The Fault In Our Stars. And by “stars,” I mean NYSC

I have always wanted to write about my experience during the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and I guess now is as good a time as any.

As many times a year as NYSC announces the deployment of the fresh and slightly stale graduates, Twitter, the Nigerian section, goes through the same motions. There are those whose times haven’t come yet, so they hope it gets scrapped before then. Those who let nostalgia take over and start to regale all who care to listen about their experiences; the good, the bad, and sometimes, the ugly. Those who try to objectively question the actual use of the program and of course, those who just call for it’s scrapping for no particular reason. Or reasons based mostly on sentiment. I mostly just observe, and sometimes, tell a tale or two.

While my experience was mostly horrible, I can say a few things without letting my experiences cloud my judgement. The idea behind the program is pretty good. Given the kind of closed environments our schools are (this is just my opinion. I have only personal experiences in one school, the one I attended, to back this up with), it wouldn’t hurt to get a broader view of what this country is. To mix with, in every way possible, with Nigerian graduates of roughly equal standing from all over the country, and sometimes outside it. And together, do their part in making it a better place. Where this program fails, and it does so in epic proportions of woe, is in the implementation. The least that can be done is to treat each graduate as a human being. This is seldom the case. I for example was lodged in a hostel in my camp that didn’t have toilets or bathrooms. Rumour has it that other hostels had these basic amenities, but that doesn’t change the fact that mine didn’t. What we had was a multi-purpose, roofless area where we were expected to do toliet and bathroom things. Most of the rooms didn’t have doors and all of them had windows with no louvers. At first glance, it looked like an abandoned building, and it was. I remember on the first day I got there, there was this middle-aged lady who was asking the Corp members to pay here for clearing the bushes in our “bathroom”. And to support her claim, there was a lot of tall grass lying around. I for one, was too dazed at the realization that this would be my home for the next three weeks to pay much attention to her. Yes, we were lodged like a bunch of animals. My room was about 15 feet by 10 (I’m being generous here) and there were 16 full-grown men there. Fed like children too. I remember one of the few times I had the camp food, my portion was basically a third of what any adult would normally eat.

Let’s leave the camp and the crimes against our collective rights as human beings behind and move to our Local governments and places of primary assignment (PPA). On the last day of camp, you get a posting letter, and on this letter, there is a list of things all employers MUST (their words, not mine) provide for each Corp member. Nothing fancy, just the basic stuff. Basically a room, a bed, a table and chair. If I remember right. So, imagine my surprise when my PPA didn’t have any of these. I was one of the lucky ones who got a place that actually offered accommodation, the only one in the local government. What we were given was a roof over our heads and a promise of bed space in a couple of months, when the current occupants of the lodge finished their service. They were benevolent like that. Ah, yes, they didn’t have a bathroom either. What they had was an enclosure without a roof. So, I started looking for an apartment while I slept on someone else’s bed in someone else’s room. Good times. The part that bent my spine was that the local government officials knew that most of the Corp member had to look for accommodation on their own and their defense was that the government paid us a state allowance, 9,800 naira, to get accommodation with. I don’t have to go into the reasons why this is an insult on the intelligence of everyone it was intended to placate.

Now, the place where I worked, a school, had more temporary Corp member staff than actual trained teachers.

And I was handed a whole set of students, six branches in all, to teach. With very little supervision. I, who had no training. What was more astounding is that these children were in JSS 1. Obviously, no one gave a shit of these kids actually learned anything. I did what I could, it wasn’t my best, but I did what I could. It takes a lot, more than I was willing to give, to teach six branches of a set with about 60 students in each class, without getting paid by the school.

And by teaching these students, I will admit that I saw why the system needs help. Most of these kids could not construct basic sentences. And even after being spoon fed, they still did horribly in tests and exams. There are many other ways the government can go about helping these children without entrusting their fates with disillusioned graduates who really don’t know how to help even if they wanted to.

Next up, we have the local government itself. These are the guys who are supposed to protect the Corp members from the harsh environment of unknown lands. The reality is they are the predators they should be protecting the Corp members from. They set up these groups, CDS, Community Development Service (or something). And the idea is simple; it’s an avenue for Corp members to make a positive impact on their immediate environments. Noble, right? But in truth, very little, or no outreach at all is achieved. The priority of these groups is to levy Corp members every week to carry out “projects”. Let me try to explain the financial state of every Corp member, assuming they don’t get any financial help from home. The basic salary for everyone is 19,800 naira. This, the federal government pays, fairly regularly. And if a Corp member works for the state government, they get paid by the state as well. I mean they should get paid . Most states don’t pay. When I served, the highest any state was paying was 15,000 (I think. It was probably 10,000). I was lucky to work in a state that paid 10 grand. Out of this money, the banks deduct a 200 naira commission, for safe delivery of your money. Good lads. Most states don’t even come close. Some pay as little as 3,000 and others promise to pay but still owe Corp members long after they are done. See? I was lucky, as I got paid roughly every month. So, as one of the lucky ones, I got paid a total of 29,600 every month. The local government is very aware of this since they are the ones who clear your payment. From this money, every one is required to pay rent, eat, move from point A to point B (transport), among other things, and then still get levied by the local government every damn week. They come up with all these creative threats for people who refuse to pay these monies. What’s worse is that at the end of every batch’s service year, they makes demands in the name of parting gifts. The audacity of these people. The Local Government Inspector during my time gave each CDS group a list of things she wanted. This was the same lady that insisted we call her our “mummy.”

This is only a list of the few things that are wrong with the entire program. And the truth is, a lot of people have it much worse than this picture I’ve painted. It’s obvious to anyone who is in the program or had passed through it the things than need to be done to make it a fruitful exercise. But knowing Nigeria, for as long as this thing can be milked, it will be. Sad stuff.

If it’s your opinion that this could have been written in a better, more structured way, you are definitely right. But in my defence (I must defend myself as no one else will), I am writing this with the Medium app on my phone. And my shoulder are starting to hurt. So, it is what it is. Also, forgive all my typos as you are forgiven yours.

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