By; OGUNGBILE EMMANUEL OLUDOTUN
Some days ago, I read the bill on the discontinuation of the National Youth Service Corps reached the second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill which was sponsored by the lawmaker representing Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State Awaji-Inombek Abiante. Moreover, reading through the explanatory memorandum of the proposal from the Guardian Nigeria Newspaper, listed various reasons why the NYSC should be scrapped. It said the NYSC has led to the incessant killing of innocent corps members in some parts of the country due to banditry, religious extremism and ethnic violence; incessant kidnapping of innocent corps members across the country; that public and private agencies/departments are no longer recruiting able and qualified Nigerian youths, thus relying heavily on the availability of corps members who are not being well remunerated and get discarded with impunity at the end of their service year without any hope of being gainfully employed; that due to insecurity across the country, the National Youth Service Corps management now gives considerations to posting corps members to their geopolitical zone, thus defeating one of the objectives of setting up the service corps, i.e. developing common ties among the Nigerian youths and promote national unity and integration. Hence, the bill seeks the alteration of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Alteration Bill, 2020.
Hence, without much ado, it’s quite obvious that the Sponsored bill by the lawmaker representing Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State Awaji-Inombek Abiante is objectively valid, which calls for a meticulous look into the activities of NYSC. Thus, just before the bill gets to the reporting stage, this article the article shall take a look about some of these challenges encountered by NYSC scheme. Clearly, the National Youth Service Corps popularly dubbed as “NYSC” is a Nigerian organization which was established by the Nigerian government to engage fresh Nigerian graduates of tertiary institutions in national development, which will enable them to serve the nation for one year as a way of integrating them into other geographical region in the country.
This was done as a way of promoting national unity. Remember, the Nigerian-Biafran War that took place between 1963-1970, the Federal Military government under the military leadership of General Yakubu Gowon set out to rebuild Nigeria through a programme which was known as the 3R’s of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation. Hence, this programme of 3R’s helped to set up the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) on May 22, 1973 through Decree No. 24. The objective of which help introducing NYSC according to develope communities and promote national peace for coexistence through the youths.With these aims and objectives, it was categorically stated in the decree that all graduates from tertiary institutions such as Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education should be posted to other states within the country to serve their father land in form of a national assignment. The posting was such that graduate must not be allowed to serve in their own native state of origin. Based on this purpose, each state of the federation has its own place to accommodate these graduates for this exercise which is regarded as “Orientation Camp”, which is available in all 36 States of the federation including the FCT. Graduates, dubbed as corp members thus spend three weeks in this camp where they are exposed to paramilitary exercised or training to keep them physically fit and viable for the national service year. The trainings, of which are handled by soldiers. At the end of these trainings in the orientation camp, they are posted to different places or sectors within the states to carry out their primary assignment where they stay and work for the remaining part of the service year. Moreover, the service year end up with a Passing Out Parade (POP) where and when each corps member is duly qualified and certify to be issued a certificate of completion of the compulsory national service year.
As it stands, the aims of NYSC as promulgated by Decree N0 51 of 16th June, 1973, remains that, to build discipline in Nigerian youths by imparting in them a practice of industry at work, and of nationalistic and dependable service to Nigeria in any situation they may find themselves; to promote the moral quality of the Nigerian youths by giving them the chance to acquire about advanced ideals if general accomplishment, social and cultural enhancement; to change in the Nigerian youths the attitudes of mind, acquired through collective involvement and appropriate exercise which will make them more willing to deployment in the nationwide interest; to allow Nigerian youths acquire the spirit of independence by inspiring them to acquire skills for self-employment; to contribute towards enhancement growth of the country’s economy; to build a public tie among the Nigerian youths that encourages national unity and integration; to eliminate biases, eradicateilliteracy and check at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups, to cultivate an idea of co-existence and having common purpose of the people of Nigeria; the unbiased distribution of members of the service corps and the effective utilization oftheir skills in area of national needs; that as far as possible, youths are assigned to jobs in States other than their States of origin; that such group of youths assigned to work together is as representative of Nigeria as far as possible; that the Nigerian youths are exposed to the different methods of living adopted by different in Nigeria.
Evidently, today, the NYSC programme has for many years upheld it objectives, facilitated regular and effective distribution of skilled manpower, steady breaking of social and cultural barriers as well as the building of friendly bridges across ethno-linguistic boundaries. Again, scholars like A.O Onyishi and A. A. Aba opined that It promoted values of national unity and development, rekindled interest in neglected but vital areas of national development like agriculture and promoted leadership qualities in youths. That the regular invitation of corps members to participate in the conduct of such sensitive national assignments as census, elections, immunization programme constantly pricks the conscience of the nation to the right course of development. Hence, the NYSC programme has helped in the educational development of the country, especially from junior secondary to tertiary levels.
There might be fears anyway, but those who share the sentiment of sustaining the scheme like the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) state that no other programme in the country best meets objectives of the NYSC. Maybe some of today’s observers can still hold their tangibles that the reasons proffered in 1973 by the Yakubu Gowon administration for the establishment of the NYSC scheme are still very relevant in this country’s search for an enduring national unity. Hence, it is glaring why the book Tackling NYSC’s Security Challenge, written D.O. Utomwe offers that there’s no dispute on the desirability of the scheme and its benefits in our desire to maintain a strong, united and peaceful country despite recent assaults on its integrity. Amongst the corps members themselves, the friendships and endearing marriages the programme has facilitated will remain indelible in the history of the Nigerian nation.
