Born in the 90s, I grew up witnessing my siblings donning the NYSC uniform which I practically adored for its jackboots and the crested vest. Service in my household was seen as an utmost assignment to be fulfilled to the nation. I remember in 1996 when father had a tussle with my eldest sister who was summoned home from the US for the Service year. Though, this issue almost turned our peaceful and loving family chaotic for the ambition of my sister who didn’t want to serve. Eventually, she served and she was glad about the resolve. This family interest in national service and community works have preconditioned my mind for service since then and I have looked forward to it only to be taken aback with the recommendation of the Economy Recovery Committee to suspend orientation camp for two years.
Now, it begs the question why any good policy is being tempered with in this country. Instead of improving on good policies, why are we always quick to destroy the good ones?
In virtually everywhere in the world, orientation or induction course of any programme is institutionalized and considered indispensable but in Nigeria we fail with this little knowledge and it has affected our polity adversely. Be as it is, the Orientation course of the NYSC as a cardinal programme of the scheme is almost more important than serving the nation after camp. In the Orientation Camp, youths are brought together from every region of this country and are made to go through civic education about the nation under the same roof for a period of 3 weeks; social vices which can culminate into civil unrest are tamed and sometimes totally removed from the mindset of an exuberant youth whose knowledge about life is limited. During this period too, youths are also made to undergo leadership trainings which often go a long way to defining their personality in life, seeping into their futuristic endeavours. Youths who have not at any time in their lives lead in any role are proactively thrusted at the fore front of situations to take responsibility for others.
It is only applicatory to state that if a course like NYSC Orientation is abolished temporarily as recommended by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo-led committee, the essence of service year will be defeated. Service without prerequisite trainings will be replete with niggling socio-cultural crisis and political unrest especially during election period when corps members play pivotal roles in the election of our policy-makers. For instance, the sensitization of corps members pertaining to election is a serious issue that must not be carelessly handled. Therefore, it can only be appropriate to engage corps members on it intensely within a substantive period of time enough to instill discipline in them.
In the Orientation camp, too, youths are sensitized about the customs and religions of their host communities and given a mindset on how to navigate such communities without encountering problems. Therefore, if this is absent, how can the NYSC have the ears of its corps members and prevent them from running afoul of the customs and traditions of such society? And if this continues, the objectives of the scheme will be totally shattered. This same orientation and sensitization given to them about their host communities, is also extended to capture the workplace environment through which corps members are forewarned about the dangers of such environments and the ethical standards expected from them – though, unemployment is on the rise and the number of employments being given out is relatively low but it is a common practice that most people recruited these days are from the breeds of corps members who are either taken in as interns or retained after service year. Therefore, how will corps members know if they are not educated? How can a corps member work their way out from the den of a sexual predator disguised as a boss if such is not informed? These are social issues that can lead to national crisis if not handled properly. How then do you handle such issues properly? Through suspension of Orientation Course for two years?
Also, the foundation for volunteerism and community works are laid in camp. Even the most developed countries in the world thrive on voluntary works by its citizens which factually serve as a gauge for the average patriotism shown by the citizens to the country. How do citizens carry out these works if the interest is not ignited in them first?
It is worthy of note that the same report singling out the NYSC Orientation course to be suspended did not recommend for the suspension of military and police trainings. The military and police will be trained in warfare and copious defence mechanisms to protect the integrity of the nation but our corps members will be sent out to cater for the sick in our country where health personnel are in decline, they would be sent out to mentor the nation’s younger and most vulnerable generations and also help cushion our failing education system. How then did we even arrive at not orienting these groups of young people set to serve the nation in these various capacities?
It is important to state that the National Youth Service Corps is the best thing that has ever happened to this nation. It is one of the best policies ever made in the country, one which has witnessed sweeping public scrutiny but has been dynamic to be in existence for forty-seven years after its establishment.
Through the NYSC, the government have kept restless and volatile intellectual youths who could have wrecked untold harm on the nation busy for more than a year and have saved trillions of dollars as a result, from monies it could have expended on buying arms to maintain peace and security through the years. Through the scheme also, Nigeria can boast of the largest youth organization with a bracketed intellectual capacities in the whole of Africa.
Therefore, the recommendation of this committee to the President can only spell damning consequences on our civil life if implemented. Looking at the report from a cursory perspective, anyone could easily think out why such a recommendation of weighty and rippling effects will be haphazardly arrived at without recourse to any constructive premise aside COVID-19 which this committee is preemptively and discouragingly clinging to even in an unforeseeable two years away from now.
Now, since we are where we find ourselves, it behoves us to reflect on the following issues; if Orientation camps are being proposed to be closed based on the COVID-19 pandemic or for economic reasons. Is the Vice President surreptitiously suggesting that the war against the COVID-19 virus which has until now gulped billions in dollars will not be won in two years time? Why should we close our Orientation camps at this time when our nation is more polarized and civil education about our country in our schools is not taught or almost not taught well? Are military camps and rehabilitation camps going to be closed as well for the period of two years? What about school boarding houses? Are prisons and correctional centers going to be excluded in this arrangement?
These are salient issues which need to be attended to if an implementation of the recommendation is sought.
We are where we are today because of the past policies which have somersaulted to put our nation in a dire state. In 2007, History as a subject was almost removed from our secondary education curriculum, making it an elective subject instead. This seemingly feeble removal truncated the historical knowledge all Nigerian students would have garnered and left millions of young people ignorant of civic education which is a sine qua non for any citizen to be patriotic. No one person can respect or sacrifice for a country they do not know.
How do we expect a young person who is not properly educated about the history of this country to make good decisions even at the grass-roots?
Though, in 2019, the decision was reversed and History reintroduced into our Primary and Secondary curriculum but it remains an ugly patch on the history of our nation that a certain generation of people were debarred from learning about the country, and this situation will no doubt stand aloof to mete out on the nation the fair doses of the repercussions in the no distant future.
It will be a misnomer if instead of improving the National Youth Service Corps to make it the envy of our dynamic world, an export of human resources, it’s orientation course which is considered a substantial part of its programme is now being yanked off without considering the effects it will have on our civility.
Nigeria is not the only country looking after a corps of young people contributing to its national development. Countries not as wealthy as Nigeria like The Gambia and our neighbouring country, Ghana, are doing such without any hitch, why then should Nigeria’s case be different?
Countries that appreciate the essences of National Service are in constant awareness that the process of induction into National Service is an integral period preparing youths for leadership positions and igniting patriotism in them.
It is on this note that I want to appeal to the Federal Government not to implement the recommendation in the report pertaining to the NYSC and that efforts should be put in place to extend the period of the orientation camp to critically train youths in entrepreneurial activities and effectively utilize them for the various agricultural programmes available in the country to boost food production now that we have to eat what we grow and grow what we eat.
Most importantly, efforts should be put in place to quell the tensions brewing among students of tertiary institutions who are already frustrated by the situation of the moment who may at any point protest this recommendation. It is an understatement to say such protests is not good for this period when the COVID-19 infection has gotten to community transmission.
ENROFACTORIA, a final year Law Student, writes from one of the Universities in Nigeria.