[INTERVIEW] CHIKA UWGUODO: EX-CORPER’S SECRETS TO RICHES
Many Nigerians have complained that the allowance Federal Government pays corpers is too small to meet their basic needs. This has made many corpers dependent on their parents even while collecting the ‘allowi’. But that’s not the case with CHIKA UGUWODO. In this interview with BROJID.COM EDITOR, JOSEPH DINWOKE, he shares his secret of surviving on the corpers allowance and even making money as a corper.
Sit back for #BrojidEncounter this week.
Chika let’s get to meet you.
My name is Ugwuodo Chika Jude. I am a developing Nigerian writer and I am a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Sometime this year, Omotala Ekehinde said that NYSC is a waste of time and prayed Muhammadu Buhari to scrap it. What was your experience being a corper. Do you think it is a wasted experience or a waste of time?
I think I will start from saying that we are all individuals with our own differences. Everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion. In the case of Omotala, she is entitled to her own opinion. She might have had some experiences in the past or got to learn about certain things which made her to discredit the idea of NYSC. But the point is this; I have gone for the service or scheme. I have participated and I have come back. I really think NYSC provides an individual with a very awesome experience. And experience you can’t get by just staying in your home state and doing whatever you want to do after your education. You know, when you participate in the scheme, you travel outside and get to meet people. You learn their cultures.
You look out for yourself. You know how to mix up and understand the culture of the people. You know Nigeria better and you get to have that work experience before getting your permanent work. So, overall I will say that NYSC is not a waste of time and it should not be scrapped. People should devote that one year to get trained and to contribute meaningfully to the development of their country.
Now, you talked about leaving your state and going elsewhere to gather experience and all of that. What about situations where we see people influence their NYSC posting?
Now, I really want to say that it defeats the idea of the scheme entirely. You can’t want to stay back in the comfort of your state without taxing yourself to know your adaptability potential in this world. So, when people influence their NYSC posting to stay in a particular state. Okay, maybe it is their choice and what they want but since it is illegal in the scheme for people to do something like that, then I really think it is bad and people should allow the scheme to take care of itself.
Maybe, an exception might be if you are sent to these volatile areas, northern areas, then you can request for a relocation but apart from that I think people should take up the challenge and go anywhere to see life for themselves.
Even when you know you can influence it to a place where you get money and they post you to a place where you hardly make any money?
That is why I said that people have their varying interests but what I think is right is to
some people actually get paid N18000 and are expected to live based on that N18000 to take care of children, to pay house rents, to feed themselves and so many things. So, I think N19,800 is not too much and it is not too small.
Now, still talking about your experience as a corper, there is this general belief or outcry that the allowance or salary for corpers is very meager. What do you think about it? How were you able to manage the limited resources since you refused to influence your post?
Okay. NYSC pays corpers N19,800 per month and states can also decide to pay their own little amount to a corper serving in their state. We should also know that the minimum wage for workers in Nigeria is N18000. So it means that some people actually get paid N18000 and are expected to live based on that N18000 to take care of children, to pay house rents, to feed themselves and so many things. So, I think N19,800 is not too much and it is not too small. I really think that NYSC should raise the salary or allowance but at the end of the day, I think we should really see it as a challenge. We should really try to be prudent in managing the available resources.
If they said they are paying N19,800, then I think there should be no much thing about that. Every corper should be able to manage that. Although it is not easy but it all depends on your personal discipline.
Chika, you are talking as if you are a spokesman for the Federal Government, defending the salary structure of the NYSC. Let me ask you, were you able to feed and manage on that 19, 800 without external financial assistance?
Okay, had it been that I didn’t get any other external financial assistance during the course of my service year, I would have still managed on the N19,800 but fortunately for me, I got extra cash from other sources but still that N19,800, before I went for service, I sat down to do my calculations. How much would I be spending per day to take care of my feeding so that at the end of the month, I will end up with something that I will save. It all depends on really managing yourself. Planning your spending during the course of the service year. You can decide to be saving at least N5000 every month. Then you can now plan say per day, I will spend a particular amount of money. So you will know when you start living the life of your service year, when you now go beyond your target. You should call yourself back to order.
You just talked about saving N5000 a month and all of those kind of things. How do you take care of your girl or maybe girls?
