Recently, the nation woke up to some strange calls for the scrapping of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). This is not the first time such calls are coming from persons across the country. While some are done with patriotic and honest intent to safeguard and protect the corpers who are normally referred to as “Government Pikins”, others are done with suspicious objectives because of the intervention of the scheme in addressing some societal and national matters.
The debate for or against the scheme has always died down in favour of the scheme. In fact, this time around, the call is coming through a proposed legislation as a Member Bill which seeks to legally scrap it and end the many years of its existence.
The sponsor of the bill and my friend and colleague, Rivers State-born Hon Abiante believes that the “incessant killing of corps members in some parts of the country due to banditry, religious extremism and ethnic violence, incessant kidnapping of innocent corps members across the country”, is a good reason to do that and sent the scheme packing.
He added that “public and private agencies/ departments are no longer recruiting able and qualified Nigerian youths, thus relying heavily on the availability of corps members who are not being well remunerated and get discarded with impunity at the end of their service year without any hope of being gainfully employed.
Due to insecurity across the country, the National Youth Service Corps management now gives considerations to posting corps members to their geopolitical zone, thus defeating one of the objectives of setting up the service corps, which entails developing common ties among the Nigerian youths and promoting national unity and integration”.
Recently, I spoke with General Dr Yakubu Gowon (rtd) whose regime initiated the scheme and he frowned at those who believed that the NYSC has nothing to offer, describing them as less patriotic and unconcerned people who are yet to see the light of the successes so far achieved by the scheme. He said the NYSC has helped to strengthen his 3Rs of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Reintegration as post-civil war policies. According to him, the scheme is not the only agency with challenges and that even the nation as a whole has many challenges.
The military regime of General Yakubu Gowon established the NYSC scheme on May 22, 1973, under Decree No. 24 of 1973 as a way of reconciling, reconstructing and reintegrating Nigerians after the civil war of 1967-1970. The scheme has achieved so much for the nation as it has created new avenues of relations and interactions and various platforms of inter-ethnic and religious conversions. It has created and promoted access of individuals to one another through inter-ethnic and interreligious marriages and opened up new social mediums of relations among Nigerians.
While defending the scheme, the DG of the NYSC, Brig-Gen Shuaibu Ibrahim stoutly defended the scheme, saying it has come of age in addressing some basic unity issues of the country. Gen Shuaibu said the NYSC has served as a tool for the socio economic development of the country through the deployment of corps members to states outside their states of origin, where they make positive impacts in the lives of their host communities through the execution of different laudable projects that hitherto no contemplated by the host communities. He said the NYSC management in 2012 introduced Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development Programs into the orientation course content which has enabled thousands of corps members to acquire vocational skills. These skills have enabled many corpers to live and sustain themselves independently without adding pressure to the labour market in search of white collar jobs. Apart from this, it has helped create job opportunities for the staff of the NYSC and immediate technical orientation to corpers preparatory for life in future absorbing tension for the many that would have to wait for long before getting something done.
With the motto of ‘Service and Humility’, the NYSC has truly achieved a lot and those calling for its scrapping are going too far. The issues raised against the scheme are not fundamental, neither are they factual to attract national support. The scheme is a pride of the nation and many counties of the world are admiring it and preparing to emulate it for their people.
The answer is capital NO. It only becomes necessary to adjust our procedures and processes of doing things so as to catch up with modern realities. The NYSC has greatly improved the image of this country and improved its social content. It has helped Nigerians to understand the cross cultural and inter cultural ties of each other and made interconnectivity of life easier. It has increased the level of our exposure.
He said NYSC is not a waste of time and wherever corps members are posted to, they have added value to the communities with good legacies. The fact that there is insecurity in the land should not be exclusively used to explain the NYSC saga in the country. Should we scrap the police because the arm robbers sometimes kill policemen? Should we scrap the Nigeria Military because Boko Haram elements and militants overwhelm them in some instances?
Should a woman refuse to take in because she has a still birth? Should we scrap WAEC and NECO because our students fail the exams?
The argument of dominating employment vacancies with little remuneration does not hold water because the corpers serve only for a year and provide additional value to organisations where they are sent to serve. Even though they are graduates, no corper has ever insisted that he or she be paid as a graduate because the process of graduation is yet to be completed while they do the work of graduates with financial remuneration below their educational qualification.
During NYSC, the socio-mental horizon of a typical Nigerian corper and even those who administer the NYSC scheme is widened enough to accommodate issues, matters, beliefs, new knowledge and orientation that were never available in some areas. People freely eat what they had considered abominations and beliefs that were regarded as superstitions. Cross cultural relations and understandings are formed and encouraged. The corpers themselves are always happy to bring in new knowledge to their host communities as their contribution to nation building. NYSC is the contemporary normal. It has come to stay. Let it stay.