About this time many years ago, I boarded a luxury bus in company with some young men like me, to leave for Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, from Jos, for our compulsory National Youth Service Corps.
I still remember how we occupied over 70 per cent of the seats of the bus, waiting patiently for the journey to begin.
It was a night journey that lasted for 16 hours, instead of nine, because of our sick driver.
We finally got to Nsit Atai onto the waiting hands of military men who served us our “welcome tea” of exercises like frog jump.
The 21 days in the state orientation camp were quite exciting, with drills, jokes, endurance trekking etc. I made new friends, and joined new societies just to appreciate the essence of the moment. The days we spent in the camp did more than cultural appreciation. It enabled us to see one another as one and equal.
The bringing together of young men and women from different states, tribes and religions away from their places of comfort into an “unknown” location created vulnerability that soon became an appealing adventure.
After almost 12 months, we rounded off our scheme and dispersed to different states.
I made my way to the South-West part of the country. While in Lagos, I got a very bad piece of news about the demise of my good friend, Chinedu (Chimex), who was killed during the crisis in Jos. He wasn’t killed in Akwa Ibom State where we served together, but mauled down in a state he felt comfortable with. Many lost their lives during that period of crisis, in Jos. Unfortunately, the security problem that killed a “retired” corper or serving corper can’t spare other Nigerians. Insecurity is a plague against every Nigerian, not only on corps members. So, the safest approach should be to throw up ways to protect lives and property as enshrined in our constitution.
Today, as I write this article, I disdain the call for scrapping of the NYSC on account of insecurity. Think for once, many of us travelled far and wide for our academic programmes and even businesses. Some, all the way from Jos, many left for Maiduguri, Zaria, Kano, Port Harcourt, Nsukka etc. A few may have died, in accidents. But, no one called for the scrapping of these tertiary institutions and entrepreneurship. And no one advocated against enrolment into schools far away from our places of abode and birth places.
Why suggest we scrap the NYSC because of insecurity? Are we not throwing away the bad water with the baby?
We should not employ the “cut and nail” approach in place of critical thinking, in our quest for a lasting solution. A quick dive into the objectives of the NYSC scheme will convince even a critic that the programme is one major unifying activity in the country at the moment.
The NYSC has helped in the following ways, in line with the objectives for setting it up: To inculcate discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work, and of patriotic and loyal service to Nigeria in any situation they may find themselves;
To raise the moral tone of the Nigerian youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvement;
To develop in the Nigerian youths the attitudes of mind acquired through shared experience and suitable training, which will make them more amenable to mobilisation in the national interest;
– To enable Nigerian youths acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self-employment. And many other reasons.
Therefore, because of its overwhelming positive impacts, let’s seek out ways to promote the scheme rather than scrap it as if it’s a scribbled curse.
Like every other organisation that serves the nation, we can suggest that this legacy of unity by our forefathers be structured to suit the present-day reality.
The nation can introduce changes to protect corpers and make the scheme the base for skill acquisition, and churn out entrepreneurs, etc. If we discourage the coming together of youths from different religious groups, regions, backgrounds, soon we will begin to advocate regional based army, air force, navy, etc. Nigeria should embrace a unifying point, rather than sentimental disintegration along tribes and religious lines.
The whole idea of the NYSC by our founding fathers is to ensure Nigeria remains one. If we scrap the scheme, what will replace this noble cause? Why should we begin to sacrifice the relevant binding factor of unity on the altar of convenience of a vocal few?
I, for one, welcome structural changes and not scrapping of the NYSC scheme.
Instead, I call for the scrapping of insecurity!