I left out something of great significance to Nigeria which was by the hands of former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon.
It was established on May 22nd, 1973 to foster unity amongst the various peoples of Nigeria (after a bitter civil war) targeting its youths. The National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) programme involves graduates of tertiary institutions within and outside of Nigeria going outside of their states of origin, or domicile to other parts of Nigeria to serve their fatherland.
The framers of this programme couldn’t have been wrong in thinking to harness the youths as agents of change, seeing that this programme is one of the very few instituted by a Nigerian government, howbeit military that has impacted the country, not only positively but meaningfully across the many divides and fabric that make up the contraption called Nigeria.
The impact of this singular programme on the unity of Nigeria cannot be overemphasized, although no studies have been carried out to measure its impact and to calibrate such in figures many Nigerians cannot deny or dispute its importance to the nation, and by inference, her unity.
Before my turn came to partake in the programme, I’d heard several tales from those who’d gone before me, though I’ve never met a pioneer. Their tales ranged from the reasonable to the absurd, some could even go for legends based on the ridiculousness of the tales.
Many a Nigerians’ prejudices and stereotypes about their fellow countrymen got allayed following their participation in the programme. Invisible boundaries formed over the years broke down in the face of this programme as many Nigerians at the end of the service year went back home with spouses and/or friends of different tribes, religions and/or beliefs, those who didn’t and/or couldn’t began to respect people with divergent views a lot more.
This one-year programme was designed such that Nigerians from the South mostly served in the North. They are usually embedded within communities all around the state and not just in cities and towns, rendering services in accordance with their training to the inhabitants of those places living on stipends popularly called ALLOWEE (a bastardization of Allowance) and goodwill of the people.
I do not know of any other government programme that has been this successful for the period it’s lasted. Unfortunately, the programme has faced major challenges leading to calls by many Nigerians to have it scrapped.
Gone are the days when by just wearing the corper regalia, one was exempted from paying transport fare, when even armed robbers would rob everybody in crosscountry luxury buses but leave the corper untouched.
Just like that, corpers were in one incident particularly singled out for slaughter by armed men on one of the South-North routes.
Then a female corper was raped in Maiduguri, long before the Boko Haram scourge took centre stage there and no attempt was made at apprehending the killers or compensating the family of the victim.
Corpers lodges became targets of men of the underworld especially soon after they were paid their ALLOWEE. The female corp members appear to even be worse hit with their fellow corp members as well as locales pouncing on every opportunity to want to sow their wild oats (even a King in the SouthWest was charged about a year ago for attempting to rape a female corp member).
…..and then came the audacious statement by the Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda that the death of corpers at the hand of mobs in the North protesting the results of the 2011 elections, was an act of God, and that they were DESTINED to die like that; this was following post election violence that greeted the results in which the main contender, General Muhammadu Buhari (RETD) a Northerner, lost to incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Southerner of the minority Ijaw nation in the Niger Delta.
Corpers who had served as adhoc staff for the electoral body, were at the receiving end of the umbrage of those who felt shortchanged by the turn of event.
It used to be norm that children of the affluent and powerful get choice areas and locations in developed parts of Nigeria or even very close to home (like Governor Ajimobi’s daughter, who won Corper of The Year in her home state of Oyo where her father is incumbent governor, two years ago), today parents especially those of Christian and moderate Muslim Southerners are working against their children going to serve in the mainly Muslim and intolerant parts of the North for fear of losing their children, for no just cause.
These and many more are the challenges the NYSC programme is currently facing necessitating the need for its urgent review. Some have suggested that training such as akin with the military should be extended to corpers including the handling of weapons, as with the Israeli mandatory military training that turn out reservists who may decide to go into civilian life afterwards.
This laudable legacy of Gowon has really played its part in contributing in no small measure to Nigeria’s unity, current realities suggests that it be modified to meet the demands of this time. The success of a programme like this will go a long way in ensuring that the prophesy or projection of the disappearance of Nigeria by 2015, a year after CENTENARY does not come to pass.