By Gbenga Osoba
I call myself a Lagosian. I love Lagos with all of me. Everything about me revolves around Lagos. The opportunities are endless. And I would dare say Lagos is addictive. I believe I am not alone on this boat of emotional upheaval about Lagos.
This also brings me to the addiction of university graduates to the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC). The feeling is euphoric when graduates adorn the NYSC khaki. Parents are elated and filled with so much joy. And the corp members themselves feel a sense of accomplishment.
Take it or leave it, the NYSC has been a great blessing to the country because it has brought about a sense of unity and cultural orientation amongst the various ethnicity in Nigeria. We have had instances of people who have never been outside of their states for the duration of their lives. The first trip out was a result of the NYSC programme, and the memories linger a lifetime.
For me, I would forever cherish my NYSC experience in Anambra state. There I made friends across religions and ethnicity. And some of my experiences in Awka remains indelible in my life. After my service year, I have had reasons to visit Akwa again and again for business and leisure. That is the beauty of the NYSC.
Do I talk about those that experienced business breakthrough as a result of their participation in the NYSC? Do I mention those that found their missing ribs during the NYSC programme? Do I say those who discovered their guardian angels during their service year or those whose fortunes changed forever because they were posted to particular states in the country due to the NYSC programme?
The NYSC is indeed an enduring legacy that ought to be upheld by successive governments for its benefits are innumerable. This much can be corroborated by those who initially thought outside their domains; there would be no life. This is mainly about those in Lagos and some of the South-West states. They felt that life in the Northern and eastern parts of the country was a life of torture and deprivation. But the good thing is that it is on record that these categories of people find it amazing that there could be life outside Lagos or Ogun, Osun or Ekiti.
I know of scores of people who, after leaving for the NYSC programme, elect to stay behind and start-up life. The case of a childhood friend Rotimi comes in handy. Rotimi and I had been childhood friends. During our NYSC programme, he was posted to Adamawa state. I recall the depressed looks that he wore upon realizing he was posted to Adamawa state. Where is Adamawa state, he asked me? What part of the country is that he also asked? It was like the world had ended, and I am sure he cursed the NYSC scheme.
Today, Rotimi can be referred to as a Mallam as he stayed behind, got a Job in Yola and is happily married to a beautiful Numan lady, with whom they have three lovely kids. If anyone told Rotimi that Yola was where his destiny was, he would curse. If anyone ever told Rotimi that a Numan princess would be the mother of his kids, he would also curse. But such is life and the power of the NYSC.
Aside from the national integration purpose of the NYSC, it has served to bridge the critical gap amongst the various ethnic and religious affiliations in Nigeria. The NYSC is the bridge that links the South to the West, the North to the East and many more. And with these enduring attributes, I wonder what those advocating for the scrapping of the scheme have at the back of their minds.
Maybe mischief or ignorance, but whatever is the case, it is misplaced and must be discarded for lacking in merit and commonsense. Unless they want to feign ignorance to the nation-building impact, the NYSC has brought about in the country. Maybe they are not aware of that, but for the NYSC programme, lots of destinies would have been lost, and lots of people would probably still be wandering in search of direction in life.
They must also realize that participation in the NYSC scheme has also brought about religious and ethnic tolerance. It has erased some of the prejudices that were expressed towards certain tribes in the country. And if this is the case, isn’t the NYSC scheme worth celebrating? In this era of ethnic and religious tension across the country, the most potent tool to address the issues at hand is enhancing the NYSC programme.
The positives outweigh the negatives, and it would be foolhardy for us to jettison such an enduring legacy that has stood the test of time. There are no two ways about how enduring the NYSC scheme has been in the country’s annals. And as such, we must do all within our reach to preserve the legacies of the NYSC.
I am glad that I was a part of the NYSC scheme and, likewise, millions of others. And the relevant stakeholders owe Nigeria and Nigerians a national duty to ensure the sustainability of this enduring legacy. The NYSC experience is enriching, memorable, and worth the while for millions of Nigerians. This piece is in celebration of an enduring legacy.
Osoba is a human resource manager writing from Bauchi.