NYSC: Pregnancy, motherhood and service to the nation

…it’s double blessing for me; I got married, had baby in camp –Nursing corps member

 

 

The management of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) once made a pronouncement barring pregnant women, nursing mothers and post graduates students from the scheme. Many reasons were adduced. It ranges from unsuitability to rigorous stages involved. But, the finding of OLUWATONI OLUWASANYA, who has been monitoring the trend, suggests that nothing really has changed

 

Looking tired and helpless, Linda, a pregnant member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), walked out of the NYSC secretariat tired, staggering around like a drunk. She almost lost balance with miscalculated steps until a colleague, who sensed danger, quickly prevented her from falling down. It was obvious she had been stressed for the day.

Linda was at the camp for registration and had been waiting in line from about 8am till 2pm on that fateful Thursday. She told our reporter that she often thought that such stress takes a toll on her unborn baby. Linda said: “For me, I believe that pregnancy exerts too much pressure on women. However, it’s when you get to some stages that you become very lazy like me. When I was about four or five months, I was really okay and it was going well, but now as it’s progressing I’m getting really weak. It’s not been really easy, I must confess.

“For Post Primary Assignment (PPA), thank God they really understand. I serve at a company not a school, so, I get some special treatments. I don’t overwork myself but if I were to be in a place where I’d have been teaching, it would have been a bit more hectic.

“Pregnant women are not really considered before being posted. But I know they consider such for marriage, they would have to post you to where your husband stays but apart from that as I am now, nobody is even seeing you and nobody cares, you took the oath and we sang that whether in rain or sun, we will serve Nigeria.”

To forestall avoidable emergency that may occur to the expectant mothers during the three weeks orientation programme, the camp managers, according to Linda, usually give nursing and pregnant corps members room not to participate in the drilling. Yet, many of them will insist so as to experience the fun associated with the exercise. Another, who identified herself simply as Rachael, also walked into the camp looking pale and worn-out.

Unlike pregnant Linda however, Rachael is a nursing mother. She held a baby in one hand, and another bag containing baby things in the other. She walked so slowly that everybody pitied her. Even the blind could tell from her expression that all was not well with her.

What she was experiencing was very obvious for everyone to see. She stood out like a sore-thumb in the midst of others, who were smartly dressed with a majestic steps. It wasn’t difficult for our reporter to notice her as she walked up to her to enquire about her health. Our reporter was moved to tears when Rachael told her the trouble she had gone through to accomplish her desire of serving the nation. Rachael said: “My pregnancy was seven months old when my name came out for the service and it was something I had always wanted to experience. So, I was excited to come to camp.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know I would undergo a Caesarean Section on due date. That, I suppose, was the major challenge that heightened my health condition. In spite of that, I didn’t want to defy the service because of the fun, which I had always wanted to experience.

Without that graduation is not complete in Nigeria. It actually makes you feel proud to be a graduate in Nigeria; everyone wants to experience it.” For Ngozi, a graduate of English at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, service was something she had always craved, even before gaining admission to the university. It was one of the attractions for higher education in the country, she said. However, she got her posting letter when her baby was just three months old. “I was heavily pregnant when I graduated so I had to defer the service so as have my child and wait for him to be strong a bit to withstand the weather.

Even at that, it hasn’t been easy taking him with me to camp for clearance and all that stuff that are compulsory, but I try my best not to give myself away. “Sometimes, I pity my son because of what I’m taking him through like standing in the sun in which we had to stay for hours before being attended to.

I am lucky, unlike some other mothers that my son doesn’t cry often. He cries only when the weather becomes quite unfriendly.”ww At the Iyana Ipaja NYSC Orientation Camp, nursing mothers with their babies strapped to their backs is a common site. Despite the challenge of carrying their bundles of joy, the mothers will usually not want to be outdone by their colleagues. While some of them came to the camp with their housemaids, others, Saturday Telegraph gathered, brought their aged mothers or mothers-in law in order not to take chances with their babies.

The passion, commitment and courage these group of corps members displayed during the parade amazes not a few onlookers. With smiles on their rosy cheeks, they narrated the joy and challenges of serving the nation as nursing mothers and pregnant women. One of such pregnant corps members, who craved anonymity, could not hide her joy as she noted that her experience at the camp has been enjoyable. She said: “It is a double blessing for me as I got married shortly before the call-up letter and I’ll be leaving the camp with a bouncing baby girl.

What else can I ask from my creator? The Lord has really been kind to me. It’s not because I am holy but because of an unqualified grace. “We didn’t plan to have a baby because I’d planned to come here and enjoy my service year but when I got pregnant, there was nothing I could do.

For all these, I will forever remain grateful for His mercies.” However, for such pregnant women and nursing mothers to be able to take proper care of themselves and their unborn and born babies, the NYSC, according to findings, usually allow them to register, take exit from the camp and go home during the first three weeks of mobilisation.

This may be why, the scheme, in the eyes of many has been nothing but a mere name. Most nursing mothers and pregnant women allegedly resume to their designated camps just to get registered and disappeared until when the programme is over to pick up the certificate.

