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Lara Popoola: Who NYSC Don Epp? 4 Reasons Why the Scheme Must Be Scrapped

Lara Popoola

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Lara PopoolaOne of the questions I was frequently asked after graduation was whether I would return to Nigeria to take part in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). My candid answer was always “No – why should I?” Transcending the fact that NYSC did not align with any of my life plans at the time, I simply did not appreciate the value proposition. Some of my friends who had gone tried to tempt with the pomp and pageantry of orientation camp, making new friends, discovering a new culture and the golden opportunity for one lucky man to find his missing rib (yes- I’ve heard about the relentless pursuits). As tempting as it was, the moment I overlooked the novelty, and weighed the measurable benefits, I was content with my decision.

My advantage was that I had a choice, I could say no. That is a luxury majority of Nigerian graduates do not have due to the compulsory nature of the program. Serve your motherland or be damned – at least, that is the case especially for the millions who long for the day the country will serve them in return. An opportunity to be gainfully employed after long years of labouring in education is not too much to ask. Unfortunately, one too many have gone to NYSC and never returned home.

Recent news about the death of 3 youth corps who died last week at NYSC camp and allegations of negligence from staff has resurrected a renewed public outcry to scrap or revamp the program. Many are claiming the program is useless and redundant. “Who NYSC Epp?” is the question many are asking. What has it done for me?

I sympathise with the plight of these young people, and support the motion to scrap the program for the following reasons:

It has outlived its essence
NYSC was birthed in 1973 from the ashes of the Biafran war as a bridge to connect people all across the country, provide exposure to different cultures and foster national unity by posting graduates to States different from theirs. It was a credible idea at the time, which most likely achieved its aims in the immediate years following the war. 40 years later, the country has evolved, and we are fighting a different war. Yet, like most institutions in Nigeria bedevilled with corruption, NYSC has failed to re-assess its objectives, and take into consideration the evolving needs of the country and its youths. If we are really serious about achieving national unity, my question to the government is, why wait so long? Why wait till people are fully fledged adults before half-baked, forceful and sometimes downgrading measures are put in place to enforce national unity, when in actual fact, most youths are already set in their ways, with strongly formed prejudices and opinions by the time they graduate from university. Surely, what the country needs is a well thought out cradle to grave program that educates and empowers every citizen to be respectable and valued members of the society. Until then, we may never be able to boast of national peace and unity.

The risks are too high
The poor management of the program means that very few leave unscathed. Increasing security issues in many parts of the country means that Corps are exposed to unwarranted dangers. Many have lost their lives due to tragic road accidents, boko haram and election violence. Some developed serious health issues due to the unique challenges of their new environments. Reports of sexual abuse and harassment abounds. If the same structures from decades ago still exists, and no tangible investments are put in place to accommodate the increasing number of Corps, surely we are just laying the foundation for a national disaster.

It is of little or no value
Every year, universities across the country churn out thousands of graduates who would have spent anything between 4-7 years obtaining their degrees. What most graduates desire at that point is valuable work experience or gainful employment, especially if they don’t have rich parents to send them abroad for a postgraduate degree. However, majority will spend up to a year at home waiting to be called to service, then spend another year posted to a remote community, most likely teaching in public schools, subjects that are far removed from their degrees. What meaningful and relevant experience does an engineering graduate gain by teaching government in a public school, only to be asked for 5 years relevant work experience by a potential employer? No wonder many return home jobless and frustrated. At best, a handful who had been fortunate enough to serve in a corporate organisation, providing cheap labour for a year, would be retained and fully employed after their service year, while the majority would have learnt some sort of vocational skill and be forced into self-employment.

It is a waste of time and resources
The scheme is very expensive, estimated to cost the country 60-80 billion naira per year. You don’t have to be a genius to conclude that spending that significant amount of money on such a redundant scheme, while millions of youths are languishing in poverty and dealing with very long periods of unemployment is an absolute waste of time, money and people. If only the people in charge dare to be selfless, listen to the complaints of the masses, and collaborate with major stakeholders (i.e the graduates, universities, parents and employers) to devise innovative and relevant schemes that will better serve the collective needs of the country.

In the end, we cannot isolate NYSC from the corrupt system, scrapping it might just dig deep holes in the personal pockets of too many public officials. However, I am optimistic that the government will wake up from its slumber, and approach the drawing board with a holistic view, and provide benevolent options for the youths.

