The Upper Crust

The unraveling of NYSC


With Uche Nnadozie

I have no doubt in my mind that the National Youth Service Corp, NYSC needs to change. When something has existed since 1973, it is only fair to tweak it a bit to meet with contemporary realities. The goal for which the scheme was set up has been bastardised. Let me say first of all that I take notice of the Kemi Adeosun case. The disgraced former Minister of Finance inspired this article but it is not about her. In the past, I have called for the scraping of this scheme, today I seek to moderate my opinion. Yet, each day that passes throws in new challenges; just how impossible for officials to insist on doing the right thing in our public affairs bothers me. That could have explained why I once called on NYSC to close shop.
The other day in Lagos, David Adeleke better known as Davido made a cameo appearance at the orientation camp of the scheme somewhere in that state. The famed musician reports claim came to camp having been mobilised for the last batch for the year. The routine is for newly mobilised corps members to partake in a three weeks orientation which is coordinated by military officials who ensure that members pass through light military drills. This period just like the rest of the service year is sacrosanct. Every member must participate in all activities during this period. Some are also social activities. Davido turned up at camp performing on stage for other corps members and by the next day he was in far away United States in a concert.
Ladies and gentlemen that is just an example of why the NYSC hasn’t achieved much of its objectives. The Davido case is symptomatic of the plagues we bear as Nigerians. How does one explain this kind of behaviour where a citizen willfully undermines the country in broad day light simply on account of the status of that individual? If every other corps member behaves like Davido then there won’t be anything called NYSC. To make matters worse, officials of the scheme haven’t deemed it fit to tell us what happened. Even more, we do not know whether this individual will be posted to his primary assignment in view of the fact that he is seen junketing all over the place while his mates are holed up in camp gearing to serve their country.
Davido is just a fraction of the problem. The most painful part of the downsides of NYSC is its inability to ensure that people serve in states other than theirs. This runs contrary to one of the major reasons the corps was set up in the first place. Corps members are posted to states other than their states of origin (or residence, in my opinion) where they are expected to mix with people from different ethnic backgrounds, social and family backgrounds, and learn the cultures of indigenes of the areas they are posted to. By this kind of revelation, it appears NYSC is not meant to be operationalised in cities. Cities are already cosmopolitan with a mixture of different cultures. Corps members are supposed to be posted to rural areas where they meet the real locals and integration, understanding can take better effect.
Unfortunately what we have is people paying money to change their postings, people telling the authorities where they wish to be posted and get posted eventually to their places of preference. You find a kid born in Lagos, schooled in Osun, and then posted to Ibadan for service. What sort of nonsense is that? A kid whose origin is Abeokuta, born in Ilorin, schooled in Ilorin and posted to Ilorin to serve is bunkum. In worse case scenarios you find a kid born in Port Harcourt, schooled in PortHarcourt yet end up serving in PortHarcourt.
I have one whose dad is a governor. The son is currently serving in the government House in his state of origin. Please can we get serious in this country at all? This son of the governor will tomorrow claim to have served the country and NYSC will issue a certificate in good conscience and this son of a governor will parade such in clear conscience. We are not serious.
On the other hand, I have also noticed that the scheme is more of a business opportunity than a tool for integrating young people across board. Some serving and retired military generals have turned the place to a perennial cash cow. They supply all the needs of corps members from accommodation, office equipment for staff, uniforms, shoes, etc. they don’t allow any other person to engage in any kind of business with NYSC. It is them alone and they are ready to do anything to ensure that the cash flows. This has limited the kind of progress that the scheme would have had in terms of innovation. By now the scheme should be in a position to make some of the things they need and even sell to generate income.
I also have a problem with the limited scope of those who can participate. It is too elitist. Why must it be for graduates alone? Does it mean that other youths are no longer Nigerians? Is it only graduates that need integration? We have to expand this scheme to include every Nigerian that attains a certain age. The service must be in semi urban and rural areas. Nobody should serve in big corporations. The closest they should get to government should be primary and secondary schools, health centres and such places. In fact, it is better the service is converted to a compulsory one year service with the military or police. The NYSC should not run a big organisation. The organisation should just exist to match, mix and post Nigerians to military and police formations nationwide.  Part of their service year should then include teaching, hospital runs, etc.
The service is due for comprehensive reforms that will include all Nigerians of a certain age. For now, NYSC must put its foot down to ensure that it returns to the objectives of its formation.

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