In the part of world where I was born, “bread and buttered”, people in uniform or “khaki” are always looked upon with fright, though mostly not loved but in some magnitude respected. These uniform-wearing personalities range from the most dreaded Nigerian Army, the less-known Navy, the lowly-respected ubiquitous Nigerian Police, to hard-looking Men O’ war and some ferocious security agents guarding Banks, residential buildings or Private-owned properties. Once they are in uniform, they tend to make their authorities known and as well command respect from everybody under their jurisdiction. Ironically, another set of people fall into the khaki uniform-wearing category, but in there own case, they are not feared, but loved, esteemed and sometimes looked upon as a role model.
As a kid, one of the things that motivated me to keep going to school and loving it was the presence of some stunning khaki-wearing “big” people – which I later got to know as “youths” – around me. My mama told me there and then that the only raison d’être they are radiant in these beautiful apparel is because they faced education “against all odds” and have scaled through the “higher institution of academic learning”. Being just three years old and in Primary One explicates why it was complicated for me to comprehend the “against all odds” and “higher institution of …” parts. The only odd ahead of me was to ensure that Kuti Bukola, the girl who came up second last term doesn’t steal my first position and being first in a class of thirty–two was higher than the highest institution, left to me. Yet, these gorgeous sights and their almost flawless eloquence swept me off my tiny feet and I was head over heel in love with the uniform and the present glamorous and celebrated state of the “wearers”. So, while some kids cry to school, some slothful ones being flogged for refusing to go to school, I on the other hand always leap for joy whenever it is time to go and snivel when I am running late or can’t go at all, probably due to ill-health or holiday.
My ardor to be handsome and my obsession with the khaki uniform were the necessary drives I needed and got to spark up my craze for education, young as I was. My infatuation and admiration for this well-respected khaki uniform soared higher in the early 90s when my uncle came home with the uniform – a long-sleeved khaki shirt, white round-neck T-shirt, a khaki trouser, a face cap and a military-like boot- which I later stole. Quite unfortunately, I couldn’t wear it because, in size, it was bigger and I don’t choose what I wear, Mama does.
The pride of every parent is to see their wads become successful and respected in the society. In my village, aside from studying to become a Doctor, a Lawyer or an unspecified Engineer, nothing else seems to make parents prouder than seeing their progenies in these prestigious khaki-uniforms. This uniform is no other than the NYSC uniform. NYSC? – a one year scheme where youths after graduating from higher institution of learning at home (Nigeria) and some from overseas undergo to serve their fatherland. I was supposed to be a part of the scheme in any of the Batches A, B or C in the 08/09 session but due to the untoward situation of ASUU strike couldn’t. In 09/10 session, I missed Batch A due to anti-GOD antics and agonizingly missed out of Batch B due to the terrible situation of things at my department. All these circumstances did not in any way influence my soon-to-be-unleashed sarcasm on NYSC scheme. This is just an analysis of NYSC from my own view not because of my situation of being exempted. With that already clarified, I should move on.
NYSC, according to the general definition, National Youth Service Corps is a scheme created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the nation after the Nigerian Civil war. The unfortunate antecedents in the country’s national history gave impetus to the establishment of the scheme by decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973 which stated that the NYSC is being established “with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion on national unity”. Ironically, the man who initiated this scheme never went to a higher institution; he was a military man and from there rose to power. Rumours attributed the inclusion of the paramilitary aspect of the scheme to the fact that the then Head of States was heavily criticized for not being a “graduate” which seems easy to him and for the so-called graduate to have a feel of what becoming a military man entails, he established the scheme in which for first three weeks called “orientation”, Corps members – as NYSC members are being called – undergo backbreaking paramilitary training activities willy nilly.
NYSC, using one of my self-made definitions, National Youth Suffering Corps started right there from the orientation camps. Corps members are forced to undergo strenuous paramilitary training while “drilled” if messed up. These sufferings continue after leaving the orientation camp, though in another dimension. The lucky ones with all the string of “connections” attached are posted to luxurious government and private sectors like Banking, Oil and Gas, Insurance, Health institutions and other lush departments while the rest, a staggering 97% are sent into different towns, villages and rural communities for no other purpose than – TEACHING.
