August 2, 2007
11 mins read

The years of the 1970’s especially the period after the Nigerian civil war, were the years of great patriotic thought and action in Nigeria. The ambience was a most creative one, in the sense that for those who Lived through those years, given the backdrop of the killings of the war and the survival of the country as one, there did not seem to be any set objective which could not be achieved. The Second encountered in the universities with the transition to a life National Development Plan, 1975-1980, encapsulated that broadness of vision, the spirit of daring and a very infectious optimism which shot through a lot of the steps taken achievements recorded. One of the greatest ideas of the post-war period was the National Youth Service Corps. It came, as a lot of the ideas of the period, as a platform to unity the youths of Nigeria, in a programme  that was conceived in the NATIONAL spirit, which had  components of socially useful labour that would be jointly carried out by Nigerian youth of all creeds and from different confessional and ethnic or states background. Our youth were expected to use the platform of national service to help in  constructing our country through both the primary assignment and community programmes, but above all else, they would  know themselves, understand themselves and help to break down barriers of prejudice and in  that process, help to unity our country. It was a very solid, patriotic and progressive idea, which fitted the frames of optimism, which seemed to underline the thoughts and ideas as well as the events of the epoch. And who can deny that the NYSC scheme has become one of the truly enduring programs of the Nigerian nation? We almost take  certain things for granted today, thanks to the fact that we have the scheme  such as the NYSC.

In 1995,I joined a band of Nigerian pilgrims who were undertaking to perform annual pilgrimage to the Holy places of Islam, the HAJJ, by road through Nigeria, while there has been Cameroon, Chad, the Sudan and to Saudi Arabia. I was making a programme about the pilgrimage for the BBC’s AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE programme.

After travelling from Kano through to Maiduguri, we did, an all-night journey border town of Gamboru Ngala; the following morning was a market day, and as the pilgrims were attempting to complete their bounder formalities, I saw two young Nigerian youth corps members from the eastern part the country. I had reflected that day, that what on earth would have brought those young men so far away from their homesteads.

I am sure as many readers as possible would or could draw similar lessons from their experience from the NYSC idea. . Long lasting friendship have been cultivated, thanks to the scheme, just as cross-ethnic, cross-religious marriages and friendships have been consummated as a result of what has turned out to be a wonderful national project.

Of course, like most of our national institutions, the NYSC idea has been devalued over the decades. In the first place, the scheme suffered terribly in the hands of some of its functionaries; the most notorious cases were related that a Colonel Obasa and Chief Kila, who used their position to massively enrich themselves to a point where they ended up being prosecuted and jailed, so many years ago. The scheme was a cash cow that unscrupulous officials milked and helped to devalue its original patriotic intentions. Then there was the refusal of children of the rich to accept postings to certain parts of the , preferring to stay in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and  such places. Then there was the disdain for rural postings, while therefore not a surprise while there were the absurd examples of graduates of education who would intensity lobbying to be posted to serve in banks or oil companies. These inconstancies and patent acts of corruption, contributed to the devaluation of the national service idea.

There was also the fact that the nation has moved on, and this does not mean in any significantly progressive manner. The completion of the national service often meant years in the wilderness of unemployment and despair for many of these young men and women. The debasement of this national scheme led to the acronym of NYSC being translated NOW YOUR SUFFERING CONTINUES, which directly links national service to the problems encountered in the universities with the transition to a life of unemployment. The corps year remuneration in real terms not moved up significantly to take cognizance of the inflationary pressures in the society.

But in a fundamental sense, the national idea has suffered a  major reversal since the mid-1980s,with the emergence of its adjustment and its successor neo-liberal capitalism. There has been a gradual withdrawal of the state from the lives of the Nigerian had people in many areas of national endeavours, and this has, also affected national service. A direct consequences of this general pattern of the removal of the state, is the emergence and strengthening of non-state actors in virtually every aspect of our national life , including the NYSC.

I was alarmed but not surprised when the NYSC camp that was expected to foster national unity, now has within it divisive tendencies such as “Associations of Muslim/ Christian corpers and so on. These reactionary and backward groups are merely a reflection of realities of a society in deep seated structural crisis such as Nigeria today.

The forces of divisiveness are so strong  we now have Christian and Muslim medical associations in Nigeria,  as if the science of medicine  can be learnt or applied on the basis of confession either of the doctor or his patient.

This is the context within which the crisis of the NYSC programme has reached height. Of course, it could be argued at the onset, the number graduates was manageable, while there has been an explosion today in the number of young graduates waiting for their call up. But the underlining for the problem is a national inability to continuously plan its existence in a holistic manner, and in recent years, surrendering the capacity to plan to develop and to be a nation to the whims of so- called market forces.

