By Emmanuel Onwubiko
The demography of youngsters in Nigeria with no employment is frightening. This is certainly a worrying signal and a major threat to national security. Youth unemployment is known to be one of the triggers of organised social crimes. No wonder the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has laid a lot of emphasis on creating the enabling environment for creating employment opportunities for young Nigerians. The sociological threats posed by youth unemployment calls for the implementation of sustainable measure to constructively engage the youths in the activities that create wealth for themselves and for the nation. However, in contemporary Nigeria, transitioning to adulthood has become more difficult for young people due to new challenges in accessing quality education, decent income and jobs, and affordable housing. Socioeconomic insecurities have spilled into young people expressing less trust in national governments and in institutionalised policies that encourage self-reliance. Commonwealth Secretary-General The Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC recently said: “Young people are indispensable to delivering a future that is more just, inclusive, sustainable and resilient. By measuring their contributions and needs with hard data, our advocacy for their development becomes more powerful, and we are then able incrementally to increase the positive impact and benefits youth are able to add towards building a better future for us all.”
Obviously, youth development via empowerment is a vital tool and significantly enhances the extent to which youth are engaged to contribute beneficially in the societies, and empowered by enabling policies and tools. Nigeria as a country has actually tried to rely on her youth population. Nigeria’s current population is 213,117,109 as of Monday, November 15, 2021, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data. Currently, over 33.6 million (16.8 percent) Nigerians are regarded as youths (aged between 15 and 35), a population higher than most countries of the world. One way Nigeria has relied on the youth population is through the establishment of the National Youth Service scheme, NYSC, in 1973 by the General Yakubu Gowon regime. NYSC is a response to the disunity faced by the country following the Nigeria-Biafra Civil war. Since its birth, the scheme has faced a lot of challenges even though the logic grounding its establishment remains unassailable and germane till date. The purpose of the scheme is primarily to inculcate in Nigerian youth the spirit of selfless service to the community, and to emphasize the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social background. One core mandate of the National Youth Service Corp scheme as enshrined in the NYSC Act is to: S. 1(2)(c)The development of the Nigerian Youth and Nigeria into a great and dynamic economy; S.1(3)(d) to enable Nigerian youths to acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self-employment. Meeting up with the demands such core mandates require a solid financial base. Summarily, the objectives of the NYSC are to enable Nigerian youth acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self-employment; to contribute to the accelerated growth of the national economy and to develop common ties among the Nigerian youths and promote national unity and integration.
The NYSC scheme has proved an instrument of credible motivation of the nation’s youth to patriotic duties, as well as encouraging the movement of labour. The Federal Government made it clear that it would not scrap the scheme when the call for that started gaining momentum, but the scheme has to be rebased to be able to address the myriad of challenges confronting it. Nigerian graduates are faced with very grim prospects where it comes to employment. As youth unemployment continues to soar, the scheme, which, in recent times, has been churning out over 350,000 corps members annually, is equally confronted with designing strategies for mitigating youth unemployment and its attendant consequences. From a mere 2,364 at inception, the scheme now mobilizes 350, 000 qualified Nigerian graduates, making it the largest youth social institution in Africa. With the steady rise in the demand for formal education and creation of more tertiary institutions due to pressure from across all zones of the country, the number of graduates in Nigeria will continue to rise steeply. As at September 2021, Nigeria has 170 universities (43 Federal Universities, 48 State Universities, 79 private universities); In addition, the country has 43 polytechnics (17 Federal and 26 state-owned). The NYSC leadership has come up with a great idea to deal with graduate unemployment by proposing the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps Trust Fund (NYSCTF). Though the Trust Fund is also to strengthen the operations of the scheme in the same manner the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, the Police Equipment Trust Fund and the Petroleum Technology Development Fund aid the operations of tertiary educational institutions; its youth empowerment component is the catcher.
Apart from capacity building, which the Trust Fund would engender, it will help in preparing the Corps members to become more employable and more importantly, become employers of labour. Youth corps members in recent years have been passing through so many ordeals, which the Trust Fund will help to address such as infrastructural and other logistic needs for the smooth conduct of orientation courses, provision Corps Lodges, Corps Transit Camps and other essential facilities for the welfare of corps members. During the service year, most corps members have no decent accommodations and have fallen prey to unscrupulous people who exploit their helplessness. Consequently, they do not have the presence of mind to really impact their host communities. So, if not anything, the planned Trust Fund should be able to establish Corpers Lodges across the country to permanently address the perennial accommodation challenge bedeviling the scheme and endangering the lives of Corps members.
Apart from making the needed funds available for the operations of the scheme, creating a Trust Fund will also help to recalibrate the NYSC scheme to be at par with the demands of the 21st Century. As stated earlier, over the years, the exponential rise in Corps members population has not brought with it commensurate allocation of resources. It must be granted that the states and local governments have considerably demonstrated commitment to their statutory obligations to the scheme. However, the funds available to the scheme is still a far cry compared to what it actually needs to address to function optimally.
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(CoApart from the urgent need to provide for smooth operations of the scheme, provision of start-up capital for Corps members trained during the Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development programme (SAED) is one major need the Trust Fund will address. It is one sure way of consolidating the gains of the NYSC in the area of youth empowerment so that they may be able to contribute effectively to national development and continue to serve as the melting pot of Nigeria unity.
So, the proposal for the NYSC Trust Fund could not have come at a better time than now owing to the fact that the NYSC scheme has the capacity to drive Nigeria’s economic development process, especially through the empowerment of its teeming graduates. It, therefore, behooves the National Assembly to pass the Bill for the establishment of the Trust Fund, to reinvigorate the scheme, which has proved to be the cornerstone of nation’s unity and corporate existence.
The need to establish an NYSC Trust Fund is further seen in the impetus it will give to the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) programme introduced by the scheme to provide corps members with skills that will benefit them after they exit the service. NYSC, however, faces the challenge of funding this programme and providing corps members with start-up capital that they can use to jumpstart their businesses after learning these skills.
This proposed Trust Fund will therefore enable the scheme to help corps members to establish businesses based on the skills they have acquired during the service year. Corps members will not only be the beneficiaries of this Trust Fund but can also take many other Nigerians off the unemployment market. Another thing worthy of note is that many of these corps members will establish their businesses in their state of service not their state of origin, thereby promoting national integration and wealth creation, as intended by the scheme.
Experts say that the idea of a national service has global roots, which every nation adapts to its needs and core national values as a critical component of citizens’ expressive solidarity with national goals, which has its origins in the military service in its primary purpose of defending the nation.
Unemployment rate in Nigeria is escalating. At least around 1.8 million youth are entering the labor market every year (Falusi, 2014). This NYSC Trust Fund is critical in addressing the drop of Nigeria among the 181 countries on the 2020 global youth development index, which measures the status of young people around the world, where the country now is now ranked 161st
According to the triennial report released by the Commonwealth Secretariat on youth empowerment this September, Singapore ranked top for the first time, followed by Slovenia, Norway, Malta and Denmark. Unsurprisingly, Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Niger took the last five positions, respectively. This report, which measured youth development via empowerment in 181 countries, indicated that 156 countries recorded slight improvements in their scores when Nigeria dropped 20 places. The index ranks youth education, employment, health, equality and inclusion, peace and security, and political and civic participation.
In Africa, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso were the top improvers, advancing their score, on average by 15.74 percent. It is noteworthy that Ethiopia and Zambia have Youth Empowerment funds in place. Nigeria should reposition the NYSC by creating the NYSC Trust Fund as a means of improving youth empowerment.
* ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA