The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), now in its 48th year, is facing scrutiny about its relevance or otherwise to the nation’s development, especially with the rising insecurity, KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE reports.
With rising insecurity, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme is once again in the eye of the storm. This time, one of the three arms of government at the Federal level, has started the procedure to scrap the scheme.
The NYSC was established in 1973 by the Yakubu Gowon regime as one of the post-civil war rebuilding efforts of the Federal military government. The aim of the scheme was to foster unity, friendship, cultural appreciation and development by posting fresh graduates of universities and polytechnics to states outside their own for a period of one year. The scheme has four cardinal programmes – the orientation camp – a three week orientation camp (during which corps members participate in paramilitary drills, match past, sports, skills development, cultural programmes, and lectures); the primary assignment (posting to various parts of the economy to work); community development (programmes initiated by corps members to develop their host communities); and passing out parade (the final parade signaling the end of the programme).
Since a member of the house of representatives, Awaji-Inimbek Abiante from Rivers State sponsored a bill to repeal the NYSC Act from section 315(5a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria late last month, the issue has sparked debate from various quarters.
Government officials, religious leaders, celebrities, and many others have weighed in on the fate of the NYSC, calling for its scrap or sustainment.
Abiante gave the rising insecurity, poor state of NYSC orientation camps, unfair labour practices against corps members, and their ability to influence their posting as some of the reasons the scheme should be scrapped. However, even if the bill scales through scrutiny of the House, it would still need to be passed by the Senate and the state house of assemblies, and the President must assent to it before it becomes a law.
This is not the first time the scheme has come under fire. There had been calls in the past for the scrapping of the scheme following deaths of corps members in religious and political crisis.The killing of 10 corps members in Bauchi following the April Presidential elections in April 2011 was one of such incidents that caused Nigerians to call for an end to the scheme.
Why the scheme should go
Many of those that agreed with Abiante that the NYSC be scrapped also supported his reasons for sponsoring the bill, particularly insecurity.
Ibrahim Ajide, a graphic designer, says NYSC should not continue if the government cannot fix insecurity.
“Nigeria is in the most divisible state that it has ever been and the state of insecurity is too much. Why post a candidate to where you know there is insecurity that even to travel there is very risky so why do that? If it cannot be scrapped then it should be paused till further notice, till the government can fix the insecurity,” he said.
A Lagos-based lawyer (names withheld) says continuing the scheme is a heavy cost, considering the number of corps members lost yearly.
“Do you know how many corps members die every year? The nation is not ideal to run this system. Let it stop. I will never send my child past Lagos State for any dirty NYSC. The big men, their children do not even go and they still get the certificate.
“My opinions about NYSC have always been before Buhari. I did not gain anything from my one year in Delta State and I am sure most people had the same experience.
“A good structure changes with the times and if Nigerians really want to substantiate its intangible structure, it should scrap the NYSC because it is a failed programme which does more harm than good,” the lawyer said.
A parent, simply known as Maria, said the scheme should be suspended, saying it can no longer serve the objectives because of insecurity.
“Personally, I think the scheme should be suspended for now. It is not serving its purpose presently so what is the use? The reason for the creation of the scheme was for integration of youths from different cultures. As it is now, it is not working. I cannot send a ward up north in the name of unity or integration and put his or her life at risk,” she said.
A serving corps member, Kim Jennifer, does not think the scheme is worth keeping. “Yes, it should be scrapped because a lot of youths have lost their lives all in the name of serving their country,” she said.
Why the scheme should stay
Despite the increasing economic difficulties and the insecurity, some people do not think the scheme should be scrapped.
One of them is Oluwafisayo Babalola, who just completed his youth service in February. He believes NYSC is crucial to Nigeria’s unity.
He said: “No. I believe NYSC is a good national unity scheme that should continue, in fact till Jesus Christ will come. To me personally that is the only thing that I see that is keeping Nigerians together. We have over 250 languages in Nigeria.But NYSC is a scheme whereby you send young graduates across the country. Someone from Lagos going to Delta State, someone from Delta State going to Oyo State like that is really good. That way they tend to learn other things about other regions so it is a form of national integration, unity. I feel NYSC should not be scrapped it should continue because the unity of Nigeria is very very important.”
Drawing from her own NYSC experience, a marketer, Sandra, said it should not be scrapped.
“In my own opinion, I do not think the national youth service should be scrapped because it has helped to foster unity amidst the various ethnic groups that we have in Nigeria. I mentioned unity because it has helped me personally to meet with people I never thought I would be meeting for a long time. A lot of people that I have had time to interview on this particular issue had shared with me their experience of learning skills that they never had opportunity to learn throughout their stay in the higher institution. So, I believe that such gathering usually motivates some people even though it is not a large percentage of them but at least out of those some people I have a lot of people that have created wealth, that have created job opportunities for themselves,” she said.
Saint Andrew does not agree the scheme should be scrapped because of insecurity. Rather, he said insecurity should be fixed.
“If NYSC should be cancelled or suspended for the reasons being highlighted by the proponents, are we going to cancel the Federal Government, state government, etc? We know these institutions have failed to fulfill their main functions to protect lives and properties.
“If the state serves its purpose, NYSC will do better. However, the scheem helped many graduates to better appreciate other cultures and traditions. I hope no one expected NYSC to perform miracles?”
NYSC should not be scrapped but amended
Rather than scrap the scheme, some are suggesting ways it could be amended. Nkiru Uwanwune, a realtor, suggests that the programme should be restructured to be focused on entrepreneurship.
“Restructure NYSC to serve as one year entrepreneurship programme – real skill acquisition. The world has gone beyond the traditional Nigerian university system. Suspend it for now for security reasons and go back to the drawing table,” she said.
For Jide Ibrahim, a communicator, the remodeled NYSC should be devoid of religious leanings.
“NYSC should not be cancelled but remodeled as per our current needs. As part of the remodeling, all corper religious bodies on camp should be banned. The areas of service should be split into security, education, technology, agriculture, social orientation and health. All corps members must be deployed to at least one of the sectors – with individual and group projects to be executed,” he said.
It seems the Federal Government may already be working on restructuring the scheme. Responding to calls for ending the NYSC, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, said on Twitter that reforms were ongoing.
He tweeted: “The NYSC scheme remains one of the greatest tools for national development for our youth.
“The commitment of the government to sustaining the NYSC scheme remains. Dynamic Reforms and Initiatives towards realities are ongoing. Nigeria will stand with her youth.”