Every couple of years the calls to end (or scrap – as we love to say) the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) rears its head. People argue that “it has outlived its usefulness as the nation is not in anyway united through the scheme”
In 2011, speaking in an interactive meeting with youth leaders, former President Goodluck Jonathan emphatically stated that the Federal Government would not be scrapping the scheme.
“It is a programme that is helpful to the Nigerian youth and has exposed them to different cultures” he said. He also noted that it was time to review the scheme and “make it more functional, practical and profitable for Nigerian youth.”
This week, it was interesting to read that President Buhari agrees with his predecessor.
Speaking on Wednesday, he said “I firmly believe in NYSC and I think it should remain a national programme to promote integration. Whenever I go home to Daura, I look out for corps members from Lagos, Aba and other parts of the country. I am always thrilled to learn that except for the NYSC, some of them have never left their states of origin to visit other cities in the country.”
I agree with both of them. More than ever we need solutions which will help foster understanding between ethnic groups. In 2015 Nigerians are still debating whether a Delta Igbo is actually an Igbo person. We are forever creating slivers of divisions where none should be. Familiarity breeds tolerance and I believe that if you are exposed to a group of people, live and interact with them, you are less likely to be suspicious of their intentions.
For the last two years, I have worked with an external vendor who helps us with printing and graphic design. When I first met Mr Yemi, I recall the smile that spread across his face when I told him I am Tiv. Mr Yemi had served in Benue State and has fond memories of his time there. For me it was refreshing to meet someone who actually knew where I was from, not someone who asked “are you a northerner?” or said “Tuface na your brother.” There were no awkward answers tinged with annoyance from me. No “we are middle belt” and “Tuface is Idoma” replies. Mr Yemi and I still have a beautiful working relationship till date. I am not saying that NYSC is fairy dust, but it helped and still helps when we reminisce about pounded yam together.
I cannot argue that the scheme is not riddled with many issues. The safety of corps members, the difficulties with finding a place to serve out your year, the large scale corruption involving poorly made boots and uniforms (my NYSC t-shirt always looked like someone was pulling it from behind) and the ill-fitting job roles corps members are expected to undertake and the repercussions just to name a few.
For a term in secondary school, because of a shortfall in teachers, we had a corps member teaching us Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK). All Mr Innocent required was that we cram verses of the Bible and regurgitate it back on paper. I was an expert crammer and so it was not surprising that I won the 2nd prize in CRK that term. Imagine if a corps member like Mr Innocent, with no teacher training, was put in charge of teaching a serious subject (my apologies to CRK) such as Mathematics. We do not consider the gap this may leave in the education of our young students.
Instead of ending the scheme, we should look at reviewing it like the former president said. Corps members should be better paid especially by their primary places of assignment and not be looked at as cheap labour. They should also be placed in roles relevant to their careers. A year in NYSC should serve as work experience which employers will respect. I served in the Pension Unit at the Ministry of Labour and my experience provided me with a bit of an edge when applying for a job with the Personal Pensions Unit of AXA.
The Director-General of NYSC, Brig.-Gen. Johnson Olawumi, has also suggested that the scheme may be made voluntary to help with numbers and funding issues. The news was met with approval, with a number of people predicting that there will be a fall in numbers. I do not worry that this will spell the end of NYSC so far as we evolve the scheme and make it valuable to our youth.
We must still look at the triumphs of the scheme; projects which benefit and improve the lives of communities, inter-tribal marriages, fostering better understanding between tribes. These triumphs must remain upmost in our minds when looking at the decimated NYSC scheme. It can be great again and much more.
OF DEATH AND MONEY
I knew that I was not at a typical Nigerian cemetery when the car pulled up to a wall smothered in tightly packed leaves. A well-dressed guard greeted us and held the side gate open as we walked through. The path, paved with interlocking bricks, led down to well-trimmed hedges, manicured lawns and palm trees swaying lazily in the breeze. There were iron wrought benches and you could picture yourself on a beautiful clear day, sitting in peace amongst the dead.
My colleagues and I were at the Vault and Gardens at Ikoyi for another colleague’s mother’s remembrance. We walked past well-tended graves which bore the names of people who had lent their names to Lagos streets.
A grave at Vault and Gardens goes for a minimum of N3 million and despite the somberness of the occasion, we understood that we were literally walking through hundreds of millions of prime real estate and we could not help but talk about money. Would we spend this much to bury someone who was no longer with us, who would not have any inkling? We do these things for the living. We feel we carry on honoring our loved ones even when they have walked deep into the afterlife. To me, someone did not have to spend this much to honour their loved ones, how they are remembered is what counts.
But as we left the dead behind I felt an unexpected surge of pride and appreciation for my colleague, who chose to lay his mother to rest where she could enjoy the fine air and palm trees could sway lazily over her.