Saturday, 24 October 2009


Last Wednesday I found myself seated on a high table in front of about 150, young Nigerians dressed in matching T-shirts, trousers, jackets and shoes, hailing from all corners of the country.

This was the exit seminar for the Corpers of Zonkwa District, batch C, who were due to ‘graduate’ from their year’s Youth Service.

Corpers’ are members of Nigeria’s National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) – an institution established in 1973 to bring young Nigerians together and to prevent a repetition of the bloody Nigerian civil war of the late 1960s.

Although (I recently learned) youth service is not technically compulsory like national service, employers expect all graduates to be able to produce their Youth Service certificate.

After attending a month’s orientation in regional NYSC camps, the Corpers can be sent anywhere in the country to their ‘Place of Primary Assignment’ (PPA) which could be in a school, local government, NGO or other organisation (including Fantsuam!). It is not at all uncommon for a Lagos city boy to be posted to a rural backwater like Kafanchan, or indeed even further into the bush.

I had been invited to speak to the group about “Marketing yourself: How to create a results-oriented CV” by Corper Akin – King Corper of the Kafanchan area (I think the official title is Corpers Liaison Officer, but I think King Corper sounds better). Akin is also a Fantsuam volunteer and friend. I feel a particular connection with Akin as, when he’s not being a Corper or a graduate student, he’s helping run his father’s Lagos print packaging factory (I think all my readers will be aware – but for those that aren’t – my entire career prior to VSO has been spent in the printing industry).
Me up on the top table of the assembly hall of the local Government Secondary School in Kagarko where the Corper event was being held

In addition to Corpers’ primary assignments they are also encouraged to take on volunteer projects in their communities, in line with the Millennium Development Goals. However the motivation of Corpers to undertake both their compulsory and voluntary roles varies greatly: after I had delivered my 15 minute ‘lecture’ which featured a section on how to best describe ‘work experience’, one cocky Corper stood up and asked how they were expected to include work experience in their CVs when they’d spent four years at university and one doing Youth Service.

A group of graduating Corpers from the Kafanchan District. Akin's taking the photo!
Fantsuam has had the privilege of working with Corpers like Akin who, in addition to their PPA, has three additional teaching jobs and has initiated a project in the region to improve the quality of drinking water in order to reduce (from over 50%) hospital admissions from water borne diseases. This, by anyone’s measure, is a huge amount of work experience for someone fresh out of university. It is not always the case though, and there are other Corpers who will turn up at their PPA in protest and use every opportunity to avoid responsibilities. It’s the same as youth around the world! However it is really inspiring to see those who really seize their opportunities.
And they need to: every one of the 2,500 Corpers that completed their year of service in 1973 were snapped up by recruiters. In 2009, that number of Corpers will be in a single batch graduating from one of the smaller states. There are probably between 100,000 – 150,000 Corpers arriving on the job market every year. Many do not find jobs and this is one of the reasons that VSO has started working with NYSC on the ‘Corper Plus’ programme which complements both VSO’s National Volunteering Programme and the NYSC Programme in Nasarawa and Kwara States, adjacent to Abuja’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
From the advertising literature, the Corper Plus programme is:

“a one-year volunteering programme, which gives young people the opportunity to give back to the society and contribute to raising the standard of education in Nigeria. Volunteering on Corper Plus requires you to provide selfless service without monetary gain or financial incentives. This programme harnesses the energy and enthusiasm of exceptional graduates to provide leadership and motivation to students in schools and at the same time it transforms those graduates into inspiring leaders ready to excel in their future careers.”

“Without monetary gain or financial incentives isn’t quite true”: there is a monthly stipend of N12,000 a month and ‘modest’ accommodation. N12,000 is more than non-graduates earn at FF (and right across Nigeria) in full-time jobs and they need to pay for accommodation out of that salary.

The requirements to qualify are not easy though: it’s not for every Corper that finds themself out of a job. Selection for Corper Plus is based entirely on your ability to demonstrate a high degree of proficiency in the following competencies and qualities:
• Values diversity and respects opinions of others.
• Humility, Respect and Empathy
• Flexibility, Resilience, Knowledge and Leadership
• Planning, Organising, Problem solving and Self-evaluation
It occurs to me that it would be helpful to instil this spirit of volunteering into the over-developed countries currently struggling with recession and high unemployment?

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