Of yesterday, today and tomorrow’s NYSC

If not for the Nigerian Civil War, the contraption called Nigeria Youth Service Corps (NYSC), apparently, will never have become a metaphor for social integration, or so it seems. Would the scheme itself, in the first place, have been born into this world? I doubt!

To fast-track genuine reconciliation among discontented masses, speed up the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure and other national assets, together with the exigent task of rebuilding the wrecked Nigerian ‘Ship’, on May 22, 1973, something epochal happened. On that day, the NYSC was established by the regime of 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 to accelerate national development.

Since 1973, graduates of universities and later polytechnics have participated in the NYSC programme for one year— known as national service year. It is, however, depressing to note that the scheme has only achieved a few of its objectives. One can say, without contradiction, that it has been mixed fortunes for the NYSC.

Of course, we have seen and appreciated the outstanding contributions of the scheme in building and consummating marital relationships among Nigerians of diverse ethnic lineages.

Kudos to the scheme, corps members and their staff are also 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 critics to utterly demonise, flagrantly condemn and question the scheme’s continued 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.

There have also been reported deaths of corps members during the three-week orientation programme – perhaps out of negligence – aborting the lofty dreams of the promising youths. 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 staff of Kano state NYSC camp.

Thereafter, Ukeme Monday passed on after a brief illness at the Zamfara state camp. Late Monday was a first class graduate of Petroleum Engineering from the University of Uyo (UNIUYO), Akwa Ibom state. Just recently, the Niger state orientation camp at Paiko came under derisive media spotlight in a report inside a Saturday edition of The Punch. According to the report, the camp’s dilapidated facilities – deemed 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 it posed to corps members during the orientation programme.  Many other NYSC camps across the country in disrepair also expose corps members to health risks. Furthermore, the scheme, in recent times, has been battling financial challenges, which has resulted in many graduates spending more than a year after graduation before they are finally mobilised for service.

And the fact that we now have batches and streams of NYSC programme indicates that rising population of graduates is overstretching the scheme. A replica land of Sodom and Gomorrah may gradually be sprouting up at some orientation camps – if the disturbing tales of military officials and even some corps members having raunchy sexual affairs—is not hearsay.

And only during the service year will one find a medical doctor teaching English Language in a secondary school; a law graduate working in a commercial bank; or a chemical engineer filing cabinet papers and running errands for older staff in a local government secretariat.

The sordid challenges, notwithstanding, the NYSC has come to stay. Despite some shortcomings associated with the scheme, its relevance far outweighs its limitations. To this end, it is high time government restructured the programme, not only as a means of mobilising our teeming youths into agriculture (through the farm settlement scheme), but to reshape their mindset about white-collar jobs being the most reliable means of getting quick wealth.

This will also go a long way to curb restiveness expressed in the form of militancy, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, cultism, among others. Furthermore, regular research, diligent implementation of planned programmes, effective communication of successes achieved by the scheme as well as critical evaluation, which are the hallmark of public relations, should be prioritised by NYSC officials so as to ascertain emerging challenges and map out strategies to surmount them.

To help address unemployment, both the federal and state governments should establish more skills-acquisition centres, so as to equip corps members with relevant entrepreneurial skills for self-sustenance. Cases of individuals or groups who murdered serving corps members should be revisited and commensurate punishment served those who are convicted.

To provide requisite logistics and facilities that can help sustain the scheme, adequate funding should be a priority of government. As a corollary to the preceded statement, government should evolve a mechanism to help ascertain the capacity and needs of each state before NYSC participants are posted to them.

Also, corps members should be accorded due co-operation and direction to carry out quality developmental projects, so as to complement government’s efforts in providing essential infrastructure at various communities. It is also germane that prospective corps members resist the temptation to serve only in ‘choice’ places like FCT, state capitals, NNPC and CBN, which are almost saturated to the detriment of other sectors.

These are ways to go about restructuring the NYSC for productivity, relevance and sustainability. Can’t we then test-run them for practical solutions?

NB: This article was first published in January 2019.

Mahmud, deputy editor of PRNigeria, writes via [email protected].