NYSC Trust Fund: A compelling legacy
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) established by the Yakubu Gowon regime to anchor unity in the country after the devastating civil war is beset with multiple challenges. But nothing compares with the paucity of matching funds to discharge its lofty mandate. Though there have been calls in the recent past for the scrapping of the scheme, the consensus is that NYSC is still fundamental to the unity and survival of the entity called Nigeria.
This is a scheme by the Federal Government of Nigeria set up in 1973 and made compulsory for all young graduates of Nigerian tertiary institutions (universities and polytechnics). Since its debut in 1973, members of the scheme have been having a unique experience in nation building while posted away from their states of origin and made to experience and impact other parts of the country.
The NYSC scheme was established after the civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970 for the rebuilding project of the nation. But the fervor, which the scheme enjoyed at the onset, is waning and calling for more rejuvenation such as the planned NYSC Trust Fund.
NYSC is operated through the deployment of corps members to other states different from their states of origin. This is to promote integration and unity among the ethnic groups.
The NYSC scheme also has a pledge, which expects all corps members to receive at campgrounds, which entrenches and reinforces their call and commitment to the indivisibility and indissolubility of the Nigerian nation state and other conditions attached to it. All corps members are expected to sign the pledge at the camp. A failure to sign will mean the member will be sent away from the camp. The corps member will only be allowed back in the next batch and that is when she/he is ready to sign the pledge.
The motto of the NYSC – “service and humility” – speaks volumes and since the scheme took off with the first Director-General, Col. Ahmadu Ali (Rtd.) who was there until 1975, the scheme has grown in leaps and bounds, deploying initially, thousands of university graduates that could participate in it. But as time went on, Polytechnic graduates were added to the scheme, making it robust.
One of the advantages of the scheme is that corps members get to experience ethnic diversity in all forms and get to appreciate/learn other people’s cultures. They also get to meet other people different from the ones they have always known from their region. This pleasant encounter often dispels whatever myths they may harbour against any other ethnic groups.
There have always been stereotypes and prejudices members of one ethnic group may have about another. It takes direct experience of the life of other ethnic groups to see the lack of objectivity in such assumptions. Stereotypes are characteristics imposed upon groups of people because of their race, nationality, and sexual orientation. These characteristics tend to be oversimplifications of the groups involved, and while some people truly do embody the traits of their stereotype, they are not necessarily representative of all people within that group. This syndrome is partly responsible for the disunity of the country.
To face these herculean challenges the corps members only need to be empowered. The NYSC Anthem rings the clarion call on the Nigerian youths to obey the clarion call, to lift our nation high, under the sun or in the rain, with dedication and selflessness, for Nigeria is ours, Nigeria we serve. But great ideas die without requisite enablers, which is funding mostly for the NYSC. So, when Nigerians call for a trust fund for the scheme, it is to ensure that death knell is never sounded for it.
At the risk of digressing a bit, it has to be emphasized that integrity is part of what NYSC wishes to imbue in the Nigerian youths and it will be seriously needed in making the NYSC Trust Fund work for the nation and her youths. Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can stand in opposition to hypocrisy and that is what the nation is critically lacking in most commanding heights.
In judging with the ethical standards, integrity involves regarding internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding within themselves apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs. This is what NYSC wishes to inculcate in the Nigerian youths and with it, they can do business with patriotic commitment.
The objectives of the NYSC are stated in the Nigerian Constitution precisely in Decree No. 51 of June 16, 1993. The sense of morality is to ensure integrity and spirit of hard work in the Nigerian youths. Fact is: without integrity (morality) and creative hard work, no nation will ever grow.
The other objective is the Nigerian youths imbibing the culture of self-reliance and independence by enabling them to acquire skills necessary to make money on their own through self-employment. Without the proposed NYSC Youth Fund, this objective will never see the light of the day. The scheme is also to help develop the Nigerian youths’ mind. The idea is inculcating a sense of corporate oneness and belief in the Nigerian destiny, dream and goal. Beside the unity core purpose of the scheme, boosting Nigeria’s economy through the participation of youths in it is yet another objective and the Trust Fund is to make such a dream a reality.
