By Gabriel Dike, Obinna Odogwu (Akwa), Jude Chinedu (Enugu), Tony John (Port Harcourt) and Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
A bill in the House of Representatives to scrap the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) is generating ripples and mixed reactions among stakeholders. Some rejected the move and others backed the action. The bill became public knowledge in May 2021 after the first reading at the Lower Chambers of the National Assembly.
General Yakubu Gowon on May 22, 1973, established the NYSC via Decree No. 24. The scheme was set up to encourage and develop common ties among youths of Nigeria and promote national unity. The scheme deploys fresh graduates to other parts of the country other than their states of origin or states of birth for one-year compulsory national service.
Bill to scrap NYSC
The bill titled: ‘’Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Alteration Bill, 2020’’, seeks to repeal the NYSC Act. Its sponsor, Mr Awaji-Inombek Abiante, explained: “This bill seeks to repeal Section 315 (5) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (as amended) on the following grounds:
“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.
“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.
“Due to insecurity across the country, the NYSC management now gives considerations to posting corps members to their geopolitical zone, thus defeating one of the objectives of setting up the scheme such as developing common ties among the Nigerian youths and promotes national unity and integration.”
Chief Olalekan Oyekanmi, a parent lives in Iyana_Ipaja, Lagos, supported the move to scrap NYSC. He said he had sleepless nights when his two sons served in 2017 and 2019 in Kaduna and Taraba states: ‘’My wife and I were worried about our sons when they served in the North. The scheme is no longer relevant based on the current reality on ground. Many corps members have been killed serving their father’s land. Some died on the road or killed by bandits.’’
Gabriel Alonta, lecturer, Department of Technology and Vocational Education, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, said: “The call by the Lower Chambers to scrap the scheme should be treated with levity because such proposal is not well thought-out. How can a right thinking person posit that the only youth-friendly programme in Nigeria that has been sustained for over 40 years be abolished? This is preposterous. The scheme has not outlived its aims and objectives.
“Allow me to ask Abiante what alternatives has he proferred? So, he wants to break the bridge after he had crossed.
“Obviously yes, the division, nepotism, and lack of unity we are currently experiencing in this country are not and never caused by the scheme. It is still a building block for a collapsing Nigeria state.”
Prof Obasi Igwe, Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), said: “NYSC should be translated into or joined simultaneously with compulsory military service. We want a rejigging of the armed forces to express the demographic character of Nigeria. We are talking of the rejigging of the armed forces at the top and the armed forces at every level of command.
“This starting with the NYSC, if we can have the scheme, there is no reason why we should not have compulsory military service so that we can have an army representative of the Nigerian population. What the Lower Chambers is debating is glancing at the top of the issue.
“The House debate should be redirected towards the aim of achieving peace justice and stability in Nigeria. In the present structure as it is, the scheme has lost its value. But if we want to reinvigorate it, it should be part and simultaneous with a compulsory military service for all youths that graduate from secondary schools or universities.
“Theoretically, the scheme was created to foster unity but when the same youths are denied jobs on the basis of ethnicity and there is impunity in the system it breaches the same principle by which the scheme was established.
“The NYSC is good in concept but the societal activities and policies contradict the aim of the NYSC. Therefore, we need new NYSC that will be part of an institutional process by which the country develops and ensuring peace in Nigeria.”
Grand Patron, Association of Orphanages and Homes Operators in Nigeria (ASOHON), South East Chapter, Chief Godson Akpulonu, said: “Scrapping of NYSC is not the best for Nigeria. It supposed to be part of restructuring. I am not in support of scrapping it if we are really one Nigeria. The scheme should be part of restructuring where either you stay in your own state.”
An elder statesman and a Muslim leader, Alhaji Abubakar Orlu, based in Rivers State, said the present situation in Nigeria has seriously threatened the peace and unity of the country. He decried the spate of hatred and disunity across the country. He stressed that no parent from either the South or North would willingly want his or her child to be posted to a region perceived to be an enemy.
A lawyer, Mr Festus Ogwuche, spoke in Port Harcourt noted: “The NYSC in its original conception was meant to foster unity among the multifarious groups in the country. Overtime, it became lost in this ideal and failed to achieve on its goals and mandate and there were cries and agitations for its abrogation when the lives of youth corpers became at stake and lives were lost.
“But, the move to have it scrapped outright may not reflect the desire of the people in the present circumstance, particularly in this environment of great unemployment and where the government is yet to take responsibility in the engagement of the youths.
“The remunerations of the corps come in handy to fortify fresh graduates against the growing pang of hunger and deprivation they face immediately they leave school.
“The scheme could for now be restricted for service within states of origin and local governments where the members would exert their intellectual resources and still be useful and outright scrapping may not be best approach.”
An Abeokuta based Education consultant on tertiary education, Mr Bankole Oladayo, was of the view that NYSC has outlived its usefulness and should be scrapped. He argued that the insecurity situation in the country has greatly defeated the purpose of the scheme, and urged the Federal Government to scrap it.
He, however, suggested that the scheme should be replaced with a year compulsory military service for the graduates: “Such will aid the country in its efforts to tackle insurgency and other security challenges.”
A parent, Abiodun Peter, who lives in Abeokuta, Ogun State said he was having fears throughout the year his daughter did her national service in Jigawa State: “The girl and her colleagues escaped bandit attack by whiskers. The Federal Government should undo the scheme.”
He recalled how he enjoyed hospitality when he was posted to Igbokoda, Ondo State, for his primary assignment: “The present situation in the country does not support the scheme again.”
Some corps members are against the move to scrap the scheme and asked the House of Representatives to focus on burning national issues. They said the founding fathers of NYSC had good reasons for establishing it and insisted the scheme was still relevant.