For years, I’ve thought about coming to Nigeria and spending a year or two, working and making my own memories. As a child of the diaspora, I need to come and experience Nigeria outside the realm of family holidays, and to create connections and networks for myself. Up until about a couple of months ago, I was convinced that once I’d finished my Masters, I would pack my bags and come to Nigeria to do my NYSC. It seemed like a logical way of getting that year of life in Nigeria that I wanted.
I’d heard horror stories and also fun encounters from friends, so I knew to proceed with caution. Ultimately, I was attracted to doing NYSC because it would give me a structured opportunity to come and live and work in Nigeria. I also liked the idea of meeting other young Nigerians from all over the country to build intercultural and inter-ethnic unity.
But Nigeria being Nigeria somewhat put me off. In theory, NYSC is a great opportunity for Nigerians to explore parts of the country they’ve never visited before, learn about each other’s culture, and the people they otherwise would never have met. However, given the way that people can request more convenient postings, you find that many individuals stay in places they are accustomed to. However, with growing insecurity and inter-ethnic troubles in some areas, it’s understandable as to why many would be deterred from leaving their home state or venturing somewhere where they don’t know a single soul. I knew I would have to figure out a way to complete the NYSC year in either Abuja or Kaduna, places where I know I would be safe and had family.
Despite my hesitation to come to Nigeria to do NYSC, I still do think it’s a great opportunity for young Nigerians. I believe if done properly, it could help ameliorate Nigeria’s ethnic and religious differences. I have friends who have ventured from far and wide to come and do their service year in Kaduna and have stayed ever since because of their love of the place and the people.
The programme needs to be revamped to ensure that it’s running as effectively and responsibly as possible. Corpers shouldn’t be replacing teachers in schools. They aren’t qualified yet they are teaching our youth when they lack the experience. There also needs to be increased protection and regulation in the support given to corpers. It’s no wonder people do not want to send their children to states where they have no connection because of the uncertainty and insecurity in this country.
I’m not completely opposed to coming and serving in Nigeria, but I don’t think now is the right time for me. But perhaps this raises the question of how we integrate our youth from the diaspora who so much want to engage with the country, but the transition isn’t made easy.
I have plenty of British-born Nigerian friends, like myself who would love to come to Nigeria to work, start a business and more, but the lack of infrastructure and the barriers in place to aid an easier transition sometimes deters them. I don’t believe we should be exempted from any programme just because we’re coming from abroad, but I do think that the country is missing out on a trick by not actively engaging the youth from abroad to come back. Just look at Ghana and its Year of Return. My Instagram feed was flooded with pictures from peers and celebrities alike who were making the most of this initiative and discovering newfound opportunities in Ghana. I’m almost certain that if Nigeria were to do something similar, there would be a huge engagement from Nigerians around the world, from the UK, USA and all across Europe.
Nigerian youth in the diaspora are hungry to make a change, we are hungry to make a difference, and we want to come back to the motherland to really flourish and give it our all. But until more systems are put in place to sustain a smoother and lasting transition, Nigeria may not be benefitting from all its assets.