NYSC in fiction: Salient message from Gimba’s a trail of sacrifice – Part 3
While serving at Redemption Crusaders High School, Sadiku has ample opportunity to get his own share of what today in the Nigerian teaching profession (especially at the tertiary level) is euphemistically referred to as fringe Benefits – a practice that enables male teachers/lecturers to plunder their female students sexually, regardless of their ages. But he straightforwardly and clearly declines to be caught in that web of utter indecency. Though not a trained teacher, he chooses to align sincerely with the ethics of the profession. It is for this reason that he keeps his relationship with Umma, one of his female students closer to him, on the ethical level of student-teacher and purely on brother-sister axis (Not the modern-day brother-sister kind of thing that flowers sexual indiscretion).
The narrator informs that Umma “was his student, after all. And such a relationship (sexual) would do violence to the ethics of the teaching profession …” (p.118) (Emphasis mine). Not even when his bosom friend, Makanjira, correctly notes that “you are in the wrong time-train. Proper thing, morals, ethics, all values are dead. Don′t you know you are living in decaying time? Can′t you smell its rottenness? You want to resurrect your proper things, your morals, your ethics? Impossible!” (p.112), does this principled young man caves in and lets down his guard.
Rather, the affecting optimist in him swings to action. He simply retorts firmly to his understandably disillusioned crony in this manner:
“Not quite, chaps, a society’s values don’t die piecemeal just like that. I may agree with you that we are inexorably moving towards an abyss of self-destruction. But I believe we haven’t reached there. Yes, I can smell the stinking rot. It’s sickening. But we haven’t decayed completely. At least you and I, and still others, can smell the fouled air. That itself is a symptomatic piece of evidence of a hopeful life ahead. The ability to smell the stench is itself an encouraging sign that all is not lost. Salvation is still around the corner.” (p. 121).
The robustly intelligent exchanges of views on the state of the country and the possibility or otherwise of redemption between the two friends continue on to the next page. For Sadiku, the inversion of all known values may be the fad in his part of the world, he will not be sullied or nabbed in flagrante. Thus he weathers the storm of sexual indiscipline and emerges at the end untainted and squeaky clean.
Our male corps members should honestly not see this as mere cowardice, foolishness, or inability to discern and be part of what is in vogue. Engaging in such lewd and down-grading act is the path to self-centred services and loss of prestige. It is highly appropriate for our male corps members not to take the one year that they have to teach students as an avenue to exploit and vanquish them sexually. They are to serve as role models, give reality to those ideals that will sustain the students, and help uphold the ethical sanctity of the profession.
For those who are somewhat irredeemably libidinous and undeniably priapric, the invaluable injunction of the immortal William Shakespeare is apt: feign virtue even if you have none. Even for those intent on committing “class suicide”, we hasten to point out that canoodling and cavorting with their youngish female students and bedding them is in no way a pragmatic exemplification of good upbringing.
In the same vein, female corps members, especially those of them placed in offices for their primary assignments, are not exempted from this charge. The world has never honoured or stood still for ladies who achieved all feats and wealth through a reckless and injudicious use of her feminine properties. Such ladies, however the world pretends to respect them, are usually graceless and end up as footnotes in the gigantic book of human history. After all, as we are informed in the novel; “a hen that lays eggs in secret places cannot deceive the world for long that she doesn′t.” (p.119).
To both male and female corps members, the requisite admonition is: Do not be like the vain, vapid Lady Wishfort in William Congreve′s deeply satiric play – The Way of the World – who unimaginatively posits that, what is integrity in the face of opportunity! A careful perusal of that Congreve’s play will reveal how the vain Lady negotiates obscurity and comes a sad cropper. If the goal is to redeem Nigeria for us and the coming generations, then corps members on national assignment cannot afford to engage in acts smacking of exploitations and privations as is the case with many of the ruling animals in human skin, to use the fitting phrase of the legendary Afro-beat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Gimba′s Sadiku equally dramatizes for us the very significance of the popular words of a ditty many of us sang back in our primary schools: Do your best and leave the rest. The Community Development Programme (CDP), an equivalent of the real Community Development Service (CDS), is one of the main cardinal programmes that brigade/corps members must compulsorily participate in within the one year of their service.