The scheme exposes young Nigerian graduates to the modes of people residing outside their states of origin. For the reason that the members are educated and skilled, they should be deployed to the fight for inclusive growth in Nigeria. Of course, inclusive growth is economic growth that is distributed fairly across society and creates opportunities for all. Inclusive growth refers to the phenomenon where the benefits of a country’s growth are shared equally by all sections or at least in a fair and just manner.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 is dedicated to “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It is part of improving human capital development. Economic progress achieved by any society is strongly associated with the quality of its human capital and social interaction. The Trust Fund will help prioritize human capital development and social inclusion as a central anchor of our nation’s development agenda.
Inclusive growth is economic growth that raises standards of living for broad swaths of a population. Proponents for inclusive growth warn that inequitable growth may have adverse political outcomes, which essentially is growth without development. If economic growth is achieved without social development at the grassroots level, it will not only widen inequality but also give rise to socio-economic paranoia, socio-political unrest and instability. Growth without development will have dangerous socio-political consequences that could undermine the very essence of freedom and democracy. This is a malignant growth in Nigeria’s polity that the NYSC Trust Fund promises to cure.
The definition of inclusive growth implies direct links between the macroeconomic and microeconomic determinants of the economy and economic growth and precisely this interlink is what the Trust Funds will create and ensure a balance. The microeconomic dimension captures the importance of structural transformation for economic diversification and competition, while the macro dimension refers to changes in economic aggregates such as the country’s Gross National Product (GNP) or Gross Domestic Product (GDP), total factor productivity, and aggregate factor inputs.
Nigerian lawmakers need to see the moderating role of the Trust Fund in creating social inclusion as the process of improving the terms of participation in society, particularly for people who are disadvantaged, through enhancing opportunities, access to resources, voice and respect for rights, which the Fund clearly now promises. It is therefore at the heart of social and human development.
In Nigeria particularly, most economic, social and political structures are intrinsically designed to reinforce social exclusion. This constantly resonates in economic disempowerment, gender discrimination, social inequality and poverty. Nigerian youths are strong, hardworking and resilient and the least the lawmakers can do is to provide them with the enabling environment and all necessary support to thrive through the proposed Fund. This way, the lawmakers will improve ease of doing business, access to microcredit embedded in the planned Trust Fund.
The growing insecurity in Nigeria is largely as a result of inclusivity in national development. The lawmakers should build an inclusive society where women and men shall be equal citizens; where youths and women shall be part of the government and shall have their voice heard and one way is pushing the Trust Fund Bill to its logical conclusion.
The nation needs to build an economic environment where business ideas will not be killed but nurtured into business empires; where men and women of skills shall realize their dreams and potentials. The youths have to be encouraged to strive collectively to end poverty, hunger and deprivation in the land using instruments such as the planned Youth Fund.
Still on social inclusion and poverty reduction using the Trust Fund; it is about having an inclusive society that is just, stable, tolerant and safe; a society where all members have equal opportunities, equal access to social benefits and equal rights to determine the set and pattern of social institutions that govern their social relations.
Sustainable economic growth requires inclusive growth and achieving inclusive growth allows economic planners to consciously empower the vulnerable groups as planned by the NYSC Trust Fund. Maintaining this is sometimes difficult because economic growth may give rise to negative externalities, such as a rise in corruption, which is a major problem of Nigeria as a developing country.
Research has shown that an emphasis on inclusiveness – especially on equality of opportunity in terms of access to markets, resources, and an unbiased regulatory environment – is an essential ingredient of successful growth. The inclusive growth approach takes a longer-term perspective, as the focus is on productive employment as a means of increasing the incomes of poor and excluded groups and raising their standards of living.
NYSC Trust Fund, on its final stage of passing into law in the House of Representatives, is actually meant to address inclusive growth in Nigeria and this fact was well canvassed during the public hearing on the Bill held on Thursday, February 24, 2021. At the said public hearing, the Director-General of NYSC, Major-General Shuaibu Ibrahim informed the nation that the Bill sought to address the infrastructural deficit in the orientation camps, ensure adequate provision of other operational logistics, as well as address the problem of graduate unemployment in the country.
