Onikepo Braithwaite
The Advocate By Onikepo Braithwaite, Email: onikepo.braithwaite@thisdaylive.com

National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) was established during the regime of General Yakubu Gowon by the NYSC Decree of 1973, following the Nigerian Civil War, which resulted in disunity, distrust and misunderstanding between the different Nigerian tribes.

The aim of the one-year program was “to promote unity, understanding and national integration among Nigerians”, by posting NYSC members (fresh graduates) to different states in the country, excluding their states of origin (and residence), to serve the country and in so-doing, learn about other Nigerian cultures, and maybe even settle down where they had served, after completion of the NYSC program, possibly inter-marrying.

However, events may have overtaken the reasons for the establishment of NYSC. Firstly, you can learn anything you want to learn about practically anything in the world on the internet, just by googling it. You need not go there physically. Whilst disunity, distrust and misunderstanding among the different Nigerian tribes still persists, and 56 years post- independence, that air of nationalism and national pride, like one finds in places like Ghana simply does not exist in Nigeria, the violent occurrences in various parts of the country makes it almost reckless, to post fresh graduates to danger zones.

Certainly, one would be playing Russian Roulette with a child’s life, if you posted them to the North East for NYSC. With all the Boko Haram activities going on there, it would be wicked and unfair to post a person who has a whole life ahead of him or her, to a place where there is a high probability of that lifespan being cut short, since their safety cannot be guaranteed.

My friend told me about her friend whose daughter was posted to camp in Kano. He not only dropped his daughter at the camp, he lodged at a nearby hotel, for the 3 weeks duration of the camp! He was concerned about his child’s safety, and knew that his mind would never be at rest in Lagos, while his child was there. We are all aware that Kano was a target for Boko Haram on various occasions in the past.

Ditto for places like Edo and Delta States, areas which seem to have become the new ‘Kidnappers Headquarters’ in Nigeria, and Niger-Delta with all the militant activities going on there. I did my Law School Chamber Attachment at the chambers of General I.B.M. Haruna (Rtd) in Kaduna. However, with all that is going on in Southern Kaduna, it is unlikely that I would recommend a place which I so much enjoyed 25 years ago, to anyone to do the same, today.

Recently, a friend of mine who is mixed race, took her son to Delta State for NYSC camp. She and her son entered into the lobby of the hotel which they had intended to check-in to, and spend the night. While waiting to check-in, someone approached her and warned her that it would be a bad idea for she and her son to lodge at that hotel over night, as half of the people hanging around the hotel were looking for victims to kidnap, and as she is ‘oyinbo’, she would be fair game. Needless to say, she and her son fled from the hotel like bats out of hell! Luckily, my friend has a friend whose older sister resides not too far from the camp, so they passed the night at her house.

If the truth be told, I consider my friend to be extremely brave. On hearing the word ‘kidnap’ at the hotel, I would have fled back to Lagos “with immediate effect and automatic alacrity” (as Chief Eleyinmi of Village Headmaster used to say). If anything happened (to the child) under such circumstances, one would forever, blame oneself. After all, we have heard stories of Youth Corpers working as electoral officers, being murdered on duty, and so on.

What about the deplorable state of the Camps? Another friend of mine told me how urine seeped from the toilets into the dormitory, at the camp where her son was stationed. The toilets at the Edo State Camp, cannot be called toilets. They are at best, make shift corrugated iron ‘shalangas’ (pit latrines) located outside, in an overgrown field where there are probably reptiles lying around, certainly unsafe for women, and anybody really to visit, especially at night.

Why should anyone have to live in such disgusting, unhygienic and unsafe conditions, all in the name of NYSC program? Not to talk about the suspect inadequate medical facilities available at the camps, and lack of adequate provision for food.

Some have argued that NYSC is not left out of the corruption-mania in Nigeria, so of course, probably only a fraction of what is allocated for the NYSC program actually reaches it, and this is part of the reason for the poor facilities in the camps.

