NYSC: Any relevance in today’s Nigeria?

I heard this joke on social media: A man was asked to define the difference between the PDP and APC; he said: Under PDP, when someone dies, cows are slaughtered to bury the person; but under APC, when a cow dies, human beings are slaughtered to bury the cow! Akika!!

Last Wednesday, five prospective NYSC members travelling to the NYSC orientation camp lost their lives in a ghastly motor accident. According to a release issued by the NYSC Director of Press and Media Relations, Adenike Adeyemi, the five victims were from Akwa Ibom and Imo states and the accident occurred around 2am along the Abaji/Kwali expressway in Abuja. The NYSC expressed its “deep sense of sorrow” to the bereaved families as well as “condole with the governments and people of Akwa Ibom and Imo states over the tragic incident” that it said left the NYSC “devastated” Possibly, a few wads of Naira notes will be donated to the bereaved families (if they are lucky) and there ends the story! The bereaved will thereafter be left to mourn their dead, lick their wounds and ruminate over dashed hopes, aborted dreams, and truncated destinies. For some, if not all, of the bereaved, life will never be the same again. They will never be able to balance their books, as the accountants would say. Who feels it knows it, sang Rita Marley after the death of her husband, Bob Marley. But for the rest of us, life goes on! For the bereaved, life also goes on but many of them will, for a long, long time to come – if not for ever – be walking corpses and shadows of their former selves. Life becomes a hollow ritual as they mark time waiting for when they, too, will go to the great beyond where the shining light of their family had been dispatched in an untimely, harsh, and ghastly manner!

Wednesday’s disaster will not be the first of such to befall NYSC members travelling to and from orientation camp. We pray it will be the last! In today’s Nigeria, imagine the hassles those children passed through before passing out of the university. The years wasted as a result of incessant strike actions by lecturers leave gaping holes in the pockets of parents as well as turn many students into truants and psychological wrecks or even college drop-outs. COVID-19 took its own toil, adding another year to the time wasted by many of the students. But for COVID-19, the present batch of corps members would long ago have been called to camp and Wednesday’s tragedy might have been averted. I have a daughter who was similarly caught up, losing close to two years to the unholy combination of ASUU strikes and COVID-19 lockdown. She was only called to camp last Wednesday. My heart was in my mouth as she travelled, prayerfully waiting on the Lord.

It is wrong of the NYSC to subject our children to long journeys just for the sake of doing NYSC. Imagine the dead youths travelling all the way from Akwa Ibom and Imo states only to end it all in Abuja! Why can’t people serve in places close to their state of origin or place of residence? Why insist they go long distances despite the widely acknowledged poor state of our roads, poor maintenance culture of vehicles occasioned by the parlous state of the economy and rising costs of everything, poor medical facilities, and, to make matters worse, the pervasive and pervading insecurity all over the place? These days, it appears the NYSC relishes sending corps members to the end of the world. The NYSC management have become so insensitive, so callous, and so morbid that they even send our children to the theatres of insurgency without batting an eyelid and without caring a hoot. We must find out whether the children of the privileged are similarly callously, wickedly, and morbidly treated. I remember reading stories a few years back of how the children of Presidency officials were posted to juicy places even while more deserving children of the poor were shunted aside. God dey!

It is time to review the continued relevance – and existence – of the NYSC. I served in the scheme in 1982/1983. I was originally posted to Gongola state (now Adamawa and Taraba states) but the authorities of the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) insisted I be redeployed to Oyo state to answer to charges levelled against me by the then Warden of my Hall (Adekunle Fajuyi Hall), Rev. Omoworare. I was the Hall chairman (1981/82) and had led my executive to raise funds to mark the Adekunle Fajuyi Day. We travelled far and near and met many big people to solicit for funds. I met Edewor of Warri. I met Chief Harold Shodipo. I met Danjuma of Danjuma Cinema fame, Agege. I met a retired Colonel in Benin who gave us a whopping N5000. He said the late Fajuyi was a good boss to him. I met Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin, my erstwhile principal at Owo High School who at the time was the governor of old Ondo State (now Ondo and Ekiti states); he donated N500. When I complained that it was meagre he asked me: “Are you a thief? Is this what I taught you?” I told him if a retired Colonel could give us N5000, I expected something better than that from a governor. After explaining that he gave from his private purse and not from the government’s coffers, he asked: “Do you want me to give you government money?” Such integrity, which, today, is rare!

Rev. Omoworare wanted us to recourse to him as we proceeded with the Fajuyi Day project execution; the executive declined. When it was time for me to collect my NYSC call-up letter, he prevailed upon the then Dean of Students Affairs, Adegbite, to withhold my call-up letter. God bless the soul of the then speaker of the Students Representative Council, Remi Lawal, who stood by me like the wall of Gibraltar. We prevailed and I was released to go for service on the very last day of registration. I rued missing the opportunity of going for service up North – but that was then, not now! I eventually served at the University of Ibadan, first at the Registry and later at the Atomic Energy Agency under the Physics department headed by Prof. Muyiwa Awe, husband of Prof. Bolanle Awe and one of the original founders of the Pyrates Confraternity together with Prof. Wole Soyinka and others. My serving at U. I. led to my meeting and making friends with fellow Owo sons, Taiye Oladapo and Gani Banji Adekunle (both students), who introduced me to Prof. Olade, HOD, Geology department, who ensured I registered for my Master’s degree in the Political Science department of U.I.

The military government of Yakubu Gowon established the NYSC on 22 May, 1973 as an avenue to further consolidate his government’s three Rs – Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation – policy, especially of Eastern Nigeria and specifically of the Igbo after the 1967 to 1970 civil war. That was 48 years ago! But Nigeria is today more divided, more disunited, more divisive, more distorted, more stunted, more at one another’s throats; and more at war than ever before! Whatever gains that the NYSC might have recorded in 48 years have all been eroded, frittered, wasted, and reversed in six years by the APC/Muhammadu Buhari’s nepotistic and dictatorial regime. No NYSC can bridge the gulf, gap, schism and chasm that Buhari has created. Our youths are merely being used as canon fodders and disposable items by those who will not subject their own children to the same vagaries and vicissitudes. To think that the youths they hypocritically pretend are nation-builders were the same they callously and viciously mowed down at Lekki and other parts of the country just for asking for good governance and a decent society!

The NYSC continues – and the scheme’s operators carry on – just in pretence that all is well and normal when we all know it is not. They play the ostrich! Why post unarmed children to danger zones? Why endanger the life and limbs of the hopes and destinies of families when the best the NYSC can offer when the chips are down are dumb press statements dusted up from the file, updated, and filed away again, waiting for the next time the same file will be needed? It is all in the game of callousness, hypocrisy and pretence that all is well, which was why the NBC tried to arm-twist media houses not to report daily cases of security breaches that have become not only an embarrassment but also a signature of this regime’s all-round dismal performance and abject failure. Once they can cover it up or tell brazen lies that will resurrect even the dead, they are okay. Once they can pretend that all is well, like the NYSC is desperately helping them to do, they are good to go.

But the truth is that there is nothing a million NYSC schemes can do to reverse, upturn or even ameliorate the cruel blows Buhari has dealt the peace, unity, and progress of this country. No doubt, Buhari‘s is not the first stinking corrupt and incompetent government that Nigeria has had, but his nepotistic, divisive, sectarian, and provocative leadership style and actions are unparalleled in the annals of this country. If Nigeria eventually dies, Buhari killed it! Time to scrap the NYSC and stop risking the life and limbs of the youths of this country is now!

By Bolanle Bolawole

turnpot@gmail.com 0705 263 1058

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