Published on January 12th, 2011 | by Olumide6
Life as a Youth Corper
My last post was about Nigeria and the paradoxes- amazing contradictions- she presents. Today, I wish to tell you about my experience with the National Youth Service Corps, or NYSC for short. For the benefit of my foreign readers, NYSC is a mandatory scheme for Nigerian graduates under the age of 30. It involves a 3-week rigorous orientation camping experience and about 11 subsequent months of ‘service to the nation’ anywhere you are assigned to. One of its main (and scariest) characteristics is that you are usually posted to serve in any state of the country. Usually, it means going far away into a distant land without prior notice of where you would be going.
I always had my fears about NYSC. For one, as a business owner, it was not in my best interests (and arguably not in the best interests of the nation) to pack it up and go into a previously unknown place for one year. If the nation had a track record for providing employment to graduates or helping businesses grow and I could therefore be guaranteed of a good source of income on completion of the scheme, perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much. But since we all know about the alarming rate of unemployment, I guess you can understand why I wasn’t exactly happy to go and ‘serve’. Add to it that I had always heard stories of maltreatment…
But let’s skip some minor details such as the fact that the nation would send you very far but provide just a fraction of your transport expenses, or that the Orientation Camp venue was under-equipped (must have been built to accommodate not more than one quarter of our total number) and fast-forward to the end of the orientation exercise.
By the time we completed orientation, my perpective about NYSC had changed. I was finally seeing the dreams of the founding fathers of NYSC. I saw a lot of potential in the program: NYSC is the only scheme that truly unites Nigeria. It is the only way the nation can have a ready army of young people who can fight underdevelopment, ill-health, introduce light and education to rural societies… It is also a good way to prepare young people to integrate properly with the society. I started the orientation hoping that the NYSC scheme would be cancelled. I finished it praying for it’s sustenance.
Perhaps a major factor that influenced my change of heart was the training on the Millennium Development Goals I attended. We ended the training with a short ceremony that involved lighting candles and reading some well composed words and, believe me, it was beautiful. I had always been for changing the world, but that night, I decided to make the NYSC scheme an opportunity. I decided to accept wherever I was posted for my Primary Assignment- even if it was a village- and develop an ICT centre there even if it meant having to spend a lot of personal money. I left Camp in high spirits.
I was posted to a secondary school in a village (the residents may prefer to call it a town). My plans to transform the environment were intact until a few shockers came:
- The school authorities wanted me (and other new corpers) to squat (share rooms) even though we were supposed to be entitled to our individual rooms. How can I squat with someone I’m meeting for the first time (it’s not a hostel system)?
- When we complained about the low number of rooms (and lack of mattresses to sleep on), we were told in clear terms that we could as well come for our rejection letters. In other words, the school did not give a damn if we slept on the bare floor and they asked us to quit if we didn’t like it (knowing that in reality we had no option).
- Annoyed, I called my mum who is a Vice Principal in my home-state. She explained to me that it was not really the fault of the manangement of that particular school. She pointed out that the state government had not paid school allocations for 2 terms, so unless the Principal was going to buy us mattresses with his own money, there was really nothing he could do. Perhaps, the blunt expression he used was due to his own frustration with the system too.
- Remember, we are not even talking about proper rooms or even beds now. I am talking about providing mattresses (not even with pillows) for us to place on the floor!
- I can rent and furnish my own room (and I will most likely do that). In fact, since the village is not very far from Obafemi Awolowo University, I would prefer to get a room close to the University. That way, I will have good access to the internet and live in a ‘proper town’ once again. My point here is that for me to really settle down, I will spend more than my allowance (as paid by the Federal Government) for 6 months.
- Let’s assume I do not really mind getting the room with my own money. Let’s assume that I can afford it. But why must I be treated like a refugee in the name of ‘service to the nation’? The way most of these employers of NYSC labour behave- you would wonder if corpers were refugees!