Today, we should not hide behind fostering Nigeria’s Unity and forget to highlight the challenges of NYSC, propelling the call for scrapping out the scheme. One should speak of the problem of unity in disguise. Amuta, a writer once queried the position of those who argue that the NYSC promotes national unity. He states that ‘the NYSC programme has united nothing. Nor has it created any more patriotic citizens. Unity and patriotism require more fundamental variables than periodically stuffing young people to places they would rather not go to on a starvation stipend’. Today, Ayo, a yoruba boy with his State of origin as Osun can now willing lobby for the same Osun State as the place of his service. Joy, a corp member who is also not satisfied with Kaduna, as his place of service can easily hide under the dirty disguise of fake medical report or fake marriage arrangements that will help her move out of Kaduna. Tell me now, what more? The issue of NYSC programme being a platform for learning about higher national ideal is often an ideal dream as the larger Nigerian society is filled with all forms of manipulative and corrupt culture. In short, someone once said that there are those who believe that the twenty one days orientation camp is often a training ground for those who still had their family and religious virtues to lose it, in the face of the massive dysfunctional behaviours experienced in the NYSC camps. The patriotic vision of developing the sense of corporate existence and common destiny of the Nigerian people, which the programme is out to promote has progressively remained a mirage when reviewed in terms of the reality of the recurrent-weekly crisis between one ethnic group and another or one.
We can also highlight the myriads of problems threaten the objectives of the scheme. They include post service unemployment, lack of camp facilities and the challenge of maintaining discipline. First, post service unemployment, a big pickle in the head of the Nigerian leaders and NYSC leaders. Imagine, that one becomes hopeless immediately after the scheme finishes. Corp members are hardly retained at the place of primary assignment, as the employers cannot afford to continue with the payment, tell me what do you expect the post corp members to do after service? No wonder the house of representative member who raised the motion which will help scrap off this scheme. There’s also the issue of lack or poor camp facilities. Take for example, rooms accomodating corp members barely have electricity in the room, which denies them to access to fan, light and many others. We can also talk about the problem of maintaining discipline during the camp and the service year. In the 21 days in the camp, there’s the rebellious corp members and a rigid military man. Corp members engage themselves in a lot of not too good attributes during and after the camp which makes it difficult to incorporate the national values.
The programme inequality in the amount paid in different places of primary assignment is another factor that makes the corps members to lobby extensively to be posted to high-paying places of primary assignment like banks and oil companies. Sad enough, our priority has shifted from national integration and unity towards a crisis of governance and plain simple mismanagement of public expectations. The danger posed by bad governance is today far greater than any threat to national unity.
Again, the nature of security threats to the programme has grown in scope and dimension. Recalled that in 2011, United Religion Initiate (URI) reported how rioters lock in 50 Corps members and set building ablaze. It was obvious that the corp members never knew that evil was on the way. All was calm in the neighbourhood, although the news had been broken that rioters were on the rampage in the city. Suddenly, it got noisy and rowdy outside the building where no fewer than 50 National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members huddled together, feeling safe, away from the madness that had seized the city by the throat. Angry youths protesting the results of the presidential election stormed the Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellowship (NCCF) Secretariat in the heart of Minna, the Niger State capital. They forcibly locked the Corps members in and set the building on fire.
Can we talk of Boko Haram and the security threat? It’s blatant that the Boko Haram sect, backed by their bomb-blast terrorism in Northern Nigeria has practically planted the psychology of fear among parents and Nigerian graduates that are waiting for NYSC deployment. Remember when corp members were still deployed to Borno, that despite the killing of hundreds of people in Borno state by the outlawed Boko Haram sect, the NYSC deployed 820 corps members to the state after an orientation programme held in Gombe at a time. Sure, the media were agog with news of the bombing of the NYSC permanent orientation camp in Maiduguri by the Boko Haram sect. Remember? We can also talk of kidnapping. Though it hasn’t been very popular that corp members have been abducted into hostages. Howbeit, some sad incidence close to this has happened. Many students have been abducted in their schools and now only God knows what the nearest kidnapper is thinking.
Furthermore, maybe we can highlight more and more challenges faced by the NYSC programmes, maybe we can talk of corruption and many more challenges. Hence what shall we do? Obviously, the culture of graduate youths serving their countries has being practiced in different forms in USA, India, South Korea, Egypt, Ghana and many more. It’s certain Nigeria is not excluded. Serving one country should be with pride and ego, Unity should be sought for by all corp members.
Security? As Okafor Chukuemeka and Ani Johnmary highlights that the security problems that have befallen the Nigerian state, the country still manages to remain a place of first choice for investment in Africa; hence the NYSC programme can still be factored in promoting sustainable peace and security aswell as national development. There is increasing need for progressive re-organization of the NYSC in this era multiple security crisis. Talking of the post service unemployment, we know that NYSC management is trying her best towards this, with the introduction of the National Youth Service Corps-Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (NYSC-SAED) programmes which are available in all States so that they can enhance youth empowerment if they are acquired. However, the programmes (NYSC-SAED) are marred with challenges that hinder its impact on the wellbeing of the Corps Members and youths in the country. More skills should be added by relevant authorities such as government so that individual will have a wider choice of skills. Corps Members should also be aware of the relevance of participating in NYSC-SAED programme as this will expose them to opportunities that will help in making them self-employed thereby reducing unemployment level in Nigeria, hence, after providing the required facilities and resources by government, there should be an effective follow-up channel through monitoring and supervision.
Corp members should also seek unity among themselves. No one can teach unity, no matter how convenient the NYSC might look, it’s the responsibility of each Nigeria to seek unity irrespective of the tribe and religion. And finally, maybe a reform to the NYSC won’t be bad.
Ogungbile Emmanuel Oludotun, a public commentator sent in this piece. He can be reached via email@example.com