The second conclusion I came to about NYSC was that until the scheme is discontinued, development will elude some parts of this country. However, before I discuss that, let me talk about what I can only call the hypocrisy of NYSC.
According to the NYSC Decree of 1993, one of the functions of NYSC is ‘to raise the moral tone of Nigerian youths’. NYSC is supposed to raise our moral tone and yet it is an institution where your posting depends on who you know. NYSC is supposed to teach us honesty and yet it is an institution that even corpers themselves do not respect for that quality. Ask any corps member about corruption in NYSC and you will hear all kinds of tales: tales of Local Government Inspectors (LGIs) who collect the monthly salaries of absentee corpers and cover for them, tales of female corpers who avoided bush postings and got posted to the state capital because they were sleeping with an NYSC official, tales of corpers who were absent throughout the service year and then suddenly surfaced at the Passing Out Parade to collect certificates they had bought and paid for.
The issue here is not whether these stories are true or not (and they most likely are, as the saying goes there is no smoke without fire); the issue is that NYSC already enjoys such a bad image in the eyes of corps members that it is impossible for them to say they are teaching anybody morals, of all things.
All corps members who served in Taraba State were acutely aware of the fact that the only reason they were posted to such a backward location was their lack of contacts within NYSC. The truth is how many NYSC officials’ children serve in places like Taraba? How many Senators’ children? How many Governors’ children? How many children of members of the House of Representatives? How many children of Permanent Secretaries, Commissioners, Military Chiefs, Senior Police Officers, Senior Civil Servants etc. serve in places like Taraba? How many children of people with even the remotest connection to powerful government personalities or NYSC staff? We all know the answer: none. The only people who get posted to places like that, places without electricity and water, places with no toilets, only pit latrines infested with cockroaches, places with no source of stimulation whatsoever, are the children of regular people, people with no ‘long leg’. Awon mekunnu as Yoruba people say.
And yet, NYSC officials have the temerity to turn to us, corpers serving in such places, and tell us to suffer ‘under the sun or in the rain’. Really? Are you serious? Wow.
Now, to my main point here. Until NYSC is discontinued or truly reformed, I believe some parts of Nigeria, especially in the North, will not experience true socio-economic development. In these places, corpers are simply being used to do government work.
Youth Corps members are supposed to help, to assist in the development of places they are posted to, not do all the work. At the school where I was posted in Sunkani, headquarters of Ardo-Kola LGA in Taraba State, the corpers did almost all the work. In fact, the school had become so used to corpers coming year in, year out that the teachers of all science subjects were corpers.
When we, 2010 Batch A corpers, left in February, the school lost one of its two Chemistry teachers (yours truly), all its Physics teachers, the lone Computer Science teacher, one of two Government teachers, a CRS teacher and a Math teacher. The lone Chemistry teacher left behind is a Batch B corps member who will be leaving in June. I am sure that by now in April, the school would have rushed frantically to secure a new harvest of workers from the new 2011 Batch A corpers who arrived in March. How can schools offer quality education when they’re running on temporary staff? What is the state government doing?
According to a news item I read in The Punch Newspaper of Friday, October 29, 2010, 75% of all teachers in Jigawa State are corps members. The situation there is so dire that in some schools, corpers are actually Vice Principals! The strange thing about the story is that when the NYSC State Coordinator there, Mr. Nurudeen Baba gave the statistic; he said it as if it was a laudable achievement of NYSC, something to be proud of. But again, how can a school run on temporary staff? If NYSC continues forever, what incentive is there for governments in educationally less developed states like Taraba, Jigawa, Yobe, Adamawa etc. to employ permanent teachers for their schools? Especially when corpers are so much cheaper. Throughout the time we served in Sunkani, the only salary we got from the school was a monthly N500 ‘kerosene allowance’. It really was a pathetic situation.
I can tell anyone, from firsthand experience that when it comes to education, corpers are definitely NOT helping to accelerate the growth of the national economy. Most of the students we teach are just confused. You look at them in class and you realize they actually have no idea what you are talking about. And why would they? Imagine an SS3 Chemistry student who has been taught Chemistry since SS1 by up to 4 or 5 different corps members, all with different teaching styles and varying levels of intellectual capacity.
