Sordid developments notwithstanding, NYSC has come to stay. Despite some shortcomings associated with the scheme, its relevance far outweighs the limitations.
If not for the Nigerian Civil War, the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC), apparently will never have become a metaphor for social integration, or so it seems. Will the scheme itself, in the first place, be born into this world? I doubt!
To fast-track a genuine reconciliation amongst discontented masses, speed up the reconstruction process of damaged infrastructure and other national assets, together with the exigent task of rebuilding the wrecked Nigerian ‘Ship’, on 22nd May 1973, something epochal happened. On that day, NYSC was established by the junta government of Major-General Yakubu Gowon. The birth of the scheme, incontestably was as a result of Gowon’s priority for building lasting peace, while forging rock-solid unity and uncommon national progress, post-civil war.
It was established to conscript Nigerian graduates into the nation-building project, and also to accelerate national development. Since 1973, graduates of universities and later polytechnics have participated in the NYSC program for one year—known as national service year.
It is however depressing to note that the scheme has only achieved few of its salient objectives. One can say, without contradiction, that it has been mixed fortune for the NYSC. Of course, we have seen and appreciated the outstanding contribution of the scheme in building and consummating marital relationships amongst Nigerians of diverse ethnic lineages. Kudos to the scheme, corps members and their staff are been actively involved in conducting sensitive national assignments like elections, where they are recruited as ad hoc staff by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Also, the NYSC has contributed to promoting national unity, and increased mobility of labour, which has assisted public schools, hospitals and private organisations to have a steady pool of cheap skilled labour.
Suffice to say that the scheme has also served as a veritable platform for ‘adventurous’ youths to explore the rich cultural traditions and heritage of other ethnic groups different from theirs, in the states they are posted to. Through the Community Development Service (CDS), essential infrastructure and basic amenities have been provided for many remote communities by generous and philanthropic corps members.
But some lingering and bothersome issues have made its critics to utterly demonize, flagrantly condemn and question the program’s relevance, just has others are ‘baying for its blood’, saying it should be abolished. Among other things, the NYSC has succeeded little in producing enterprising youths who become financially self-reliant or if you like, budding entrepreneurs and employers of labour, instead of job seekers. This is owing to the fact that most of the scheme’s graduates, all through their service year, are not taught relevant skills of lucrative vocational trades, just as the skills acquisition and training centres are grossly inadequate.
Aside the 2011 post-election mayhem, several corps members have been killed extra-judicially by trigger-happy cops and men of other security agencies. Scores also met their untimely death during violent ethno-religious bloodlettings.
Acts of medical negligence by officials of NYSC during orientation exercises have terminated the life and aborted the lofty dreams of promising youth corps members. In 2016, Ifedolapo Oladapo, a First Class graduate of Transport Management from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), in Oyo State, died as a result of professional carelessness by a staff of Kano State’s NYSC camp. Thereafter, Ukeme Monday, at the Zamfara State’s camp, passed on after a brief illness.
Late Monday had bagged a First Class in Petroleum Engineering from University of Uyo (UNIUYO). Just recently, the Niger State’s orientation camp at Paiko, came under derisive media spotlight in a report inside a Saturday edition of The Punch newspaper. According to the report, the camp’s dilapidated facilities – which is unfit for human dwelling – have remained in a state of abject disrepair for years. Judging from that, it will not be difficult to picture the health risks posed by camping NYSC participants at the Paiko, and other orientation venues across the country.
Furthermore, the scheme, in recent times, has been battling financial challenges, which has resulted in many graduates spending more than a year after graduating before they are finally mobilized for service. And the fact that we now have batches and streams of NYSC service-program indicates that rising population of graduates is overstretching the scheme.
The fact also is that a replica land of Sodom and Gomorrah is gradually sprouting up at some orientation camps. This is if the disturbing tales of military officials and even some male and female corps members having raunchy sex together — at NYSC camps — is everything, but not a heresy.
And only during the service year will one find a Medical Doctor graduate in a secondary school classroom teaching English Language; a fresh law graduate working in a commercial bank; or a student who studied Chemical Engineering, filing cabinet papers and running errands for older staff in a Local Government secretariat.
The sordid developments notwithstanding, NYSC has come to stay. Despite some shortcomings associated with the scheme, its relevance far outweighs the limitations. To this end, it is high time government restructure the programme, not only as a means of mobilizing of our teeming youths into agriculture (through the farm settlement scheme), but to reshape their mindset about white-collar jobs been the most reliable means of getting quick wealth. This will also go a long way to also curb restiveness expressed in the form of militancy, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and cultism, among others.
I cannot help but share the sentiments expressed by one Adewale Kupoluyi, a don at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), in a newspaper article. Kupoluyi had said: ‘’Apart from the existing provisions for exempted persons, corps members’ participation in the scheme should, henceforth, be made optional. Candidates should now be allowed to freely choose their participation, and that would mean making the scheme voluntary. Also, those who opt for exemption should be issued the relevant and genuine certificates. When this is done, a reasonable amount of candidates would have been pruned-down for effectiveness. Also, the continued adoption of drilling and other military training skills should be discontinued. It is no longer relevant as Nigeria is not on the verge of war.
There is need to put necessary infrastructure in place to accommodate the needs of the members. Specifically, there should be a significant improvement in medical facilities in all NYSC orientation camps, as well as the deployment of experienced medical personnel to the medical centres. Finally, security should be provided for corps members. This becomes imperative, most especially, during election periods when corps members are usually the targets of violence.”
Mahmud writes from Abuja [email protected] gmail.com