Now that the consideration of the Bill has progressed steadily having passed a second reading at the Green Chamber to reach the last stage, the lawmakers should put their seal on the revolutionary legislation. There is no doubt that when the NYSC Trust Fund becomes operational, the number of corps entrepreneurs will increase drastically, and they will in turn help to provide jobs for millions of other youths of the country. This will equally help to reduce the issue of security challenges faced in the country.
It is instructive that the majority of the lawmakers are products of the scheme as most of them are graduates of tertiary institutions who have participated in the scheme. From their varying and variegated experience going through the scheme, they will agree that corps members are grossly underutilised and one sure way of unleashing the real potential of the corps members is to empower them to be able to acquire new skills and put to use their training.
It is important to point out that where the world economy is headed is digitization and ICT. The nation will be killing many birds with just one stone with the NYSC Trust Fund – indirectly building digital economy, digital ecosystems, digital entrepreneurs, and many more since the youths cluster there.
The effect of the Fund is predictably foreseeable. Nigerian youths are creative, resilient, upwardly mobile and ambitious. Yes many will fall by the wayside but a greater majority shall grow through that intervention and become self-made, self-reliant and more importantly, employers of labour in no distant time. That is the big picture that should form the allure for the lawmakers. For if the NYSC scheme were a school, Nigerian graduates under 30 by graduation are all alumni. Those of them in the House of Reps at the moment should consider themselves alumni and pass the Trust Fund Bill into law as a way of giving back to the institution, which made most of them.
Consequently, the appeal also goes to all friends of the scheme, including influential public figures, civil society organizations, students’ bodies, members of the academia and media practitioners, to send memoranda to the leadership and members of House to do the needful by passing the Bill establishing the Trust Fund.
The Bill sponsored by Akinfolarin Mayowa (APC-Ondo), ultimately ought to be unanimously passed as almost every member in one way or the other showed positive concern earlier.
The big idea behind the Trust Fund is to ensure the provision of a sustainable source of funding for the scheme and the training and retraining of corps members participating in the programme. It also seeks to provide a sustainable source of funds for the scheme so as to support the skill acquisition, training and empowerment of corps members as well as training and retraining of the personnel of NYSC.
Most importantly, this innovative fund is geared towards supporting the development of Nigeria through the reduction of unemployment particularly amongst the youth who will hopefully take advantage of the provisions of the Bill and the Fund itself to wean themselves off dependence on white-collar jobs that are simply not there. When passed into law, private organisations are expected to contribute one percent of their net profit to the fund, while 0.2 percent of total revenue accruing to the Federation Account will be earmarked for the fund. This will be channeled towards improving the general welfare of corps members and enhancing their preparedness to effectively discharge their statutory duties of promoting national unity, integration, self-reliance and accelerated development of the economy.
As laudable as this piece of legislation is, one can also make haste to point out that it is one thing to make a law with far-reaching benefits as this Trust Fund is and another to manage it in such a way that its aims and objectives are actualized over time. In making this assertion, one can draw attention to the urgent need to depoliticize the operations of the fund in terms of who benefits from it and not turn into a cash cow of sorts to political leaders. This is imperative if the nation must avoid the pitfalls of similar funds set up to empower targeted sections of the population.
The Fund and its operations will be building on the successes already established by the scheme over the years. The Trust Fund is an instrument that will galvanize the youth development plans of the government. All that is required at this time is a speedy conclusion of the legislative process and a timely assent to it by the president.
The NYSC scheme has grown into an enviable and equitable brand to the point of becoming a mentor and model for similar budding youth schemes in some African countries. What this means is that the NYSC is not of prime importance to Nigeria but also to some African countries. These countries have copied the scheme from Nigeria for its great achievements. Such countries are also waiting in the wings to further learn how Nigeria is reinvigorating the scheme of which the coming Trust Fund is one and will key in as usual.
Onwubiko is intellectual head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He was a National Commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.