“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein
There was never a country.
The story of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) will be incomplete without talking about the civil war that took place not very long after Nigeria gained independence on the 1st October, 1960 as a sovereign nation from the erstwhile British colonial masters. It is understood that the incursion of the military into the murky waters of the Nigerian politics was a no-brainer. The cup of the ruling elite politicians was full. Corruption was the only parameter thing growing faster than greed. In some certain quarters, the first military coup that took place in Nigeria was received amidst great jubilation. It was an intervention much desired. There is no doubt that the Nigerian populace had grown discontent and that coup of January 15, 1966 championed by a named army officer of complicated archetype (Kaduna Nzeogwu) forever changed the history of Nigeria. The divisive coup was foiled and its aftermath led to the Civil War. I must warn the reader of this piece that this is a very conservative attempt at re-telling this tale. If you wish to know the vivid details of the Civil War, I dare you to read Chinua Achebe’s account as well as other accounts of the actors and their roles.
This background is very important is establishing the history of NYSC and why it was created. The NYSC was an initiative that was meant to help in the effort of Reconciling, Rehabilitating and Reconstructing what was left of the Nigerian nation after the bloody war. The NYSC was created by General Yabuku Gowon led military junta via decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973. This is the short story of the NYSC and its purpose. It was a noble idea at the time it was conceived. War unlike any other event creates sinister realities and consequences that should rather be left only to imagination. By the time the Nigerian Civil War was over, millions of kids had lost their parents, millions more were displaced. In basic terms, the war set us back decades in development. This narrative is very important in talking about Nigeria. To live in denial of this gory and sinister part of our history will be tantamount to living a lie. I don’t think we want to add a cheap title of liar to our already rich dossier of titles. Nevertheless, we are a great nation with much to become.
The good old days
For those millennials who were born in the 90s, it is hard to believe that Nigeria once had a proverbial “good old days”. I am a legacy NYSC baby. This is a way of saying that I was born to a parent who were both serving the country. There was a time when you could raise a family with NYSC stipends. Growing up, my ears and that of my Sister were filled with amusing tales of how good Nigeria was. When the service year was over, my parents chartered two train coaches to move their wares. With their two dogs (Fedeco and Beauty) they journeyed from Jos, Plateau State to Offa, Kwara State. This was when the Nigerian Railway and indeed Nigeria was alive and well. It is true that every generation likes to think of the one before it as having had better days. Such is life and how its relativity play tricks on us. However, while nothing lasts forever, every sane generation hopes to build a legacy for those coming behind.
What is wrong with the NYSC scheme?
The better question will be to ask what is wrong with Nigeria. It is so because, the NYSC is just a mere representation of what Nigeria has become. It would be valid to ask what is wrong with NYSC provided the NYSC is an outlier which is not the case here. A system is defined as a combination of other parts working together. The NYSC is nothing but a poster child of a big bag of contradictions called Nigeria. I’m willing to accommodate a superior argument in this regard. Till then, this case is closed. But, wait a minute; maybe we can talk about the manifestations or as many would have it called, the problems with the NYSC. To do that, permit me to go borrow a few leaves or a branch from the Nigerian situation. That will be a good place to start. I encourage you to mirror Nigeria and the NYSC scheme. I leave you to form your own conclusions.
While it would be unfair to declare a vote of no confidence on the NYSC scheme because even a bucket of dirty water serves a purpose (it can quench fire). The NYSC has served its purpose and like many things in life with expiry dates (human life included), the scheme is now obsolete. You ask why? Do you know how many Youth Corp members have been caught in multiple terrorist, operational and other communal mishaps? I’m wondering cumulatively just how many of them have paid with their lives? Hundreds? Thousands? What of their parents and loved ones? I know what a cynic would say about these unfortunate events. (People die in the cause of normal and even mundane tasks so there is no need to whiff up cheap sentiments). I am sorry but I refuse to let sleeping dogs lie on this matter. I am waking up these dogs and you bet, these dogs aren’t smiling. It seems like we have gotten used to that ugly and cheap political offering called compensation. I get really sick when I hear the word compensation. This is also a familiar spirit.
I am a product of the NYSC scheme myself. I “served” the nation between February 2008 and March 2009 in a privately held company (I am aware of an interesting development regarding the current stream of corpers who are being mandated to serve in schools). A few of my friends ended up in government parastatals (ministries, local government councils e,t,c) where they ended up basically passing time. I also know people who served from the comfort of their homes practically doing nothing. A handful made impact joining special CDs (FRSC, MDG) where they got to do projects and participate in meaningful programmes that bettered the life of the community. This is my world view about the NYSC because like many others, I influenced my posting. I studied at Ilorin and served in Lagos. I’ll be the first to tell you how improper this is. Indeed, it is unfair on the very essence of the scheme. This is part of the failure of the Nigerian system where people bend rules to favor themselves. You can therefore say I am guilty of contributing to the rot in the system but will you be fair?
