(By Roberts Belema)

Perhaps if we clearly understood the insidious and debilitating effects of the current structure of the NYSC on the despairing economy in which we all operate and upon which our individual and collective well-being depends, we would once more cry out as vociferously as we did and insist and insist upon immediate changes in the structure of the scheme, giving no ground and forgetting nothing until changes are made.

WHILE trying to properly order my thoughts so that I would be able to effectively communicate my ideas through this article, I came across a quote credited to the Lithuanian-born international anarchist, Emma Goldman (1869 – 1940), which struck me as not only an incredible and accurate insight into the human psyche, but also as an undeniably apt description of the relationship between even the most crucial issues of collective human concern and the corresponding life span of the general public interest in them. She said: “Only when human sorrows are turned into a toy with glaring colours will baby people become interested – for a while at least.   The people are a very fickle baby that must have new toys everyday.”

  Public interest, even about the most pressing of collective concerns, is and has always been notoriously protean. Today, a particular issue may evoke extremely vocal, emotional and visceral reactions from the general public; they will inexorably take to various forms of social media to express their opinions, misgivings and angst as the case may be. The press will also do their bit to ensure that the issue in question remains at the forefront of mass consciousness by conducting interviews with notable personalities on TV and on radio, and by publishing editorials, articles, letters and opinions in the newspapers. The issue in question will then seem to have taken on a life of its own and its vitality will appear to be sustained in the thoughts of the public by their collective emotions until suddenly, it loses the public interest to another fresh issue – another colourful toy – and is subsequently forgotten by the very same public and thus condemned to languish to death in the prison that is defined by the public’s abrupt, apparent and unmistakable apathy towards it. This is the nature of the life cycle of issues of collective human concern, determined by the inevitable mutability of public interest.

  It, therefore, follows that if no decisive actions are taken to resolve a particular issue or conflict at the time it has completely captivated the public’s interest, the chances are high that when the public interest finally wanes, as it always eventually does, enthralled by some other emerging concern, the issue or conflict in question will remain unresolved and be quietly forgotten. Most politicians have an excellent grasp of this phenomenon and will often adeptly employ it to suit their purposes. For example, in a functional democratic dispensation, if an elected official chooses, for whatever reason, not to bow to the insistent demands of the public (to whom he is ultimately answerable) on a particular issue, he may offer promises of action which are calculated to placate the public while he waits for, or even engineers an even juicier issue for the general public to fixate upon in order that they are falsely conciliated and may then become distracted from the original issue and in time, forget it completely, thus allowing him respite from the pressure the demands of the public had put him under and ensuring that he has his own way in the matter. In Nigeria, this strategy has been perfected and is repeatedly employed across the polity because it works all the time.

  I can still vividly recall the period following the 2011 post-election violence in Bauchi that resulted in the tragic deaths of several members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). I remember the shock, horror and distress that gripped the entire nation as a consequence of the massacre. We collectively mourned the deaths of our fallen youth whose lives were brutally cut short whilst in service to their country. This was not the first time that such cruelty would have been meted out to corps members as they served their country and as a direct consequence, opposition to the continued relevance and existence of the scheme gathered momentum. After the Jos carnage of 2010 which also claimed the lives of several corps members, an editorial published by The Punch succinctly captured the feelings of the general public when it opined, “A government that is incapable of providing security for its corps members has lost the moral authority to compel young graduates to enlist in the scheme.”

  I remember that the shock and horror the people felt swiftly metamorphosed into anger and outrage in exceeding measure and soon after, almost everyone was making strident calls for the NYSC to be adjudged a massive failure, and demanding that it be completely scrapped by the Federal Government given the prevailing circumstances at the time.   However, certain influential factions both within and without the government disagreed with these calls to varying degrees, nevertheless, they all wholly agreed that the scheme urgently needed to be subjected to total restructuring and that new policies must be formulated and implemented in order to successfully re-orient it. So, at that time, this was the issue in the forefront of national consciousness; it was the conflict that had completely captivated the public interest: NYSC, to be or not to be? Everyone had his opinion to give on the matter and they did so, too. Eventually, President Jonathan announced that the scheme would not be scrapped but would instead be subjected to much needed restructuring. It was an admission that a re-assessment of the NYSC was an absolute necessity if it were to remain relevant to our national life.

