NYSC: National Youth Slavery Commission?
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil war. It was established by decree No.24 of May 22, 1973 which stated that the NYSC is being established “with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”. The purpose of the scheme was to inculcate in Nigerian youths the spirit of selfless service to the community, and to emphasize the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social background.In the months of March, July and November, Nigerian graduates are mobilized and sent to any of the 36 states and the federal capital territory to obey the clarion call of lifting their nation high under the sun or in the rain with dedication and selflessness. Then the suffering either begins or continues.
There is usually a mad crowd at the point of collection of call-up letters in the various institutions. The queue at this point sometimes turns out to be the shortest in the whole of the service year. At the entrance of the 21 day incarceration camp called NYSC orientation camp, prospective corps members, as they are called, queue to be searched and before going in to begin their term and from then it becomes ‘Every man for himself, God for us all whoever is slow let the soldier take’. Depending on the local arrangements made by individual states, prospective corps members are registered, accommodated and kitted. At 4p.m the first parade is held, 7p.m dinner is served and 10p.m lights out.
At 4:30a.m the soldier’s bugle is blown and the sound it makes is interpreted to mean it is you that finished schooling so you brought this yourself. At least if you didn’t graduate, you wouldn’t have to serve! Devotion, parade and drills are followed by a poor breakfast; long and boring lectures followed by a poorer lunch and by the time its dinner the poorest of meals is expected. However, miracles sometimes happen. The camp clinic usually receives a number of visitors in the first few days because of the ‘new food’ and paramilitary exercise but in no time the body acclimatizes and life goes on smooth and steady. The orientation programme gets more interesting as the days go by and when it is getting to the peak, the 21 day term comes to a rude end. Letters are handed out once again, but this time around it is either a posting letter or redeployment letter and fresh bouts of sobs begin for some people.
Posting ought to be done based on the discipline of the corps member but preference is usually given to corps members who distinguished themselves during the orientation course, personal favourites of resident NYSC officials, and soldiers alike and those who arranged their posting with corporate bodies beforehand. Every posting letter has the name and address of the corps member’s place of primary assignment. It also carries a short note appealing to the prospective employer to offer necessary help to the bearer among other things. Some employers however ignore this note because they see corps members as national slaves and therefore sap them of all they can with little or no incentive; once again the tune of the soldier’s bugle comes to mind.
To correct some of the abnormalities that characterise the ‘posting exercise’ as expressed above, a new posting policy was proposed. The policy is said to be aimed at making the scheme more responsive to the development needs of the country and this new posting policy seeks to post corps members only to four key sectors of the economy namely; agriculture, education, rural health, and infrastructure. As always, (a common Nigerian factor) the government did not prepare adequately for this causing the rejection of many corps members in these sectors across the country because they do not have enough to bear the burden of paying corps members’ stipends. Now, more corps members are roaming aimlessly about the streets looking for a place of primary assignment if only just to get their clearance form monthly but to no avail.
Gone are the days when Corpers Beatitudes read thus: Blessed are you when you are posted to a bank for your account will be fat; Blessed are you when you are posted to a school for you’ll have students at your beck and call; Blessed are you when you are posted to a village for foodstuff will never be your problem; Blessed are you when you are posted according to your discipline for you have hopes of being retained.
Now the closest it can be is: Happy are you when you are accepted in the village health post for many others were rejected; Happy are you when your school goes on break for you can run home to refill; Happy are you when wake up early to report on the farm, at least you have somewhere to go to; Happy are you when you maintain your country’s roads, bridges and buildings for many prayers would be offered for you.
Even the service year that was once a year of learning on the job and knowing other parts of the country among other things is now a year of slavery and undue suffering. The National Youth Service Corps should not be scrapped but it should at least be transformed from a slavery commission which it has grown to become one that fulfils the basic aspiration of the nation’s youths.
• Ms Omotayo, an ex-Corps member, writes from Ibadan
This post originally appeared on The Nation
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