If you want to know the true cost of serving our fatherland you should visit the Ayotunde's. They know the pain of burying a son. You should listen to the sound of the congealed blood of Grace Ushang. It speaks of a hope tethered against a lie. You should visit a morgue in the slaughter slab they call Bauchi. It will tell you why our union has become a crying to be shared.
After the presidential elections that returned the incumbent, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan on April 16, rioters took to the streets to register their displeasure at the conduct of the polls. It would have been normal in a democracy if only these rioters weren't asking for blood as mollification. They slew to their heart's content. In the wake of the carnage that day, ten youth corps members were - without putting too fine a point on it - slaughtered.
The NYSC scheme was created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country through decree No. 24 of 22nd May 1973 by the military administration of General Gowon. They said it would heal the searing wounds of a pitiless war. 38 years later, we still bleed. That we have sustained a programme meant to reconcile us for 38 long years is in itself a good indication that the war never ended.
A senseless financial burden
Delivering a paper on the role of Nigerian government in the youth service scheme at an international conference in Moronvia, Liberia, organized by the four countries MANO River Region, last year, Youth Development Minister, Senator Akinlabi Olasunkanmi disclosed that the Federal government is considering diversified funding structure to cater to skyrocketing cost of sustaining the NYSC scheme as the number of graduates corps producing institutions increase.
The minister said the scheme which presently manages about 250,000 corps members on annual basis is expected to, in the next two to three years, have between 350,000 to 450,000 eligible graduates, thereby increasing the cost from the present N43 billion allocated in 2009 to about N55 billion in the nearest future. Worse still, thousands of mono-technic graduates are agitating to be mobilised for national service.
On March 16, 2011, the Senate approved the sum of N4.972 trillion as budget for 2011 with N2.467 trillion allocated to recurrent expenditure (NYSC scheme included) and N1.563 trillion allocated to capital expenditure. This is the same pattern of expenditure within the last 12 years that has stymied our progress. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.
The objectives of the National Youth Service Corps scheme spelt out in Decree No.51 of 16th June 1993 are as unrealistically idealistic as hoping to find a route to Eden from a map of Maiduguri. Some of these objectives include: to inculcate discipline, tradition of work, to teach ideals of national development, develop skills for self employment, remove prejudices and eliminate ignorance, promote national unity and integration.
After six years of primary school, six years of secondary school, two or more years waiting for JAMB and post-JAMB (where you should have learnt long-suffering) and four years in the University, you still need one more year to learn the above mentioned values and in the hands of koboko-wielding soldiers, who make you hop on trees like harried monkeys then you shouldn't even be in school in the first place.
Rather than splitting hairs over reviewing the scheme, a wiser course of action would be to divert the N43 billion currently expended on the programme to improving infrastructure and the quality of teaching in our schools. The 2011 budget provides a meager N35 billion for education. It is meager when you consider that 109 senators and 360 house of representative members will cart away N350 billion this year.
A fractious unity
Many still blame Lord Lugard for stoking the fires of disunity by uniting the diverse and disparate tribes into a nation. This kind of reasoning evidence a poverty of the intellect and an acute lack of imagination. History has shown that every empire, every civilization that ever achieved renown is a union of diverse groups of people.
The kingdoms of England, Wales and Scotland in 1707 through the Treaty of Union formed the United Kingdom. What morphed into the United States of America today was originally the rebellion of 13 Colonies who proclaimed their independence from Britain in 1776. India is fragmented along the lines of ethnicity and religion yet they have managed to form a union with one of the largest economies. South Africans have found a way to live with their racial realities.
Rather than rage against Lugard, we should round up our politicians and religious leaders and shoot them. It doesn't win points for pragmatism I agree, but it does point us in the direction of our troubles. In a saner world, the Almajiris, fast morphing to our own answer to al Qaeda will be more humane if the politicians build them schools and the clerics stop telling them they will have 70 virgins in heaven if they kill heathens.
Section 42 of the 1999 constitution guarantees the right to freedom from discrimination. It said that no Nigerian citizen shall be subjected to discrimination on the basis ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion. Yet at every turn the state demands we fill our state of origin on every document. Pray, what does my dentist need my state of origin for to examine an aching tooth? A sensible choice would be to replace the phrase with "Place of Origin" because really that is what counts.
