|NYSC members on parade|
As far back as 1993 when I was a corps member, there was this suggestion by some colleagues that the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) should be scraped.
The sad truth is that the suggestion often comes from the naive juveniles, just coming out of the university or an equivalent institution. A lot of them are actually in a hurry to show that, now that they are educated, it is about time they showed how intellectual they are. The discussion is, thus, considered by such youths as a platform on which to show how intellectual they have become.
There is freedom of speech, no doubt, but some expressions that are tolerated on grounds of freedom of speech are so jarring that they hit one with the impact of treason. The fact is: the financial burden of sustaining the NYSC is not on the shoulders of those who criticize its existence. The worst such interlocutors should do is to ask that the scheme be made optional: if you don’t like it, other people like it.
In October, 2015, something carried me to the vicinity of the NYSC Orientation Camp on the road to Mangu, in Plateau State. The spontaneous question that came to my mind was: “So, Nigeria pays all these people?” The scheme causes the nation a huge financial commitment and scraping it should have been a relief to the Federal Government of Nigeria, but since the Federal Government knows the benefit of the scheme to the nation, it is the reason why no government ever contemplated doing away with it.
These are the reasons why I think the scheme must last till eternity. First, I served in Benin, Edo state. Prior to going to Benin, the photo of the city in my mind was rife with armed bandits going round and making the lives of innocent people miserable. This impression was a result of the story of the notorious armed robber, Lawrence Anini, who terrorized the city of Benin and infused fear across the nation in the 1980s. Thanks to the national youth service. It was the reason why I went to Benin and discovered Benin was not exactly what we thought it was.
By the fact of its diversity, Nigeria is a complex country with a spectrum of cultures. There is the tendency to see a people as alien, or to not understand them, when you haven’t the opportunity to live with them. This reality feeds the absence of rhyme between the tribes and threatens the unity of the nation. Some critics of the NYSC scheme are actually persons who hate the country as a unit. Traveling to another part of the country, living and enjoying its hospitality help you to appreciate the people. This helps to fade the lines that divide us, the line that makes us relate to ourselves as strangers. On my return to Plateau State, I felt homesick anytime there was the mention of “Benin” on the Network News. I will remember Ring Road, Ekenwa Road, Third East Circular Road, Akpakpava Street, Ikpoba Hill, etc.
Part of the objective of the NYSC scheme is to prepare the youths for a life of their own, ending their dependence on their parents. I attended University in my native state . So, I was always by the bosom of my parents. Truly speaking, the NYSC to break away from the dependence on my parents. Eventually, I came to cherish the flip side, when I started reaching out to help my parents. Many corps members, as a matter of fact, continue their lives in the state where they served, having learned how to live independently.
The NYSC has inspired a lot of people to acquire higher education. There are people who would say “I must wear those uniforms.” To them, wearing the NYSC uniforms represents a milestone they must accomplish in life. Since what qualifies one to take part in the NYSC is a University degree or its equivalent, the scheme became the lure that pushed many to acquire higher education, something that we need if we must build the beautiful country that God has given us.
Education is not just about professional knowledge. Education is a mindset that helps you to understand the world better. It would be an irony to claim to be educated and demonstrate ignorance of your country. Coincidentally, traveling happened to be part of my hobbies. I love traveling because it affords me the prospect of understanding the world, its different people and their cultures. The diversity of our world is what makes it a kaleidoscope, a source of beauty that brings calm to our minds. After my national youth service, I later traveled and lived in other parts of the country. Since then, I have known and spoken about the country with more maturity. So, the NYSC is the beginning of understanding the world.
Critics of the NYSC did site the death of corps members during the post-election violence in 2011 as one reason why the scheme should have been dead and buried. The death of those corps members is highly deplorable and we must guard against such, in future, but it shouldn’t be the reason why the NYSC should be done away with. The death of those corps members was an outcome of our general recklessness as Nigerians. This is what we need to do away with.
We are multi-ethnic, but must strive to be uni-cultural. The NYSC is one road that leads us in the direction of realizing this goal.