Do you agree?

When I’m not negotiating contracts from 9-5, I’m daydreaming about my next travel adventure, working on my podcast which will be launched in Jan 2018 and writing my first book. I love reading, teaching my Sunday school kids and spending time with friends - indulging in good food and conversation. I am passionate about young people having access to good education and currently serve as a School Governor in my local authority. I’m currently seeking opportunities to work with corporate and government organisations in Nigeria on social development, especially education. For now, you can contact me at [email protected]

38 Comments

  1. LEM

    December 7, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    I fully support this. NYSC has outlived its usefulness. It should be scrapped.

    • Amaka

      December 7, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      Lara. I see that you really care about the welfare of the vulnerable. The scheme is no more serving it’s initial purpose rather it is being used to keep body and soul together. Better not put your life in the hands of the Nigerian government. Where will the soldiers and workers in camp and outside camp go. If NYSC is scrapped then many of its workers will he forced back into society going without jobs or means of survival, that will then lead to more kidnappers and high way robbers. If you think that the scheme is being kept because of graduates, please think again. What about those manufacturing your kits, you think they want it scrapped? Too many issues involved. It will take something major to get the program scrapped. Those benefitting will not let go easily. Interesting fact; I did not know that it cost that much though because the money does not reflect in the standard of living. I did mine 2000/2001 in Abudu , Edo State and the toilets were nothing to write home about. I fell sick and had to go live with my aunty in Benin for a while, could have died if not for Jesus. Experience can be worse in some states. I truly sympathize with the families of those graduates who spent tons of money and time training their children only to see things end up this way just because they had to be part of a compulsory scheme.

    • bree

      December 8, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Amaka so innocent graduates should keep dying in order that people won’t loose their jobs as NYSC officials? pls let NYSC be scrapped.

    • FasholasLover

      December 7, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      @Model for this post. I have been looking out for your picture on any post. I think you are very beautiful.

    • Lara Popoola

      Lara Popoola

      December 7, 2016 at 5:37 pm

      Thank you 🙂

  2. Toro Akinseye

    December 7, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    Hi Lara I fully understand your point of view, I did NYSC in ’87 and I must say it was one of my best life experiences. In the camp in Agwu Anambra state unfortunately one life was lost and the camp was closed. For my Primary assignment I was sent to the City TV in Kano to work as a reporter/news editor. I travelled with a News crew the length and breadth of the state gathering news. I had lived a sheltered life first in the UK and then Lagos this was an eye opener year seeing and reporting the most horrendous conditions women and children lived in, the inadequate hospitals etc. Many of my friends worked in Schools, without these corpers there would be no good teachers. In time we were paid n200 I was able to save to buy sewing machines which was the starting seed to my business. Rather than stop the scheme, it should be reorganised and more than ever before a unifying factor is needed. Best Wishes

    • bruno

      December 7, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      ur child has not died in nysc camp or on the road going to their posting that’s why u are talking like this.
      every year how many people’s kids die during nysc?

    • Lara Popoola

      Lara Popoola

      December 7, 2016 at 3:50 pm

      Hi Toro,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you had a lovely NYSC experience and found it very beneficial. What I have come to realise is that most people who served in the first 20 years of NYSC’s creation had significantly different experiences when compared with recent times.
      The investment in NYSC has dwindled over the years, which means not many can boast of the same experience you had.
      If anything, I think we can both agree that the scheme is no longer sustainable or beneficial in its current format. If the government’s objectives are charitable, then they should at least make it voluntary. Most of the government officials will never subject their children to the same conditions they enforce on ordinary Nigerians.

    • Idomagirl

      December 7, 2016 at 10:39 pm

      The NYSC of 1987 is very different from today’s NYSC.

  3. bruno

    December 7, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    the people u are even trying to help don’t want ur help. the state I served, my goodness, the meanest people on the planet. they hate corpers more than anything.

    I have never known someone who served and didn’t have a problem with the useless indigenes of the state they were posted to.

    They will never scrap nysc. people are benefitting heavily from it. from the manufacturers who produce those poorly sewn nysc uniforms to the cooks at the camps who don’t know what salt is.

    my kids will never grow up nigeria, I swear. if its the last thing I will do.

