The House of Representatives is presently considering the discontinuation of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Alteration Bill, 2020, which is seeking to repeal the NYSC Act, is billed for a second reading.
The sponsor, Hon. Awaji-Inombek Abiante, in the explanatory memorandum of his proposal, listed insecurity as the first among other reasons why the NYSC programme should be scrapped.
It reads in part, “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: the incessant killing of innocent corps members in some parts of the country due to banditry, religious extremism, ethnic violence, and incessant kidnapping across the country.”
Another reason given by the sponsor is that 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 well remunerated, and also get discarded with impunity at the end of their service year without any hope of being gainfully employed.
In addition, due to insecurity across the country, the National Youth Service Corps management now gives considerations to posting corps members to their geopolitical zones, thus defeating one of the objectives of setting up the service corps: developing common ties among the Nigerian youths and promoting national unity and integration.
The military regime of General Yakubu Gowon had established the NYSC on 22 May 1973 as a way of reconciling and reintegrating Nigerians after the civil war.
After the Civil War ended in 1970, as part of the “3R” program—reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation—the government created the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to bridge ethnic and religious divisions in the country and to foster the spirit of Nigerian nationalism.
Participation in the NYSC scheme is a prerequisite for admission into graduate schools and employment in Nigeria. Although it was established with great intent, many Nigerians like the sponsor of the highlighted bill reason it is high time that the almost fifty-year-old scheme be scrapped, arguing that it has lost its relevance in present-day Nigeria.
This view stems from the fact that since its inception, the scheme has neither been reviewed nor updated to fit the realities of modern Nigeria, despite its glaring problems.
Even though the Federal Government allocates about 70 billion naira ($194 million) to the program yearly, the NYSC, like many other Nigerian institutions, is riddled with mismanagement and corruption. This results in unreliable officials administering the scheme; a general lack of faith in the NYSC; and complacency among the participants.
According to its original design, the scheme deploys youths to unfamiliar locations and places of primary assignment in fields relevant to their academic pursuits and job interests.
In reality, however, it mostly deploys youths to teach in local schools as a way to make up for the educational shortcomings of the state, rather than finding them suitable job assignments geared toward their interests.
Consequently, “corpers” feel undervalued and view themselves as a source of cheap labour for the government. Furthermore, youths who have the financial resources can “work it”; that is, use connections to serve in choice locations; or “ghost it” which entails secretly not participating in the service.
For those that do participate, their safety is not assured as there have been numerous cases of NYSC members dying in service due to post-election violence, sectarian wars, and medical negligence.
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The big question is, has the NYSC been successful in achieving its main objective of “developing common ties among the Nigerian youths and promoting national unity and integration?” Despite all its challenges, the answer is in the affirmative.
By posting NYSC members to unfamiliar places to interact with people from different backgrounds, the NYSC brings together Nigerian youths from different socio-economic and ethnoreligious backgrounds.
This helps in bridging the ethnic and religious divisions in the nation by providing exposure to other ethnic groups which is a positive step towards building a stronger nation.
Moreover, the scheme aids social integration by providing opportunities for cross-cultural interaction that has led to inter-tribal marriages, helping to reduce inter-ethnic stereotypes and suspicions that were prevalent in the past.
The scheme further serves as an employment buffer by offering job opportunities to recently graduated youths. This is against the backdrop that some places of deployments retain corp members thereby, aiding economic integration in the country.
In the same vein, NYSC fosters a sense of patriotism among Nigerian youths: participation is regarded as obeying the clarion call to serve the fatherland since there is no military conscription in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recommended the suspension of orientation camp exercises of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) for two years.
The reason given was “to address the disruptions caused by the pandemic and ensuing social distancing measures at all levels of education.”
As altruistic as the committee might have intended, analysts believe that it is a very bad recommendation.
There is no NYSC service without the NYSC orientation camp exercises. It is a vital part of the function of the NYSC to aid national integration and inter-tribal understanding, leading to a more peaceful co-existence and patriotism.
With the renewed agitation for secession in present-day Nigeria, the need for the NYSC remains high and illuminates the fact that the scheme is far from achieving its mission of fostering national integration. Based on the design of the NYSC, it is a laudable scheme and a great avenue to promote nationalism in Nigeria.
The program has a lofty objective and has achieved several positive goals. Even with all its lapses, there is still hope for the Nigerian Youth Service Corps.
It is, however, crucial that the scheme is reviewed, updated, and better managed to preserve and strengthen its capacity to achieve the lofty goal of promoting national unity.