Created by the Gowon administration,in 1973,the national youth service corp,NYSC,was envisioned as a vehicle for fostering unity among Nigeria’s many peoples.The idea was that posting corpers to states other than their states of origin,would bring them into contact with people of different tribal,social,religious backgrounds.It was believed that contact,with people of different cultural and religious persuasions would boost the cause of national unity.No one can argue with the theory.Plenty of people are,however,arguing with the reality of the scheme.So,has NYSC met the expectations of the people?Is it still relevant?Depends on who you ask.
For members of Nigeria’s middle and upper classes,mainly southerners,it is viewed as a way to provide uncompensated skilled labour for areas where these skills are in short supply,mainly in the north of Nigeria.For these people,it is a wasteful distraction fromthe business of getting on in life.With all the connections available to people in this category,the one year spent on youth service could have been put to better use,securing some plum job somewhere,or furthering their education,given as service in rural areas offers little in the way of attractive permanent employment.
For the less privileged corpers,especially those who attended university straight from the village,the service year represents an opportunity.Lacking any sort of support base,in the shape of city-based relations with the necessary connections to enable job-hunting,the service year is a chance to work and get paid.It is also an opportunity to see other parts of the country and to broaden the horizon of their minds.For people in this category,the money they make during the service year gives them a measure of independence than they have ever known.And,not being so choosy,the service job,if it is made permanent, might be attractive enough as well.
For me,there is plenty of room for improvement,before we can really enthuse about a service corps that is delivering on the ambitions of it’s founders.First,corpers need to be paid better.Much better.Some of these corpers,especially the less privileged,will need their savings while they hunt for a job,after service.Second,the waiting period for call-up after graduation, should be a matter of weeks,not months.The practice where graduates are kept at home,in limbo,for a long period of time,sometimes for over a year,is criminal.There is no other word for it.People who could be productive,for self as well as for family and society,are kept at home,burdening parents and guardians who had already sacrificed everything for them.
Third,host communities must be sensitized to be more accepting and tolerant of service members’ rights and freedoms.If we are to achieve the aim of engendering unity through the NYSC,then contact between corpers and host community,must be more enlightening for both parties.Both parties must learn to be more tolerant of each others differences,cultural,social or religious.Each party must adjust to the other,otherwise the whole scheme is meaningless,and dangerous for the corpers.This puts me in mind of the incident,last year,in one Northern state,in which a female corper was reportedly raped and killed by locals,who complained that she broke local religious laws by wearing trousers.This is just unacceptable.Service must be made safer for the corpers.The hosts religious sensibilities are matched by the corpers religious rights.If you are forced by the government to serve in certain areas,and your religion compels you to wear trousers,then what?
*Public nudity is prohibited on the basis of decency,not religion.Wearing trousers is a different matter.