- Unfortunately, corpers can indeed be treated as refugees by the employers. This is because there is the standard line: ‘if you don’t like it, let me reject you’. There are so few job openings in the country that most corpers would rather choose the known devil than opt out and be left with no place of Primary Assignment. So although NYSC code stipulates that the employer must make provisions for a room and some basic furniture, the employers can afford not to follow the rules. They can afford to play god.
- Without meaning to sound arrogant, if not for NYSC, I can employ some of these so-called-employers who are now turning us into refugees.
Okay, don’t let me bore you with the lousy details. I must however mention that it’s not all bleak- there is a particular bus driver who gives corpers free rides. I’m sure there would also be a few other people who go out of their way to help corpers…
But from my story, you would have guessed that my initial goal to spend a huge amount of money developing an Information Technology Centre for the village is already flying away. Now I understand why the corpers I met on ground had looked at me with so much pity the first day I got to the village. They must have seen my goals and enthusiasm and thought- let’s give him a few days. By the time he sees how things really are, he will simmer down. Now, I know why for many people, youth service is a time to be endured and not enjoyed. But I have a few questions: Should it so difficult to be an asset? How can you help people when opportunists and exploiters have removed all your enthusiasm? Is it reasonable to spend money on a place whose management can not even provide me a mattress, and is not very nice about it?
I do not want the NYSC cancelled. Many of the staff in Osun State are great people who are playing positive roles in influencing young people. Had the right equipment and finances been allocated to the orientation exercise, it would have been absolutely amazing (at least going by the dedication of both the staff and even the soldiers!). I stand by my belief that NYSC is the greatest scheme ever concieved for Nigeria. It has huge potentials that can take this country forward. With the right elements, NYSC can accelerate Nigeria’s development by multiple years. In fact, I can boldly say that Nigeria will remain underdeveloped until NYSC is properly handled because NYSC is a mirror of Nigeria. So what exactly do I want?
- I want the Federal Government to be responsible. How can you ask someone in Yobe to come and serve in Oyo with almost no time to prepare and then provide just N1,000 for transport (about 7 Dollars for a two-day journey)? Or how can you ask 3,000 youths to undergo orientation in a place meant for 500? By the way, the picture above is not a refugee camp. That was my room at the NYSC Orientation Camp. Don’t let me go into details about how water always entered any time it rained wetting our mattresses. Just know that that Orientation Camp is one of the best in the country…
- I want new policies put in place. I am serving in Osun state, a place with very few teachers. They rely heavilly on corpers to boost their teaching force. As a matter of fact, 85 percent of my set of corpers were posted to secondary schools. Considering that we are filling such a huge gap, is it too much to ask that the state should at least pay a reasonable allowance? They pay N3,000 (about 20 Dollars) per month! Is that meant to be a Suya allowance or what? I think it is gross irresponsibility for any government to exploit youths as is clearly the case here.
- I want the NYSC authorities to start conducting stakeholder meetings. They need to meet particularly with potential employers and clearly explain the terms of NYSC service to them. They need to re-orientate them about how to welcome and appreciate corpers and not just treat them like refugees. And they need to start sanctioning employers who do not live up to the agreement.
- I want free transportation for corpers. It is not too much to ask!
- I want true empowerment to change our communities, not just lip service.
- Finally, the scheme should be re-packaged such that a good number of it’s participants would have been able to secure good jobs or start up vibrant businesses before they are through. It’s not too much if free training programs on ICT, communication, business etc. are organized for corpers. The little they do during the Orientation is not enough.
What are your suggestions? Trust me, I intend to make sure that this post (and possibly your replies) gets to the right quarters- may be even the Presidency. Of course, whether they respond is left to them. NYSC is the best thing that ever happened to Nigeria. But just like the country, it is a sleeping giant, a huge embodiment of under-utilized and under-performing potential.
Like Fela Durotoye says, it is time to deliver the future. We can, we must, we will! Let me know what you think!
PS: I hope that by the time I am through with the scheme, I will be able to write a much more positive Part 2. May be if the NYSC DG or the president deems it fit to reply to my post :), the Part 2 might come sooner!
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