  But that was where the story ended; promises turned out to be only words even though more than words were required. Over time, public interest in the matter has waned, as it is wont to do, distracted by other issues in the polity as they emerged. The strategy I earlier described has been employed again and its effectiveness is evident, because we, as a people, have somehow forgotten that we once agitated for the restructuring of the NYSC to become a reality. Martin Luther King, Jnr. once said: “We will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” It now appears that the issue of restructuring the NYSC is no longer front-page news anymore and so an uncommitted government has been let off the hook by the people it is accountable to. We have all failed to act when it is clear that action is what is needed.

  The challenge, therefore, is how to make sure that such crucial issues of collective concern remain in the forefront of everyone’s consciousness so that there will remain an unrelenting pressure on the government to obliterate the gap that exists between promising to act and actually taking affirmative action. What better way is there to do this than by making it abundantly clear just how critical this issue is to the personal lives (and finances) of every individual living in the country and depending on the economy for survival? In this country, we are quick to mobilise against any action taken by the Federal Government or any other influential stakeholder that will invariably culminate in a drastic increase in our collective general cost of living while also adversely impacting our standard of living in an already harsh economic climate, Occupy Nigeria 2012 is a case in point.   Perhaps if we clearly understood the insidious and debilitating effects of the current structure of the NYSC on the despairing economy in which we all operate and upon which our individual and collective well-being depends, we would once more cry out as vociferously as we did and insist and insist upon immediate changes in the structure of the scheme, giving no ground and forgetting nothing until changes are made. Thus, in my own little but hopefully significant way, I will now attempt to revive the public interest in the issue of restructuring the NYSC by highlighting and analysing the destructive influence the scheme’s current structure wields over the Nigerian economy.

  There is a new posting policy thrust of the NYSC which specifically limits the posting of corps members to key areas of the Nigerian economy such as rural health, agricultural development, primary and secondary education and rural infrastructure. The principle upon which this policy has been founded may be sound but the prevailing reality of the sheer lopsidedness of the current posting practice mocks it unabashedly and may well continue to do so with damning consequences if the situation is not immediately and constructively addressed. The present structure of the NYSC is such that a vast majority of corps members posted to majority of the states across the Federation are constrained to take on the responsibility of teaching regardless of their discipline, with perhaps the only exception being the doctors and other medically inclined corps members. This may not appear to be a problem or a cause for concern on the surface of it, but I would urge us to consider the situation a bit more carefully in order to fully understand the ramifications it poses.

  The scheme’s present structure is such that the nation’s qualified electrical engineers who may possess the capacity to develop practical solutions to the ridiculous and endemic power situation in the country have to forsake their true calling for a whole year in order that they carry out the NYSC’s directive to go and teach. The electronics and computer engineers who may just be the ones to pioneer technological innovation in the country capable of propelling our economy into international dominance must now go and become teachers. And what about the agricultural scientists and engineers who may be able to pilot agricultural development in the communities they serve if allowed the time and provided with the right opportunities? Or the structural and civil engineers who can devote their energies towards much needed infrastructural development in the rural communities they serve?

  There are so many more similar examples like this; what happens to all these graduates of different disciplines under the current dispensation? Most of them end up as teachers in the classrooms, yanked unceremoniously away from their primary passions for a whole year, unable to attain a form of advancement or professional development in their chosen fields of endeavour, and the economy is robbed of the opportunity to let these potential pioneers apply themselves with verve and tenacity towards creating and developing solutions that their country is in dire need of. I mean no slight on the teaching profession; I actually believe that it is the foundation upon which all other professions may stand. The point I am simply trying to make is that by constraining most corps members to teach in the classrooms, the current structure of the scheme actively promotes capacity underutilisation and gross mismanagement of manpower and human resources, to the detriment of the corps members and the nation at large.

 To be continued.

Belema is an Electrical/Electronics engineer, Reward and Conflict Managers Mowe, Ogun State.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”