Even though we have a policy of not reviewing books that are styled as memoirs, ‘Memoirs of a Lazy Korfa’ is a book that we are happy to make an exception for, least of all because the author – Tunmise Usikalu – was particularly keen to know what we made of it. For starters, it follows and narrates the experience(s) of a Lazy Korfa during a three week camp in Kano, and if you don’t know who a Korfa is, stick around and you just might find out.
For those who don’t know, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is a Nigerian national program that was set up in 1973 by the then military head of state Yakubu Gowon, to foster greater national cohesion in the aftermath of the Civil War. As part of this program, every Nigerian university graduate is required to “serve the nation” for one year by plying their trade in a state that is not their state of origin. Before participants are deployed to their Place of Primary Assignment (PPA), they are required to take part in an Orientation Camp – run by a mixture of military, paramilitary, and civilian officials. It is against the backdrop of this Orientation Camp that this book plays out.
Written as a daily journal, it recounts the main events that the writer experienced while at camp, and features days that are sometimes frantic and sometimes less eventful. It also details what, to me, looked like an allegory for the progression of one’s relationship with Nigerian systems – how at first, you try to fight it only to eventually ‘become humble’ and give in to it.
Some of the episodes in this book may come across as a little extra to some, but they’re 100% real. Nigerians can be extra and you can’t make that up. From the testimonies in church that narrated events which the writer did not personally witness, to the events that she witnessed in the camp, this book provides a glimpse into experiences that may come across as abnormal to non-Nigerians, but are regular and normal to Nigerians (make of that what you will).
But it’s not all doom and gloom. In between the jaw-dropping episodes, there are moments of humour, camaraderie, and what the writer describes as ‘pure comedy’. It’s no wonder that in the end, the camp is seen by all (including the reader) as a collection of experiences that are altogether bittersweet.
By the end of the third week, everyone has become worn out, laziness has settled in, and the piece of khaki that was used to tie a corner of the writer’s bed to keep it from falling is now torn. This pretty much sums up the idea that some experiences, as useful as they may be, are only meant to be lived through for a short while. When it’s all said and done, and the camp comes to a close, strangers who became friends are dispersed, and in spite of the irregularities at camp, one can’t help but assume that this must be an emotional day for at least a few of them.
I personally found it fascinating how, in narrating her experiences at an NYSC Orientation Camp, the writer inadvertently opened up a window into some of the undocumented experiences of thousand (if not millions) of everyday Nigerians. Using a balanced combination of humour and candour, Usikalu sheds critical light on some of the aspects of Nigerian life that are quite frankly sad. In ‘Memoirs of a Lazy Korfa’, she succeeded in making me laugh at things that I probably should have cried about, and that, in many ways, is the ultimate irony of life as a Nigerian in Nigeria.
Given the fast pace of Orientation Camp, what is perhaps the most impressive part of this book is the fact that the writer was able to soak in all of her experiences and still write about them in realtime. The fact that it is presented in chronological order also affords the reader with an immersive experience, so much so that it is easy to follow the writer on her journey from start to finish. From a relatability standpoint, I felt that while the book was arguably written specifically for a Nigerian audience, its use of a glossary ensured that people (even Nigerians) who may not have understood some of the terminologies that were used in certain aspects of the book were afforded a fair explanation in the end.
Without trying too hard, the writer paints a picture that is at the same time beautiful and ugly. The simple things we take for granted on a daily basis become items of luxury that are traded and / or bartered for. A camp that is meant to prepare the Korfas for their year of service becomes a battleground with Korfas and Sojas on opposing sides.
‘Memoirs of a Lazy Korfa’ is a first person account that isn’t short of drama. It is easy to read, easy to relate to, and a perfect way to get out of a reading slump. As someone who hasn’t yet enlisted to “serve the country” (and probably never will), this book has given me an idea of some of the things I can expect, should I ever decide to go for it. The imagery used by the writer is so vivid that it really wasn’t difficult to visualise what I was reading. It is a book that represents more than it claims to, and delivers more than it promises to – for though small (a little over 100 pages), it contains stories that embody the Nigerian experience, and could themselves have you thinking for hours on end.
Given the fact that the National Youth Service Corps has been more or less mandatory since 1973, it is quite sad that it has taken this long for a written account to be published. With that said, now that we have one, it is my hope that everyone will get to read this at least once – especially those who still don’t know who a Korfa is.