National Service Persons across the length and breadth of the country are looking forward to breathing a huge sigh of relief as the clock ticks towards the end of their one year compulsory service on July 31, 2012.
The National Service Scheme engaged fresh graduates from the nation's tertiary institutions for the 2011/2012 service year in accordance with the Ghana National Service Scheme Act 1980(Act 426). This Act enjoins all graduate citizens in Ghana, who have attained the age of eighteen years or more, to undertake this programme.
The Scheme, inter alia, is aimed at developing skilled manpower through practical training, promoting national unity and strengthening the bonds of common citizenship among Ghanaians. It also seeks to undertake projects designed to combat hunger, illiteracy, disease and unemployment and to provide essential services and amenities in the rural areas.
Although some of these aims have been achieved, nevertheless there is a lot more to be done. These achievements, which have served as a catalyst for Ghana's economy to thrive, must not be glossed over. Mention can be made in the area of agriculture where a national service farm at Ejura in the Ashanti Region has produced six thousand bags of maize. The Papao Farms, near Hatso in the Greater Accra Region also produces fish, crops, animals, etc. The roping in of nurses and doctors as well as the deployment of graduates to under-served communities as teachers is also making some tremendous gains.
Indubitably, the Scheme is plagued with substantial challenges as it strives to optimise its objectives. Chief among these challenges is the refusal by some graduates to accept postings to some rural communities, especially in the three northern regions of the country. These graduates attempt to change their postings with the connivance of some so-called big men or Heads of institutions. This action constitutes an offense under the rules and regulations governing the Scheme and defeats the very spirit for which it was instituted.
In my view, national service must not be seen as synonymous to the lion's den, but we should see and embrace it wholeheartedly as a window of opportunity and a call to duty to apply our acquired knowledge to serve our nation.
It is high time the Secretariat made postings to these rural communities more enticing by instituting a special allowance for such graduates. Managers of the Scheme can also pay for the utility bills of graduates who are willing to accept postings to some of these very deprived communities. These and many other options will be the way forward to solve this problem.
What seems to be causing uproar and has the potential to further deepen the wounds of the Scheme is the suggestion to introduce a six-month compulsory military training as part of the service. The latest to add his voice to this call is the Convention People's Party's flag bearer, Dr. Abu Sakara, during his turn at the Institute of Economic Affairs' presidential debate. Dr. Sakara appears to be speaking with the same voice with the Executive Director of the Scheme, Mr Vincent Senam Kuagbenu.
In the wake of this call, would-be graduates have expressed absolute objection to this suggestion with or without a second thought. What we have forgotten is the fact that the original framework of the Scheme contains this module. I will humbly appeal that we have some modicum of patience and not be quick to shoot down this suggestion. It may have some inherent benefits that may not be easily noticed in the short run of implementation.
Indeed, we have come a very long way as service persons in our quest to serve our nation zealously with our physical and mental abilities in our various service posts. The road to leave enviable foot-prints has come with its ups and downs. Our faces will be lit with smiles when we look back to the knowledge we have imparted on the rural school children, when companies balance their sheets to declare huge turnovers and profits, and when the agricultural sector improves significantly. With some of these momentous achievements, we can proudly walk with our chests out.
Honestly and thanks to the service, I have learned how to fetch water from the well at where I live at Kpone, I have learned how to carry a bucket of water, I can understand and speak the Ga language with little difficulty, I have gained the experience of leaving alone on the GHc243.48 allowance with little support from my parents and above all the service has offered me the opportunity to have some practical working experience on the job. The programme has also offered the platform to national service persons to work and interact with their colleagues with different idiosyncrasies and as well as colleagues from different cultural, ethnic, religious, economic and social backgrounds. Some have made the best out of these relationships and have met their life partners.
These experiences have mollified me and thrown into the shade the odious experiences I went through during the registration process. I survived the struggles in the long and winding queues, with others jostling their way to the front rows to meet the registration deadline.
However, I have equally tasted hard times. The brown water I scooped from a pond during a water crisis to bath, which contained fingerlings stuck to my body, is still fresh in my memory as if it was yesterday. I have also suffered intermittent electricity disconnections because of the failure on the part of some tenants to pay their electricity bills.
As we look forward to the end of our service, the question that may haunt many a service person is after service, what next? This question resurfaces after it reared its ugly head few weeks or months to finish school.
It is pretty true that a sizable minority, in one way or the other, have secured employment or taken advantage of one or two employment opportunities. These service persons will wish that the days move with ultrasonic motion so that they can happily take their seats in their new jobs and receive huge salaries. This will indeed pay off for the years of sleepless nights during school days. Parents of such lucky graduates will not hide their excitement after those toils to keep their wards in school, with the hope that they will one day reap the benefits.
In the same vein, this question will go unanswered by most of the service persons who do not have any idea of where to turn to and perhaps waiting for a breakthrough. For such persons, they should not throw their hands in despair, keeping in mind that all hope is not lost.
Undoubtedly, one economic evil that faces the country is high rate of unemployment and it appears players have not done enough to mitigate the effects of this problem and save these graduates from this dilemma.
As we bow out to give way to the next batch of service persons, let us ensure that we put to bear this attitude of hard work we have displayed during our service and live an exemplary life worthy of emulation. Let us also find our voices everywhere we find ourselves and contribute unconditionally to national discourse and programmes, especially as the country goes to the polls in December all towards achieving the utopian country we are wishing; we do not have any other country like Ghana.
I wish to salute those individuals who conceived and mooted this development-driven idea. I also doff my hat to all the 2011/2012 national services persons. We have, indeed, paid our dues to our beloved country with sincerity, deep commitment to duty and selflessness. We have indeed fought a good fight; we have finished the race and waiting for our crowns.
National Service Person
Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority
Corporate Planning Department