I was earning more before I was called up to serve my beloved nation, Nigeria. I was definitely making much more than
#19,800 monthly and was having fun! Honestly, this khaki and crested vest meant a lot to me as a kid but now that I’ve got them on, I’m not so sure…
Several years ago, it was a really big deal to ‘serve’. Corps members (corpers) were like kings, revered and treasured members of the society; posted to Places of Primary Assignment (PPA) where their knowledge was relevant and presented with the opportunity of practicing and mastering their crafts. Today, we’re mostly cheap labour! Scheming schemers have so schemed the scheme that just thinking about the irregularities plaguing ‘service’ makes you wanna throw up. So, is the NYSC still relevant in the face of today’s realities? Before we throw out the baby with the bath water, let’s go down history lane just a little bit.
In the wake of the civil war, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was established in Nigeria on the 22nd of May, 1973 by the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon “with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”. The crux of the
matter is that the primary aim of the NYSC was (and still is) to promote the nation’s unity-that had been severely mauled by the war- by bringing young people of different ethnic backgrounds together and exposing them to cultures (and people) other than their own. Whether the scheme has failed or not is really a question of perspective.
It is not news that the scheme in itself is now a shadow
of what it used to be; ‘legging’, ‘working’ or whatever you choose to call it has defaced it beyond recognition but, in the light of ‘unity’, we can’t say its failed so woefully. I’ve heard Yoruba people say nice things about Hausas, they go on and on to talk about how they were treated nicely in the ‘village’ where they served and all, and the same goes for other
tribes. The exposure the scheme allows becomes invaluable when relating with other people in the future. At the workplace, in relationships and even in inter-personal relationships, we remember how people from certain ethnic backgrounds treated us while we were with them (pleasant memories hopefully) and this colors how we relate with new acquaintances.
If we look beyond the lacklustre treatment we’re welcomed with on camp and the stress and rigor that are sometimes associated with finding your PPA and getting accepted, we probably would find some valuable lessons embedded in these experiences. I for one think that asides learning to stand for long hours in the sun, camp helps to instill some
discipline into corp members. Putting on the white ‘otondo’ costume as a matter of compulsion for three weeks surely improves personal hygiene and having soldiers around helps in the discipline department.
Whether one gets posted to a PPA where his/her knowledge is relevant or not, the scheme still affords all corps members the opportunity to actually be in a ‘working environment’ before they eventually get employed (for the faithful corp members that is). Again, the scheme provides one with a whole year that can be invested wisely in personal development. Most people learn a trade, a craft, or even start a small business during their service year. The months outside the orientation camp could serve as a good pedestal to launch into a blossoming career if wisely spent, NYSC may not be such a waste after all.
Some students in schools would never have even sniffed education but for corps members in their school. In my school for instance, I have SSS2 students that don’t know that the sum of angles in a triangle is 180 degrees. Corps members impact students and even villagers during their service year either directly or indirectly, they engage in Community Development Service (if taken seriously) and there’s also the possibility of making important contacts during service; a lot of folks meet their ‘Mr/Miss Right’ in the course of their service year, some corpers even invest in the ‘corper-marry-corper’ business.
In terms of unity its not as efficient as it could be, but its not doing as badly as we like to make it sound. True, there are too many irregularities and it seems like a year that could have been put to better use, welfare of corp members is grossly inadequate, the pay is just terrible and there’s too much power play involved in the whole process today but, if it is restructured and properly monitored, couldn’t this lofty
dream of past leaders somehow be salvaged?
I may not have captured all there is to NYSC, but it is definitely an experience worth having. It opens your eyes, as a youth, to many realities of life.
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