By Owolabi Olatunji
SIR: Recently, the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recommended the suspension of orientation camp exercises of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) for two years.
The reason given was “to address the disruptions caused by the pandemic and ensuing social distancing measures at all levels of education.”
Unfortunately, as altruistic as the committee may have meant, it is a very bad recommendation. There is no NYSC service without the NYSC orientation camp exercises.
It is a vital part in the function of the NYSC to aid national integration and inter-tribal understanding, leading to a more peaceful co-existence and patriotism.
Before my journey, courtesy of the NYSC, from Lagos to Maiduguri in July 2011 to the Orientation Camp, I was one of the major advocates against the NYSC programme and the orientation camp in particular. Like many, I thought the whole exercise was a waste of time and resources.
But I learnt to appreciate the wisdom of the programme just after three weeks of participating. On the need for the orientation camp exercises, I have some interesting perspective the ESC may want to consider.
Upon disembarking at Maiduguri that cold evening in 2011, I had no idea where to go. In fact, up from Niger State, everything was already strange to me.
In my 25 years of existence, I had not left the southwest. The landscape, the people, the language, the types of settlements, the food, the weather and many other things were truly strange to me.
The NYSC camping ground provided me a sense of safety, belonging, fellowship and interaction with other wonderful corps members who made it to the camp.
I could ask endless questions from the staff to the security personnel. The three weeks were pivotal for me to acclimatize to the new and strange environment!
The training and water and food surely helped my physique and physiology to adapt to that strange land. When it was time to leave the camp and I took up my belt to use for the first time in almost three weeks, I thought someone had replaced mine with theirs; the belt had become too big for me! That training surely helped me burn so much calories in my waist that I never knew was there! I was also more physically fit than before!
I can’t imagine going straight from Lagos to Maiduguri and settling amongst the people of that land without participating in the NYSC orientation and training.
I understand the vice president’s concerns especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it is more dangerous to subject our young graduates to the very harsh and unforgiving conditions of living in a strange territory without the proper orientation and training that the NYSC orientation camp provides.
It is better to suspend the NYSC programme itself for 24 months, than to subject corps members to the hardship and the latent but potent dangers that unpreparedness brings when settling in a strange and foreign territory.
Through the orientation camp, corps members are physically and systematically trained to be able to adapt and measure up to the many tasks ahead of them.
They are sensitized on various issues about the local community and the state, thereby helping to eliminate many ignorant views anyone may have nurtured or held up to that point. It provided a forum to understand people from different tribes better.
And what a resounding success the NYSC has scored in fostering many inter-tribal marriages, even among very distant tribes. NYSC has surely helped in breaking down so many walls of tribal bigotry, and the orientation camp has been key to that resounding success!
If the pandemic is truly the basis for concern, the NYSC can easily come up with measures to deal with the social distancing issues.
The camp is always a closed-ground with strong military regimentation anyway, so enforcement and compliance is a no-brainer.
I’d like the Economic Sustainability Committee to look for other ways to recommend cutting government costs especially in areas that have not been of any benefit to the general public.
The youths should not be made a pawn in the federal government’s chess-game of cutting down government costs. Their lives matter! Every life matters.
Olatunji, writes from Ibadan.
Source: The Nation