Yesterday was not what I would call a busy day. I am currently taking a break from working, to rest and prepare for the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp, coming up sometime soon. Never mind that there’s no timetable out yet for the millions of us caught in Stream 2. No statement, no communicae, as to the timing and sequence of events. Many people like me have quit work, hoping that sometime this month at least, camp can commence and we can start this and get it over and done with.
Long, nice-sounding name. Let’s talk about it shall we?
The National Youth Service Corps was a braindead idea that started sometime at the end of the civil war and that made it cumpolsory for graduates of universities and some other tertiary institutions to spend one year “in the service of their fatherland”. Now, I hear the wheels in your head grinding. Wow! That’s a wonderful opportunity to intern and gain some real life work experience. Sorry to cut you short, but service mostly consists of teaching school pupils, as well as clerical and other odd jobs. If you have the good fortune of graduating with First class honors, then you’re on course to work as a Graduate Assistant. If you’re lucky to be a doctor, you’d most probably be sent to a moribund hospital in an obscure rural outpost that has not gotten one penny of government funds for the past decade and you’d actually have an opportunity to hone your managerial skills and try not to kill too many people in the process. I should have said let too many people die, but the truth is that every time a preventable death happens on your watch, those eyes, even as they go blank and glass over, shoot powerful rays of accusations at you. They tell you-
“I am dying, even though you’re here”
“I am going and you’re just looking at me”
“You are complicit, you are… responsible”
“You are killing me”.
Now you get the point.
Apparently, the best part about the scheme is that for the most part these young graduates are taken to places far away from where they were born and grew up in and have the chance and the opportunity to experience a new culture, to integrate (as much as is possible in one calendar year) with people of a different ethnic or religious background. I would actually applaud this, if many youth corpers- as they are called, have not lost their lives at the hands of their host communities, if the pervading ethnic stereotypes, discrimination and tribalism that themselves contributed largely to the civil war breaking out in the first place, were not still as rampant, if not more rampant nowadays, more than 2 decades after flagging it off.
Makes me wonder, the funds allocated to, as well as those embezzled and misappropriated in the name of this scheme, would they not have served a better purpose if they were put to infrastructural development and post war rehabilitation on both sides? Till today, a section of the country remains chronically underserved in terms of infrastructural development and strategic government investment.
How is this scheme going to work in such an environment already fraught with animosity and mistrust?
You can take the monkey out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the monkey.
These people come from families that experience these injustices firsthand. There they are taught to resent the government, taught to reject the idea of a truly united country, taught to owe no allegiances to any, except to the narrow circles of their friends and families, places of origin and ethnic hegmonies. They are told the history of the country, the grave atrocities of the civil war in particular, without the benefit of a narrative to put the story in context. The result of which is various versions of the tales, each outdoing the other in the grotesque mess of its details, fanning the flames of sentiment in favour of us and in contempt of the other.
And of course, with constantly shifting enemities and allegiances, the other is pleomorphic- assuming a different shape and personality every now and then, till almost every other people but yours have been smeared at one point or another in the grease of the painful memories of the war. All because, the foolish government removed history from the curriculum, so that generations unborn would not go through their missteps and misdeeds with a fine toothed comb, forgetting that a problem can only be solved when it is confronted squarely. And you tell me that you’ll correct that level of indoctrination with hatred and intolerance with one year of youth service, Fallacy! One year in paradise even, would still leave a lot to be desired in that sense.
Glossing over these discrepancies without addressing them from the root, is like treating an open fracture with a band-aid.
So, let me forget that I said all these. Let me forget that these glaring issues are there. Let’s say that these communities actually derive some benefit from the scheme. Let us say that it actually makes a difference for them. Then, maybe it would have all been worth it. The only problem is that those communities continue to be neck deep in poverty and underdevelopment, in ignorance and illiteracy.
Sending almost everyone to teach the young and tender, without selecting for those who actually have the knack and ability to teach, is at best going to substitute stark illiteracy with miseducation. That in itself can be an even worse form of ignorance. But then, what are the alternatives in a country that imports toothpicks and rubber bands?
It is not because we don’t have rubber trees, it is not because there is no wood. What exactly prevents Nigeria from being the regional manufacturer and supplier of condoms and rubber bands, at least in the West African Sub-region? Let us start from there. There is a huge iron works and steel manufacturing complex lying fallow in this country. Please what nation of this size relies on only one steel working facility? But no, even the one here is not functional. Manufacturing is more or less dead in this country. So, what do you do with all the engineers that graduate from the institutions every year?
Let them go to the classrooms and teach pupils, while the knowledge and skills they are supposed to have, shrivel up and dry in their brains. Let them finish with your one year show of madness and become paper pushers- troubadours in search of non-existent jobs. Let their families that starved to put the Golden Fleece of education in their hands continue to live in hunger and eventually starve to death. Let those who can, depart these shores for greener pastures.
Then let us import what they make and celebrate their exploits from home.
Because the sun rises from the West and sets in the East here- in my country.