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Opinions of Sunday, 17 October 2010

Columnist: Amadu, Umaru Sanda

National Service Or National Suffering?

“Charlie, where dem send you to?”
“Oh Charlie, some yawa koraa oh!”
“Why? Wetin happen?”
“The man take me go some village for Upper West say make I go teach.”
“Teach? You are not serious. You no fill out your form proper?”
“I fill say I dey read Communication Studies but still…”
“So which village be that?”

Well. That sounds like the transcribed conversation from a tapped phone line. But
thank God I haven’t started doing that yet. I leave it to my seniors in the
journalism profession to do in the meantime.

It’s a conversation I had with a friend who graduated with me from the Ghana
Institute of Journalism. The poor young man was complaining about his National
Service posting.

This type of conversation, no doubt, is taking place among friends and families
across the country through telephone exchanges and social networking sites among a
host of several other platforms.
The complaints are the same and the complainants also remain the same – tertiary
institution graduates. The defendant? National Service Secretariat - or should I
say, National Service Director and his response has always been the same: “National
Service is a state duty and you are obliged to serve”.
You are right sir. But to begin with, the secretariat asked all graduating
university students to fill a form online stating clearly the courses they read,
regions they wished to be posted and their marital status among others.
The latter, however, is not clear to me because one’s marital status does not
reflect in the allowance he/she gets so why ask him? But that’s not my worry.
If I studied engineering, society expects me to work as an engineer and likewise
when I study communications, I’m expected to communicate. In any case, this is
explicitly stated on the NSS form so why send me to be a nurse when I don’t even
know what paracetamol cures or how to dispense drugs written on a doctor’s
prescription form?

There’s a saying that goes thus: “No pig gives birth to a calf and no frog gives
birth to a lizard”. If that happens, we call it oddity and oddity is very close to
My friend jokingly asked me a question during our conversation. He said: “Why? I dey
go teach sociology and philosophy to the kiddies for Class 1?”
That question sounded funny but it means a lot. One can best perform in what one has
knowledge about. Teaching children at that age, I’m made to understand, requires a
lot of experience, skills and patience. Trust me, not every university graduate can
provide these to a child.
I listened to the NSS Executive Director, Mr. Kuagbenu the other day on Citi FM
suggesting that, if these university graduates can assist their junior brothers and
sisters to do their assignments, then they can also teach primary school children.
I beg to differ, sir. Does being able to assist my junior brother at home mean I
can pass as the class teacher of a whole class, tolerating everything and being able
to teach everything they really need?
Would it not be proper if we gave a solid foundation to these children at this stage
by assigning trained teachers to them rather than this shaky and unsure beginning?
So you post me to an area I have no knowledge or (maybe) interest in, and you trust
that I will perform? That surely creates room for redundancy in the office.
I pity my colleagues who have been sent that far from home. National Service
reserves the right to post personnel to any part of the country.
However, there is the need to consider where these people will put up for the
one-year duty call. It is true people travel across the country and even abroad for
work and other endeavors. But they do this with a clear accommodation assurance
before they set off.
Unless they are hustlers - and I know Ghana’s Service personnel are not hustlers -
they deserve accommodation.
Sadly, many of my colleagues tell me they have to go around town to look for
accommodation in “Atakpames” in the various villages.
But what happens if you are rejected by the organization or institution you’ve been
sent to?
I felt bad interviewing some guys for Citi FM who told me they were posted from the
southern parts of Ghana to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation offices in the Upper
East Region only to be told their services were not needed there.
According to the group, the GBC Upper East Director told them GBC requested no
National Service personnel.
That’s sad.
My poor friends had to waste transportation all the way to Bolgatanga only to be
told their services were not needed. Will they be given any transport allowance? I
They told me they had to sleep at the car park because they were clearly in a
strange land with no pre-arranged places of accommodation for them.
Which kind of wahala is this?
First you were sent to a region you haven’t chosen, then you are given a job you
have no expertise in and as if that is not enough, you get tossed up and down
without a place to take some little rest. Must we go through all these when it could
have been simple?
All I want to say is that National Service is a civic duty, but it must be National
Service and not National Suffering. Everybody must be happy serving their nation.
Not the other way round.

Umaru Sanda Amadu