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How rising insecurity, poor funding may spur scrapping of NYSC

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As issues of security, kidnapping and backlog of prospective corps members linger, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is once again held up for scrutiny about its relevance or otherwise to national development. In this piece, IYABO LAWAL examines issues around the scheme and whether or not it should be scrapped as currently being proposed by the House of Representatives.

Clement Jones graduated from university two years ago and to date, has not been called up to participate in the NYSC programme. He was 27 when he graduated. During the two-year of his waiting, he got a job, so, he is not looking forward to going to serve his fatherland in the mandatory scheme. His employer too will not want him to go.

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Jones is fortunate. His situation contrasts with hundreds of prospective corps members, who wait at home in vain for their call up. By the time they are finally called up to serve in the scheme, some of them have exceeded the age limit set for the programme.

There are also others deployed to volatile and war-torn areas that lost their lives to bandits and kidnappers while serving the country.

With rising insecurity, the scheme is up for scrutiny, and this time, the House of Representatives has started the procedure to scrap it.

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The NYSC, a one–year compulsory programme for students under 30 years, who studied in Nigerian tertiary institutions, or Nigerian graduates abroad, who intend to work in Nigeria, was created through decree 24 on May 22, 1973, by the military administration of Gen Yakubu Gowon.

The vision of the scheme is to foster national unity and even development. Among other things, the organisation’s mission is to “be at the forefront of national development efforts, as well as serve as a profitable platform for imparting in our youth’s values of nationalism, patriotism, loyalty, and accountable leadership.”

The core objectives of the scheme include discipline, fostering the tradition of work, teaching ideals of national development, developing skills for self-employment, removing prejudices, eliminating ignorance and promoting national integration.

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In 2018, NYSC increased the number of corps members by 53,000 graduates, bringing the new figure to 350,000.

The agency mobilised 297,293 corps members nationwide in 2017 and paid them N67, 383,359,602 as allowances. The corps members are spread across two batches and two streams in 2017, with each stream having about 74,000 corps members.

With the increment in the number of corps members, the NYSC, according to its 2018 budget, earmarked N83, 160,000,000 for their allowances.

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Apart from the N3, 200 paid to each corps member during the three weeks orientation in camps, the NYSC also pays N19, 800 as a monthly allowance to each of them.

Excerpts from the NYSC 2017 budget showed that apart from allowances, the NYSC spent N2, 491,681,500 for kitting of the 297,293 corps members and N3, 272,103,431 for meals for 21 days.

Apart from the corps members, the budget for feeding, at N500 per meal, included 74,326 camp officials.

In its 2018 budget, the agency spent N11, 651,846,453 on kitting, transport allowances and feeding for 350,000 corps members. It was the same in 2019.

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But the budgetary allocation shot up in 2020 as the monthly stipend to corps members was increased to 33,000. The budget was increased by lawmakers from N10.33 trillion presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to N10.6 trillion, to accommodate the new allowances.

However, many corps members have lost their lives in unexplainable circumstances. These youngsters are dying at an alarming rate and there are no reliable statistics on the number of deaths. While some die at orientation camps, others are killed at their places of primary assignment. Consequently, the scheme, which used to be fun at the beginning, is now a nightmare.

In the last 20 years, corps members have been victims of election violence, kidnapping, abduction by terrorist groups and rape, with many being killed while serving their fatherland.

On September 26, 2010, the media was agog with the story of the abduction and raping to death of Grace Adie Ushamg, a female corps member, serving in Maiduguri, Borno State.

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The 2011 general elections triggered the flame of political violence in Northern Nigeria, which led to the killing of a number of corps members. Over 20 corps members lost their lives in the election violence.

Also, during the period, about 50 corps members were locked inside the Nigerian Christian Corpers’ Fellowship (NCCF) Secretariat in Minna, Niger State, by some youths protesting results of the presidential election, and the building was set on fire.

Though all the corps members escaped, that was the end of the service for them, while their families urged their relations who were prospective corps members to go for exemption certificate instead of going to die for a country that did not pay their school fees, and even if they had government scholarships, they should not risk dying for the country in such gruesome manner.

In 2012, the orientation programme for NYSC Batch “C” members across the country was postponed in Bayelsa, Borno and Yobe States, because of insecurity as conditions across the three states they could not guarantee the safety of corps members. Hostage-taking and killings in Yobe and Borno were high at the time, hence posed a great risk to corps members’ safety.

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There was also a gory account of how some female corps members on electoral duty were forced to thumbprint for a particular party in Giade Local Government Area of Bauchi State. They were tortured, fondled by irate protesters, and 11 of them were butchered like animals. To date, families of the dead corps members are still mourning their huge losses, as the government only promised to “get to the root of the matter”.

