There have been a lot of arguments about the merits of our National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program and both sides have their points.
- its importance in national unity via posting of corps members to states outside their region of origin
- Employment opportunity it offers our youth
- Provision of teachers to various public schools
- Community service projects in various neighborhoods
- Success stories in their stewardship of elections
Detractors counter with:
- Loss of life in various states due to insecurity in various states further compounded by corps members being strangers in the states they're posted to
- Institutions taking advantage of NYSC program as a tool for cheap labor, "You're doing this for your country, why should we pay you? Times are rough".
- Corps members being at best a silent party to the decay in our educational sector (exam malpractice, terrible teaching, absence in schools, etc) and at worst, accomplices
- A very sizable percentage of coppers gaming the system to shirk their duties for reasons ranging from job offers to fear of losing their lives
- Corps members are powerless to stop election malpractice and even worse left to fend for themselves when violent tensions arise in elections
Adding both perspectives up
Still, nothing is more precious than life itself. Too many parents to count have buried their children in the name of NYSC. How then can anybody argue for making NYSC a mandatory service? For the simple reason that NYSC is perhaps the primary/largest vehicle for every single point the advocates make. To abolish the scheme could amount to suicide in key sectors.
A familiar tragedy
As with other critical issues facing our nation, the NYSC program needs to be better funded and those funds need to be managed properly. Who should cut the cheque? Our government of course. Who's cutting the cheque now? Recent graduates that have to compensate out of pocket for the pittance the federal government pays in allowances. To make matters worse, by literarily starting off their career working for free, the government has set the bar ridiculously low for what university graduates should be willing to work for.
The way forward
Make the service year voluntary. Here's why I think this makes sense
- It'll result in a drastic reduction in the number of graduates participating in NYSC. The truth is most students would avoid this program like the plague. Quick, rase your hand if you want to have your will broken by a year of cheap labor working in poorly funded institutions.
- A reduction in overheads required in managing a large number of new graduates, e.g. less PPAs (place of primary assignment), less officials, less graduates, less camps, etc. Basically the NYSC would now have more money to spend on less heads.
- Let students choose the state they want to work in. Their choices can be rejected (e.g. to prevent overcrowding in certain regions) but remember that the program is now voluntary. They can elect not to enroll in NYSC.
- The government also has to pay more then because now they'll be competing with the private sector for graduates, and I think there are enough companies out there that can match the $130/month the federal government currently pays.
- The government can still entice graduates with rates lower than market value by investing in community development projects graduates would feel compelled to participate in. E.g. helping students with disabilities read and write in a well equipped world-class state library complete with free wifi and computer labs. that's the future. For now students can volunteer to help build and/or setup the library.
- Communities end up being the biggest benefactor as local governments will be forced to actually invest in developing their communities.
We should all be proud of how NYSC corp members. We've got a couple of participants in our work-study program that teach at public schools as part of their NYSC mandatory commitment. Some of the stories they tell make you cringe ("umm what, you mean I could get raped at some of these schools?"). Their internal struggle between a strong desire to help their country and feelings of being pawns in a terribly mismanaged scheme run by an incompetent government is also very evident.
What worries me the most is the feeling of helplessness and despair that being a corps member can bring. I remember tales of corps members being killed in a police station whilst the cops themselves were in hiding for fear of their lives. A nation was outraged and chose to ignore how badly equipped cops are and how illiterate most are. Amnesia set in soon after and till date there is no sort of National Memorial for children, brothers, sisters, and in some cases even young mothers and father that died in the name of service to their country whilst enrolled in NYC.
"The labor of our heroes past, shall never be in vain". From our national anthem, and it's easy to despair when you see our leaders ignore such ideals. However the citizens make a Nation. It's time we all started pushing for reforms within NYSC.
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