Youth service: The big city bubble

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Serving in major cities is not usually as rosy as National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members think,  reports TITILOPE FADARE, a Corps member with The Nation in Abuja.

Graduating from a higher institution often comes with a sense of relief. Yet, it also marks the beginning of another phase in life’s journey. Those lucky to graduate at a young age see it as freedom from the restrictions in school.

A university or polytechnic graduate is expected to undergo a mandatory one-year national service, which is to expose him/her to a different life outside his/her home setting. In most cases, the graduates are expected to serve outside their states of origin. It is assumed that this would afford them first-hand experience of the cultural, behavioural and ethnic orientations of their host communities, in addition to having access to work experience that would prepare them for their careers.

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), established in 1973 by former Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon, as part of reconciliatory efforts after the civil war, provides the platform for the one-year service.

During the period, Corps members are regarded as Federal Government’s ‘property’.  But investigations have shown that this is not really the case.

After graduation, the graduate waits eagerly for his posting for the service. Some lobby to be posted to Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt in Rivers State, which are among locations preferred by many graduates. They believe that serving in those states and Abuja would help them in getting jobs and making money during and after the service year. Those posted there are envied by their friends and regarded as lucky.

However, being posted to Abuja, Lagos or Port Harcourt often comes with challenges that many corps members rarely bargain for – the biggest being rejection by employers, and lack of accommodation.

While many are lucky to have their dreams fulfilled, others go through the service year managing to survive due to the high cost of living in the preferred states. They are forced to cope with high cost of transportation, feeding and accommodation, which is worse when they have no relatives to support them in such states.  Many often end up with no accommodation because of the large number of youths churned out annually, among other factors.  Many also hardly receive allowances from their places of primary assignment to augment the monthly N19,500 paid by the Federal Government.

Getting a place of primary assignment is not also easy, as the rate of rejection by establishments is high. In some cases, Corps members lobby to be rejected by unattractive establishments, hoping to get lucky with blue chip companies. Unfortunately, most of them become stranded as only few Corps members are eventually engaged by the so-called well-paying firms. This further compounds their woes.

A Corps member serving in oil-rich Rivers State, Ayodele Oyelese, told The Nation that it has not been easy surviving in the Garden City of Port Harcourt.

He said: “In a place like Port-Harcourt, transportation is quite expensive because of the nature of the place as an oil-producing state. You go through a lot of difficulties and food is very expensive. The cost of living is very high. Judging from what I receive from the Federal Government as allowance and the fact that I don’t get anything from my place of primary assignment, I manage to survive there. The state government too is not helping matters as they are not supplementing the allowance for us. They have not even been able to pay their teachers for five months now.”

Ayodele, who said he was accepted by the establishment he was posted to, stated that many of his colleagues were not so lucky.

Adebimpe Keerah, serving in Abuja, is also full of lamentations. She has had to cope with high cost of living and rejection.

She said: “When I was posted to Abuja, friends teased me saying I was going to ile-owo meaning Abuja is the home of  wealth.

“I must confess that my parents and relatives were skeptical about how I would manage in Abuja. So, I came to Abuja  with the knowledge that it is a proverbial city filled with milk and honey and the cautious thoughts of my parents. Fortunately for me, I have an uncle in Abuja, and so the fears of accommodation were allayed.

“While in camp, some of those things I heard started coming to bear. Things were ridiculously expensive. You have to take good note of how much you spend. One experience that hit me hard was when I was charged N1,500 to slim-fit my khaki pair of trousers and jacket. I was shocked because that was ridiculously expensive, compared to Lagos where where you could do that for N100. Paying N1,500 was way out of it.

“Out of camp, I started realising that I was now in the real world. I was posted to a place where I was rejected. Back to NYSC, I was told to search for a place that would accept me. That was when the hustle really began. I was spending money on transport going from one place to the other in search of where to do my primary assignment. Since I was new in Abuja, the taxi drivers took advantage of the situation and exploited me.

“It was not really easy for me. But, it was a worthy experience. I am still struggling with managing my resources because I have realised that everything in Abuja is quite expensive.”

Ironically, while some corps members are going through tough times in major cities, some others claim to be happy where they were posted. Ayotola Ibitayo, a corps member serving in Kano State, described her experience as wonderful.  Apart from cultural challenges, she said it has been a pleasant surprise.

“My experience in Kano State has been wonderful. Although I was not happy when I was posted there, but the living condition is better than I imagined,” she said.

Ayotola explained that it was a relief that most establishments in the state, from government to private schools and companies, provided accommodation for Corps members, while those that don’t provide money to pay for rent.   She also said food and transportation were affordable.

“Food is very cheap, especially for those posted to the village, (the villagers) give us food.  Transportation is also okay. The buses and cabs are actually cheap and transportation is easy in Kano State. The only thing that I would find uncomfortable for any Corps member that is not from Kano might be their culture, or their way of life. For example, the way they dress might be alien to some corps members, especially those who come from the south. But that is all part of the fun because that is the whole idea of NYSC– new culture and it is okay because it is just for a year.”

Speaking in the same vein, Dolapo Fadahunsi, who serves in Oyo State, said: “Accommodation in some places in Oyo State like Eruwa, Shaki, Ogbomoso, Iseyin is very cheap, and relatively moderate in Ibadan compared to places like Abuja, Port-Harcourt, amongst others. The cost of living is relatively average, feeding is okay and I am enjoying my service year. Transportation is actually cheap because you can still get a cab of N30 or N50, depending on where you are going to.”

Speaking on the hardship Corps members face in major cities, Chukwuemeka Kalu, an Abuja- based activist, said the government should take steps to solve their accommodation problem as well as reduce the rejection rate by employers.

“NYSC and the government should look into putting up more structures in various zonal secretariats across the country to house corps members. NYSC should also invest more in carrying out a rigorous research of corporate entities that would require the service of the corps members and then post them accordingly,” Kalu said.

He called on the government to look into the allowances of the corps members when the economy improves so that they can meet the challenges of fending for themselves without having to worry about dwindling resources or challenges they could come across in a strange state.

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