This is the source of national confusion and a philosophical journey to crisis which must manifest not only in the NYSC without the national programme but also in every endeavoour that is related to national service scheme, development.

The bottom line is that the NYSC scheme must. rescued as a patriotic endeavour, whose continuity guaranteed by the Nigerian political elite, because it has become an important national institution. The nation wastes so much been consummated, as a result of what has turned out to be just unacceptable that any form of excuse for that matter would a wonderful national project. Of course, like most of our national be posited by the government which would tend to state that institutions, the NYSC idea has been devalued over the decades. NYSC was unsustainable as a result of a lack of fund.

THE PUNCH newspaper of July 31, 2007, had quoted a some of its functionaries; the most notorious cases were related 2007 letter written by the Director-General of the NYSC, General Yusuf Bomoi, to the effect that the NYSC would not be able to mobilize all the 174,000 prospective corps members for the 2007 service year due to a short fall in its budgetary allocation.

The letter said further, that the money made available to the NYSC could only take care of 120,000 prospective corps members.

Therefore, it meant that the remaining 54,000 would have to wait till 2008 before they could participate in the scheme. It was therefore not a surprise, that the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), amongst many others, have expressed anger  at a systematic effort at the emasculation of this national scheme. Thankfully, in response, the new Minister of Youth Development, Akinlabi Olasankanmi, has assured, according to a report in DAILY TRUST of Tuesday, July 31,2007 that “there will be no selective service and Nigerians should be rest assured that eligible graduates will be mobilized for this all important national scheme.

This is how it should be. The Nigerian people should demand that in the spirit of democratic development, the NYSC scheme should be given a new lease of life through a very patriotic reorganization which will re-emphasize the original vision for the scheme the context of today’s reality; the scheme must be run in a very transparent and responsible manner which does not give the children of the rich and powerful, the opportunity to manipulate the placement/ development process; it should be better funded so that the infrastructure can take care of the ever increasing population of prospective corps members and should pay them a decent wage or allowance, whatever  it is called.

The NYSC programme is a national idea that came during a period of genuine patriotic thought and practices in our national life.It reflected a belief in the ability of Nigerians to build their own independent, self-reliant and democratic country; It was constructed context of a world wide phase of triumph against colonial rule and when imperialism had suffered major reverses around the world. Its crisis today is part of the reversal of all patriotic ideas, when the ruling mantra is that unless we submit to global capitalism, the diktats of Washington and the ‘the imperialist financial institutions of  IMF or the World Bank, we cannot become ‘developed’. Let us insist on the restitution of the NYSC  scheme because it is such a vital project national development, which we must not allow to Waste.

The rumbling monster of Chavinism

The  first salvo of the chauvinism was fired so early at the beginning of the Yar’ Adua administration, by the ethnic groups, the  Yoruba Council of  Elders and the leaders of the O’odua People’s Congress, the OPC, Doctor Fredrick Faseun. They saw the first appointments made by the Yar’ Adua administration, even refusing to see the fact that they were appointments made by the outgoing President Olusegun,  their son. I have always known that these bodies went on sabbatical, simply because Obasanjo was one of theirs, and they would get back to their old ways once a new president emerges, especially if that president happened to be from Northern Nigeria. Two eminent commentators, Malam Bala Muhammad writing in WEEKLY TRUST and ‘Louis Odion in THE SUN on Sunday, exposed the hollowness of the standpoint of these ethnic chauvinists, and could have put the issue to rest.

However, THE GUARDIAN on Sunday of July  29, 2007, became a platform to stoke negative feelings all around the country, as a result of a rather tendentious analysis by the longstanding Abuja Bureau chief of THE GUARDIAN, Martins Onoja. He presented the “ rejection of the renowned expert, Olabode Augusto” by the Senate two weeks ago, as a ploy by those he called “greedy politicians who would like to have total control over the national treasury”. These politicians in the words of the eminent Martins Onoja, are  “from a section of the country” and “orchestrated by a section of the country’s set of Senators”.

Unfortunately, mister Onoja did not tell us which section of the country that was, even when he left little to the imagination in his presentation. It is surprising that he talked of those who wanted to have  “total control over the national treasury” as if that is really possible, or as if Obasanjo did or did not have such a control. When a conspiracy theory is being woven to reach a definite agenda, even the most bizarre points fit a most implausible concoction. Bode Augusto, according to Martins’ thesis had been presented by Obasanjo to president-elect Yar’ Adua for his “ brilliance, technical expertise and diligence” and  “he was literally recommended as Finance Minister…All the reform activists then were said to have endorsed the move.”

