National Service or National Sabotage?
Creative minds, careful planning and colossal sums of money are expended daily throughout the world on the worthy task of encouraging citizens to wholeheartedly give of their best, when it comes to skill, talent and labour utilisation for respective national good and development. This sense of the appreciation of one’s homeland underpins all civic sermons and projects seeking to achieve national goals through the avenue of national participation. Observe the general operations of the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP) and you immediately discover an underlying, but not necessarily written objective, which seeks to ingrain into the youth a kindred spirit of patriotism and belief in the dignity of legitimate labour. Yes, for not all labour is deserving of legitimate reward, even if rendered in a purely man-Friday fashion. Ask either a staff or a serving personnel (notice the forceful emphasis on doing) of the National Service Scheme (NSS) and the prideful intimation of a patriotic “service to the nation” would be the ready and predictable cliché. The story reported last year of a fact-finding Bangladeshi delegation compassing sea and land just because of our country’s national service model is an encouraging attestation that the pacesetting domain of excellence is not an “abrokyire” heritage. It is needful to stress that whoever originated the idea of serving the nation after a tertiary-level course did no disservice to his generation. This practical concept, with its invaluable contribution to nation building, has perpetuated to posterity a challenging but rewarding opportunity of having firsthand experience with besetting national problems. It has come with the consequent bestowal of a privilege to be part of the rectification process through inventive individual approach. Oh, I harbour a certain admiration for that marine engineering graduate who responded to a national service call to teach junior high school students in a specific village. Many would have been quick to instantly reject or change this posting on the basis of seeming hindrance to a promising career with a multi-national oil company in the western region. This exemplary instance of commitment to God and country should not be left to evaporate unnoticed into thin air. It is time we learn to differentiate real heroes from spurious ones, and benevolently render unto them their dues. To state that 50,069 newly-posted national service personnel had a hectic time in the early part of October 2010 is to state the obvious and the uninteresting. The online release of postings meant the beginning of tedious registration formalities at the various regional offices. That same old story of organised frustration was replayed. Only that the students-turned-personnel were acquainted with the status quo and thus, adequately prepared for the whole show. After all, they went through similar and more stressful frustrations (imagine frustration qualified) during maiden student registration in the various tertiary institutions. Their only bother consisted in the inability of the regional administration to reduce time-wasting paperwork through the employment of a computer database system that combines the twin blessings of effectiveness and efficiency. Their pragmatic evaluation perceived the requirement of passport pictures as not just an unnecessary step, but a duplication of records after having previously uploaded them [passport pictures] to the NSS database during the initial online registration. Monies charged for the pictures and the outright and unexplained rejection of all other pictures from places other than the regional offices greatly incensed these tertiary institution graduates. Their extensive familiarisation with all the nitty-gritty and subtleties of ‘institutionalised extortion’ was brought to the fore in ensuing conversations. Instructions as to registration procedures were carefully outlined in the appointment letter to be printed and submitted at regional offices within a stipulated deadline. To fall short of this implied the forfeiture of allowance for the month of October. And that was original thinking, on the part of the NSS office at its best. All things being equal, the forfeiture of allowance for the month of October was an effective inducement for quick registration and reporting to places of posting. The long, survival-of-the-fittest sort of queues at regional offices clearly demonstrated that not a few were willing to “go dry” throughout November. It did not however suppose an immediate assumption of duty on the part of personnel at service posts. Brother, you can trust the fresh products of our tertiary institutions with the meeting of deadlines especially when a crucial something like “allawa” (allowance) is at stake. That’s not a joke, bro. It’s a do-or-die affair! We cannot, we dare not say, that the postings and procedures were without problems. Umaru Amadu’s timely article, National Service or National Suffering?, adequately captured the plight of newly-posted personnel with commendable keenness and the humorous wit he employed was appropriate for a season replete with whining, complaining and weariness. He reiterated the reality of an unplanned, better still unintentional, but systematic ‘punishment’ meted out to a people with affirmed willingness to pay back ‘loans’ obtained from the government of their beloved Ghana. Many travelled long distances to places of postings only to be told that their services were either unneeded or uncalled for. The open expression of individual dissatisfaction with a system that seemed not to have taken programmes of study into consideration was also highlighted. As you’d predict, a section of the public passionately engaged in the ubiquitous blame game, expertly lecturing on what should have been done which was not done. This reminded us that the exacting area of specialisation that seeks to creatively invent ways of thinking and doing is a field only few dare to venture. A preponderance of the expertise around us majors on the