According to news reports carried by http://punchng.com,”Post-election violence broke out on Sunday in about 10 states in the North shortly after results of the April 16 presidential election indicated that Jonathan would win. The violence which continued in some of the states till Wednesday has left scores of persons dead and properties worth billions of naira destroyed. Among the dead are corps members. As at Thursday, the whereabouts of 27 corps members attacked in Bauchi by some hoodlums were unknown. Four of their colleagues were confirmed dead by the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Amana Abakasanga.” Heart-rending stuff.Young people who answered the call to service,of the fatherland so mindlessly slaughtered.What has me worried is that this slaughter may not have been mere happenstance.
There have been too many attacks on Corpers by their hosts,in the last few years,to discount the possibility that corpers have become deliberate targets.Many of these host-communities are ambivalent about the NYSC scheme.While they are quite happy to enjoy the services provided by corpers,as doctors and teachers,they resent what the corpers represent:modernity,westernization,secularism;a world they find so reprehensible they are willing to sacrifice national unity,in its destruction.For the NYSC scheme rests on the idea of promoting national unity,through the interaction of Nigeria’s disparate peoples.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 by posting corpers to states other than their states of origin,they would be brought into contact with people of different tribal,social,religious backgrounds.
It was hoped that contact,with people of different cultural and religious persuasions would boost understanding,and the cause of national unity.No one can argue with the theory.The reality,however,engenders much debate,and doubt.Every time corpers are attacked,the idea of fostering unity through the NYSC,comes under siege.More people are forced to question its value.For members of Nigeria’s middle and upper classes,mainly southerners,the NYSC scheme 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 from the 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 that service,especially in rural areas offers little in the way of attractive permanent employment.
On the other hand,for corpers from less-privileged homes,the NYSC could be an opportunity.Lacking 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.Especially for people without any city-based relations.If job-hunting is tough for those living in the city,imagine the odds against job-seekers who have to commute from their villages.I had school-mates in this position.Every time school closed,they had to go back to their villages.I always wondered how they would secure a job in the city,while living in their villages.For people in this category,the NYSC program provides a useful stop-gap that brings them into contact with corporate Nigeria.Also,the money they make during the service year gives them a level of independence that they have never known,and the savings would come in handy after service.And,not being so choosy,the service job,if it is made permanent, might be attractive enough as well.
So yeah,the NYSC scheme could work,if we make the following improvements.First,we need to provide adequate security for corpers.President Jonathan has charged state governors,to ensure the security of corpers serving in their respective states.We have to go further and accord corpers the same level of security enjoyed by officers in the military.When it becomes clear that an attack on a corper is equivalent to an attack on a military officer,these attacks will stop.Second,call-up waiting time should be a matter of weeks,not months.A situation where people are kept at home for months or more waiting for call-up,further burdening parents and guardians who have sacrificed everything for them already,is unacceptable.A friend told me how she was forced to squat with an uncle,a taxi-driver with 6 children,for over a year,while waiting for her call-up,in an arrangement where she was somehow expected to provide “breakfast”for the family,being the “big-girl” from the university.Where she was expected to get the money from,only God could have known.
Third,corpers remuneration should be reviewed upwards.Let’s face it,these are qualified professionals.They should be better paid for all their sacrifice.At the end of the service-year,they should receive a healthy bonus,something substantial enough to subsidize their housing,medical and transport costs,for atleast two years.Finally,there should be greater emphasis on orientation.No,not for the corpers.For the host-communities.If the objective of national unity through the NYSC service is to be achieved,then toleration and accomodation must be mutual,between host and guest.While the corpers have to be considerate of the religious sensibilities of their hosts,these communities must come to terms with the secular,modern world in which a huge chunk of Nigeria lives,and of which the corpers are representative.Each must be tolerant of the Other’s otherness.Fro example,attacking corpers for allegedly violating the local dress-code,as happened a couple years ago when a female-corper was repeatedly raped,and then killed,for wearing “trousers”,is simply unacceoptable.What if her religion compelled her to wear “trousers?”Then what?Remember she was forcibly posted to that community;she did not choose to go there.