When former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon declared ‘no victor, no vanquished’ at the end of the infamous Nigerian civil war in 1970, 10-year-old Nigeria was deeply fractured along ethnic lines. There was mutual distrust and hate among the tribes.
As part of the efforts to rebuild, rehabilitate and reconstruct the country, the post-civil war government formulated the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and passed it into law by decree No.24 on May 22, 1973, ‘with a view for the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity.’
The scheme has grown to become an integral part of the life of most Nigerian youth. Every year, thousands of Nigerian graduates are deployed to serve the nation in various capacities but especially in the educational and medical sectors. Youths are pulled out of their states of origin and study, then sent to other parts of the country to serve the people, to learn their culture and traditions and to integrate with the people of the communities where they are posted to serve.
More than 40 years after the NYSC was established, the issues that led to its establishment are still plaguing the nation. Nigerians are still first Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba before they are Nigerians.
Recently, a huge number of the middle-aged population has called on the federal government to scrap the NYSC, because the problems that heralded the introduction of the NYSC still plague the nation. The downturn of the economy, due majorly to the fall in oil prices, has helped ignite the call for the scrapping of the NYSC, as a huge chunk of the budget for youth and sports development is allocated to the scheme; to pay corps members’ stipend, provide them with kits, food and housing during the orientation programme among others. But has the NYSC really failed to achieve its aims and objectives? Is it a moribund idea that should be done away with?
One unarguable benefit of the NYSC is the reduction in the level of mutual distrust among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria. Before the emergence of the scheme, there were myths about different ethnic groups in the country but since corps members are sent to the 774 local government areas in the country, most of these myths have been dispelled.
A staff who has worked with the NYSC for over 18 years, Mr Chijioke Agwu told our correspondent that: “Before now, there were many stories that people from the eastern part of the country eat human beings, corps members now understand that there is nothing like that. Some of those myths have been debunked; people now marry easily from other tribes.”
During the NYSC orientation camp, corps members from the south, north, east and west are made to live with each other, to share rooms and amenities. They are put in platoons which become their temporary families, they join groups, work together as a team, play sports and bond. In orientation camps, people forget about their tribes, they become just one thing; Nigerian youths.
Not only the staff will be affected economically if the scheme is eliminated. Each NYSC orientation camp plays host to over 100 traders who provide laundry services, food, drinks, entertainment and other services to corps members. These traders look forward to orientation camps. It is their main source of livelihood. Fourteen-year-old Tajudeen who provides laundry services to corps members said “Government should not remove NYSC, it is from this camp I get my school fees and money to care for myself and my younger ones.”
There are many other stories like Tajudeen’s, people whose means of survival are tied to NYSC orientation camps. If the scheme is scrapped, what happens to them? Still on the economy, with the rising level of unemployment, the NYSC has been able to assist corps members by introducing the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) training to tackle unemployment. Through SAED, corps members learn skills and move on to create jobs for themselves and employ others.
The scheme provides them with interest-free loans for their startups. Other corps members who are not interested in starting up businesses have been provided with skills to make them employable, they are taught workplace etiquette and other managerial courses. SAED still goes a step further to assist corps members with special talents through the NYSC Icon search, this way singers, comedians, poets, dancers and others can showcase their talents and SAED will assist in building them up during their service year and prepare them for the entertainment industry thereafter.
The NYSC has also contributed to social and political development. A core part of the scheme is the Community Development Service, (CDS). Through the CDS, corps members identify a need in communities of their primary assignment and team up to fix it. Corps members have built classrooms, libraries, boreholes, bus stops, provided health services to rural dwellers and carried on campaigns against diseases and social vices.
Most hospitals are using NYSC doctors.
Furthermore, the NYSC acts as a stop gap, as a place of transition, between university life and the real society for Nigerian graduates. It helps to ease the transition from school to the workplace, and train youths on what to expect in the society.
The merits of the NYSC scheme to the Nigerian graduates and society at large is of too much value for the scheme to be scrapped despite economic reasons. More than its role as an instrument for national integration, it contributes to the socio-economic development of the country by providing employments for thousands of Nigerians periodically. Recent innovations have also seen the NYSC preparing the youth for entrepreneurship, which is a major area of lack the country’s education.
The NYSC could do a lot of things better, but scrapping the scheme will do more harm for the country than good.