In this interview with OLALEYE ALUKO, 60-year-old Louis Ebodaghe, who returned to Nigeria last year from the United States of America to participate in the National Youth Service Corps scheme, talks about his experiences, challenges and the way forward for the programme
What motivated you to return to Nigeria for the national youth service?
For a long time, I had wanted to go for national youth service. Initially, I felt that I was too old to participate in the scheme. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. At a point, I decided that I could do it, but I really could not find the time.
Later I found out that the law stipulated that if one obtained his first degree before the age of 30, then one was required to participate in the scheme.
I decided to go ahead and do it for two reasons. First, I was curious. This was because I had heard so much about the National Youth Service Corps. Since I did not attend school in Nigeria, I wanted to experience it.
Secondly, I had heard some good things about the NYSC and its challenges. So I thought it might be a good idea to try.
How did you adapt to the Nigerian environment and what challenges did you face?
My place of primary assignment was nice. I had requested to be posted there and it was approved. I served in the Jabi area of Abuja. But I think the programme will need some reforms. This is one of the primary reasons why I really got in.
You see, I noticed that most of the time whenever those of us from the Diaspora observe some challenges in Nigeria and we try to speak about them, based on our experiences and what we have gained overseas, some Nigerians are always quick to shut us down. I don’t know why it is so. A lot of people become quite defensive when you point out problems to them. It is as if they are saying, ‘What do you know about this country? You can’t just come from overseas and tell us this or that.’ If I had a platform to speak about our challenges in the future, I would say that we need to reform this whole process. We need to see and make the NYSC more enjoyable. I believe that when it was established more than 40 years ago, a lot of people were looking forward to participating in the scheme.
My experience with the scheme and my interactions with other corps members show that it was very challenging for them. Also I observed that corps members react as if they are forced to take part in the scheme. They are no longer enthusiastic about it.
The NYSC scheme used to be a national volunteerism programme. Unfortunately it is not, any longer. I believe the youth of this country are the leaders of tomorrow. We have to begin to encourage and motivate them to play this role.
In the United States of America, for example, most of our community work is about volunteerism. I believe Nigeria needs a heavy dose of this. I have always come home in the past with some medical practitioners to participate in some programmes. So I am very passionate about volunteerism.
I try to encourage the young ones and to tell them not to limit themselves based on their current experiences.
What do you intend to do with the NYSC certificate?
Well, I have always seen the NYSC certificate as a requirement that one needs to have to serve in the public sector. Since there was no way I could tell what might happen next, I decided that it would be fine to have it.
Nigeria will always be home to my family and I. We may decide to return home any time and we won’t want to have handicaps in the form of constraints. They may say you don’t have this certificate or that or that you are not part of us. So, I felt it was a good idea to serve.
How was your orientation exercise in Abuja? Were the facilities good enough?
As a matter of fact, the registration went well. But I think it could be better organised, especially with adequate use of Information and Communication Technology. Such an upgrade will really help the system to avoid queues.
I was fortunate enough not to be stressed out during the orientation exercise. Maybe it was due to my age. I had good people who helped me to navigate to wherever I wanted to go. They also showed me how to go about things. For me, registration was okay. But I think it was stressful for some other corps members. It was a new environment, but I just had to adapt to it.
How did you feel wearing the NYSC uniform for the first time and how were you received by other corps members?
Of course, I did wear the uniform. And I wore it proudly. I was even corrected on one occasion by the guards at the gate to the camp. They asked me to go back and dress properly. And I did.
The first time I put on the uniform, it kind of looked awkward. This is because when I walked down the street, a lot of people were looking at me and they did not know what to make out of it. I just saw people standing there and staring at me. Coming down the street before getting into the campus, I saw them laughing. And right from the gate, people started saying, “senior corper.” So, I was welcomed.
Would you want your children to have the same NYSC experience?
Absolutely, yes. If I could explain the process to them, I will encourage them. I cannot force them, but I will encourage them to participate in the national youth service scheme. This is because national youth service helps you to develop yourself. You meet people with various challenges and prospects and learn how to achieve a common goal. The NYSC makes it more interesting and builds relationships and character. So I think it is something I will recommend for my children who are still in school. They need to experience it.
In what ways can the NYSC tap into Information and Communication Technology?
I wish those running the scheme would tap into ICT. I saw some things that were not proper during my stay in Abuja. First, I felt that the NYSC uniform was a big challenge. After you have registered for the programme, they would ask you to state the measurements for your clothes and shoes. However, when you come on the day of orientation to collect those items, the clothes are no longer individualised. They just give you a little sack. And when you open it, you find out that those items do not even fit you. When you talk about ICT, I believe that is on another level.
If you were asked to have a measurement and input it in a computer, you expect that when you get that, you would be given your exact measurement. For example, when I got there, my clothes did not fit and I just had to get a tailor to go to the market, get me the fabrics and make something new for me.
Still on the ICT, I believe the NYSC should have a platform where people can access information in real time. This is because when we were about to pass out, we heard that the Muslim Sallah holiday would affect the passing-out ceremony. Information should be communicated properly to corps members and there should be no hearsays.
What do you say to other Nigerians in the United States who have not participated in the national youth service scheme?
As a matter of fact, my friend, Olusegun Abebe, and I talked about it in the United States. I told him that we should go back to Nigeria and serve our country. So we registered for the scheme. I was in Batch B, 2018 and passed out in 2019. It worked out well and for this reason, I try to talk to some of my folks here. When I told them I wanted to take part in the scheme, they were surprised and said, “At your age?”
So I had to explain to them what the specific requirements were and they said, okay. I have two folks I am talking to here. I wore my NYSC uniform proudly and I talk about NYSC proudly. During my stay in Abuja, whenever I went to amala joints or supermarkets in the uniform, everybody stared at me, but I talked to them proudly about the scheme.