By Robinson Sibe
I have written about this severally, and I don’t intend to give up writing about it. Yesterday, I saw a headline, saying the allowance for Youth Corpers have been increased to thirty thousand Naira. My instant response was, this is not just about the allowance; there are deeper issues.
Few weeks back, I received a mail from a Youth Corper, looking for a placement. Ordinarily, I didn’t need one, but I know the plight they face when rejected. She had done her findings on the internet, and came to ask for placement, so she could use the service year to improve her skills in GIS. From her CV, I could tell she was a young girl, with a consistent history of academic excellence. She graduated with a solid First Class in Survey and Geomatics (Best Graduating Student in the Faculty), from one of the leading Federal Universities in the country. But, here she, without a placement. I accepted her, and will do my best to give her the right professional exposure and grooming needed by a young graduate. She’s since settled in, and showed tremendous capacity, deserving of her grades.
Three years ago, another young man who also made a solid First Class (over 4.7) in Geomatics in one of the Federal Universities, walked in to my office in search of placement. Again, I felt an incumbent responsibility to give him a space; knowing the limited options out there for him as a Youth Corper. He’s since served and gone back to his home state. Curiously, with such grades, he was not retained by his school, or some research outfit. This morning, I woke up to see a thank you note from him for playing a role in his career, and that gave me a lift.
I have said it severally, and will still say it: scrap the scheme. A country with a life expectancy of 53, should not “steal” one year out of her citizen’s life, in the name of service. The youth service scheme is poorly managed and leaves a gap in the young graduate’s career. It’s an unnecessary punctuation of the young graduates’ career; a false start to their fledgling career. For instance, COREN expects the graduate Engineer to be posted to an Engineering firm, to start the first year of his SITSIE scheme (2 years) as a pupil Engineer, under a COREN registered Engineer. Instead, he is posted to teach Mathematics and Physics, in a war-torn area, where he’s preoccupied with solving the mathematics of “escape velocity” in case he is attacked by Boko Haram, marauding herdsmen or kidnappers. By the time he’s done with his youth service, he is war-weary, and marching on to a labour market that is even more brutal.
No serious nation will allow First Class products, and indeed young and promising graduates, roam the streets in search of placements. In a serious country, these two Youth Corpers would have had offers lined up, straight from school. In Nigeria, they waste one year (in my case I spent 18 months) waiting for their school to mobilize them for service, then spend another one year as a Youth Corper (that only a negligible number get to benefit from, career-wise); that is two years, out of the statistical 53 (life expectancy). The nation is stealing their best days.
As I type this, there are thousands of Youth Corpers roaming the streets in search of placement. They put themselves up for service to their nation, but their nation let them down. Proponents claim the scheme was meant to promote cohesion and national unity. In reality, it exposes our graduates to extreme danger, and gives them a rude experience of how the nation does not care about them. By the time they are done with Youth Service, they are already “radicalized” by the hardship they went through. How then can you build national cohesion with such dramatization of lack of care for your citizens? It’s time to face the truth: scrap this thing!
Robinson T. Sibe, a prolific writer, political commentator and software engineer, wrote from Port Harcourt.