The service year is the moment when by common consent corps members pause to become conscious of our national life and to rejoice in it, to recall what our country has done for us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return. Moved by this sheer patriotism to contribute my quota to national development as required by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Decree now an Act that established it, I chose to heed the clarion call on the 15th November, 2011, in defiance to entreaties from family members and friends not to report to Zamfara State for the mandatory one year of the NYSC scheme.
They tried to dissuade me as a result of the intractable onslaught of the dreaded Islamic sect, Boko Haram in some northern states of the country, which they saw as a war-torn area. I arrived inthe NYSC orientation camp,Tsafe in Zamfara State. I went with the mind to be among whatever number of survivors to come out of the worst violence to occur in Zamfara during the service year. Before I could settle down after the orientation course, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) fuel subsidy removal protests had started in January, 2012, where a group of hoodlums took advantage of the crisis to unleash terror on us at our corpers’ lodge. Thank God for the swift intervention of an armed team of military personnel who came to our rescue. It was an incident I could not tell my people back home, (because) I stood the risk of being disowned by my parents. They could have said “did we not tell you Zamfara is a war zone”. I was not perplexed by the protests because I knew it was only temporal, as we eventually got over it.
Nigeria as a country whose colonial history and experience in the immediate post-independence era were characterized by ethnic loyalties, mutual group suspicious and distrust that culminated in the traumatic event of a bloody civil war, the Nigerian government sought to address these issues through the National Youth Service Corps scheme. As lofty as these goals of promoting national unity and youth empowerment, theNYSC is fraught with a lot of irregularities that have brought the scheme under fierce criticisms of whether it is still relevant to the Nigeria of today. In recent times, some people called for its repositioning to meet the current realities in the country, while others called for its outright scrapping; arguing that the scheme has outlived its usefulness.
The many anomalies in the NYSC are perpetrated by its stakeholders such as parents and corps members as well as influential citizens who cut corners to ensure that their children are posted to choice places. On arrival at the orientation camp, I observed with horror the high level of corruption among the NYSC officials, who are the ‘apostles of selfless service’ phrase. At every event or activity, corps members are often reminded of the need to be selfless in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities. Sadly, these so-called proponents of the sacrificial service are the ones who go behind to frustrate every good intention that the scheme represents.
The NYSC as a microcosm of the Nigerian society is bedeviled by the problem of tribalism. It is against this backdrop that the late renowned Nigerian journalist and co-founder of Newswatch magazine, Dele Giwa, once remarked that, ‘tribalism is like a dye which colours everything in Nigeria’.The ‘ambassadors of selfless service’ in reverse order flagrantly display ethnic as well as other discriminatory tendencies. This could be seen in the exemption of some corps members from camp orientation exercises, as a result of their connection to the “powers that be”in the society.They literally abandoned the orientation camp only to resurface on the day of camp closing ceremony. Painfully, this trend is not in line with the core values of patriotism, integrity, commitment and teamwork, which the scheme seeks to instill in the Nigerian youth.
On noticing these abnormalities, I felt demoralized; giving up the zeal with which I came to make the desired impact in the service year. The trend continued unabated till the end of the orientation course, with the posting of corps members to Places of Primary Assignment (PPA), where tribalism and nepotism as well as other “Nigerian Factors” were at their nadir. Highly connected corps members as well as those who could pay either “in cash or in kind” were posted to juicy establishments, especially banks and other well-paid organisations for their PPAs. Merit was thrown to the dogs. Thanks to the new NYSC posting policy that limits the posting of corps members to the key sectors of the Nigerian economy such as Health, Agriculture and Education; thereby making it impossible for the Aso Rock occupier to influence the posting of his kith and kin to the Central Bank of Nigeria, as it were among the political elites and other influential members of the society who are good at circumventing the law.