But some still choose to go through the rigours, in order to experience the fun associated with the exercise. Often times, these set of women do not only get registered into the scheme but are habitually awarded the certificate without undergoing the rigours of service. This may be the reason why many usually question the orientation camp rules, which they say, are routinely flouted to accommodate these women.

If the rules must be adhered to, others say, these women should not even be considered at least for the sake of their health and the health of their unborn children. A district coordinator at the Lagos NYSC Secretariat, Mallam Habeeb, has confirmed that pregnant women stay in camp like other corps members. “They are given exit, so, after the camp, they come and collect their posting letter and all their allowance.

“They were stopped at a time, but now the NYSC has lifted the ban. Some of them petitioned that everybody has rights to be a corps member. In the current arrangement, they are usually considered for maternity leave like any other working married woman. So, it is a way of balancing everything. The oath has been taken and there is nothing much we can do about that,” he said. In 2015, the NYSC officially barred pregnant women, nursing mothers and students engaged in postgraduate studies from enlisting in the national service across the country, until they are free to participate effectively.

Then Director-General of the Scheme, Brig-Gen. Johnson Olawumi, made this known at a two-day pre-mobilisation workshop for the 2015 Batch “B” NYSC programme, held in Kaduna. He stated that the exemption of pregnant women and nursing mothers, as well as post-graduate students from national service was because they would not be able to undergo the four cardinal programmes of the NYSC. The four cardinal programmes are: Mobilisation, orientation, primary assignment and winding-up passing out parade.

The NYSC also resolved at the time that pregnant women and children would no longer be allowed into orientation camps across the country for service under the scheme established by the Gen. Yakubu Gowon administration in 1973. Arguing that prospective corps members must go through the four stages of the national service to qualify to receive certificate of national service, Olawumi, faulted a situation whereby prospective corps members, especially pregnant women and nursing mothers, would be absent from the stages of the national service, only to resurface for posting to their various places of primary assignments. There was also the resolution workshop tagged: “ICT and NYSC Mobilisation Process: Towards Eliminating Identified Challenges”.

The NYSC then resolved that thenceforth, documents for concessional posting request on marital or health grounds would be forwarded on-line as against the old practice of “bringing such to the NYSC headquarters in Abuja.” It noted that prospective corps members would henceforth be given the opportunity to make their choices outside their socio-cultural and linguistic areas, using ICT solution.

This, according to the NYSC, is to tackle the problems of deluge of concessional request with which the scheme is inundated with regularly. By August 4, of the same year, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) fired back, describing the decision of the NYSC’s management to ban pregnant women and nursing mothers from participating in the yearly scheme as discriminatory and unconstitutional. HURIWA in a statement jointly signed by the then National Coordinator and National Media Affairs Director, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and Zainab Yusuf respectively, said the corps’ decision is a form of apartheid, which will exclude those affected from deriving the benefits of the programme, which is for national integration. According to the statement, Section 42 (1) of the Constitution of 1999 (as amended) clearly spelt out that government’s policy cannot be couched and implemented to primarily discriminate against any group of citizens under any guise. It said: “The Statutes of NYSC, which was erroneously cited and misinterpreted as the authority for reaching this untoward policy by NYSC’s management team becomes null and void if it contravenes or contradicts the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.” There are also set of corps members, who just arrived to their orientation camps and the stories some of them are having are simply hilarious.

One anonymous blogger shared an encounter with a corps member, who served in Lagos State a few years ago. She shared the story on Facebook with Labels: call up letter, camp, NYSC, orientation. She said: “It always broke my heart to see women with infants and young children go through the stress of coming to our local government office or CD and have to fight their way through the lines to get their cards signed. At least in my local government, my LGI always made it a point to make sure that pregnant women or women with children got first priority.

“My friend posted a picture of her room in despair, and I told her to remember that I was in a corridor-converted-into-aroom, so, she should count herself lucky for having space. Her next post was that there were two babies in the room. Is she’s joking, right? Apparently another lady in her camp came with a 12-day-old baby.

However, she was yelled at and sent back home by NYSC officials. “Well, 10 minutes later, another friend posted another picture of a baby in an orientation camp somewhere. I have to ask now why a woman would bring a child to the orientation camp. This is unbelievable. Children should NEVER be allowed into NYSC camps? Besides the stress on the young mothers, how about the very high risk of the child being infected with germs and bacteria, the types that adults can handle but are lethal to babies.” However, this particular issue was taken up with an unnamed NYSC top shot. Below was the conversation between them:

 

  • Will pregnant women and nursing mothers be registered in the Orientation Camp?

No. There will be strenuous exercises in the camp, which may jeopardise the health of the mother and the unborn child. In the same vein, babies are not allowed in the camp, so, nursing mothers will also not be registered.

 

  • How can NYSC serve these women better, I asked?

Like I said, during the registration process, I believe they should be given priority and preference to stay in their states of residence. That would be a good first step. This should be noted on their registration form, so that while call up letters are sent out, they are automatically waived from attending camp – but given the necessary instructions on getting paid allowance, and signing the ‘Book of Life’ (this book that has every corps members’ contact information).

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