N. F. Kenure
N.Y.S.C.- The National Youth Service Corps - I dislike those words individually and collectively. The original premise of the programme was to integrate Nigerians by exposing recent graduates to other parts of the country, a noble idea, but like all things Nigerian, it has failed miserably. So why haven't we called it quits instead of wasting time, money and even the lives of these young adults?
I've never undersood the first stage of the programme - three weeks spent in a camp supervised by members of the Nigerian Army. What exactly is to be gained from the bullying of fresh graduates by soldiers? Because Soldiers will soldier, and the glee that these men (and women) derive in their new power to deride and sometimes physically punish corps members is always palpable.
The camp can be an enjoyable experience, if you are open to it and only after the chaos that is registration. Camaraderie with new friends, participating in new activities, enjoying new cultures, eating different foods, sometimes even learning new languages, all of these things are a part of the experience, except isn't that what university was for? The camp represents everything wrong with our country - the concept that if it’s not difficult, frustrating, physically challenging and even dangerous, it’s not real life. Again, I'm sure we learnt that part in boarding school.
No part of the one year is random, privileged people do not leave their new state and primary assignments to chance. If I’d been sent to say Zamfara state, I just would not go. That’s it. When I think about the corps memberes who were used as ad-hoc staff in the recent past general elections, and of course used in the way Nigeria knows best - without regard for their safety, I shake my head in sadness. Are these corpers (an acceptable colloquialism) like my friends who are about the experience? The kind open to doing new things for ‘fun’, because I don't see how or why they allowed themselves to be mistreated this way by a country that has never pretended to care. I am sure I am missing something. Unless the government of Nigeria can assure its youths in the corps of their safety, why does it still insist on sending them to dangerous territories?
While some people snag assignments in the private sector and multinational corporations through private networks, many others have to make do with less than minimum wage teaching in impoverished schools. The logistics of moving to a new part of the country, finding accomodation and settling down to ‘adult’ life on the laughable stipend must be the point to the whole scheme; to teach us how brutal the rat race really is, and that our parents need to give up the idea that we are now independent adults. Many families need their young adults in the workforce immediately to alleviate their financial woes and yet sometimes a whole year is wasted waiting to ‘go serve’ and then one more year in ‘service’. Even though the government pays a flat rate stipend, the place of primary assignment gets to determine what it will pay, laying the groundwork for more inequality. Many corpers survive on the goodwill of their new hosts as people acknowledge the hardships of the times and will offer corpers free rides, food and sometimes even accommodation.
It’s true that many far flung villages and little towns, rely heavily on the influx of corpers they receive every year. Their schools get cheap labour and a graduate or more that sometimes leave a huge impact on the students and the entire community. Many other corpers take on social causes that uplift their adopted homes; building a new classroom, a small clinic, free medical services, starting new clubs and activities for the kids, introducing tap borne water and much more; perhaps the only success of the scheme. However, the impact is so miniscule considering at the end of the year, the corpers move on to begin their real lives in major cities.
Inequality is the primary takeaway of the NYSC. We are not the same, our experiences and journeys will not be the same, the impact will not be the same. The National Youth Service Corps needs to acknowledge this boldly. As Nigerians, we learn this whilst still in-utero, it's the one thing we all know. So there really isn't any need to waste one more year after ASUU already took chunks off valuable time with regularly scheduled strikes, expelling graduates who can barely be called youths.
If there are no plans for serious reforms, the service year needs to be scrapped entirely as the only people it seems to service are the people making money off the programme every year.
To everyone serving right now and the next batch trying to sort themselves, good luck and please stay safe.
Mar 18, 2019