With the orientation of the new batch of NYSC corpers curently ongoing, one can only wonder how long we have to wait before hearing of another death incident brought about by the NYSC scheme.
The 43-year-old National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme is currently in the eye of the storm and perhaps deservedly so. Its batch B, first stream of 2016/2017 service year which began the orientation exercise on November 24, 2016 recorded three deaths of participants. Deaths were reported in Bayelsa, Kano and Zamfara state orientation camps where Chinyerum Nwenenda Elechi, Ifedolapo Oladepo and Monday Asuquo, respectively, lost their lives.
The pervasive outrage that attended these unfortunate incidents was informed by the belief in many quarters that the deaths could have been averted if the organisers of the camps had been adequately prepared for the exercise and more alert to their responsibilities.
Sadly, negligence and inadequate capacity were believed to have occasionally caused the loss of these young and promising compatriots in their prime. The NYSC’s structures have virtually collapsed. Most of the orientation camps are in a sorry state, hardly fit for human habitation.
Worst still, many of the officials would seem to have attitude issues bordering on their lack lustre passion and dedication to duty. Little wonder, then, that there has been strident calls for the repositioning of the scheme. But no casual observer would have reckoned that the organisation had become so hollow and decadent.
It is rather unsettling and shameful that a scheme that used to be a symbol of national unity and pride has virtually slid into the abyss, so much so that some people are recommending it for scrapping.
And as if the floundering scheme has rubbed off on the participants who are graduates of tertiary institutions, they have become so docile that they cannot protest against indignity. They tolerate sub-human conditions in the orientation camps without raising a flag.
Even when one of them got killed in a controversial circumstance in Kano, others simply continued their orientation programme without any fellow feeling. These somewhat detached and withdrawn educated youngsters are not the type of future leaders Nigeria needs to make the much needed difference in the country’s challenged socio-political space.
It is not being suggested that ‘corpers’ should take the law into their own hands. But as critical agents in the process of nation building, it is expected that they will constructively but firmly disapprove of misconduct by camp officials and their exposure to harsh and deleterious conditions in the camps.
Perhaps it should be noted that the decadence in the NYSC is a reflection of the damning rot in many public institutions in the country. But because the organisation interfaces with the youth segment of the society regularly, its underbelly tends to be exposed quite often.
The NYSC scheme is indeed a shadow of itself. The structure has simply broken down. It is mainly of relevance to a wide array of contractors who have been feeding fat on the scheme at the expense of the supposed beneficiaries. The participants cut a sorry picture.
They no longer look dapper in their regalia as boots, caps, belts and uniforms all look very much substandard. Various ingenious devises and mechanisms have been brought into play to circumvent the original intentions of the programme much to the detriment of the graduates.
The rich, the powerful and the well-connected know how to get their children and wards out of “hardship” postings. Enterprising participants have devised means to effectively buy themselves out of postings. Instances abound whereby those who finish from a particular city still serve in that city.
There are also cases whereby supervising authorities look the other way while so-called participants are engaged in more gainful employment far from the scene of posting.
Again, the concept of national service cannot justify the risks involved and the pathetic living conditions of participants. Graduates are expected to subsist on less that N20,000 a month in a country in which a coterie of freeloaders and professional jobbers masquerading as political elite arrogate to themselves increasingly absurd salaries and allowances running into millions of Naira monthly.
Participants in the scheme or ‘corpers’ as they are affectionately called also face the double jeopardy of using Nigeria’s dilapidated infrastructure. Young people educated at enormous financial and emotional costs are made to use death traps which the political elite with churlish sarcasm refer to as roads. As stated above, many of our youths are victims of carnage on our roads. No wonder, those who have the clout use every available weapon to buy themselves out of what is increasingly a life threatening proposition.
It is regrettable that the NYSC scheme has become a handy tool for the political elite to disguise graduate unemployment thereby creating an illusion that the corps members are actually in gainful employment. Since the State cannot give meaningful guarantee to the safety of our youth in the scheme; and since it lacks a clear moral obligation to do so, the best thing to do is to make it optional or scrap the scheme outright.
National Service Schemes have been phased out in many countries of the world after they have been perceived to have outlived their usefulness. The United Kingdom and France are two instances. The time to scrap the scheme is now. Nigerians can no longer tolerate the death of any other member of the NYSC through negligence or lack of facilities in the camps.