The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil war. Then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon saw the need for national integration in the nation. He felt it would be good for the people from the north, south, east and west to get more acquainted with each other, learn each other’s languages, fashion, food and lifestyle. This was a great idea, and this idea gave birth to the NYSC we all know and love today.
Since the scheme started, I would say the vision of the General was achieved in a lot of ways over time. Through NYSC, there have been more inter-tribal marriages, business ventures and people from different region with deep roots in other regional territories. However, a cloud is starting to overshadow these achievements due to several deteriorations in the way the NYSC program is being run.
Just about every graduate in Nigeria gets super-excited when its their time to answer the call of duty; to serve the motherland. They get excited about the thought of wearing the prestigious NYSC crested vest, tucked into the khaki trouser, fastened by that God forsaken belt then footing the jungle boot. Now, don’t you forget your head-dress. This excitement only lasts long enough until the reality sets in.
The first phase of the NYSC program is the orientation camp which a lot of naive Nigerian youth really look forward to until the excitement wears off, not necessarily because of the sleep deprivations or the military drills.
Lots of people do not like NYSC camp because of the military drills and the way soldiers treat corps members in general. But if you take away the military activities from camp, everything else (all NYSC related events, handled by NYSC staff) are crappy and out of order. Registration process; unnecessarily long and disorderly, lectures; boring and largely pointless, and even the parties that are supposed to be fun, they find a way of sucking the life out of it.
Now, if I am one to believe what people say, then ₦500 is the meal budget per corps member for each (satisfactory) meal. Anyone who has experienced life in a NYSC camp would agree that the quality of food served from the kitchen could be way better.
Corpers’ kit is another subject NYSC is failing spectacularly. The pace at which that khaki trouser turns into rag over 3 weeks of camp will never cease to amaze, and you are expected to wear that same pair for the whole service year at least once a week. The same poor quality goes for the crested vest and (until recent times) jungle boot.
After enduring the frustration and disappointment of NYSC camp that didn’t quite live up to your expectations, you console yourself by thinking it gets better as service moves to the next phase (primary assignment posting). Let’s assume you get posted to a nice organization where your skills are relevant, or you at least get to learn something, as opposed to a “Fourth world” community where you are nothing but a tourist.
After the service year, when the organization you served with do not offer you employment; and organizations rarely do, you have to start all over and it feels like you just graduated from school, barely knowing what next to do with your life. The worst part is, majority of ‘corpers‘ do not look ahead of the service year because they feel a sense of purpose at the time.
There are many reasons for the youth to not want to participate in the NYSC program, and it is safe to say these reasons outweigh those in favour of the program. Most bring up the infamous ₦19,800 monthly allowance corps members get paid, as a silver lining in the one year setback the Nigerian government subject its youth to. After school; more school, getting a job, learning a trade/skill and/or starting a business are generally the steps towards forging a successful future. With the NYSC program being compulsory however, lots of graduates find it hard to look beyond the service year. So, any plans for the future automatically gets held off until service is over.
Anyone with foresight will agree that the ₦19,800 stipend is not enough to stall your life plans for, if you have one. Plus, the way the program is being run doesn’t exactly make it worthwhile. Don’t just take my word for it, here are some visual proofs;
Female corps member shows up for head count on her wedding day (in her wedding dress)
I would wish the government and the NYSC improve the quality of the program’s implementation but then who will I be kidding? I mean, if it has gotten so bad that corps members are being deprived of a major reason they participate; as months of allowance are owed to some ‘corpers‘ throughout and after the service year, with some never to be paid.
The NYSC scheme has been around for decades, and I believe it has run its course. Re-inventing the whole idea, making it optional for graduates, are few options for the government to change the implementation of the scheme. Better still, I wish they (the Nigerian government) will be brave enough, pull the plug and put NYSC out of its misery.
Image credits: Olajide Ishola for NYSC Camp & Olabayo Ishola for Long Queue