So over the past few weeks, the NYSC program has been under the microscope after the spate of killings that followed the elections leaving Corps members dead. This has triggered widespread condemnation of the killings and the NYSC Program itself. Some call for the outright scrapping of the NYSC while others call for a review. Either way, it is my sincere hope that something is indeed done about the NYSC program because in its current state, the program is not living up to its initial billing. The hope not only lies in hoping that the government does something, I also hope that we as a people don’t forget the sacrifice that the corps members made. Many times, it seems as though we easily forget tragedies and move on to the next thing without demanding change. A laissez-faire population will lead to a country in chaos where nothing is ever solved.
Of course the central issue of most of the writings on the post election violence as relating to NYSC has been basically outrage and who can blame anyone. After all these are our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters who lost their lives. However, I would like to take the position of suggesting potential solutions as regards to reviewing the program not only to secure the lives of our corpers but to improve the welfare and lot of the NYSC members. This is important because in the bigger scheme of things, the NYSC program represents the future of this nation. Its members are graduates of tertiary institutions who hold skills and ideas that could change this nation. In addition to this, NYSC is one of the few opportunities for people to step out of their comfort zone and experience a different part of the country thereby fostering unity. It is also instructive that this crop of young men and women who are serving the country are future ministers, industrialists, academics, philanthropists, and so on and hence deserve to be treated with respect.
In terms of securing the lives of NYSC members, it is important that all states build substantial corper lodges. They also need to provide subsidized housing for the corpers. This subsidized housing will be cheap enough for corpers to afford and would help improve security of corpers as these places would be given sufficient security detail. It would have the advantage of having congregating corpers together and giving the needed “safety in numbers” effect. A buddy system would have to be adopted in which corpers would look after each other and ensure the safety of their fellow corper. It would also help to provide corpers with sufficient combat and weapons training. Another approach would be to make it necessary for traditional leaders to know the corpers and also afford them the security of whatever local militia helps to keep security in the said ward/village. Lets face it, in the real rural areas militia hold more sway than the police.
Apart from security, the NYSC program suffers a lot of other problems. The problems include insufficient wages, corruption, community development (Yes CD is a problem), a lack of sufficient jobs for corpers once they finish and poor placement of corpers based on skill.
In addressing the insufficient wages for corpers it is key to note that simply increasing corper allowance is not acceptable. It is not enough to only factor in federal government pay to corpers but it is imperative to look into the amount corpers receive from their places of primary assignment. It is pitiful that in this day and age some corpers receive as low as 3,000 naira from their places of primary assignment, add this to the approximately 10,000 they receive from federal government and you have maybe 13,000 a month for a graduate living and working in a place like Abuja and Lagos. You have to be kidding me. I propose that government factor in the living cost of different areas in the country as well as regulate the amount organizations give their corpers to ensure fair treatment. It is also important to note that in the time of some of our parents, NYSC allowance was about half of what a staff in places of primary assignment received. If a corper was earning 100 naira a month then, a full staff earned like 200 naira. If you are going to give workers a living wage, you have to give corpers a living wage because in most instances these corpers are away from home and need to be reasonably comfortable. Comfort and security as well as employment will help better integrate the country as you will see cases of corpers staying back in the areas they served to work. Hence a better mixing of the polity outside of ethno-religious lines will occur.
Looking at corruption in the NYSC scheme would be a really deep undertaking as the NYSC is basically a mirror of the corruption in our society. You have bribery to influence places of primary assignment, you have people paying off officials so that they can basically skip the whole NYSC experience and stay at home or keep working abroad (a little bit common amongst foreign-trained folk, yeah I said it!). You also have paying officials after skipping Community Development (I m guilty of this, cant lie). My suggestion for this would be an anonymous tipping service that will allow corpers report cases of officials harassing them or requesting money from them. Aside from this transparency in the manner of assigning of places of primary assignment, CD, as well as all things NYSC related including posting of people to states. The processes and methods of deciding these things need to be publicized. We don’t want to hear about connection anymore, if Nigeria is to evolve into an egalitarian society, it is important that the NYSC be merit based and transparent. No Nigerian is more equal than the other because of wealth, status, ethnic group, religion or connection, the country belongs to both me and you.
Linking from the previous point, the Community Development scheme of the NYSC has become riddled with corruption as funds are not even made available to corpers to execute thought out community development projects and in some urban areas, the CD has turned into a joke with people coming and standing/sitting around for hours till their CD cards are signed. Also in some cases there doesn’t seem to be a choice of where one wants to do his/her CD and even in cases where corpers undertake a project they are subjected to red tape and sometimes have to use some of their own money to fund the said project. This is not acceptable. The process of assigning CDs needs to be transparent. The CD itself should be an open process that would allow for brainstorming of ideas from corpers and implementation of projects to develop their communities based on the skills they possess and what interests them. If I want to install a solar powered pump borehole in a community that I m serving in, there should be forum for me to share my ideas, draw up a cost estimate and project plan and get funding from the NYSC scheme or suitable NGO partners. Corpers have brilliant ideas on how to develop communities and the nation as a whole only if we let them.
Lack of sufficient jobs for corpers once they finish is another problem that is more societ wide with the high unemployment rate in the country. Of course, there have been attempts to help corpers with entrepreneurship training. Lets be serious though, you want a graduate of engineering to start weaving baskets and selling them? Are you bloody serious? You need to do better. If you place corpers in the right places to serve based on their qualification, interests and experience you will get better value from the corpers and you will more likely retain them. Entrepreneurship schemes are good and I believe that is a legit step in the right direction to tackling unemployment. However it will make no sense if you teach people entrepreneurship skills and not provide funds or loans for them to engage in said business. No sense at all. Another point to make is that the year a corper spends in the place of primary assignment should be a time where the company trains the corper and gives him/her the necessary skills. The NYSC service year can also serve as a graduate trainee year in which corpers are trained with the intention of retaining them after the finish serving. Maybe companies will complain about the basic skill set of corpers, if that is the case the companies should conduct aptitude/skill tests and interviews before they select corpers. This would make for a more equitable process of primary assignment selection and result in fewer rejections. It would also be a good idea if a database of CVs/ Skill set is created that would allow organizations to look and select potential corpers they would like to recruit.
All in all, this is my attempt at a constructive criticism of the NYSC scheme and a solution based approach to reviewing the scheme and helping to unite and progress Nigeria. I m sure I missed a lot of points, do you have any suggestions for a thorough review of the NYSC scheme if it is not eventually scrapped, share. I m interested in hearing people’s ideas.
A patriotic jingle below to get your blood pumping.