When the Nigerian Senate recently passed the so-called FOI (popularly known as Freedom of Information, but therein re-christened Right Of Information) Bill, any thought that this would be a meaningful bill evaporated, like all things Nigerian, when David Mark interpreted and announced this Bill to mean that the Press will now have an obligation to reveal its sources to the public. So, one can surmise that no priority will be given to learning more, under FOI or ROI Bill, about Nigeria’s “most public,” yet “black box” operation: the NYSC. Has anyone seen an annual report, a 5- or 10-, 20-, or even 30-year published report of the operations of the NYSC?

Started in 1973 by Military Decree No. 24 with the purported goal of promoting "national unity," the only acceptable and expected response was “praise,” because it was a military decree, originating from the Northerners who were in charge of the entire Nigeria, and because “national unity” “sounded” good. You had to have been there in 1973. Nigeria had just won what has since turned into a pyrrhic victory over Biafra and Northerners thus came to assume the arrogant “culture” of “born to rule” every aspect of Nigeria: no one could question their authority and power. Back then, Nigeria was heady and giddy with pride for defeating Biafra and the Igbo. More so, because, as Nigerians thought, they had fully displaced the Igbo and finally locked them up in the corner backroom from where they would never be allowed to recover or leave. There was no iota of remorse on the part of Nigeria for the genocide which it had committed against non-combatants in Biafra, not to speak of the pogrom and ethnic cleansing against the Igbo which led up to the war. When the war ended only two-three years before 1973, regardless of how much any Igbo had saved up in Nigerian banks prior to the war, he was given only 20 pounds. 20 pounds, yes—that was all: but, one is not expected to be able to fathom this; you had to have been there. It was all part of the calculated and deliberate annihilation and humiliation of the Igbo. So, to say Nigeria had any thought or plan of “promoting national unity” in 1973 is to accept that one is going to build a beautiful ice castle in the open desert.

Today, one can go to the barely functional NYSC website and read about its goals and mission. Not one of them has been accomplished—not a single one! There is no evidence that any unity had been promoted—least of all, “national unity.” Yet, today, both draftees and graduating students would protest, perhaps, violently, if the NYSC was banned: why? Uncontrollable and rising unemployment in Nigeria establishes NYSC as a buffer between graduation and immediate joblessness; and as an opportunity for job-hunting, albeit unsuccessful. It’s a year-long Summer Camp of sorts delaying entry into the serious world of competition and graduate unemployment. For sure, many NYSC graduates are exposed to and begin to appreciate the poverty of the masses from other than their own respective areas; but such reaction is mostly empathy and at best, patronization, not a motivation to address or solve the fundamental problems underlying the poverty.

Where are the reports informing the public of what this program is actually doing, what it is achieving, and how it is achieving it and where it is achieving it? What is the pattern of its leadership—who run it, where do they come from and whom do they report to? How much does it cost, and how is this money spent? Where are the statistics: how many students, from where, to where, and immediate post-graduate employment status? Why does Nigeria wait for a query before it should make NYSC officers report regularly to the public? What were and are the hidden agenda of the “owners” and authors of Decree No. 24 of 1973? It is clear that “national unity” is out of the question, because Plantation-Nigeria is the correct term for what it was then, and even now, with owners and rulers and slaves—and labor.

Even without such reports, the numbers should speak for themselves. There is a grossly uneven distribution of university graduates, South compared to North, for example. By decreeing that no graduate serve in his or her area of origin, the government makes sure that the region with the least number of graduates has the greatest benefit from this NYSC service. The monetary allowance paid to the corps members is such pittance that the “corpers” are bound to spend it all locally, without enough to “send some home,” as is the custom with some regions. This means that, in broad economic terms, where there are more “corpers,” there is more money being pumped into the local economy: the bulk of the funds going to the NYSC program ends up where the bulk of NYSC participants go. That’s another lopsided boon.

Since “service” is at the heart of this program, one can imagine what almost 40 years of service can amount to in terms of human labor. Any skewing of this work-force based on redirecting members away from their own communities invariably has a cumulative multiplying effect: more service and benefits to those who contribute less, and much less service and little or no benefit to those who contribute most to the program, in numerical terms. This is another huge imbalance—forty years’ worth.

