At this golden jubilee of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), there is a reason to roll out the drums in celebration, not to sing its nunc dimittis. The nostalgic feeling was pervasive in the past few days as Nigerians took to their social media pages to identify with the scheme by posting pictures of themselves with their khaki uniforms under the hashtag NYSC at 50. The fervor with which ex-corps members dug up and proudly posted images of their days in the scheme goes a long way to show how appreciative and sentimental they are about NYSC. This must have come as a surprise given that only two years ago, a bill to scrap the scheme passed second reading at the House of Representatives.
The NYSC was established by decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973 promulgated by the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon as a vehicle for national integration at the end of the bloody civil war. It was categorically stated on its website thus: “The NYSC scheme was created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil war.” Indeed, its enabling decree stated that the NYSC is being established “for the development of common ties among the youth of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity.” As such, what the scheme stands for and represents cannot be mistaken.
The NYSC is a one-year compulsory scheme for all Nigerian graduates of different tertiary institutions in Nigeria and outside the country who graduated before turning 30 years of age. These fresh graduates are then mobilized and deployed to states other than their state of origin for national service. Their service year begins with an orientation programme that incorporates military drills and citizenship training and lectures on Nigerian peoples and cultures as well as skills acquisition training.
After the one-month orientation exercise, they were posted to places of primary assignment (PPA) based essentially on their discipline. While medical doctors are posted to hospitals and other health facilities, engineers get to serve at the Ministry of Works and construction firms, those with Agricultural backgrounds are posted in related fields while the rest are deployed to teach in schools or work with certain private enterprises. While some get retained after NYSC, for others the PPA experience provides sure footing for their career. INEC relies on these corps members as ad hoc staff during the conduct of general or off-cycle polls. In the recent general election, corps members constituted 75 percent of election workers. They are also being relied upon by the National Population Commission to serve as field officers whenever it’s set for the proposed census exercise.
Fifty years down the line, it is heartwarming that the majority opinion suggests that the scheme should continue, even though it has manifested the malaise that plagues Nigeria’s public institutions. There have also been loud claims that the scheme has outlived its usefulness and should at least be reformed to conform to the current realities of the country. This is a very critical point that cannot be remediated by self-evolving mechanisms such as the various Community Development Service (CDS) groups to which corps members are assigned. Those who feel that the scheme is no longer relevant also point to the fact that whereas the scheme was intended to engender unity, 50 years later the singsong is that never in the history of the country has Nigerians been this divided.
While the disaffection among the constituent part of the country is the handiwork of politicians, 50 years is long enough for the NYSC to have engendered a united country that withstands the antics of divisive elements. For instance, weren’t those who participated in the scheme among bigots who baited and slurred fellow Nigerians in Lagos and other parts of the country during the recent 2023 general election on the basis of ethnicity? If one looks closely some corps members may even be found among the tribal and religious bigots that trolled and harassed other Nigerians in the cyberspace at the peak of the highly contentious polls.
Be that as it may, banditry, terrorism and ritual killing have also heightened the call for the scheme to be done away with for putting young Nigerians in harm’s way. Some corps members have lost their lives or suffered abduction while carrying out this national service. It is most harrowing for parents to lose their children after raising and seeing them through tertiary education. This has thrown up the situation where parents and even prospective corps members pay bribes for favorable deployment and preferential postings. This then defeats one of the major intentions of the scheme in letting young Nigerians experience and mingle with fellow citizens of different ethnicity and geography to erase certain prejudices and stereotypes about some sections of the country.
Also making Nigerians question the utility of NYSC is the sub-optimal infrastructures in many of the orientation camps and the shabby treatment or exploitation of corps members by some of their employers during the service year. In the face of all the difficulties that corps members face during their service year, Naija News believes they deserve a better deal from the government. After the Federal Government’s implementation of the national minimum wage in 2020, corps members started receiving a monthly stipend of N33,000. This amount is so meager considering current economic realities and the galloping inflation rate. Nigeria can do better for her youths who have undertaken to serve the fatherland come rain, come shine.
If the Federal Government can be spending a million naira annually to feed each prison inmate as recently disclosed by the Interior minister, Rauf Aregbesola, corps members’ allowance deserves a major bump. This is more so as the NYSC is the only government programme that benefits a large segment of the Nigerian youth. Naija News also calls on the various state governments who are most served by these corps members, to increase their funding of the NYSC. A situation where states and other employers fail to provide accommodation or stipends to serving corps members should end. It is in a bid to address some of these financial challenges that we call for a speedy assent of the NYSC Trust Fund bill already passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The fact that people are calling for the scrapping of the NYSC makes the case for a holistic reform of the scheme from mobilization, through orientation, primary assignment, and community development to passing out. Nigerian can continue running on the template set for the scheme 50 years ago. It’s time for the scheme to reinvent itself by finding better ways to restore the spirit of national service in its members. NYSC must rid itself of staffers issuing fake discharge certificates, and call out public office holders parading such phoney documents.
On this auspicious occasion of NYSC’s 50th anniversary, managers of the scheme and indeed all Nigerians should spare thoughts and prayers for corps members who paid the supreme sacrifice or got disabled during the one-year mandatory national service. Meanwhile, until there is a better alternative for this scheme, long live NYSC!