The Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC): The What? Why? And Who’s?

A Londoner's first-hand experience of Nigeria's 'gap year' programme. What is it, and is it compulsory for all?

 

Colonial Africa was never built on the purpose of achieving strong independent states, but rather a structural model to achieve biased economic gain.

At the dawn of independence, many African nations had to face the excruciating task of establishing rock-solid institutional vehicles for State building and the development of national identity.

Religious bias, ethnical differences, economic tussles, and the final straw of the Civil War between 1967-1970, which claimed over 2 million Nigerian lives, saw the creation of The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) by Decree No.24 on 22nd May 1973. The purpose being to reconstruct, reconcile, and generate shared nationalism designed to fuse and embody the spirit of diverse cultural identities from the wake of ruin and disaster.

The National Youth Service Corps program was created exclusively for university graduates of Nigerian citizenship to nurture this goal.

In practice, the NYSC program has harmonised Nigeria’s vibrant ethnical communities by equitably distributing university graduates outside their respective States of origin to utilise their skills in areas of national need.

For many young Nigerian graduates, NYSC serves as the bridge between formal education and full-time employment, for health professionals, the program has proven beneficial in securing a suitable residency upon completion of the program. It provides new graduates with that ‘year of grace’ to explore career options and entrepreneurial flair. For older graduates from the diaspora, it may be an opportunity to assimilate into Nigerian life.

My deployment letter read Kwara State where I spent my fair share of three weeks in the countryside. The NYSC orientation camp (yes camp!) is essentially a military controlled ceremony designed to give participants a transferrable sense of military practice that can be applied to the civilian lifestyle. Discipline is the obvious norm, whilst marching, and participating in the competitive and extreme sports on offer are a must, with the exception of those with any reported physical ailments.

Kwara State is located in the Southwest Central region of Nigeria. It is often referred to as the gateway between northern and western Nigeria as its geo-political zone lies in the north central. “Yoruba and Hausa are the predominant languages, leadership is also represented between a blend of ethnic groups drawing from the Yoruba, Fulani, and Hausa indigenes.” Religious practices and climate conditions are amongst the similarities shared with Northern Nigeria. The state also draws tourist attractions from its upland terrain which is a key destination for hikers, the Owu waterfall is the highest in West Africa cascading from 120 meters, it also houses the Esie museum which houses the oldest artifacts of stone figures depicting various human activities. Legend has it that thunder struck the town turning everyone into stone after a grievous offence was alleged to have been committed.

My first day in camp was spent going through the gruesome registration process.

With roughly 3,000 people hovering around, soldiers were there to hand out ‘welcome drills’ to us, which proved to be the least of our worries, provided we showed an element of politeness in our attitudes. At the end of the registration exercise, every participant was assigned into groups of platoons, with each platoon leader representing the interests of its members; platoon leaders were also responsible for handing out the official NYSC kit to each member. Platoon rivalry was rife and intensified during competitive sports as we plied for bragging rights.

Each day was met with a 7am start, with soldiers banging down on each dormitory door. Our response was swift as we were met with military/parade drills that would be done in the next 2 hours. We then have the rest of the day to ourselves, which is usually spent indulging in ‘social activities’. At 4pm a trumpet is blown and we are gathered at the parade ground for a briefing by the Camp Commandant, this lasts for at least two hours, after which previous activities are resumed.

The end of our three-week stay is marked with a ceremony attended by the Governor of Kwara State.

The second stage of the NYSC program sees corpers being assigned to a Primary Place of Assignment (PPA). You can choose to remain in your original State of deployment, or request to be re-deployed. This is where corpers are expected to apply themselves in a public or private organisation. The majority of corpers are placed in public sector and government agencies with shortages of skills such as education and healthcare. An emphasis is placed on specialist professionals to ensure they are placed within their area of expertise.

I was placed in the law firm of BA Law LLP in my native Lagos. This is a local law firm with an international reach, specialising in civil-commercial litigation and alternative dispute resolution. I had not been called to the Nigerian bar yet, but this did not stifle my learning.

I was placed within a team of three counsels for each brief we were assigned, where I provided paralegal support tailored to the nature of the work done which mostly included: research, legal opinions, drafting, client liaison, attending hearings, data room management, and due diligence. I was exposed to legal practice in the African context; I experienced land grab tussles in court between the State Government and royal families, election petition matters; where a bereaved candidate in a political election, challenges the outcome of an election, mostly based on grounds of irregularities, lack of procedure or supposed rigging.

Every Thursday, we reported back to the Secretariat in the State that we were serving in, to partake in CDS (community development service), which is essentially pro bono. Legal professionals offer legal aid services to unlawfully detained individuals in prisons; the health professionals provide immunisation services to under-represented communities in high-risk areas, whilst engineers are required to inspect Government run schools to ensure compliance of building regulations. Other professionals are placed in public relations and operational matters.

The Benefits for Nigerians in the Diaspora

For Nigerians in the diaspora, NYSC provides exploration opportunities into the culture of your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. It offers a ‘gap year experience’ that will most certainly get you out of your comfort zone, providing you with opportunities to learn and understand your local language, understand the demographic of an emerging economy, develop business savvy skills, and the corporate culture tailored to the African market. As Africa continues to open its doors to new opportunities, it gives many Nigerians the opportunity to plug themselves into a world of endless possibilities. It also debunks many African myths you were made to believe by the media.

Is it compulsory?

The NYSC program is certainly not compulsory, but circumstances demand the completion of the program, especially if you are open to a cross-border career that will involve operations in Nigeria at some point. The majority of establishments in Nigeria include the NYSC certification as a requirement in their recruitment process. Financial institutions, multinationals, and oil companies give priority to applicants with a valid NYSC certificate. Furthermore, government contracts and employment will not be handed to anyone without satisfying the requirements of the NYSC program. Standing for political office or appointments is also a pipe dream without the production of a valid NYSC certificate.