What is unity without equity? Why not enforce military personnel – after surviving the nervous tension of hard military training and all – to write JAMB or take professional courses for a duration of one year in which they will have to read over and over again, use whip to wake them at 3am, receive lectures from 7am – 5pm under harsh conditions and write exams too?
Orientation camp, after a while, are turned into a National Youth Sex Camp, where gays, lesbians, bisexuals and straight people partner up to cool off the heat and strain of paramilitary activities by indulging in sexual frivolities – mostly unwarranted. STDS are easily dispersed and shared with “love” while some novice or “immatured” ones get pregnant and had to commit one of the most heinous crimes against humanity – Abortion. Leaving camp, some of these Corps members still find it hard to “control” themselves thereby unleashing their dragons on innocent young girls in their new neighbourhood or designated place of work – mostly secondary schools. “Agunbaniro” –a Yoruba movie I watched the trailer few years back glaringly depict the true reflection of the conducts of some of these randy characters.
Some Corps members after the three weeks orientation were posted to hostile communities where there is little or no value for Western education thereby endangering their lives with “suffering” instantaneously replacing the “service” they came to render. Some had to travel over 20km to get “reception” on their mobiles just to reach their loved ones. Electricity supply and all other social amenities and infrastructures, like in most part of the country, are not reliable or might not even exist. Some kept suffering and smiling like a popular Nigerian artiste sang while some suffering and silent – an attribute of average Nigerians. With the little knowledge and experience I’ve garnered over time about making impact, no one can make any positive impact when under duress, in distress, experiencing abject poverty or suffering for no just cause than serving or suffering for a fatherland that will cease to remember you once the scheme is over – if you are lucky to remain alive.
National Youth Struggling Corps you become the moment it dawned on you that the ethical integrity of being a graduate and being “independent” has been outlived as you still have to call home demanding for much-needed financial relief because the ones provided or promised by the government are overwhelming only on the Papers but nothing to write about in reality. Corps members now seem more like a burden because the pride and relief, parents and guardians thought they had, have been substituted with grief, anxiety and worst of all unrest of the mind. It will be a total fallacy and sheer unpatriotism if I attribute these vices to any geo-political zone of the country because it’s nothing short of a national tragedy striking from one part of the country and sparking on the other side. I hail from and reside in the south-western part of the country so I can, with all axiom speak for and about my zone.
In some part of the South West, Corps members are not treated specially in any advantageous manner as they have to pay through their noses for unaccommodating accommodations and spend all their savings on feeding because traders and market men/women alike always look at them as being “well-paid” because they read it in the Papers. Exorbitant fees are being charged for any service whatsoever and had to undergo a lot of bargaining process before goods can be bought at the normal selling price. Just recently a traditional ruler was alleged to have raped a Corps member serving under his domain.
What is unity in being taken advantage of?
In some part of the North in the past few years, due to the low level of literacy or high level of illiteracy, Corps members have been killed, kidnapped and gruesomely tortured while carrying out the one-year youth service. The recent killings of some Corps members in Bauchi and Kaduna recently, have again brought the beaming light on NYSC activities. In the event of that, some concerned groups and individuals have been calling for the scrapping of the scheme while some are advocating a review of the Acts of Geo-political posting of corps members. While a review is necessary, I think we must not rush into any decisions for now. We must, as a nation, not forget the ultimate price paid by the fallen Corps members and all hands must be on deck to immortalize them as the fallen heroes they became.
Going around each day, seeing people running from post to post, from an herbalist abode to a prayer mountain, from a Prophet to an Imam and some making the necessary phone calls to egoistically manipulate their NYSC postings – really got me worried about the bleak and vague future awaiting Nigerian youths. The part of me that love the khaki uniform died the day I saw the same uniform of a Corps member soiled with his blood and the picture of another Corps member burnt to death with the NYSC uniform. Amidst tears I ask myself… Is the khaki uniform really worth it now? Has it not lived past its glory days? Do kids, having watched Corps members been treated like animals and slaughtered like chickens get motivated the way I was? These and many more questions are thoughts that flow through and sometimes flood my mind. No one need tell me the answers, they are boldly written on the images of slain Corpers staring me in the face on my Facebook page.
To be continued…..
Adesuyi Lancaster Adesola ©2011