By Patrick Dele Cole
The original concept was to instill discipline among young graduates. The graduates would then do community work and pass on their acquired discipline to the youths and others they meet. Our youths would be burning with the feverof national interest, espousing ideas which their training would foster. Like yeast to bread this nationalism would swell the bread of Nigeria, pushing the nation beyond self and tribe. This was why Youth Corpers were posted outside their states to learn about other cultures and impress on those cultures the overwhelming singularity of Nigerianess. Our future leaders would be well grounded in the concept and life of Nigerianess over and above destructive ethnicity. I may be overstating the aims but I think that, by and large, my characterisation is true.
Many of the first corpers took on some of these characteristics and proudly tell you he served in Port Harcourt if he came from Borno. Many others have wonderful stories serving outside their states – Remi and Ayinla are full of stories about serving in Calabar, etc. But what is the NYSC now? What will our youths do? Graduate unemployment is approaching 60%; general unemployment in Nigeria must be around 80%. This is a toxic mixture in a nation of 180 million of which 65% is under 30 years. Something had to be done. It is a notorious fact that many of the Delta militants are graduates; the leaders of Boko Haram when their compatriots tell us the truth may well be educated and are even graduates.
Majority of graduates in Nigeria today taking part in the NYSC are women. The various military camps to which all youth corps members report are cesspools of corruption and influence peddling. The central concept of not serving in your state of origin is being bastardised. There is a price to pay if you want to go to any state of your choice: the orientation portion is no longer as vigorous as it used to be; discipline has broken down; most of the corpers, already ill-equipped by some spurious degree from some undistinguished university, are sent out to teach in schools. If Governor El Rufai was unimpressed by the quality of the teachers in his schools in Kaduna State, he would be appalled by the magnitude of ignorance of some graduates who also end up teaching.
The problem of our youth have to be confronted. They certainly do not lack motivation. If someone who cannot swim can pay over N1 million to cross the Sahara and then the Mediterranean Sea, such a person cannot be said to be unmotivated. These characteristics in other cultures would be regarded as bravery, ingenious, daring, but in Nigeria – he is condemned as opportunistic, criminal, good material for slavery in a CNN documentary which goes on to paint us as criminals filling up the jails of Italy – one commentator saying over 50% of the inmates in Italian jails are Nigerians!! How this can be true in the home of the mafia beats me – obviously, the Italians cannot imprison the mafia and every Nigerian in Italy is presumed guilty until he can prove his innocence. Many of these migrant youths are also graduates.
So what can be done? The NYSC scheme was a good idea but its implementation is no longer fit for our purpose. We have to think again. Our youths believe that they are smart because they use smartphones. No, it is the phones that are smart not our youths. The Yahoo boys and girls are so predictable it is pathetic. But as they say, the devil finds work for an idle mind.
I propose a radical rethinking of the NYSC. All graduates should go into the military for full military training for one year as part of the NYSC programme. That year they would learn discipline in a good healthy body. The military would have to re-organise itself to deal with the influx of new recruits. Some have argued that this full military training should be for only six months. That’s alright with me provided that the concept enunciated earlier viz- discipline, virtue, Nigerianess, comradeship’s, etc., are imprinted in the minds of the youth. After the training, the next year or six months is also for training; this time for streaming the corpers into specialised skills, intelligence, technology, communications, leadership and obedience, etc. At the end of the period, the corpers would have also done considerable community work and they would be guaranteed a job or at least pay during which they look for work. I would also want to copy what the Swiss, Israeli and Cubans do – a return for three weeks refresher course periodically until age 40.
The Swiss and Israelis have national service which has kept them strong and vigilant. In China, they had the foot doctors which Cuba copied and today Cuba has more doctors per population than any country in the world.
In Nigeria, businesses and governments would be obliged to employ corpers. A new generation of youth would be ready to serve the country and thereby serve themselves.
There are downsides to this scheme. The first General I told about this wanted to know what grade or level of arms these corpers would be exposed to. I could see that he thought that the corpers may be able to form alternative military units and may even organise a coup. It is possible but such thoughts had not deterred Switzerland, Finland, the Scandinavian countries, Israel who all have some form of national service. No one can lead Israel today who has not performed some sort of national service, although surprisingly as it may seem, there are several Israelis who are exempted from national service because they practise some sort of religious orthodoxy.
Of course, there are problems with this scheme – two years in a young woman’s life is long: she may want to marry. But the benefits would out weigh all the drawbacks. The Nigerian military is not perfect. It seems to lack a sense of purpose. This scheme may help in repositioning it. As for the nation, to have a pool of dependable disciplined youth – the benefits are simply incalculable. Think what this scheme can achieve in 20 years and compare that to the havoc NYSC, which is over 30 years, has done to Nigeria.
Our youths should be visionaries, with inquisitive minds and national pride, eager to work and well trained for it. They would be destined for positions within an emerging new middle class.
The military would have to be prepared to take up this challenge. A massive infrastructure would have to be put in place; suitable accommodation; in-depth planning for instruction, studies, travel arrangements, training fields, manuals for teachers, and students. The programme has to be evaluated at point- to-point, always keeping in view the aim to produce great youths with correct attitude to life and living.