NYSC Uniform: A Pride Lost? by Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni
When the National Youth Service Corps scheme was established in 1973 as part of efforts to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Civil war by creating an avenue for harmonious cross cultural breeding, understanding amongst the youths and aimed to be viable platform to promote national unity; serving the nation was a sacrifice that needs to be made. The scheme made it compulsory for every Nigerian graduate below the age of 30 (don’t mind those old faces you see, they are below 30years by default), to leave their areas of comfort and cross-breed with other ethnic nationalities as a means to foster national integration. But 39 years after its creation, the scheme dangles in the air of death. National Service rather than being a thing of joyful selfless service has been besieged with plethora of problems and uncertainty. All through the 80’s and 90’s, serving the nation was a pride and adoring the NYSC cloth was the peak of attending tertiary institution. Every undergraduate looks forward to taking call-up letters in their different student affairs divisions. Obeying the clarion call was the key beat and adoring the much cherished “NYSC 7/7” always a dream come true.
During my growing up years, every parent looked forward to showing off with their “government-child” wards. Then, coming home from your service post without being kit in your full NYSC regalia or your NYSC emblem conspicuously placed for all to see creates an avenue for doubts and discerning looks. Since going to higher institutions became so competitive, wearing the NYSC uniform, maybe after six years because of government strikes, is what is needed to shut-up doubting Thomases that you attended University or earn a Higher National Diploma (HND). Stories abounds of a whole village worshiping and turning corps members posted into their midst into demi-gods. A corps member is seen by the whole village as government representative who needs all the care for a comfortable stay. He/she gets accommodation, food and at other times betrothed to, a wife, if a male. Villages usually don’t want corps members to leave after their service year because of their diligent nature and exemplary service. Life in those glorious days was easy and serving the nation was blessing. But things have changed. Avoiding NYSC entirely or certain part of the country is today the beginning of wisdom. Corps members presence today lacks the aura of relevance and their lives pictured has being worthless in the event of communal clashes, road accidents, and general insecurity.
Before the unwarranted violence that engulf Nigeria, in the aftermath of the April 16, 2011 presidential election, which consume 10 promising lives of NYSC members on national duty (Government has paid 5million on each soul – as if it could replace their lives), deaths in respect of corps members used to be tied to accidents on our national sour point called express roads. During the time under reference, several corps member who acted as returning officers were trapped and burnt alive in a police station. Since then, violence on corps member has been the order of day. The attacks of Boko Harams further heightened the security challenges facing this section of people. Corps members are seen by illiterate youths has part of the institutions of the state and attacking them creates same significance as attacking Police Stations and Military posts. The tragedy, however, is that, Corps members who are given pseudo military drilling are never fortified with weapons to defend themselves against unexpected harm. Am not saying corps member should be allowed to carry arms, rather, government should further strengthen the preservation of serving corps member’s lives.
Government should understand that, it is not only Boko Haram that poses security challenge to the Youth Service scheme. Corp members are often victims of robbery attacks on our porous express way in their respective attempts to report at their places of primary assignment despite wearing the NYSC uniform. The Uniform today lacks pride nor those it serve as a shield against attack. The case of Citizen, Moshood Dosumu, a graduate of Political Science, Lagos State University comes to mind. Moshood, like every other Batch B corp members took a break after the three weeks of rigorous camp activities to observe the Sallah holiday but while returning to his place of primary assignment in Kastina State, was attacked along the Abuja-Kaduna road, by some jobless youths who all through their supposed robbery expedition converse in Fulani Language. Crave my thought, Dosumu abided by the NYSC warning of when travelling always wear your NYSC regalia. Yet was almost beaten to the point of death, had the Joint Task Force not arrived in time, we would have lost another promising youth to the “black shadowed” arms of insecurity to corp members lives. The Youth that attacked him can’t even distinguish between a Mobile Police officer, a soldier or a corps member in this 21st century Nigeria, as the hoodlums argued on end about his identity because of his NYSC attire! Shame to the governments in that region.
I have always had a strong reservation for the National Youth Service Corps scheme apparently because of the uncertainty that has became the lots of the participating youth amidst lax security of the country. Over the years, even before I had the privilege to partake in the compulsory National Youth Service Corps scheme, I have come to conclude that the scheme is grossly deficient and needs overhauling. But the government never sees in that light. Those calling for the regionalization of NYSC posting are justified in this era of insecurity prevailing everywhere. Trying to make martyrs out of innocent corps member serves government serves no good. Even now, the NYSC hierarchy in Abuja spends so much money to repost corps members to their states of choice after the Three weeks camping. So, why wait till many of them die trying to report to camp before reposting them to their regions again? Why not post them from the onset to their geopolitical zones? More importantly, something more viable and creative needs to be done with this vibrant section of the population. Our much talked about Agricultural revolution can be achieved through the NYSC scheme. Spending so much money on corps member and benefiting nothing there from because they are usually rendered redundant for one good year is not my idea of a productive and proactive government.
More credence can be attached to the National Service if government creates the enabling environment to achieve Agricultural revolution with it. What is needed is to revolutionalise the aims and objectives of the scheme. National integration has been achieved, what we need to stay united now is national empowerment, which we can achieve by getting the youths involved in mechanized farming through the NYSC scheme.
Twitter handle: @sanit0407
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