Sunday, February 01, 2009

The 158th good thing about Lagos: National service by college graduates

On Saturday I participated in interviews for returning American Women's Club scholarship students. I was teamed up interviewing a student with an American woman who is here married to a Nigerian. We got into a discussion about NYSC, the Nigerian Youth Service Corps. I had heard a little bit before about this mandatory youth service that is given by all students who have been able to graduate from college. After our discussion I spent some time learning more about this program on the internet (one reason I am addicted to the internet -- not just quick and easy communication, but readily available information!) This program was initiated in Nigeria in 1973. Upon college graduation, all Nigerians are required to perform a year of service to their country. Even if a student travels abroad to study and then works abroad, if they return to work in Nigeria (even if they are much older), they are obligated to first give a year of service to their country. The program was quite highly praised in the information I found about it on the internet.

The program's objective (in two very long sentences!) is "to raise the moral tone of our youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievement and social and cultural improvement to develop in our youths attitudes of mind acquired through shared experience and suitable training which will make them more amenable to mobilisation in the national interest; to develop common ties among our youths and promote national unity by ensuring that: as far as possible, youths are assigned to jobs in states other than their states of origin and away from their geographical, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.... Each group, assigned to work together, is as representative of the country as possible; the youths are exposed to the modes of living of the people in different parts of the country with a view to removing prejudices, eliminating ignorance and confirming at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups; to encourage members of the Corps to seek, at the end of their corps service, career employment all over the country, thus promoting the free movement of labour; to induce employers, partly through their experience with corps members, to employ more readily qualified Nigerians irrespective of their states of origin; and, to enable our youths to acquire the spirit of self reliance."

When graduates report for their year of service, they first attend a 3-week long kind of boot camp where they go through some physical training along with program training. They then receive their assignment. One article said that "The National Youth Service Corps takes care to avoid posting that results in wastage of human resources. Corps members are therefore, as much as possible, posted to areas relevant to their disciplines although sometimes national need may override this consideration."

The service year sees the Corps members serving in such areas as "hospitals, road construction, farming, water schemes, surveying and mapping, social and economic services, teaching, food storage and eradication of pests, rehabilitation of destitutes and the disabled, development of sports, service in all government departments and statutory corporations suitable for new graduates, development projects of local councils, the private sectors of the Nigerian economy and such undertakings and projects as the Government may by order determine." Businesses and charity organizations can apply to receive Corps members to work for them for a year. The organizations pay no salary, but all Corps members receive a stipend from the government which currently amounts to a paltry 9000 naira a month (at the recently devalued rate of around $60)! I know there are people here that live on that, but I sure don't know how they do it. So, it's almost an unpaid internship.

At the end of the year, the Corps members go through a "winding-up exercise" which gives them the opportunity to review their year and what they've gained from the experience and make plans to go forward with their lives. I learned from our discussion at the interview that many participants developed close friendships through the program, especially during the "boot camp" orientation weeks. Some postings result in full-time employment. I'm sure that in many instances it's a valuable character building exercise and hopefully it achieves its aims of helping the country while instilling in college graduates a spirit of selfless service to their country. That's a good thing in Nigeria that I can't see ever happening in the United States, though our country would undoubtedly be better for it.


MOM THE BOMB said...

Mexico has the same policiy about a year of service. Everyone serves for a year after their training. A good part of our clinicn is run by medical personnel doing their "year of service."

Drew said...

Hi Carolee, My name is Drew and I work with Brent. I'm trying to track down some info on the American Womens Club as part of providing some outside work activities for our team and possibly future family members. I've read in your blog you've worked with them and was hoping you could provide some contact info...thx, drew

Geebee said...

I think the Nigerian NYSC scheme is a wonderful innovation but the compensation is just too poor . . . Imagine people been posted all the way from Ogun State to Zamfara State (about 23 hours drive) to serve their nation and living on 9000 naira ($60) a month! That’s almost like their transport fare to and fro. I think there should be a review and it won’t be a bad idea if Corpers could be paid the minimum wage. Afterall, the only difference between a Corper and a full worker is just that one year service thing. Let’s make the scheme worth it. Meanwhile, I think this scheme could be integrated into other countries. It might only take a little while for the people to acknowledge the idea and it would sure make countries better for it.