To make the NYSC scheme better
AS one of the means to reconstruct, reconcile, and rebuild the country following the Nigerian Civil War, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was quite a laudable scheme and it still remains one. However, times have changed and the scheme must also transform itself. It began at a time when there were only a handful of universities that produced a few thousand graduates with resources being more than adequate to operate it effectively to meet the vision as well as achieve the mission for which it was set up. But so much has happened to the scheme over the years. An explosion in the number of participants has been caused by the extension of participation to non-university institutions, a relaxing in the age barrier, a combination of the worsening graduate unemployment in the country and collusion from within that enables even persons with no business as graduates finding their way into the scheme. Besides, the quality of control is less than excellent for a scheme that manages youths’ first experience in which their country is their guardian. NYSC administrators expand orientation camps and resort to multi-batch conduct of the programme that over-stretches the resources provided by government. The scheme, it must be said, now strives to run on its founding principle, but it lacks the means to faithfully discharge its mandate.
The 15-point objective underscores the intrinsic good of the NYSC scheme. Nigeria was indeed well served by it in the past. In these times when the country is undergoing political, economic, social, and even religious stresses, it is ever more imperative that the youths from institutions, as the future middle class, elite and leaders, be trained to imbibe the spirit of selfless service to the community, of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians irrespective of cultural and social background. Besides, the objectives stated in the Decree 51 of June 1993 which repealed the original law of the scheme, include to raise the moral tone of the Nigerian youths; remove prejudices and eliminate ignorance of other ethnic groups; ensure that participants are assigned to jobs in states other than their states of origin; encourage employers of labour to hire qualified youth corps members irrespective of their states of origin; and imbibe the right attitude and values for nation building. These are requisites to sustain a Nigeria of plural composition.
There are, unfortunately, several levels of impediment to the realisation of the laudable objectives of the NYSC scheme. The first comes, sadly, from the adults who, as parents, public officials and even NYSC officials, actively work against these objectives. It is morally repugnant that parents would arrange that their children are given preferential posting to specific states or particular places of work. The more brazenly crooked parents even arrange that their wards somehow do not participate in the scheme at all. It is said that the tragedy of modern youths is that they are told all that are wrong to do by adults who never walk their talk.
The second obstacle is the unpardonable abdication of responsibility by government. It is deeply regrettable that government has over time, failed so miserably to provide for and protect the youths on national assignment. From the provision of decent orientation camps, meals, and service kits through assuring their safety when and where the need arises, the government has failed woefully. Now, youths fresh from school are made to pay thousands of naira for online registration to serve their fatherland. It is good to inculcate in youths the spirit of self-reliance but the system, largely operated by the adults, must put in place some basic structures – power, training and an overarching national ethos that foster such spirit. These are sorely lacking in this polity.
The NYSC has introduced a skill acquisition programme in collaboration with private businesses. But this is open only to youth corps members who can pay the fees. This is discriminatory and wrong because it shuts out those who cannot afford to pay. This is nothing short of a denial of equal opportunity.
It bears repeating that the one-year service puts participants fully under the responsibility of government and it should assume the burden of caring for them. If youths are made to pay to merely apply for employment in the public service and possibly die in the process as happened in March 2014, their love of country will be an unrealistic expectation.
The scheme’s objective that youths shun prejudices, bigotry and nepotism is good. However, these are precisely the dominant acts they see in the politics and other spheres of national life. Who you know, not what you know, is the dominant rule of the society, and reward hardly ever matches effort in this very Nigerian system. Needless to say, the spirit of loyalty and service is best fostered by a nation that takes care of its citizens and makes the youths proud to belong to, and benefit from it.
In the short term, youth corps members can be made more useful if they receive teaching skills to enable them fill the gaps in the nationwide shortage of teachers. The impartation of knowledge in turn enables the teacher to learn and know his subject better. For the long-term, the NYSC scheme needs to be re-conceptualised, re-organised and re-directed to fulfill its mandate and to serve the changing demands of the nation and the times.
It may even be necessary to make the national service mandatory for every young adult and should include an expanded military service to both sharpen individual discipline and equip Nigerians to defend themselves and their country, if necessary. The time has come to deepen the citizens’ sense of duty and responsibility to Nigeria and the national service scheme is as good an instrumentality to use as any.
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