The NYSC and employment opportunities
Nigerian employers of labour routinely demand the NYSC certificate when they need to hire. And as usual with most things in Nigeria, we have found a way around it. Many have been indicted for seeking employment with forged NSYC certificates. This needn't arise if employers of labour are more pragmatic. An internship certification from a reputable organization would often suffice as it suggests experience and practical application of knowledge.
Those who want the scheme maintained argue it provides manpower and technical expertise in rural areas. This argument is trite and disingenuous. It is the responsibility of government, especially local governments to cater to developmental issues in their domain. Tasking fresh university graduates to provide manpower in these rural areas on vocations unrelated to their discipline is to render them redundant and do a great disservice to the beneficiaries of their services.
Many youth corps members are drafted as teachers in Primary and Secondary schools without the requisite training and zero teaching skills. West African Examination Council (WEAC) and National Examination Council (NECO) examination results every year confirm the futility of this arrangement.
Lasington Everest a consultant at OR&C Consultants served in College of Agriculture Zuru, Kebbi State from March 2009 to February 2010. According to him, he taught a bunch of students whose brains seemed to have long atrophied. Though he was well at home with Political Science he was asked to teach, he admitted teaching the students required a kind of proficiency he didn't have.
A new thinking
Mr Bush-Alebiosu, who represents Kosofe federal constituency in the federal House of Representatives has suggested that the N120, 000 paid to a youth corps member during the service year be given to each graduate as a soft loan to start a viable small-scale enterprise to help eradicate poverty. This would have been a wise suggestion, if our government was peopled by those who knew their onions and what to eat with them.
However, many Nigerians want the programme terminated. They have argued and correctly too, that it really does not add value. Rukiat Adedamola, a Chartered Accountant, had one word to describe her experience, "nonsense". Then she added, "make it arrant nonsense", she wanted a description that could capture the futility of a wasted year. She served in Birniwa Cottage Hospital, Jigawa State from October 2007 to September 2008.
Her elder sister had one advice for her: "Take enough nylons". Two weeks later she understood why. The toilet was populated by vermin. She and her fellow corps members were herded in a ramshackle primary school to spend three weeks of their lives where sanitary conditions were hazardous and living conditions akin to those of a people internally displaced.
Another contentious issue is the politics of posting corps members to places of primary assignment. Children of the privileged members of the society lobby their way to be posted to lucrative posts such as banks, state houses and corporate organizations. Others simply pay for the NYSC certificate. A former corps member who didn't want to be named claimed that she was posted to the State House in Jalingo but upon resumption the State Coordinator told her that she had been reassigned to a primary school in a remote part of the state.
Rather than listen to the genuine aspiration of the people, the pendulum is swinging in the direction of reviewing the law to allow each graduate serve in his own state of origin or zone. However, the very notion defeats the purpose of the scheme. In a nation where enduring programmes are not the norm, it is understandable the nostalgia many feel for the programme. But, more often than not, a painful surgery saves lives.
The reactions that have trailed the killing of the youth corps members already indicate the programme has passed its sell-by date. President Goodluck Jonathan ordered payment of N5 million compensation for family of slain corps members and a sitting of clueless men (otherwise called committee) to find out what we already know. Throwing money at problems is the preferred solution of the acutely unimaginative.
Mr Isa Yuguda, governor of Bauchi claimed he rounded over 500 suspects and would punish them. Nigerians know they have heard this before. Already, an Ibadan-based lawyer, Mr. Oluwole Aluko has sued President Goodluck Jonathan and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke demanding the abrogation of the law which established the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.
Mrs Abimbola Adimorah, director of Corps Welfare and Inspection, who represented the director general, Major General Tsiga, at a memorial service in Abuja for the slain corps members, said that NYSC felt the loss of corps members."What can we say? We talk of compensation, but what can you compensate for the death of a child?"
The answer Madam is that, there is nothing. When a thing meant to keeps us one is now driving a knife through us, then it is time to call it a day.
Isaac Anyaogu, lives in Lagos, Nigeria.