    • Ijs

      December 7, 2016 at 4:56 pm

      I’m guessing you’re not referring to your biological children since you’re gay

    • FinchleysFinest

      December 7, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      @IJS……. You’ve been waiting to abuse Bruno haahaha…. and he fell for it lol…

  4. Oge.A

    December 7, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I totally agree. The purpose of the NYSC- to foster unity and diversity- was lost some years back making it insignificant. The bitter truth is that our country is divided along political, religious and tribal lines and NYSC CANNOT blur these lines much less erase them.
    It used to be that Corpers were put in companies or organization during their service year giving them a better chance of being retained and hence reducing the massive youth employment deficit we have in Nigeria. But the govt made teaching compulsory for the vast majority of Corpers when many don’t want to teach or aren’t interested in it or even trained for it. This move hasn’t help our deteriorated educational system at all rather it worsened it cos many Corpers aren’t professionally trained to be teachers. And yes teaching is a profession although in this part of the world it’s not seen as such.
    I opted out of the service last year due to family responsibility and also cos from the outset my mind was never in it. I saw no use for it and now am happy/fulfilled doing what I love.
    The peanuts paid to Corpers esp in this terrible economic times, the hardship many go through, the uncertainties after, time wasted, the unnecessary risks and insecurity. It’s really not worth it anymore to be honest.
    The scheme should be scrapped like yesterday. There are better and continuous ways the Nigerian youth can freely express their true patriotism… Mandatory service to their country isn’t one of them.

  5. ab

    December 7, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    I agree @Toro. I disagree on the motion to scrap it. I would not say it has outlived its essence either, I personally think its a case of moving with the times. and being innovative..The main questions should be how can we make it work in this present day and age? Is it possible that some people will have to do it and others dont (so for example a Nigerian who has great international experience/skill & will like to move back & take up a role straight away. Can they do so without having to go on with NYSC)? may be have a new set of criteria for admission into it? etc…This NYSC programme is ripe, very ripe for change and if only the government will take the call for change seriously, I believe it is a programme that can be totally revamped for the good of our youths!

  6. Jenna

    December 7, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Dear Lara, I hear you. Very valid points which i myself have mused over a couple of times, especially after a deliverance from crazy people during the elections that brought Jonathan into power.. However, we do have a tendency (all humans probably do) to throw away the baby with the bath water. I agree with you to the extent that the NYSC poses its own challenges because of our system and corruption, but it does still have its uses.

    For instance, we like to deceive ourselves as Nigerians that we all have a good appreciation of other parts of the country (bla bla bla), however, i am still in awe at the ignorant comments i hear everyday. Civil war ending or not, we haven’t yet started to visit and appreciate other cultures across Nigeria. I am still a hausa girl (meaning ignorant, unexposed, or unenlightened in many quarters) to many lagosians (forget that i am actually from benue). The system has also lost a lot of its value from people “working their posting” and spending all their days on their comfortable side of things. To that extent, the NYSC is still useful, faulty, but useful.

    I could go on and on, the need for the average young person to get a sense of what it means to work (i’m still a small girl oh, but u should hear the people coming in for job interviews and fear will catch you), the need for us to build a national/patriotic culture (we wont go anywhere without it), etc. How we will manage to fix all the issues the system has, that is a matter for another day!!! Cheers!

    • Lara Popoola

      Lara Popoola

      December 7, 2016 at 5:22 pm

      Hi Jenna,
      Thank you for your comment. I totally agree with you that we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. However, I can’t help but think NYSC is like treating cancer with paracetamol. A lot of the things you’ve highlighted can be learnt, improved and achieved without a one year compulsory scheme.

  7. fleur

    December 7, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    What NYSC program needs is reinvention that stays true to the intent of its creation. It should be about that one year you are allowed to make mistakes while doing something explosively impactful and innovative in a field of practice. This takes VERY DETAILED planning. If done well, corps members don’t have to go to all states. It can be a regional endeavor. As an ex-corp member, You should be able to look back and say “that year, I transformed ABC in IJK ways and for that reason, XYZ positive impact was possible.” there should be continuity in practice. Projects should be scaled up from one year to the next. Look at the Peace Corps model for goodness sakes. Also, there should be incentives for Corp members to want to do it. You should be able to list your one year experience as a tangible experience on your resume that attracts employers. Pres. Buhari, inbox me for ideas. I am not saying any more. I am tired of giving ideas and nobody does anything about them except come up with ridiculous, profit-motivated, and childish variants.

