By Abdullahi Sadiq Mohammed
Newspapers across the country reported a move by some members of the National Assembly to repeal section 315(5a) of the 1999 constitution and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Act for reasons such as insecurity, exploitation by place of primary assignment, and poor state of orientation camps. The program was introduced by Gowon regime in 1973 to foster unity in the country following the civil war of 1967 to 1970. The purpose of the national youth service according to the website of NYSC is ‘’primarily to inculcate in Nigerian youths the spirit of selfless service to the community, and to emphasize the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural and social backgrounds’’
I really know why someone should scrap a scheme that provides platform for graduates from different ethnic and religious background to interact and to know each other. Being born and brough up in predominantly Muslim and Hausa community in Kano, I had never been close to people from southern part of the country until when I served in Bauchi state. It was the first time in my life that I lived in the same compound with people from Igbo land, Yoruba land, South-south, and other ethnic minorities. At some point in time, my roommate was a Christian from Southern Kaduna. It was the first time I got to know that Igbos and Yorubas have a unisex name. Yorubas have male and female Seun while Igbos have male and female Onye. It was during my service year that I knew the subtle differences between the different denominations in Nigerian churches because the people I lived with attended different churches. Unlike in Hausa culture where people inform their neighbors whenever they are traveling, my former Igbo neighbor would simply disappear unnoticed. I had also realized that while we northerners are busy killing ourselves on the basis of religious differences, to an average southerner, we are all Hausas. To them, Musa, Bulus, Duniya, and Abdullahi are all northerners and deserve the same treatment. The experience had shaped my thinking and perception of people from other regions and religion.
Furthermore, the scheme allows corps members to know about the cultural and social norms of their host communities. I don’t care if you can call me a local champion, but I must to confess that youth service had exposed my ignorance of the very northern region of Nigeria that I proudly belong to. I had no idea of how rich Bauchi state is cultural until when I served there. I didn’t know who Sayawa, Jarawa and Warjawa are and had never heard of Lepm Zaar Festival. Additionally, I knew many corpers who could not speak Hausa prior to their service year but were able to negotiate price and converse in the language before they finish their national youth service. There was a day I went to bank in Kaduna to make a transaction, while on the queue, an Igbo woman dressed in suite approached and greeted me. I quickly remembered her as the lady who served together with my wife. She had gotten married and relocated to Kaduna. Although I didn’t ask her the tribe of her husband, I knew that she had never been to the north before her youth service and that NYSC provides opportunities for inter-marriages. Whether you agree with me or not, inter-marriage posters unity and promote tolerance and inclusion in Nigeria.
Additionally, before the advent of constituency projects by members of national assembly who want to scrape the scheme, NYSC espouses community development projects to improve the living condition of the host communities. Through the initiatives, many underserved communities in Nigeria are provided with classrooms, dispensaries, and boreholes by serving corp members. I had met a medical doctor when I served in Bauchi who had been using his personal portable ultrasound machine to scan pregnant women in the rural community he was serving. Members of the scheme have organized health camp several times where indigent patients were provided with medical services including free eye surgeries, glasses and they dewormed a significant number of children.
NYSC program creates avenues for youth empowerment and networking. As a youth corp member, I had participated in a number of seminars organized by National Directorate for Employment and other nongovernmental organizations interested in empowering the youth. Through the presidential awards given to best serving corp members from the states, many people found themselves in different parastatals of federal government. Sometimes Corp members are retained in the place they served.
When I was an undergraduate student in Kano, one of our anatomy teachers was a serving corp member from eastern Nigeria who was subsequently retained as a graduate assistant in the faculty. He had risen to the rank of Professor before he relocated to his home state. Similarly, I know a doctor from southwestern Nigeria who relocated his family to a town in northeastern Nigeria after he had been retained by the hospital he served as a corp member. There are schools and hospitals in Nigeria that largely drive their workforce from NYSC personnel. It is still fresh in our memory when INEC employed corp members as adhoc staff for the conduct of national elections. Some of the corpers were employed by the INEC after the exercise.
It is true, NYSC has not fully achieved the mission for which it was established and that the scheme has its own challenges but then it is wrong to throw the baby with the bathwater.
Abdullahi Sadiq Mohammed can be reached via email@example.com