Kill NYSC? Why?
A couple of years ago a man I respect endlessly for his courage and patriotic activism, Professor Itse Sagay allowed his tongue to produce some unkind words about the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). This was because a woman I also admired for her efficient management of our financial resources Ms Kemi Adeosun had gotten herself fooled by some crooks who acquired for her a fake NYSC exemption certificate. I identified sympathetically with her plight but I knew that if we wanted to build a fair and just society we must adhere to the rules of decent behaviour. When Sagay rose stoutly in her defence by pronouncing the NYSC as worthless I knew that he was just playing politics for the wrong reason. I wrote an article at that time defending the NYSC programme for its edifying and unifying credentials.
I wasn’t doing so simply because I had served in the inaugural segment of the scheme in 1973. I genuinely believed that what General Yakubu Gowon did by putting the scheme together outlasted his vision of uniting Nigeria after the disastrous 30 month civil war. This country of diversity in culture, religion, language and traditions needs such a unifying scheme as the NYSC programme even more at this time that other institutions have been thoroughly desecrated.
Perhaps the only other unifying institution that is still standing on its toes without being bastardised is the unity school. Others such as the Federal Character Commission and the Armed Forces have been severely compromised by the forces of ethnicity, religiosity and partisanship and they lack today the credentials of national unifying institutions.
I perked up my ears to learn something when I came into contact with the information that a federal legislator had put a bill in the pipeline asking for the NYSC programme to be abolished. Most newspapers seem to have ignored the ridiculous idea apparently because it is a worthless proposition especially at this time when there are many pressing and urgent matters dying for legislative attention.
However, when I read the interview granted to the Sunday Punch of May 30, 2021 by the Representative from Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State, Mr Awaji-Inombek Abiante, I knew why the issue has not received any robust attention in the media. In terms of timing the bill is very inauspicious for three reasons. One, Nigeria is falling apart right now and this is therefore not the time to excavate its foundation further by asking for the abrogation of the NYSC scheme. Two, Nigerians are searching for solutions to Nigeria’s problems by trooping to various towns and cities to make their contributions for the salvaging of Nigeria through a Constitutional review. Three, the talk of NYSC abrogation looks like a non-issue now with the battery of issues crying for legislative and administrative attention today.
Here is my short list of issues that demand more urgent attention than the NYSC right now: security, restructuring, debt, diversity, unemployment, poverty, education, health, electoral reforms, price of petrol, PIB, solid minerals utilisation, state police, devolution of powers, gas flaring, kidnapping, safe schools project, out of school children, drug prevalence among youths and accountable governance etc.
All of those issues weigh on my scale higher than the NYSC programme which, warts and all, is more helpful than harmful to Nigeria. When I read Mr Abiante’s interview in the Sunday Punch I knew that his field of vision is very narrow and I could not share his sunny optimism that Nigeria will be better off without the NYSC scheme than with it.
His views represent an invented construct of very weak narrative threads. He is saying this at a time that the political landscape has drastically tilted and is rattled on its axis. I could easily pick four reasons why Mr Abiante is asking for a repeal of the NYSC Act. He says that corpers are either involved in accidents as they travel from their residence to their places of primary assignment.
It beats my imagination why that should be an excuse for scrapping it. People who go to work will be involved in accidents whether they are corpers or not. He says that corpers are being kidnapped or raped. To my knowledge there has been no mass kidnap or rape of corpers as we do have with schools. So does it mean all schools should be shut down? No, it only means that we should make the schools safer for our kids. He says that this widespread violence has become a challenge to parents of corps members who have now become hypertensive.
Very puerile. Which health facility gave him figures of hypertension of corps members parents? He did not say. He said further that most of the employers do not grant permanent employment to the corpers at the completion of their service year because they always have the service of corpers for which they pay little or nothing. Of course, I know that some of the corpers who are dedicated to their jobs do get employed where there are vacancies. But the truth generally is that the walls of employment are not very elastic today to accommodate many new employees. So unemployment is not restricted to corpers. If there were jobs generally available corpers could get employed anywhere they like after service.
The reporter asked him a very interesting question: “what will happen to those employed in the NYSC if the scheme is scrapped?” He said that they are civil servants and therefore will be absorbed in the civil service. He probably thinks that the walls of the civil service are as elastic as chewing gum. He has not heard that people are urging the government to merge the MDAs and save cost. When the reporter asked him: “why are you not asking for reforms of the NYSC instead of scrapping? he was apparently unprepared for the question.
He simply answered it with a non-answer answer. What reforms are we going to be considering in the NYSC?” That shows that the reporter had put his interviewee’s back on the ground because any institution that has defects can always be reformed for progress. The NYSC scheme was Gowon’s valentine to Nigeria. I cannot think of many schemes or programmes initiated by the Federal Government since 1973 that is more impactful, more unifying and more edifying than the NYSC scheme.
So it is doubtful if the legislator campaigning for its abolition is likely to get a victory walk. Like many other Nigerian institutions the NYSC scheme has had its moments of torment. The raging uptick in crime has not left some of its members untouched. There might also be some rough patches here and there but these are not enough for anyone to seek to consign it to the margins. It is true that most people’s views about Nigeria have darkened but I have not heard many people putting the NYSC scheme under the hammer.
I want to believe that on the issue of whether or not the NYSC scheme should be scrapped there will not be an eruption of screeches of delight because it is a scheme worth preserving. That is why it had survived the slings and arrows of partisan politics for 48 years.