The bombing of NYSC permanent orientation camp in Maiduguri by the Boko Haram sect, some time ago, dealt a heavy blow on the programme, Moreover, in its gruesome bombing shortly after the 2011 presidential election, the deadly group killed many Nigerians, including corps members in a bomb blast, with the Federal Government promising to give N5 million to families of victims and jobs to corps members who survived the attacks immediately after the mandatory one year service. Sadly, most of them still roam the streets looking for jobs.

Similarly, hostage-taking has had its share in the worsening threats for corps members. In 2013, three corps members were kidnapped from Ogonokom Corper’ Lodge in Rivers State and released after 10 days in captivity by their abductors.

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The following year, five corps members, who donated a library project to a school in Omademe community in Nkwere Local Government Area of Rivers State, were abducted while returning from where they went to inspect the project. The accounts are endless.

Many have argued that the decision to continue a scheme set up to fill an immediate need created by the fractious civil war for 48 long years is the clearest indication that the war never ended and that unity remains elusive. Besides, they noted that the killing and kidnapping of corps members, particularly in northern Nigeria, have further justified the call for the suspension of the scheme.

They pointed out that delay in mobilisation of graduates often result in frustration for parents and students, as they would have to wait at home idling away for, perhaps, another year because, without NYSC discharge certificate, they would not be hired by any potential employer.

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Similarly, opponents of the scheme said holding prospective corps members in abeyance burdens the system even further, as backlog generates a ripple effect – with Nigeria’s many tertiary institutions churning a record number of graduates every year.

They argued that the backlog puts the young graduates at a great disadvantage when they go in search of employment. Often, the months of one year of delay by NYSC may make them unattractive to potential employers that prefer to hire graduates of certain ages.

Other arguments against retaining the programme include claims that it is a waste of funds, leads to loss of lives of corps members in crisis-prone or hostile areas, makes youths engage in illicit behaviour during orientation camps where supervision is minimal and adding little value to host communities as young graduates with no formal training in teaching are assigned to teach children in rural areas.

But the biggest argument against the scheme is that the current operation does not even help the objectives of the programme. Prospective corps members with people in prominent positions manipulate postings to states of their choice, hence, defeating the original purpose of the scheme.

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There are others who held that the scheme should be reviewed for greater efficiency. For these people, the government can make the scheme optional, or reduce the age limit to 25 years as against the 30-year limit, which is becoming a big problem.

They noted that when the government’s lack of funds causes prospective corps members to spend two years at home waiting to be mobilised for youth service, something is lost in them.

Why the scheme should go
OPEYEMI Johnson, a graduate of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko (AAUA), noted: “As far as I am concerned, NYSC scheme has lost its basis and purpose. So, why should it still be made compulsory for young graduates, by a government that cannot offer you a job after delaying you for years?

“I am one of the lucky few to be mobilised in my school, that is, after spending five years for a four-year course because of incessant strike actions. Unfortunately, those who are not mobilised have no choice but to stay at home till the next mobilisation, which may still not happen because of the poor state of the economy. Why should we be punished when government fails to get it right?”

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Some have called for the scrapping of the National Youth Service Corps. Its critics said the programme had outlived its usefulness.

For Prof. Friday Ndubuisi, immediate past Vice-Chancellor of Christopher University, Mowe, Ogun State, with close to 50 years in operation, the scheme has played its role. 

The academic disclosed that the scheme has served the purpose it was meant to and no longer has relevance in the scheme of things. To some extent, the university teacher said it has compounded the unemployment situation in the country. 

According to him, most employers of labour yearly depend on corps members for their manpower needs but don’t retain them after the service year, while some organisations reject corps members posted to them, which creates a psychological and negative problem for youths. 

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Ndubuisi stated that like most other things around us, the scheme has been abused. 

“And worst still, participants have been victims of the worsening security situation in the country and most parents are scared of having their wards in the scheme. The programme needs a hard look. It could be changed to another youths’ scheme that would be in tandem with the needs of the time. It could be made voluntary and no longer a mandatory scheme for young graduates. A lot of resources go into it at a time viable projects cry for attention. Nothing is sacrosanct, including this scheme. We are in a world that is pragmatic with new and vibrant ideas that would impact positively on youths and society. The practice of exposing the young ones to danger and untold hardship to a project that has little or no utility is both wasteful and irrational.”

The scholar said resources being spent on the scheme could be channeled to other things that would galvanise youths for productive purpose.

