the real activities started. Each item received was carefully documented in a project brochure I bought for that purpose. The names of the donors, the material(s) donated, the quantity, the date of the receipt was properly included in the record. The news of the project’s progress quickly spread. This attracted donation of materials by people from neighboring town. Courtesy of the principal, my tailor made letter of ‘appreciation for support’, was delivered to each of the donors. On my own part, I made all my friends in the community provide free labour from the start of the project.
Encourage by the progress that was being made, I got another adviser on board. With the help of the new adviser, Mal. Abdulraman Saleh, we got enough zinks, squatting slap, pipes, paints, and and daily food for labourers. We also were able to pay the carpenter man and the chief bricklayer whose services we could not secure free of charge.
One thing that I didn’t skip to do was to write to the NYSC headquarter, in Dutse, to formalize the project. And as soon as I became convinced that the key to completing the project has been unlocked, I submitted the first progress report. The submission of progress report continued till the final stage of the work was completed. Report was also forward to Dutse to that regard.
Source: Author 2019
On the inauguration day, the State Coordinator came with other officials too numerous to mention. The program of the day proceeded with energy. While my LGI read my brief profile, an official asked “You made First Class? ” I nodded. “You weren’t supposed to be sent to this place. You should have been somewhere in the capital” He added. But does that really mattered at that time? I had asked myself. It was as if the State Coordinator was reading through my mind. A moment later, he commented that though I was not supposed to be sent to that locality, my being there had made things better.
Later on, I began to understand that what had been done in the community was highly regarded by them. This started when the community leader invited me to his palace. I, in company of the school’s principal, was given a very warm commendation by the leaders of the community. Next to that, I was invited to the State’s government house, Dutse, and presented with Honour’s Award for Exemplary Service, alongside nine other corps members. Little doubt that I had to make good use of that particular achievement during a job interview which I attended, three weeks after my national service programme. The interviewer had ask ” What makes you the right candidate for this position?” I had applied for the post of Clients Retention/Relationship Officer. While answering the question directed to me, I highlighted how I was able to initiate and get the above narrated project completed, emphasized my skills in selling ideas, leadership, goal setting and getting things done with little or no supervision.
A week later, I started work with AIICO Insurance.