Should The National Youth Service Corps (nysc) Scheme Be Reformed Or Scrapped? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Should The National Youth Service Corps (nysc) Scheme Be Reformed Or Scrapped?

Posted: Nov 3, 2015 at 4:28 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

With the passing out of ‘2014 Batch C’ Corps Members, I have been forced to revisit the issue of the utility of the NYSC Scheme. I understand that this is a particularly controversial subject to discuss. It is obviously so because of the very emotional attachment many people have to the Scheme. The reasons why people have this sentimental attachment to the Scheme is really not the point here. The purpose of this polemic is, rather, a dispassionate review of the original aim of the Scheme and a critical evaluation of its success or otherwise in the light of how it is currently run.

Immediately after the wholly unfortunate Nigeria-Biafra War, the military government of the day, led by then Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon, whilst taking a clue from countries with similar arrangements, introduced what is now known as the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Scheme through the instrumentality of what was then the NYSC Decree, 1973 but now the NYSC Act, CAP N84, LFN 2004. The purpose for the innovation, when the long list of objectives is carefully considered, is: the integration of the diverse people of Nigeria. The reason for this is not farfetched. The avoidable war had completely made nonsense of the shaky unity that existed prior to 1967 when the war officially started and had also crystallised the grave misgivings and mistrusts entertained by the disparate people of a country that was cobbled together by the British Colonialists.

As much as I want to commend the government of the time for the foresight which led to the establishment of the Scheme, I am having serious difficulties convincing myself as to why it should be sustained. The great majority of those who think that the Scheme should be sustained believe that it makes for the integration of the country because it provides a rare opportunity for the young people of Nigeria to network and create alliances across the nation that will be useful to them for the present and in the future. Essentially, that it is a veritable tool for national cohesion. While I agree substantially with the good sense in this view, it appears as though it has no practical application in contemporary Nigeria. In order to appreciate this position, one question becomes pertinent: how much integration has the country recorded after the forty or so years that the Scheme has been fully operational?

In fact, how can we achieve integration in this fractious nation when we still insist on indigeneship – for example, that a citizen of Nigeria, a young Nigerian for that matter, should pay more for tuition simply for studying in a university owned by the government of a state other than his even though he was born in that state and has lived all his life there. What about situations where Nigerians are denied job opportunities just because they are not indigenous to the states where the opportunities arose even though, like the immediate example above, they were born there and have lived all their lives there? Even if one tries to agree with the integration argument, will the Scheme receive a fair grade in any objective assessment when we realise that only a tiny percentage of the entire population – Nigerians who graduated before the age of thirty from recognised tertiary institutions – participates in it? This is as opposed to other countries where most adults (people from age 18) participate and are given full military training in order for them to be able to defend the fatherland in case of a serious threat to the corporate existence of their countries. And this, to my mind, is the fundamental basis of national service!

Not too long ago, it was suggested by the NYSC Directorate Headquarters that in the last few years more than two hundred thousand Corps Members are mobilised annually for national service. While one is tempted to salute the managers of the Scheme for addressing the issue of backlog and waiting lists at the universities, one can’t help but wonder whether at this time of dwindling revenues for the federation, there are no better ventures to invest the tens of billions of naira now spent annually on the camping of Corps Members and their monthly allowances. At the rate we are going, one does not need any certification in rocket science to appreciate that we are headed for trouble and that unless something is done, and urgently too, the Scheme will become unsustainable.

The greatest downside for me in the entire arrangement is the fact that the NYSC Scheme is, without any hesitation, a time wasting exercise. For the average young Nigerian, who has written their senior school certificate examination (i.e. WAEC) and university application examination (i.e. JAMB) more than once and who has spent more time than originally anticipated in the university because of strikes by different groups within the university community and other sundry issues, national service is a needless waste of a staggering one year. Even when they are serving, what do the majority of Corps Members actually do? I make bold to say: little or nothing! A good number of Corps Members don’t even visit their Places of Primary Assignment (PPA). They don’t also attend Community Development Service (CDS) Group meetings. Majority only show up in the first week of each month in order to payroll. This is no speculation. If in doubt, ask any honest Corps Member. We cannot continue to waste the prime of our young people as a nation on the altar of an illusory national unity. The poignant part of it all is that most of our young people can hardly compete in a global community where people get their doctorates in their twenties, for instance, when so many irrelevancies are stacked against them.

And this leads me to how the scheme is entrenching corruption in the public service of the country. As I have alluded to in the preceding paragraph, the majority of Corps Members don’t participate in most activities organised by the managers of the Scheme and yet they still get their Certificates of National Service (i.e. Discharge Certificates). And the question is asked: how is this possible? Well, it is quite straightforward, really. There is a satanic collaboration between these offending Corps Members and some of the staff of the Scheme. It has been said that these staff collect a percentage of either the federal or state allowance paid to the Corps Members in order to cover up for them and supply them with vital information. And then I think aloud, can a system as corrupt as this achieve anything worthwhile? I really doubt it.
Of serious concern to most families is how the Scheme is exposing Corps Members, whom so much have been invested in, to grave danger and unnecessary risks. Young graduates in the name of national service are sent to volatile parts of the country and places that they have little or no knowledge of. The implication of this is that these young people are by this arrangement deliberately stationed in harm’s way. Or how do we expect very young people who have not left their part of the country before to be able to find their way around in the event of a civil unrest in their areas of deployment and posting? This is not to mention the fact that these young Nigerians become too self-conscious in a way that is detrimental to their overall wellbeing. The reason is simply that they don’t or can’t understand the language spoken or the cultural practices of their host communities. That is to say, they just can’t fit in! In any case, is a few months an adequate period to do so?

In fact, one can’t successfully conclude any discussion on the security of Corps Members without making reference to the very cruel way in which tens of them were murdered in the aftermath of the 2011 general elections. In a very bizarre twist, these young citizens of Nigeria were gruesomely killed when they were supposedly on national service – contributing their own modest quota to the development of the fatherland. How ironic! Unfortunately, headlines of Corps Members being killed as a result of religious, ethnic and political violence and other sad tales continue to feature in the media. And what do the authorities do? They feign ignorance or quite frankly are unable to address the issue and they thereby leave a good number of these bereaved families – who find it very difficult accessing the much publicised compensation – in agony. Should we continue to unnecessarily risk the lives of the future of our country? I say an emphatic no!

At the heart of the matter then is: what can we do to rescue the Scheme? Is there a chance for reform? Well, after a time of deep reflection, it now appears to me that integrating Nigeria and uniting its people can no longer be successfully achieved by means of the Scheme. Even if that were possible, it is now too costly to continue to do so! This is for the simple reason that the essence of the Scheme, its soul, has long been banished to far-flung regions. Any attempt at reform will, in my view, amount to adding a drop of water in an ocean – an exercise in futility! Therefore, the NYSC Scheme must be suspended. No! It should be scrapped altogether. There are more cost effective ways of achieving the objective for which the Scheme was originally established – and this is assuming that it can really be achieved. And yes, I don’t need any sermonising on how the scrapping of the Scheme will result in job losses and the likes. As I have always argued, everything will balance out!