Another area of grave concern is corps welfare. The NYSC health insurance is not any different from the monumental decay in the Nigerian health sector. It is a notorious fact that Nigerian has the worst health indices in the world, yet her public health office holders continue to embark on health tourism abroad, instead of channeling such resources to develop a world class health sector that would be the envy of other nations. As a result, corps members find it extremely hard to access the so-called health insurance scheme; as designated hospitals do not offer services due to the non-lease of funds by the NYSC, and in some cases when minor ailments where treated, they would compel such corps member(s) to fill forms for treatments that were never administered, so as to enable the designated hospitals to be reimbursed by the NYSC.
I had the perception from the orientation camp that the NYSC scheme would not be viable to cater for corps’ health needs; as the camp clinic is not any better than a first aid box that is attached to a kindergarten wall in the colonial days. This ugly scenario often forced corps members to seek alternatives medical treatment in private hospitals which are unaffordable. The big question is: who takes the funds that are appropriated for the NYSC health insurance scheme?
Similarly, in the October, 2012 edition of Zamfara Kofa, an end of service year magazine of the Zamfara state NYSC, the State coordinator, Mrs. Ruth Bakka, lamented the deplorable condition of corpers’ lodge in some local government areas of the State. This is one of the numerous cases of inadequate accommodation facilities for corps members across the country; as most of the corps members, especially those serving in urban areas have to provide shelter for themselves as against the NYSC accommodation policy which makes it mandatory for employers to provide corps members with accommodation, and where it is not possible to provide accommodation, employer should pay reasonable amount in lieu if they expect corps members to put in their best in the course of their National Service.
Recently, the Director-General of the NYSC Brig. Gen. Okorie-Affia, visited the 2012 batch “B” Corps members during their orientation course at Tsafe, Zamfara State, where he remarked that the NYSC orientation course content has been reformed in line with emerging trends and the contemporary challenges of our nation’s socio-economic development. He stressed the relevance of the scheme’s War Against Poverty[WAP]; which he said are geared towards addressing youth unemployment. At the end of his remarks, he charged corps members to be selfless and dedicated in the discharge of their duties during the service year. What is equally mind-boggling is the fact that towards the end of every service year, a team of NYSC officials are often dispatched from the National Directorate Headquarters of the scheme to all state secretariats, to evaluate the scheme through interactions with outgoing corps members with a view to repositioning it to meet current challenges in Nigeria. Also, during winding-up programmes and passing out parade, corps members are given questionnaires to fill in order to enable policy makers formulate policies that would reposition the scheme to meet its mandates. Despite these steps that are being taken to put it on track, the scheme continues to deteriorate; due to lack of commitment on the part of the NYSC management to implement the findings of the evaluation team.
Realistically, the NYSC scheme has not been repositioned to tackle the issues of youth unemployment and national disunity as claimed by the NYSC boss, Gen. Affia. How can the NYSC-WAP initiative be considered as viable for youth employment when it only makes provision for about 300 corps members out of the tens of thousands of corps members in the scheme. Yet the NYSC Claims to be addressing youth unemployment through entrepreneurship when it literally shut out a large chunk of corps members from the WAP programme.
Amid the foregoing challenges that are threatening the very existence of the NYSC as a result of the warped mindset of stakeholders and the high level of corruption among the scheme’s officials with corps members at the receiving end, the NYSC still says selfless and sacrificial service remains its hallmark whereas the key players in the scheme do not have the moral fibre to lead by example.
In conclusion, corps members as agents of change in the society, must rise above the Nigerian quagmire of tribalism, nepotism, religious intolerance and above all corruption that are threatening national unity and development. We must remain resilient and patriotic in the discharge of our responsibilities despite the prevailing challenges in the country. Government must take practical and urgent steps in repositioning the NYSC to tackle current realities of the Nigerian state and equally address the issue of youth unemployment as it is a danger that is looming in the air. What could capture the NationalYouth Service Corps mantra of “selfless service” more vividly than the gruesome murder of about 10 serving corps members who were hacked down in their prime in Bauchi State during the 2011 post-election violence in the country? Obviously, these fallen heroes paid the supreme sacrifice for the consolidation of credible elections in Nigerian.