Being a person willing to make much impact, Sadiku is upbeat and anxious to be part of the five-week CDP at San area, where his group is expected to work together with the local people to build a healthcare centre. This presents him an opportunity to contribute to the good of many hapless people he may never meet one-on-one.
But no sooner had Sadiku’s team gone to work breaking their backs and working their fingers to the bones than they discovered that the people for whom the centre is meant to serve are totally averse to working with them.
The people stay away from the site. This is a setback, for the project may have to be abandoned because of the shortage of manpower. This means that the building will not be completed. They will have to stop half way – abandon the project for shortage of man power.
Here is how the narrator captures Sadiku’s state of mind on the developement:
He could see his dreams about the service crumbling right in front of him. And there was nothing he could do about it. It was now clear to him that the magnitude of the work was such that he and his fellow group members alone could not work to bring the hospital out of its foundation level within their given time – no matter how hard they worked. He now realised that he had been in a fantasy world, floating in the cloudy sky of unreality. The discovery pained him. (p.169)
Obviously, he is incapacitated by a circumstance beyond his control. He is willing together with his group to work but the hurdle on his path just remains immutable. He is perturbed but salves his mind with this ratiocination: “Community projects, once thought of, do not come to be, like manna. They are sweated for. And this was no exception. Why then worry, simply in the name of a desire for sacrifice?” This is exactly what corps members confronted with similar unpleasantness are expected to do. You cannot do it all. Do all that is possible within your human capacity. The system kills good intentions. It fans cold the glowing coals of enthusiasm for services and deadens the agile and sprightly spirit of commitment.
But corps members are not to take recourse to complete disappointment and relapse into inactivity. Instead, the encouragement here is for them to do that within their powers. Particularly for those in such sub-groups as HIV/AIDS, MDGs (now SDGs), FRSC, etc., they should honestly and whole-heartedly think creatively and do the very things the available resources and space will avail them.
Sadiku does not do all. Yet, the ones he does qualify him for the gold medal in the shrinking tribe of those with the minds that are always ready to ease the burdensome burdens of humanity. Like Sadiku, where one project is impossible to actualisable, corps members should creatively think up another to substitute the somewhat impossible one. Sadiku′s team decides to exclusively visit “health institution in deference to what they were supposed to have done. They would see and console the sick and suffering” (p.172). They are posted there to serve and service they must offer. This should also be the consuming passion of corps members exposed to this form of discouraging reality.
Salvaging a post-colonial outlet gone berserk and whose rulers maintain a stance that suggests that things are the way they should be in criminal mindlessness of disobliging facts requires that corps members should don their caps of productive creativity and be on the alert to wring out useful liquid from the nearly desiccated cloth of organised setbacks and iron-cast law of declining quality. Of a truth, this is the sacrifice givers of selfless services to humanity cannot but pay in a country so badly misruled.
The crux of the argument is that if corps members will dare to be different, be the very observe of their rulers in doings and conducts, they may not be far from birthing the change desirable in the country. In other words, the longed-for positive turn-around of the atrophying state of Nigeria can indeed be catalysed by the teeming mass of the young people, young Turks in themselves capable of becoming young Turks of and for the country. (Excuse the rephrasing of the famous Marxian phrase.)
This possibly is the Gimbanean version of the revolution that adherents of the ethos of Socialist Realism do claim will end the injustice of class system and oppression of the toiling mass of the working class. Sadiku (and his fellow travellers) may not have changed Kumaga State considerably, or even the country, but he puts up his best and in the process avails us of the path we must traverse to regain our lost glory and promises we saw at the time of independence as a sovereign state. There is evidence of his service.