Unfortunately for this man, about whom  “no one complained about… regarding  ‘money changing hand”, in the words of the longstanding Abuja watcher, “it was at this juncture that the young Northern Turks (at long last we know who these faceless enemies of  ‘reform; are!!!), who reportedly held Obasanjo hostage in 1999 ( so they have been at their game for a long time, even when they don’t seem to have names or faces?!)…So after being held up for brilliance, technical expertise and diligence”, and he was literally going to be sworn-in as Finance Minister even before the new president came into office, according to Mister Onoja, “ then something happened: Augusto’s nomination was leaked to some powerful irredentists (they never have names but irredents’ can only be northerners just like ‘PROGRESSIVES” can only belong to the Yoruba ‘race!!!), who felt (and Martins can measure feelings!) that , that Finance portfolio must this time not to go to the south, Obasanjo’s endorsement not withstanding”. Nobody knew what was going on behind the scences, not even the veteran Abuja-based LEADERSHIP… (a)newspaper that has always taken whatever Obasanjo stands for to the gutters”; that ‘scoop’ was a front page story in late June 2007, “ under the headline: OBASANJO IMPOSES BODE AUGUSTO ON YAR’ ADUA AS FINANCE MINISTER. The story then did not register to anyone, as something of the political significance until… when Senators from the North unanimously rejected one of the best financial ratings experts in the developing world (c’mon Martins blow that trumpet!), without a whimper from their Southern counterparts in the Senate”.

Now the intention is unfurled: to play one section of the country against the other. Nothern senators unanimously rejected “WITHOUT A WHIMPER FROM THEIR SOUTHERN COUNTERPARTS”!!! Was that what transpired? Was the Finance Minister made for “one of the best financial rating experts in the developing world”? Well, when he did not get it, didn’t Martins also confess that the so-called “Young Northern Turks” “quietly met and fished out Shamsuddeen who HAS VERY SOLID AND INTIMIDATING CREDENTIALS, TOO?” The  Chinese say that it doesn’t matter that a cat was black or white, for as long it catches mice. If the “ financial ratings expert” lost out to a man of  “solid and intimidating credentials”, wasn’t the important thing the overall interest of Nigeria? Or the first consideration must remain the part of the country where such individuals come from?

Not to be outdone in the exercise in hysteria, the paper’s Deputy Political Editor, Abraham Ogbodo, wrote a piece in the same edition of THE GURADIAN of Sunday, July 29, 2007, titled “Reforms: Interogating Obasanjo’s legacies”. While he accepted that “ in trying to correct one wrong thing, so many things went wrong under Obasanjo, mister Ogbodo nevertheless cannot let go the opportunity to throw pebbles. He stated that the pervading sentiments today is such that nobody was willing to even “establish ares where(Obasanjo) scored high or at least above average (in his reforms)”.Then the clicher: “Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, Secretary to the Federal Government, was reported as saying that the reforms wouls end.His purpoted declaration betrayed. A SECTIONAL  ANGER (hear! hear!!) And he MIGHT have spoken on behalf of groups, which saw the Obasanjo reforms as not favourable. (The so-called ‘reforms’ which were unpopular from North to South have been reduced in the hands of the journalist, as a reflection of  “sectional anger”). For Mister Ogbodo, a Politicial Editor, the “sectional” detachment that Ambassador Kingibe “MIGHT HAVE SPOKEN” on their behalf “ prefers to see public utilities “as FREEBIES, TO BE PLUNDERED SO WASTEFULLY”. (Capitals are mine).

These are not examples of good journalism really, because they were targeted at stocking base emotions, to achieve a pre-meditated end of setting one section of the country against another. The important thing is to be alert that there will be a lot more of this type of ‘journalism’ in the years ahead: but what is important is not to be intimidated by it, and not to allow such mobilization of a crudely chauvinistic platform to become a substitute for the building of national platforms of relationship to build the blocks of democratic politics and to defeat the anti-people “reforms which impoverished the Nigerian people, either in the North, the West or the East. They led to the offloading of our national assets into the hands of a few cronies of Obasanjo and some foreign capitalist institutions.

The Bode Augusto that they described as “one of the best financial rating experts in the developing world” worked to facilitate the monstrous  “reforms” of the Obasanjo regime. His “brilliance, technical expertise, and diligence” served interests that were Northerners or they were Yoruba or Southerners. It was also the same experience with Shamsuddeen and his  “very solid and intimidating credentials”, to borrow Martins Onoja’s words. Those are the facts which the stocking of the embers of chauvinism cannot mask from the public space. What is most important is to build patriotic platforms that can work for all of the Nigerian people, wherever they come from.

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