The practical and tangible result of the NYSC program is that there are so many Igbo-Biafran university graduates being sent to other parts of Nigeria with fewer coming in in exchange. If that many graduates were deployed in Igboland Biafraland, for 40 years, we would, for example, have better roads since the federal government balks at building roads in Igboland / Biafraland, even while using our graduates in building these roads elsewhere. There are cities in Igboland-Biafraland that are so filthy that they are impassable and impossible to navigate through. In those forty years, our graduates will have gotten whoever city official is in charge to work on municipal cleanliness and hygiene, using their education, knowledge and skills to impress on the officials and the residents on how important clean environments are to health and joyous living. By their showing their intolerance to such filth for that long, they would set a good example, and our society would no longer allow our cities to be overtaken by rubbish and manure and the people live in and accept such squalor.

Igbo-Biafran university graduates serving at home in Igboland-Biafraland would be able to partner with Nigerian-repressed Igbo-Biafran industries and enterprises, contributing to their revival and gaining experience and motivation to keep us on the cusp of industrial development, despite a determined program by Nigeria to shut us completely down. Besides, when they spend their monetary allotments in Igboland-Biafraland, they would be contributing to the local economy. NYSC is a form of brain-drain designed to punish and penalize Igbo-Biafrans: one forced on by decree promulgated by Nigeria and those who own and rule Nigeria.

Presently most Nigerian “educated,” mock the Igbo-Biafran: if you are so “good,” how come Igboland-Biafraland is so backward and your cities so filthy? The so-called “educated” Igbo-Biafrans in their blindness fall for that. They can’t figure out to tell their tormentors that, had the occupying force called Nigeria not decreed that Igbo-Biafran youth must serve in other areas for forty years, that the same Igbo youth would have beautified our own area. Other places are cleaner and less backward because the Igbo-Biafrans are pressed into service to work to make it so therein. This is otherwise called slave labor: the Igbo are the slaves, and they make their masters’ dwellings clean and functioning, at the very expense of their own filthy quarters. The Igbo university graduates are forced to boost the local economy of other places while depriving their own community of the same funds.

So, the NYSC, while showing a public face and pretending to be aimed at “national unity,” is actually a program which by mandate shifts manpower, cheap labor and funds from the high producers to the low producers, at the expense of the high producers. We have seen this before in Nigeria: the Oil resources; produced in one area, and spent by the non-producing area, while leaving the producers to choke in the resultant environmental pollution and degradation. After 40 years, the cumulative effect is tremendous. But, who is going to know this or even think about it if NYSC produces no reports that can inform the public and raise debate about its structure and operations? And its termination?

This article will certainly be criticized, and by sheer absolute numbers alone, more so by perhaps Igbo-Biafran university graduates who have participated, are participating, in NYSC or are getting ready to. At the end of the day, with a calmer disposition and impartial review, there can be no dispute as to the pernicious effect of this program on Igboland-Biafraland. There are work and tasks that our graduates can do in our own land, but, the graduates are being drafted to other lands to take care of those faraway lands, while their own communities fester, fallen into disrepair and most in need of such restoration. For their part, Nigeria will be screaming in sham self-righteousness, but it could never cover the hypocrisy, nor would it have the honesty to open the NYSC books for all to see and draw their own conclusions. And for a challenge, will Nigeria change the rules so that each graduate can choose where to serve and if at all to serve; and if it must insist on the compulsory draft, then draftees are to serve in their own communities? NYSC is not an institution or symbol of “national unity”: it is one more mechanism to take and siphon from one part and give and sustain the other, at the expense of the former, which is exactly the foundational basis of Nigeria, starting from the British amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates a century ago. Nothing has changed, apparently.

This is one more reason why we must exercise our right of Self Determination to actualize Biafra. We need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. For sure, the “others” we are speaking of have not shown any inclination to take care of us; their own self-interest is always first and only interest, as it should be, arguably. Every instance in which we attempt to forget or deny our own pains and suffering and subjugation by Nigeria, or pretend that it does not exist, or that we can overcome it by defending one-Nigeria harder, is just another painful instance of regression. We really need to wake up and act accordingly. If we want to help Nigeria, then, we must find ourselves and our feet first; that’s what Self Determination is all about. Then, it will be up to Nigeria if it wants our help or not, if it wants to work with us or not. Charity should in fact begin at home.

Written by Oguchi Nkwocha, MD.

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