Well, it is really funny that people who are still being fed, people who are still being taken care of, think about taking care of other girls. Now, this happens a lot in our modern society whereby you see somebody in school; the father is trying to train that person but that person is training another person. The Federal Government is giving us the allowance to take care of our basic needs, to feed us, not to make us rich. If you start thinking of taking care of other girls, then you are on your own. You are on your own seriously. So, people have their private lives to live. In my own case, I didn’t have money to take care of girls or any girl.
Alright. Earlier, you made mention of the fact that at some point, you had what you did that gave you extra cash from somewhere. So, what kind of thing? What did you do to get extra cash?
Of course, we know that during the course of my service year, we were deployed as Presiding Officers in the 2015 general elections. INEC paid us extra cash for job rendered. We really worked hard and we got paid. Aside from that I also taught extra-mural classes. I organized my own extra-mural lessons where I taught students that were interested in learning extra things outside what was being done in their classrooms. And again, I also participated in Nigeria Teachers’ Institute Distant Learning Program. In those ways, I was able to raise little amount of money to compliment what the Federal Government was paying me.
Let’s get a little bit practical. N19800. How do you break it down to meet your basic needs in month?
Let’s assume that you spend N500 per day from that N19800. That means by the end of a month of 30 days, you might have ended up spending N15000. How much will you have? Like N4800. So, I will say that the benchmark is if you know that you are only getting 19800 from the FG and you don’t have any external source to compliment the income, then you should set that bar of say N500 every day. That will also lead to the requirement of not going to eat outside because we know that a plate of food can cost as much as N500 in some areas, like Yenagoa, things are very costly. So, that is why you now have to bring out the best of your cooking habits and talents. You know, when poverty afflicts you is when you know that you have some talents to show. So, in that particular condition, you have to start cooking. That is how you reduce your expenses. You cook. Mix anything, even if it is concoction. Just mix things and eat. That is just the point. To stay alive. Than going outside to eat. This is just trying to see how we can take care of ourselves and be responsible citizens.
The Federal Government is giving us the allowance to take care of our basic needs…If you start thinking of taking care of other girls, then you are on your own. You are on your own seriously.
Usually, there is this general belief that service year is a time for sexual escapades starting from the camping to where corpers go to villages, impregnate girls and all that. What was your experience in the camp especially as regards sexual escapades?
You know, when people travel outside their home states to faraway lands, there is this aura of freedom which tends to envelope them. They tend to feel so free. All those experiences you missed while in your University or in you tertiary institution days, you want to recover all those ‘lost’ days back, all those fun which you missed. That is why when people travel to faraway places, in camp, they tend to engage in all sorts of sexual escapades but I think it is a matter of your own personal decision. If you decide to be so loose, to be promiscuous, then you have every available means to achieve that. You will meet a lot of people. People exactly like you are. People who also want to have the fun you came for. It depends on what you decide for yourself. If you decide to just stay on your own and be responsible, package yourself the way you want to be, you can also achieve that.
Now, you decide to be responsible but temptation is everywhere. So, how do you manage it?
Normally, we face temptations every day. We are being tempted with a lot of things. Little children, tempt you in such a way that we want to slap them and break their heads but at times we just have to restrict ourselves. So, temptation is everywhere. When you are being tempted. You just have to decide whether you want to give in to the temptation or you want to resist the temptation.
You served in a village. Please, tell us a bit about the place and the experience of leaving a city especially the University community to serve in a village.
Where I served was an island in Bayelsa state called Akassa. That is the name of the community and the community is not known in Nigeria because they are at the border or where Nigeria ends. They have a border with the Atlantic Ocean. So, they are just so far away from the major cities of the country. But, it was a nice experience. Experiencing the transportation systems obtainable there, where from Yenagoa, you have to board a motorboat, drive your way all through the very large seas. And also, in the community, you see people trying to survive. They don’t have the luxury of so much money and so much goods or valuables but they tend to manage. They survive. They go to the rivers. They fish and export them to make a living. So, I think it was a very nice experience. It was a different experience for me having grown up in Nsukka town which is a kind of urban area. In those villages, you enjoy your service more. I can assure you.
Than the town?
Yes. Because of the experiences. There are many towns in Nigeria and you get to see almost the same things when you visit those towns but when you go to the villages, that is where you get the full experiences and you get the respect of being a corper.
Please, one more thing. What do you regret about your service year?
I regret the fact that I wasn’t able to get opportunity to be retained or get job employment. People go to serve and at the end of the day, they find places to work in. That was not the case for me. I served in a secondary school so, it wasn’t possible for me to be retained there. I wouldn’t have stayed. That is the only thing I regret. Not being able to get attached to somewhere after my service year.