invention of snags – not solutions. Can you imagine? Wait a minute, brother. It seems we are losing track of the way and subject matter of our discourse. Now, let us leave all these uninteresting nonessentials and start making meaningful comments about that notorious word uppercased and bolded at the beginning of this piece: sabotage. No dilly-dallying here, since the probability that busy readers offered their precious attention because of that particular word is very high. The Executive Director of the NSS and his team of officials fall into this category. Am I close to the truth sirs? These honourable officials entrusted with the administration of the scheme cannot afford to be negligent after hints of purposeful destruction have been given. An experienced teacher once marvelled at the diligent devotion of a particular year’s batch of service personnel. It is to be feared however, that the “service to the nation” obligation is sometimes rendered in so unpatriotic a manner that the perceived national profit becomes elusive if not barely beneficial. Allow us to say that the untoward attitude of some service personnel in the basic and senior high schools far removed from the cities and big towns (and perhaps the inquisitive pen and camera), is imperilling the nation’s educational fortunes. Habits of regular absenteeism and insubordination are now synonymous with some service personnel. This unmistakable deprivation of that sense of accountability required in the noble business of combating ignorance is nourished by the idea of not being part of the regular workforce of the Ghana Education Service (GES). Anyway, it could also be due to chronic cases of delusions of grandeur, which comes willy-nilly to many a university graduate serving in small towns and villages under the NSS. Imagine these same personnel serving in establishments like the ministries, financial institutions, telecommunication firms, to name just a few, and your guess of unreserved dedication is as good as ours. Here, the prospect of retainment leaves no room for anything short of punctilious commitment. The rumour persists that some personnel connive with headteachers in staying away from places of posting for reasons of attending to more profitable ventures. This, if true, appallingly pictures the extent of latent corruption and its potential impact on a nation already grappling with corruption at various levels. It is something of an irony that those who deliberately remain elusive as to ‘job’ delivery are quick to enjoy an allowance hardly enjoyed by a toiling professional somewhere. A headteacher’s hesitation in signing the allowance clearance form of some personnel resulted in the forging of his signature. Oh King Solomon, we see realistic wisdom in your keen observation – “there is a sore evil under the sun.” The active involvement of some personnel in that regrettable episode of “children doing babies rather than homework” is fast blurring the dignifying distinction between sound teacher-student relationships. Gullible school girls have become targets of licentious desires that know no inhibition in the blind pursuit of gratification. Sensual manipulation has thus replaced student mentorship and those who should be protected are being preyed upon by predators of high sophistication. An experienced educator vouchsafed to someone’s hearing the surprising case of a personnel known for entertaining a ‘guest’ in his room during contact hours; the very time he was supposed to aid in the education of school children. Another is said to have walked out of a class because of personal reasons of not being in a teaching mood. Nothing of a hint here about adherence to rules. This is a sad and shameful case of salvagers metamorphosing into saboteurs. Revelations as these are wholly necessary, whether they are isolated cases of sorts or of a day in, day out kind of regularity. Their curtailment is equally important, so as not to result in the making of many books. Lectures on the kind of measures to be taken should be the preoccupation of corporate Ghana. Its discussion deserves the contribution of all and sundry. The NSS should as a matter of urgency, thoroughly reconsider its organisational efforts at quality supervision. The GES has no option but to closely work with the NSS if maximum productivity is to be achieved in the schools. The bitter truth is that the schools are lacking, seriously lacking. The investigative pen and camera can coordinate the non-partisan discussion of problems faced and problems caused by some service personnel. Rectification of confronting problems should pave the way for a gracious restoration of the professionalism expected of national service in the classroom. To the serving personnel, we say that your unaffected determination in bequeathing an enduring legacy of selfless service will open hitherto closed opportunities and doors for you. “Believest thou this? I know that thou believest!” But let the sabotaging personnel heed the biblical admonition that it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and be encouraged to heartily serve, “as unto the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23-25). You are a candidate for different kinds of ground-breaking changes in your place of service. The soft-spoken professor and national father has assured his many brothers and sisters that 2011 is an action-packed year. We also declare this year as a year of uncommon commitment to Mr. Kuagbenu’s brand of the “service to the nation” agenda. Sir, methinks I see many a penitent service personnel ruing the days of disservice – even declaring in unison – “We are seceding from sabotage!” Accordingly, all 2010/2011 national service personnel should ever be mindful of the marked difference of a salvaging national service in a year of action. Brother, this is the right time to commence the desirable action of national service; of mending what has been marred through national sabotage in some schools. Yes, this is the opportune time!
Source: Sarpong, Gideon Amoako
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