One of the most painful reasons why Nigeria has remained the way it is that Nigerians tolerate their problems a lot. Rather than raise objective issues with the system which has failed them, they often try to create excuses for failures while basking in their pain and suffering while fuelling its sources. To put it mildly, Nigerians love ‘suffering and smiling’.
Over the last few days, Nigerians showed up on social media to show the world why their governments and leaders do not take them seriously. They were all over the Internet heaping praises and adulation on the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program which, in actuality, is an abysmal failure. For a moment, any critical observer would believe that Nigerians had fallen under a spell of some sort, but they had not. They were merely showing the world that the problems in Nigeria are not only due to leadership failure. They showed clearly that the failure of the citizenry is perhaps a bigger contributor to the current anomaly.
The major reason the Nigerian military regime established the NYSC program 50 years ago was to spur national integration. Following the Nigerian genocidal acts on the Biafran nation which ended in 1970, many Nigerians were distrustful of dealing with other Nigerians that did not share religion or ethnicity with them. This was how the NYSC program came about. It was a scheme that required Nigerian youths, particularly graduates, to compulsorily work/serve for one year in a location that was outside their state of origin which would enable them to mingle with people that did not belong to their ethnic group or religion.
Read Also: It Is Time To Scrap The Crap Called NYSC
50 years after instituting the NYSC scheme, national integration is yet to be achieved, and that is a fact. So what are Nigerians celebrating? Any objective observer who saw the Nigerian genocidal acts and is alive today will easily agree Nigerians are far more divided now than they have ever been.
Over the past decade, Nigeria has seen the rise of elements such as Boko Haram, Niger Delta militants, Arewa youths, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and many others who, for one reason or the other, are actively seeking to dismember the country. It clearly shows that Nigeria is far from united. Granted that a fair number of Nigerian youths who participated in the scheme opted for inter-tribal marriages. However, tribal prejudices are still very strong and there is still no unity in the real sense of it.
The scourge of tribalism and religious bigotry has taken a prominent position in the psyche of Nigerians and there are no signs of improvement. To buttress this, it would be recalled that just a few weeks ago, Igbo-Nigerians who reside in Lagos State were targeted in xenophobic and genocidal proportions for merely attempting to exercise their franchise. Using the crudest of methods, they were singled out and prevented from voting in the general elections just because they were Igbo, so where is the unity? Again, one will ask, what are Nigerians really celebrating?
Seeing clout-loving Nigerians jump on a bandwagon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the NYSC by publishing pictures of themselves when they participated in the mandatory scheme, for a program that failed in its only purpose after five solid decades, and showering it with such unmerited praise is indeed very sickening and devastating to any conscious mind.
The NYSC scheme was supposed to play a critical role in integrating the Igbos who formed a huge part of the breakaway Biafran state back into Nigeria after the brutal genocide orchestrated against them. 50 years after the scheme was introduced, Nigeria is yet to integrate Igbos into the country. Igbos are still treated with mind-chaining suspicion. No Igbo has ruled Nigeria; Igbos have only produced one each of the Inspector General of Police and Chief of Army Staff for short stints and there is still palpable Igbophobia in the land. So what were Nigerians celebrating?
Rather than openly discuss the genocide offer necessary apologies and compensations, successive Nigerian governments have repeatedly continued to make bold attempts to sweep them under the carpet. By their imaginations, schemes like the NYSC will force this unity to be fostered. Sadly, unity can never be obtained with force. Unity is a product of intentional efforts but that has not been the case as far as the Nigerian entity is concerned.
What is perhaps more perplexing about the entire charade on social media is that Nigerian graduates are the ones celebrating the scheme, not the hypocritical Nigerian government. Presently, Nigeria’s unemployment rate stands at 41%, meaning that millions of these ignorant Nigerians who joined in the celebration are still jobless and unemployed. Many of them barely feed, yet, they are celebrating one of the schemes that has kept them unemployed. Perhaps this crop of non-thinking Nigerians do not know that the cheap Labour provided by the NYSC scheme is one of the most potent reasons why Nigeria has 46 million unemployed people today. Every year, recruiters simply go to NYSC orientation camps to scout for young people whom they do not have to pay to work and simply discard them like used toilet paper at the end of their service year. Nigerians do not know that many State Governors in Nigeria have refused to employ teachers in schools, healthcare workers in hospitals, and other professionals because corp members are always readily available to do the same job for free. To further worsen things, this system has greatly reduced the standard in the civil service as these young graduates do not have the necessary experience. The unanswered question will remain; why do Nigerians love celebrating their failures?
It is baffling how Nigerians dedicated a week to celebrating a scheme that has now become a conduit pipe for the stealing of their resources. Every year, billions of Naira are appropriated for the scheme and most of it is frittered away. Many of the people who took part in the scheme had to endure inhuman living conditions during the period of their stay in orientation camps. Most of these camps have no toilets or usable healthcare facilities, yet billions are budgeted for the scheme yearly.
Some people have pointed out that one of the biggest achievements of the NYSC is how it allows young graduates an opportunity to discover parts of the country, its people, and their cultures that are alien to them, with the aim of making them more Nigerian. As laudable as this seems, the truth is that the Nigerian government has no business forcing Nigerians to discover other parts of the country. This is not obtainable in any part of the world. In fact, the mindset that conceives such an idea is a mindset that prioritises identity over functionality which is nothing but a wrong and lazy way of thinking. Anybody who understands Nigeria enough clearly knows that Nigerians do not mistrust themselves because they do not know each other, rather they mistrust themselves because their leaders have failed fantastically in the provision of equal services and opportunities for all Nigerians.
Going forward, the best thing Nigerians should be discussing is how the NYSC can be capped or restructured into something more useful. For example, rather than what is currently obtainable, it can be turned into a compulsory one-year practical skill acquisition program in strategic leadership, technology, ICT, agriculture, technical, and vocational skills where everything is practicalised for the participants. The present skill acquisition training that lasts barely two weeks at orientation camps is just a waste of time that has no bearing.
The truth is that if the scheme is converted into a well-structured one-year compulsory practical skill acquisition program, a sizable percentage of those who graduate from the scheme will leave the service as job creators in their respective fields. Of course, this will contribute to national growth and development, and the unemployment numbers will consistently continue to drop.
There are several ways and means through which the NYSC scheme can be of benefit to Nigeria, but how can that happen when Nigerians have opted to stay blind to the failures of the scheme? How can this overhaul happen if Nigerians do not see the need to call out their leaders on their failures? How can the right things be done if the slaves still love their chains? Nigerians must get serious if they care about saving themselves from the shackles they have been entangled with.