Nigerian graduates and a year of imprisonment

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By OJO SOLA OLUSEGUN

Far beyond reasonable doubts, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retired) in 1973 successfully created National Youth Service Corps, which up till date is the largest segment of vibrant and productive part of the entire youth in the country, though he did not envisage what the scheme would be passing through in recent times. Still beyond reasonable and unreasonable doubts, the initial vision of the General then is still much relevant today. For instance, many of us who have had the opportunity to serve at one point in time or the other, especially those that did not influence their deployment and posting, will probably understand better the concept of national unity and integration.
Now it is true that the one-year mandatory national service to one’s motherland, whether one had one’s schooling here in Nigeria or abroad, is more or less a training ground for highly spirited individual who sees himself in a leadership position anywhere in the world and wishes to succeed in whatever capacity such an individual may find himself later in future.
As much as I can remember, when my Alma Mater did not mobilize me for the programme for either batch A or batch B without any problem from my side, to be honest, I was not happy – and I suppose many others who had similar experience too. Three months into the programme, I felt tired and wanted to redeploy at least to my geo-political zone, South-West. As I was thinking about that, six months had gone. Before I knew it I found myself in a leadership role, the responsibility that came as a shock and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the course of that one year, I had a lot of experience in my daily encounter with people from complete different background, ideology, science of reasoning, among other variables – experience that cannot be forgotten in haste. In fact, that experience has changed my perception about people, especially northerners.
As I said earlier, some people see NYSC programme as a ‘waste of time’. I am a living witness that it is not a mistake; rather it is a deliberate and sustained effort to bring and maintain mutual benefits among various ethnic groups in the country. What should be done is to strengthen the idea as obtainable in other 25 countries of the world practicing similar youth motivational programmes.
Israel, for instance, has similar programme where her teeming youths have to involve in military training immediately after their secondary education. The result, of course, is crystal clear in the world security and ammunition today, apart from loyalty and patriotism the average Israeli citizen has for country.
Come to think of it; it is more or less a mandatory or voluntary 12 months imprisonment. It is mandatory in the sense that once you are a Nigerian university, polytechnic or college of education graduate, you are expected to contribute your quota to the overall development of the country, which in most cases is not visible, except if you are able to identify and execute meaningful community development projects mostly within your host community. On the other hand, it is voluntary because the level of corruption now makes it possible for some to stay completely out of their serving states in collaboration with some unscrupulous officers and bigwigs both within and outside the scheme which, to me, is a bad omen in patriotism. Don’t forget that nothing is compulsory in the world once you are ready to bear the consequence.
Now we have heard a lot of things that do happen in prison, especially as regards creative thinking. We have read about people who rule their generations, politic wise, music wise, sports wise, entertainment wise, writing wise and every other thing you can think of after prison experience. We have heard also that prison is supposed to be a rehabilitation centre where inmates are expected to turn a new leaf in life, especially to those who may regain their freedom which may be upon the completion of their sentences or through prerogative pardon.
To some, NYSC is just like the above summation. If you are bendable, it may help you to rediscover your real self in an ideal world. Please don’t misinterpret this; NYSC is never a transformation point where spoilt youths are made better citizens. On the contrary, it is an avenue for a person who wants to influence his generation positively to do exploit during this greatest freedom period in his entire life; at least in most cases you live where none of your relatives and acquaintances are, and as such you are on your own.
It offers us broad opportunity for leadership role, decision making, and mending lives of the less privileged members of the society through community development projects, among others. This, however, depends on individual’s upbringing, innate characteristics and sense of judgment.
It is quite obvious that the country is going through its transformation process, which is being felt by both the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the indigene and the alien, as the case may be, no matter the part you find yourself thereof, with Boko Haram in the north, OPC in the west and kidnapping in the south. For this reason, we are all stakeholders in its affairs. So the idea of pointing accusing finger may not arise. In this parlance, everybody is expected to contribute his quota so that we can achieve and have the picture of Nigeria our founding fathers fought for, no matter whose horse is gored, and we will all be better for it.
The NYSC has, no doubt, recorded huge successes in the past 49 years of its establishment when we are talking about fostering national unity, integration, formation and maintenance of peace and harmony in all part of the country through deployment of our young and energetic graduates of various origins and beliefs to other part of the country other than their own.
However, this piece is aimed at reawakening the particular segment of youths, which is believed to be about 60 per cent of the entire populace of our dear country, Nigeria. This very segment is the major contributors in the nation’s politics, education and socio-economic development. This is because it is generally presumed that young school leavers have fresh brains, and as such can make things happen for good only if the environment permits.
In the light of this, the need for Nigerian graduates, home and beyond, to rise and be proactive in building and rebuilding of our collapsed structures (politics, economics, education, power and energy, among others) cannot be underestimated. For example, China today controls 70 per cent of the world’s power sector through the efforts of its teeming youths. As a result, it controls a substantial proportion of the world’s economy today. We can achieve same here in Nigeria if only we can channel our resources toward these.
Since corps members are representatives of the smallest unit of the society, the family, it is expected that we are peace ambassadors where we are serving our motherland. So let us perform our statutory responsibilities now that we have come, we have seen and we have conquered, even as we join the productive market whether as employees or employers.
Let us learn how to manage our time. The idea of African time should be removed from our dictionaries and thesaurus. This is important because we cannot be talking of becoming internationally recognised if we continue to operate ‘African time’. It is highly imperative to add that what we actually spend is time; money is just a legal tender. Have you seen any successful man? Ask him how he spends his time; after all the same 24 hours is available to all.
Get-rich-quick syndrome should be discouraged and replaced with hard work, good attitude, right focus, creative thinking, determination and zeal for whatever our hands have found doing. We should equally shun other social vices like Internet fraud, gangsters, prostitution, drugs, robbery and what have you.
It is expected that our ‘leaders’ will stop saying the future of the country belongs to the youth without giving us the opportunity to display our ability and potentials. The bottom line is that whether they like it or not, the future which is already here belongs to us and we will definitely possess our lawful possession, which I believe only time will tell.
The host communities on their own should ensure safety of these young Nigerians in their domains just as they are expected to help in realizing the objective of their posting.
Both upper and lower houses of the National Assembly, especially house committees on youth empowerment and NYSC, should formulate, implement and monitor policies that will strengthen this national noble course. It is suggested in some quarters that the time frame should be reduced to 6 months with more entrepreneurial skills and start up capital.
In conclusion, a year of mandatory service to our motherland through NYSC is never imprisonment and should not be viewed as such; it rather offers broad opportunities for self-development and actualization in various areas of human endeavours. It is highly imperative for concerned prison officers to re-strategize, review plans and understand its modus operandi and be ready to face the challenges as they come with the sole intention of proffering lasting solution to the ailing national heritage.
OJO SOLA OLUSEGUN is on the team of New Nigerian on Sunday. He has just completed the mandatory National Youth Service Scheme.

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