All we need now are the Nigerian versions of the imaginary yet realisable and realistic Sadikus. Every corps member must imbibe the Sadikuan principle of and attitude to selfless services. That is the sure route to having a humane, habitable, developed, and enviable Nigeria. And as Sadiku counsels, “there must be a recourse to collective commitment for the good of the society. The system cannot go on like this.”(p.160) (Emphasis mine).
But there is a piece of advice for those who are, with some sacerdotal hardihood, forever convinced that prayers will definitely reorder the path of the country to the halcyon haven of development in all ramifications. After a lengthy discussion on the multi-dimensional woes of Kokania, Makanjira, perhaps aided by saccharine fluid, invites Sadiku to a bout of prayers as antidote to the country’s challenges. “This country needs a lot of prayers. Let’s pray together then …”, he quips (p.160). But it turns out he his joking. Makanjira does not believe prayer is the solution, for what in the first place should be done in the mood of total seriousness is trivialised and done in a care-free disposition.
Surely, this speaks volume. A country so routed by deliberate inefficiencies and incapabilities of a few carpetbaggers cannot be said to require just prayers as panacea. It would amount to a wrong understanding of the novel to conclude that the author champions prayer as a solution to the problem of the land.
Sadiku and his friend are well too aware that were prayers capable of righting the wrongs of a human society where moral, spiritual, and social decadence and rots have become its prized totems of development, then their country would have become a human paradise where every Dick, Tom and Harry has a paradisal existence. This is so because Kokania – like its real version, Nigeria – does not lack men and women who on daily basis dispatch supplicatory messages to heaven for intervention in their human-made problems. The message here is for corps members who deploy their energies into prayers and evangelism on different platforms existing in the NYSC formations across the country to understand that the malaises affronting their country cannot be addressed through fasting and prayers.
When a country is avoidably stung by the scorpion of disunity and underdevelopment, prayers certainly cannot be the right response or cure. Besides, nation-building, as examples from around the world prove more and more, is not enabled by unceasing commitment to the formulae of spiritual exercises. Human problems can be effectively solved by human beings. If countries around the world can organise their affairs and meaningfully improve their human conditions, Nigeria can do the same with the enthronement of enlightened and visionary leaders and committed citizens.
To round off, it bears restating that this essay’s engagement of Abubakar Gimba’s Trail of Sacrifice has shown that it is one novel with challenging messages for young Nigerians, especially those undergoing and those that are yet to be mobilised for the one-year compulsory service to the country through the NYSC programme. In recreating the realities that characterise the NYSC scheme, the novelist foregrounds the fact that some degrees of good that will benefit a considerable number of people can be obtained from the depressing situation of the youth service. More, the novel underscores the pertinence of the culture of service and signposts the point that problems of nation-building and the aches of development are fathomable and soluble. The narrative voice of the novel speaks clearly to this when it submits, “There is a messiah in every person. The problem is the will as well as the courage to play such a role.”
Equally significant in the novel is the way in which the writer competently transformed the material of a reality (the NYSC) that is very well known. And this, indeed, is the stuff of literature, which, as Adeoti (2015: 1) pertinently asseverates, “subsists on defamiliarisation of that which seems so familiar and rendering as commonplace, what one would consider as weird and strange.”
This transformation is mediated by the use of the third person narrative technique, symbolism, in media res, the dream technique, anecdotes, epigrams, believable characters and quality characterisation. These and the superbly woven plot all add up to show a writer who not only sufficiently understands the essentials of good storytelling, but is also not ignorant of how critical form, which Robert Calasso posits is “one element literature seems never relinquish”, to the production of fascinating works of art.
Gimba’s novel, like his other works, further validates the view that literature offers a veritable portal through which society can be enlightened on how to face its numerous challenges. In other words, literature has a very crucial role to play in the development of a country. The Nigerian people, mostly the youth, must heed the messages of our writers. But first, they must cultivate the disciplined habit of reading those texts.
• 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.