    • Lara Popoola

      Lara Popoola

      December 7, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      You’ve made very salient point Fleur. Thanks for your contribution. Nigeria is not short of ideas, but the government just won’t listen. It is rather frustrating to have an unresponsive government.

  8. N

    December 7, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    YES. Fully Agree

  9. Atreides

    December 7, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    The so-called benefits the supporters of this scheme always spout are, meeting new people, learning other cultures, finding purpose, connections and of course not forgetting the debauchery and hedonistic pursuits.
    All these could have been gotten if they allowed the university pass through them.
    I have made up my mind, no service for me.
    I will serve Nigeria in another way.

  10. Tola

    December 7, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    If NYSC was fulfilling it’s purpose, we wouldn’t still be having some of the deeply offensive and insensitive discussions I’ve seen on social media lately. If we are still debating whether Igbo women make better wives, then NYSC is only treating symptoms instead of the causes of national divide.

  11. Chiomah

    December 7, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    While your points are valid I think the scheme should be revamped and re -organised and boy scrapped in totality.

  12. Adetunji Oyewunmi

    December 7, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Everything has an expiry date

  13. Ememobong

    December 7, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    I think the NYSC scheme requires new management, restructuring and maybe advanced ideas not necessarily scrapping. The scheme is not all that bad, for one thing, there are many people who are working where they are working today because they got into the organisation through the NYSC scheme and were subsequently retained. Secondly, there are a lot of Nigerians who got the opportunity to live and work in a different state for at least one year and as a result were able to experience the culture and way of life of a different tribe from their own. Thirdly, the scheme has helped to forge solid business contacts, good friendships and even romantic relationships that blossomed into marriages. Lastly, the scheme has over the years helped to mold decent and hardworking Nigerian youths and even inspired some to start unpopular but profitable businesses like farming and agriculture; some have even been encouraged to go into grassroots politics like becoming counsellors and local government chairpersons etc.

  14. Clara

    December 7, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    It should be scrapped oo!!! In Enugu camp atm and the struggle to wakeup early and do annoying unesessary things is killing me lol! Cant wait for next week! It is really not that important tbh! Waste of my time and 1 year, sigh

  15. Ola

    December 7, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    I served and can testify to positive side of the scheme. However, the scheme has outlive its usefulness.

    As you opined, Lara, a lot of people has built industries and source of income around it..ranging from hostel accommodation, local shops and markets to big contractor that supply degrading and inferior kit to Corps, and to poor managers of the scheme in each state and the HQ. All these beneficiaries of the program will not want to see it scrapped.

    And also, young graduates, do capitalized on that one year meager allowances too. Since they are sure NO JOB is insight.And the system will demand for certificate of ‘serving under the sun or in the rain for a year, or an exemption if they chose to get public job. They too will not want NYSC go.

    I hope the FG can summon courage to do the needful.

  16. Abz

    December 7, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    Positive side of NYSC is I met my husband through that channel. Besides that, it really needs to go or better yet, revamped.

  17. Idomagirl

    December 7, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    It should be scrapped.

  18. Dre

    December 7, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    I completely agree with Lara. It should be abolished or at least made OPTIONAL for the few who think they will die without the program. You know the nigeria factor, they will only listen if one politician son or daughter becomes a victim. Remember when dss where invading people’s home anytime they like and it wasn’t a crime because the judges accepted it in their court rooms, but when it was done to the judges it became a national debate and a ‘crime’ overnnite. Ours is a country of self centred and idc leaders.

  19. EE

    December 8, 2016 at 12:23 am

    NYSC camp should be scrapped. The job postings should continue.

  20. Tamaraki

    December 8, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    I just finished Nysc this April. It was the worst year of my life hands down. Soldiers were uncouth and treated us like slaves, I remember my platoon soldier making my 3 weeks miserable, asking me do frog jump and forcing me to be a guard commander all because I refused to sleep with him.