Besides, he noted that with expansion in the number of graduates across the country, “it has become almost impossible for the outfit to accommodate everybody.”

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Why the scheme should remain
FOR public analyst, Uche Okosun, the scheme was a noble idea at conception and the ideal is worth preserving. However, he said even before the current security threats, the scheme had been plagued by instances of corruption and abuse by organisations and individuals, including corps members through forgery, indiscipline, immoral acts and truancy at locations of primary assignments.

While describing the programme as a bridge between school and real-life of work, Okosun said the scheme should be tweaked to make it adaptable to current realities.

He said: “Whatever hiccups have attended its operation over the years, the NYSC scheme has contributed to nation-building, by means of soft power as opposed to structural acts of statecraft, such as legislation, affirmative action in appointments and student admissions as well as the strategic location of industries.
 

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“The scheme has forged bonds through live experiences of corps members; several of whom got married during or through their service year, learnt new languages and cultures, and even got permanent employment in states where they served. It has also provided temporary employment to graduates of tertiary institutions at least for a year after graduation. The experience prepared them for lifetime careers, enables them to acquire skills and enlarge their social networks.”

Okosun identified a lack of planning at national and sub-national levels as the fundamental problem confronting the scheme.

He said: “NYSC scheme should not be scrapped but reformed for better performance. Given the state of insecurity, corps members should be posted to states closest to their states of origin. In effect, those willing to serve in states in their zones of origin should be allowed to do so, while those willing to serve in other places should also be mobilised. In all, we should generate data on the capacity of states to absorb corps members and deploy them in primary assignments most relevant to their training or skills.”

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Chief Executive Officer, Postgraduate School of Credit Management, Prof Chris Onalo, said despite the challenging insecurity in the country, NYSC is still relevant as the clamour for the unity of Nigeria continues.

He, however, pointed out that the law establishing the scheme should be modified to attract greater financial muscle from federal allocation while posting corps members to different parts of the country should be temporarily suspended for about two years.

Onalo said: “Since its establishment on May 22, 1973, NYSC has fostered national unity and cohesion, the scheme has given young people the opportunity to understand the geographical expedience, cultural diversity and economic importance of every part of the country. We need to sustain this achievement in spite of the insecurity that has been threatening different parts of the country. Clearly, the scheme is aimed at encouraging stronger ties at this time because youths have the privilege to interact with people of different ethnic groups, social and family backgrounds. Should we remove this bond at this time?
 
“Economic and social success, as well as political and religious freedom, cannot deliver the role of NYSC mandate and inter-tribal marital adventure, which has remained incredible factors that have kept the country’s unity,” he added.

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However, Onalo noted that over the years, the government has not shown genuine commitment to the vital role the scheme plays in national unity.

He argued that NYSC is not the only body being threatened by insecurity, adding that the call to repeal the scheme is unjustifiable.

“In my view, NYSC should be properly funded backed with accountability and good leadership in the administration of the scheme,” he said.

On backlog of students, Onalo blamed it on rising insecurity. “NYSC constitutes a huge national interest for all Nigerians. Those who are due for the scheme but cannot participate due to insecurity should be granted a service waiver. Federal Government should grant a financial credit line up of ₦5 million each to them so that they can start their own businesses.”

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Rather than outright cancellation of the scheme, Onalo said the scheme should be restructured and a panel, comprising both organised private sector and government officials should be set up to work out new compensation and security policies for corps members.

Former Vice-Chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Prof Adebayo Adeyemi said a public hearing should be conducted to include relevant stakeholders.

On the importance of the scheme, Adeyemi said youths, especially those who graduated after 1972, since the scheme was introduced in 1973, including lawmakers, policymakers, politicians and others in private and public sectors would not have had a better understanding of what Nigeria is.
 
“The import of the scheme was to mould character of young graduates. Whether we have been able to achieve this, based on the current outlook, disposition and commitment of present-day youths to national matters is a matter for debate, conjecture and assertion,” Adeyemi said.

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On how to tackle the issue of backlog, Adeyemi said a special scheme can be worked out, which would involve a shorter period for this group of graduates or issue them exemption certificates, adding that the future of these young ones should not be sacrificed on the altar of a national scheme.

The former vice-chancellor also supported the call for restructuring of the scheme instead of outright cancellation.

“We should understand that two major challenges confronting the nation as per the scheme are the usually protracted strikes by workers in tertiary institutions and the current insecurity that has engulfed the entire country. The latter has introduced fears and uncertainties into the lofty ideals of the scheme. The mode of restructuring has to take care of these two salient factors, among others,” Adeyemi added.

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