Reassessing The NYSC Scheme


It was with horror, which has remained unabated till now, that we saw the stories about the NYSC members, or corpers, detailing their gory last hours. The horror of the inhuman and barbaric manner in which these young people, doing their duty by serving their fatherland, were butchered to death is beyond anything mere words can express.

How do you tell the parents and loved ones of these lost souls that the children they have nurtured, worried over, fussed over, trained to make something of themselves, have departed this world in a very untimely and painful manner? It is one thing to hear that they were killed in an accident, but how do you expect anyone to come to terms with the savage manner in which these people had their lives stolen from them? Mind you, these were people’s sons and daughters, people who had brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles who were rooting for them. Who does not know that to pass through the university system in Nigeria and successfully graduate is not a small feat, with all the stumbling blocks and challenges one has to overcome? To further prolong matters, after graduation, you still have to complete a mandatory one year service under the National Youth Service scheme.

I think the intentions behind the establishment of the NYSC scheme are honourable. It gives young people the opportunity to see how people from other parts of the country live, to foster a sense of unity and to drive home the fact that even though we speak different languages, have different cultures, eat different food, practise different faiths, we are all one people, bound together by geographical boundaries and our humanity. Indeed, I have met many people from various parts of the country who tell me that they know so and so place in another part of the country, simply because they served there. Most of them remember their service year with nostalgia, recalling how the local community had embraced them and made their stay an interesting one. For most of them, that is the extent of their interaction with that part of the country. They may not go back there again for the rest of their lives, but at least they have experienced life from the perspective of the people of the host community. The insight they have gained will stay with them as they move on to various positions of leadership and will help them to be more open and accepting of their brothers and sisters from all over the country.

I had a very interesting conversation with a friend from the Northern part of the country who lives in New York. When he found out I was from the Eastern part of the country he wanted to know the exact part. I was a little amused as I told him, really not thinking he would know the place. To my surprise, he proceeded to demonstrate that he knows my own village better than I do. He named some key villages, how to get there, named various points of interest, how the local government areas were divided, things that I didn’t even know. I asked him how come he was so knowledgeable about the area and he simply told me that he had served in the East some years back. According to him, he had done so well that he had been awarded the prize as the best corper for that state. Going further back, one of the places they post corpers to is secondary schools where they serve in some capacity as teacher aides or lesson teachers. We got several teacher aides from the Southern part of the country. Most of them were really affable and easy to relate with since the majority of them were closer to our ages than our much older teachers. We would often have send-forth parties for any one of them that had finished their service with us and one of them was a young woman who was popular among the students because of her nurturing nature. Practically everyone cried at her send-forth because we all loved her , even the principal was misty-eyed. Despite the fact that all the students were crying hard, she was crying even harder; we had all got so attached to each other that it was hard for us to say goodbye. I like to think that wherever she is now, hopefully, successful and thriving, that experience has made her to understand and appreciate people from the East as much as we loved and appreciated her. That, to me, is what the NYSC is all about. But you know what? That was in more innocent times. One thing about life is the fact that nothing remains constant, life is dynamic and we have to adapt accordingly in order to survive.

The roads are so bad that you hear stories like the one about a bus conveying medical students to their areas of primary assignment which got into an accident and killed all of the people inside on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Apart from the risk of accidents, youth corpers must contend with the very real risks of losing their lives, needlessly, when they are sent to some parts of the country. The NYSC scheme cannot work in these volatile times. At the very least, if graduates must serve, let them serve in their own states. However, that would defeat the purpose of the scheme, which is why it must be scrapped, or put on hold for now until the political atmosphere is more stable. The government and politicians cannot play politics of murder with the lives of these young people who are the future of this country. They are not mere figures on a piece of paper or figments of the imagination. These young people had hopes and dreams for a better life, which have forever been dashed. If the pattern of such things in the past holds true, then this incident, just like many others, will be swept under the rug. But Ukeoma Ikechukwu, Obinna Okpokiri and the other lost souls will not be forgotten. May God grant them eternal rest, amen.

—This article originally appeared in the current edition of TheNEWS magazine


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