Musings of a frustrated Corper
To face up to the glaring deficiencies of the dinosaur we call NYSC, government needs to implement more than surface reforms. For many today, NYSC is an ordeal; a necessary evil; a rite of passage whereby one learns to adapt to the flawed codes of conduct in our society. Indeed, NYSC is a foray into the real world which ideally should teach best practices and attitudes conducive to our development and progress as a country. Ironically, the scheme in its current configuration does quite the opposite.
Corpers are regarded as cheap labour by the organisations who employ them and one very often spends the service year running errands, some highly degrading others simply pointless and non relevant to the job at hand. There is no obligation for the corporate world or even the public sector for that matter, to train the corpers they take on. Rather, youth service becomes a sort of demeaning servitude. Let us speak plainly about the real issues at stake and go beyond surface reforms: female corps members are harassed not because they have no martial arts training (contrary to what proposed reforms would have us believe) but because there is little to protect them from sometimes predatory and unwanted attention. Their inability to mimic Karate masters is irrelevant. It is the very philosophy of NYSC, the unequal relationships between corpers and their would be co-workers that is the problem.
Different sets of rules apply for individuals depending on their class, social status or occupation. Corpers, hard working graduates called to serve their country, are perceived as being at the very bottom of the social pyramid rather than the nation’s pride. So they are ridiculed and taken advantage of. Despite the present reforms there is still nothing to protect corps members as concurrently there is no social security net to protect the poor, the elderly and the weak in our society. NYSC currently is an exercise in adaptation to the functioning of a dysfunctional society: a way of learning in practical terms about inequality and injustice.
So what is the point of NYSC? Beyond the objective of national integration, what is a corper meant to gain at the end of his or her service year beyond an often thoroughly degrading and sometimes even traumatizing experience where girls face the lewd advances of men in a position of power and young men are frustrated and angered by the fact that after being used in all sorts of ways, most companies will not retain them? Our government asks Nigerians to love their country, serve it with all their heart and mind, respect their leaders and the laws of the land but gives nothing or little in return. No modern society is based on such unequal dealings. The National Youth Service Corps must provide young people with a career path, a set of skills from which they can earn a living. This should be the core requirement of the scheme, a key term of the contract between the Federal Government and all organisations in both the private and public domain.
NYSC can not be a success, will not add value to both corpers and organisations if there is no training process or clearly defined tasks for corpers to undertake during their service year. As for being retained, so few companies do. This should not be so. Abroad, many organisations hire interns for the year and review their performance at the end of said year. It is impossible to offer a job to everyone, but it is unheard of to offer a job to virtually no one besides the children of those who have family or friends in the organization. As for corpers in the public sector, for them too there should be the possibility of a career path beyond NYSC.
The current reformist idea is to post corpers mostly to rural areas in dire need of the manpower to develop these communities. The problem here is that corpers are regarded as ‘manpower’ and not as individuals with dreams and aspirations and who deserve, just like anyone else, to have a fighting chance at achieving their potential. Should corpers pay for the inefficiencies of governments who were not able to develop rural areas? Serious reform is not to decide that corpers should solely be posted to rural areas where they can serve their country as teachers and doctors when they might have no desire, interest or more importantly ability to do so, thus creating another generation of dissatisfied Nigerians who take out their frustrations on the future youths they encounter!
The path to real reform is to ensure that corpers in different sectors are properly trained for a job and acquire skills and prospects. A nation which fails the youth by its inability to provide them with a decent future is surely failing in its developmental objectives. I would also like to remind government that “without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive” (John F. Kennedy) so rather than believe criticism to be the work of enemies, real, spiritual and imagined I would like to urge government to act. As the grunt of Nigerians continues to suffer government’s inaction in silence, as some members of society respond to their frustrations through violence, one can only hope that we are all able to rise to the responsibility and challenge of creating a better Nigeria.
Tabia Princewill is currently a corper in Lagos.