We go for service and they just throw us into classrooms without any training at all. It’s as if NYSC believes that just because a person is a graduate he/she MUST be able to teach in a secondary school. Excuse me, but not every graduate can teach. Not everyone has that calling or even the ability/gift to teach well. Yet they thrust us into schools and the result is that the students we teach, even the more intelligent ones, are utterly confused as to what secondary education is about, having sat under the instruction of all kinds of teachers, both competent and otherwise. I repeat, until permanent teachers start taking the place of corpers, a lot of government schools in Nigeria will continue to offer very low-quality education.
The above leads me to a critical point. Corpers cannot and should not do the work of government. How long will corpers continue to be teachers in schools, teaching all the time, while the government-employed permanent teachers breeze in and out, teaching only when they feel like it? This may not happen everywhere but it happened regularly at the school where I served. How long will corpers continue to sand-fill potholes in government roads, put up street traffic signs, paint zebra crossings, and clean markets all in the name of CDS? And these CDS projects, many times, are funded out of corpers’ salary; a salary that amounts to little more than breadcrumbs, not even peanuts. How long will corpers continue to run helter-skelter looking for sponsors to buy transformers for local communities? What is government doing? Even the corpers who do these things, how much support does government give them? How long will corpers continue to fund sensitization outreaches about general health, sanitation, HIV/AIDS, preventing maternal mortality, deworming children, malaria, cholera, MDGs etc. while the local government sits idly by and does nothing? How long will state and local governments continue to use corpers to take over their responsibilities? How long?
In that 1993 Decree, NYSC claims to do all sorts of things. They claim to be making us more self-reliant. This is probably true. If you don’t learn to take care of yourself during the service year and learn not to expect anything but platitudes from any NYSC official, God only knows how you would end up. They claim to be helping us to develop skills for self-employment but the only effort they made in this regard was an entrepreneurship lecture organized for us at camp. I’ve had better lectures. And besides, it was difficult for us to concentrate when the lecture was taking place in the biting hot sun on the grounds of Govt. College Jalingo. Most of us were sitting under trees far away from the canopy where the speaker was. Really, the least NYSC could have done was organize a hall for us to have lectures in. But I suppose it was too much of a bother.
Instead of helping us to sharpen our skills in preparation for entering the labour market or even strengthening our capacity for self-employment, what NYSC is actually doing is wasting one year of our lives. One of the greatest and most distressing features of the NYSC service year, especially if you served in a place like Taraba State, is long stretches of boredom. One corper said, “this boredom sef can kill you” and I agree. There is simply nothing to do after school hours except cook and attend fellowship. There are no avenues for self-development. You can’t find good books to read. TV, movies and the Internet are of course out of the question where there is no electricity. Even if you wanted to learn a new skill/trade, the only one was if you joined the Fulani men with the cattle and learnt to be a herdsman. The corpers who tried to learn something new all did so with their own money without the knowledge or assistance of NYSC. A female corper who learnt how to make jewelry with beads had to leave Sunkani altogether and go to Jalingo for one week to learn it there. So NYSC cannot say they are truly developing anybody’s entrepreneurial ability.
NYSC also claims that it helps to remove prejudices and eliminate ignorance about the lifestyles of various ethnic groups. In some ways, this is true. But NYSC’s achievements in this area are not substantial at all. Are we really less detribalized and more tolerant now in 2011 than we were before NYSC began in 1973? I don’t think so. After 38 years of NYSC’s existence, we are still recording tons of religious/ethnic/intertribal crises all over the country, and in some of these even corpers are killed. If NYSC is having so great an effect, why haven’t these incidents reduced over the years?
In the Corper’s Lodge where we stayed during the service year, the topic ‘Should Nigeria Split?’ was a common subject for discussion. Some corpers felt (myself not among them), that it would be better if we divided into 2: North and South, or 3: North, East, West and that even if we didn’t divide, less-developed states like Taraba should be excised from Nigeria because they were a drain on our resources. Where then is the sense of corporate existence and common destiny that NYSC says it is achieving? Even on the news in the past couple of days, obviously because of the violent protests in the North that trailed INEC’s announcement of Goodluck Jonathan as the President-Elect and in which remember, corps members were killed, a lot of commentators have been calling for another look into the Union of states that form Nigeria. We are hearing things like ‘Nigeria is a mere geographical expression, not a nation’ and ‘Is it compulsory that we must belong to the same country? What do we have in common with these people?’
So, what sense of unity exactly has NYSC achieved after 38 years?