As for NYSC fostering unity among Nigerians, I cannot say that the program has succeeded in achieving this goal. As far as I’m concerned, Nigerians are more tribalistic, and more concerned about being Muslim-Christian, now more than ever before. Maybe NYSC may have achieved a few of its goals at its inception when Nigeria was a different place, but today, I think not.

Even if NYSC is not abolished totally, there should be a re-think and re-strategising. Frankly, I see no reason why anyone who is not interested in being a member of the armed forces or police, has to go to any camp to be drilled by soldiers, doing march past and man-o-war or whatever its called. Its a waste of time, and adds no value. Some say it teaches discipline. Maybe. But any adult who went through primary, secondary and tertiary education, and graduated with a degree, could not have done so without a measure of discipline.

I believe that instead of camp, there should be a skills acquisition training program for the NYSC members. Since so many remain unemployed after NYSC, if government provides different types of skill acquisition workshops, farming, fish farming, technical, entrepreneurship and so on, these Youth Corpers can face the world and start their own businesses with the combination of their university knowledge and the skills acquisition, not necessarily waiting for paid employment, sitting at home idle and becoming increasingly frustrated, veering into crime to survive.

NYSC members are made to go and teach students in government schools all over the place. I guess that it is some form of work, at least for one year before the joblessness starts, even though the remuneration is rather poor. However, I’m sure that there are many government schools in everyone’s normal place of residence that Youth Corpers can teach, as opposed to sending them to dangerous places to do same. Whether it is in one’s home state or an outside state, service to one’s country is service to one’s country.

The phrase “give back” does not even seem to apply in the Nigerian context, as apart from the earlier Nigeria days, most governments have given nothing to the Nigerian people. Again, maybe in the earlier days of NYSC, one could talk of “giving back” because many attended non-fee paying government schools, from primary to tertiary, and obtained good quality education. One could go to General Hospital and get decent free medical treatment. But alas, today, the narrative is different. These things are no longer available, so why would the NYSC member be “giving back” to his country, having received nothing from it?

I met a girl when I went to do some charity work at the HIV Clinic at General Hospital. She came from a very poor family, and in order to obtain a tertiary education, she sold herself to all who would buy, to finance her education. She ended up with her degree and HIV. Pray tell, what does she owe this country, that she wants to “give back”? The country failed her, and could not fulfil its constitutional obligation to provide her with free education in accordance with Section 18(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2010)(1999 Constitution), so she could be useful to herself and her family.

Nigerian Government has to learn the art of reviewing its policies, updating them and abolishing them, if need be.

For starters, NYSC should be voluntary. Since NYSC is a source of first employment for many, those that want to do the program, by all means, should. In our time, there were two batches of the NYSC program every year. You were guaranteed of getting into the second batch in January, if you missed the first batch the previous year, sometime mid-year. Now, graduates have to wait years to be admitted into the program, because of extremely large numbers of graduates seeking to gain admission into the program. While waiting, apart from the normal unemployment issues, NYSC is a pre-requisite to secure a job in most organisations; this amounts to a vicious cycle.

The salaries of the Youth Corpers are ridiculously low. If NYSC became a voluntary program, maybe their salary packages would increase, as there would certainly be a reduced amount of pressure on the program.

If I had my way, I would certainly say that there should no longer be posting of NYSC members out-of-station, unless they opt for it. Camp should be abolished, since it serves no purpose and the conditions there are deplorable. It should be replaced with robust skill acquisition and entrepreneurship programs.

In fact, the circumstances of the NYSC, the out-of station postings and the conditions that these fresh graduates face, amounts to government being in contravention of Sections 14(2) (b), 17(2)(b), (c) & (d), and 17(3)(b) & (c) of the 1999 Constitution providing inter alia that the security and welfare of the Nigerian people are fundamental objectives of the Government of Nigeria, the sanctity of the human person shall be recognised, government shall be humane, and conditions of work shall be humane.