    The only advantage of Nysc is that in a country where almost 50 percent of youths are unemployed, that 19,800 naira + 10,000 naira from places of primary assignment helps ameliorate some level of poverty and “brokeness” for one year.
    Especially for people who come from disadvantaged homes where parents expect remittances from Nysc allawee.

    So scrapping the program, completely, will put thousands out of Nysc offices out of employment and cause more poverty and disenfranchisement amongst our youths who already frustrated with the economic status quo

  21. Toyosi

    December 8, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    I believe the scheme should be scrapped, it’s outlived it’s usefulness leading to p[enty of problems. why are corpers posted to schools to teach when we have teachers training colleges? corpers are paid little to nothing this days, Toro says her allowee back in 87 was #200 which was enough to buy sewing machines as starting seed for her business. How many corpers can bring their business ideas to fruition with what they get now.
    and also no ones safety is guaranteed, why go on forced excursion to a state i have never been for months on end uncertain of what fate awaits me.
    NYSC isn’t what we need now, government needs to focus on teachers training colleges because expatriate teachers are becoming the order of the day and you know what that means to children’s school fees and the parents’ pocket. Revamping internal security forces (Police and the rest of them).

  22. Peaches

    December 8, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    I agree! most people I know just did the 2 (or 3) weeks and paid someone to sort the rest out for them. It really is a waste of resources and life.

  23. molarah

    December 8, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    Maybe it’s the approach this article took – to paint the negatives (and not the positives) of the NYSC scheme – but I feel strongly that it should not be scrapped. Surely revamped and given better organization, but not done away with totally. People who say NYSC has outlived its usefulness are wrong: Nigeria has never needed a corps organization aimed at driving integration of its diverse parts more than at a time like this.

    Whether we like to admit it or not, this scheme has led to several inter-tribal marriages; it has given poor young Nigerian children a platform to interact and learn from graduates and professionals in careers they never would have known of (what exactly is so bad about a graduate spending a year imparting education to children? I’ve never understood why people gripe about this part of the scheme – it’s just our typical Nigerian selfish way of complaining about any system that asks us to give of ourselves and not expect anything in return). Most of all, it has allowed many see a side of Nigeria that never gets reported in the newspapers and start to think deeply about how to solve this country’s problems. Calling for its scrap is tantamount to throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and it’s highly sentimental given that we never hear this particular outcry until something goes wrong in an NYSC camp. It would be nice if we advance this discussion beyond these shallow calls for “NYSC scrapping”, and start to give the government useful suggestions on how they can improve this laudable scheme.

    • Lara Popoola

      Lara Popoola

      December 8, 2016 at 6:22 pm

      @molarah – I appreciate your comment. Permit me to say that, all over the world, many countries are seeking diverse innovative ways of integrating their young people into their communities, right from primary school up until University and long after they’ve graduate. Why do we insist on continuing with a scheme that clearly no longer works the way it should. I don’t think it is sentimental to have a serious discussion about something that kills one person, let alone imagine all the graduates who have died.

      NYSC in isolation is not the best, neither is it the only way to derive all the benefits you’ve highlighted. As a matter of fact, its costs vastly outweighs its benefits. This is why I proposed a cradle to grave scheme. Give people options!!

    • molarah

      December 8, 2016 at 8:15 pm

      Now we are getting somewhere. I like the hint at a more holistic initiative to achieve the same aim of national integration. Let’s develop this idea and keep talking about it till it becomes a movement too strong for the government to ignore. This I believe is much better than merely calling for the scrap of NYSC.

  24. Wells

    December 8, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    For the very reason of its having existed for 40+ years, nysc cannot be scraped. It can only be restructured and it definitely should be. There are far too many things going on in the background and whether you wish to admit it or not it is already a part of our national identity. I just love how Nigerians love to look at things from just their perspective. So NYSC did not help you or the people you know. What about those that literally owe their success in life to partnerships between NYSC and bodies such as NITDA and BOI. NYSC provides a treasure trove of opportunities but of course one seldom finds what he is not looking for. I will need my own article to fully defend the existence of the scheme and support its restructuring but let me say this. While I feel for the families of the Corp members that die every year, I am not God (nor is any one else) to say whether or not they would still be alive if they did not go for NYSC.

  25. adeola

    December 9, 2016 at 6:28 am

    i don’t think NYSC shuld be compulsory!it’ shuld be optional.

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