A new NYSC.
Let us not over flog the central idea about the failure of the NYSC scheme in recent years. The objective of this piece is not to cast aspersions on the credibility of the NYSC but, there is no gainsaying in asserting that like many things in life (the human life included), the NYSC as we have it today has expired. The charge is at our doorstep to create a new feasible way forward. I belong to a school of thought that believes in rejuvenation. The science of life and living things suggests that every organism undergo a process of recreation. It is an imperative for the old to give way to the new. Humanity is a bundle of testimony of how the new replaces the old. The human race is a synthesis of this wisdom. We call it evolution. This is my clarion call. Like the new Nigeria we all desire, the new NYSC will be built. The new NYSC will emerge if the following come together in time and space:
A new definition of success. The governance and administrative organ responsible for NYSC need a new scorecard. As in every strategic pursuit (this one is), it is crucial to define what success is. This goes beyond a vision/mission statement or a set of objectives. If the mandate of the NYSC scheme is the Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of the Nigerian nation, one would expect more. For all practical purposes, at the minimum, the machinery of NYSC must re-structure within the context of the new realities. To evolve a new success vocabulary, it is important for the NYSC to apply design thinking principles in building valuable consensus around what would become its purpose. A deep ethnological approach to arrive at fundamental insight(s) is not negotiable.
A new identity. I would be playing to the gallery if I do not bring this to fore. The NYSC is faced with a marketing (the science and art of making something that people want and making them want it) challenge. The harsh truth is that the NYSC has over the years become a pain in the flesh. When desire is out of place, patronage becomes a matter of sales. The NYSC’s popularity is dwindling and almost eroded. Let me warn that I am not speaking of Advertising or face lift. I am talking of intelligent positioning that goes deep into the truth of what NYSC was, is and should become. Let me be clear here that I am not talking of face lift and logo re-designs: When nobody wants what you have, you have got to do something about yourself or what you are selling! You can be sure I am talking of a total overhaul of modus operandi. At a very fundamental level, NYSC should be seen as a product/service and every treatment worthy of such must be applied accordingly.
Innovation. The cycle of operations and method must be urgently subjected to innovation. I’m talking of re-imagining the entire process of how NYSC does what it does. You can call it process re-engineering or whatever provided it leaves NYSC in an agile condition where it is ready to take on bigger roles of strategic leadership development and nation building.
Lessons from Israel.
Israel is a nation of barely 7.1million people (not up to the population of Lagos State). This small nation located in the Arab-sphere is a case study for countries like Nigeria who are struggling to convert potentials to result. Amongst many other amazing things about Israel is the fact this it has more globally successful startups than the entire Europe and Asia combined. In the words of Warren Buffet (he broke his sworn oath of not investing outside America to invest in Israel), the nation of Israel doesn’t miss a deadline. They ship! This is a big deal because this country is surrounded by hostile neighbors who are hell bent on wiping it off the face of the world map. In spite of these myriads of debilitating challenges, the nation of Israel has a standing army whose strength and vigor is matchless by a few national armies. Before this turns to a praise requiem, the sovereign nation of Israel provides an inspiration for Nigeria on how we can leverage the intimidating size of our youth to radically change our productivity index. In Israel, the Educational sector (providing breakthrough academic research) is married to the business sector (developing market ready products) and the military infrastructure (protecting and defending the integrity of the nation). The result is unbridled innovation and progress. Impressive huh? I thought so myself. Israel has the most friendly bankruptcy laws in the world where genuine mistakes are treated as learning’s. And you can bet that there is great accountability also. In this country, there is a no room for mediocrity. Far from being a perfect place on this planet, leaders and followers have buried their inordinate sense of entitlement. The love of the nation is first.
All that has been said here won’t result in anything if the collegiate leadership of the NYSC and the various entities that is responsible for it within and outside of its ecosystem don’t step up to the plate to embrace the challenge and lead this illustrious organisation to a higher ground where it begins to play a more formidable role of shaping the energetic youth of this country. There are territories uncharted. You have heard it before said that the future of a country is its youth. It is my conclusion that that future is no longer a distant prospect. The destiny of this nation is at the crossroads. Time is not on our side. Its time for us to begin to do things differently. There are things to do and places to go.
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