…thoughts on the NYSC experience and its relevance or lack thereof in the Nigeria of today
Now and again, some debate about the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) pops up on social media like a stubborn boil.
The discussion resurfaced recently as news that a bill to consider discontinuing the programme had reached second reading at the Federal House of Representatives. This elicited mixed reactions with many people sharing their first-hand experiences as they argued for or against its continued existence. These debates provide an opportunity for us to reflect on the NYSC scheme and Nigeria.
General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), the then Head of State established the NYSC scheme in 1973 after the Nigerian civil war. It was created as a means of fostering national unity and cohesion, enabling young citizens to contribute towards national and cultural integration.
The NYSC scheme is a one-year national service programme that all Nigerian graduates of tertiary institutions home and abroad, are mandated to observe as long as they have graduated from a full-time degree programme before they turn 30 years old. It requires such graduates to serve the period in any state within the country other than their state of origin. Corps members are expected to integrate with the indigenes, observe community service, and contribute to the development of their places of primary assignment (PPA).
I served in Fika, Yobe state and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I remember wanting to get posted to the north but being highly disappointed when I found out I was posted to Yobe and not Kano or Kaduna which I would have preferred. I was posted to the Government Secondary School where I taught Government to SS1 and SS2 students. I chose to teach the subject even though I never studied it in secondary school. It was a challenge I took on willingly as I had no interest in teaching Agriculture which I had studied.
Through the NYSC experience, I met so many wonderful people from all over the country, both corps members and non-corps members, and I am still in touch with many of these people. I travelled to many cities, towns, and villages in Yobe state and also other North-Eastern and North-Central states: Kano, Bauchi, Plateau, Gombe, and Borno. I learnt passable Hausa which helped during interactions with the locals even though I ended up realising that the dominant tribes are Bolewa and Kare Kare.
I am probably one of the few people who still believe the scheme should be repurposed and not scrapped. I believe it has played a pivotal role in integrating many Nigerians with some even meeting their spouses during the period. It has provided much-required skill and expertise to various communities across the country in such key areas as education and healthcare. Many participants have gained a better level of cultural awareness through their interactions with people of diverse tribes and cultures. The more adventurous ones have also discovered many little-known tourist sites, events, and ceremonies. I can go on about the good sides of the NYSC but I also recognise that it has been fraught with a lot of issues and challenges especially within the last ten years,
In my opinion, the challenges with the NYSC are in two dimensions: institutional and national. Institutional problems relating to its core objectives and how these objectives have been addressed through programme design, delivery, and review over the past years. A key consideration is whether the scheme has maintained relevance with the modern realities of the society especially regarding cultural integration and economic empowerment.
Many people expect that the NYSC would offer them a leg up into the corporate world which is why they seek to serve in private firms, however, this is not always the case. Whilst it is a year of service to the nation, it has always been important to ensure that corps members are fully engaged during the period and also prepared for life after service. Under-employment has thus been a critical issue as some participants are posted to local government offices which barely operate leaving them idle during the period.
For those interested in starting a business, I recall that an entrepreneurship option was introduced during my time. This allowed interested corps members to start a business of their choice rather than seek deployment to a government or private institution. Skills development is also important and I am aware that a partnership with the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) has helped in this regard. A more recent skills-focused approach that encourages corps members to learn vocational skills is also worthy of note.
The costs of organising the scheme all year round have also been queried especially now that it runs at least three batches every year. Some believe that the money could be provided to graduates as startup funds post-graduation and that would be more beneficial to their livelihood.
Regarding the national issues, these are clear to all of us with the most prominent being insecurity in many parts of the country, acts of religious intolerance, kidnappings, and killings. For instance, many communities have been displaced as a result of the onslaught of Boko Haram, bandits, and kidnappers. Many corps members have paid the ultimate sacrifice for serving their nation whilst travelling, during election cycles, and community skirmishes. How then does one convince a graduate not to seek a more convenient posting when the safety of lives and property is not assured?
As I would love for the scheme to remain, I can only proffer some suggestions for improvement:
• There must be a renewed focus on data collation, management, and analysis to ensure that data-driven decision making supports the scheme’s activities • A formal partnership with the private sector is required to ensure employers of labour are empowered to support the growth and development of corps members during and after their service experience
• Specialist tracks can be introduced so that corps members have the option of starting their professional lives doing work they are either skilled for or interested in. Such tracks could include medical, educational, digital skills, technology, agriculture, technical, and entrepreneurship
• The safety of all corps members must be guaranteed by the state governments and the host communities, and this requires that corps members are not posted to dangerous areas. Also, the Federal Government should provide life and medical insurance cover to all corps members during the period of service
• To address cultural integration, corps members should go through a structured programme of activities during the one-year period with clear milestones stated for activities to be engaged in and skills to be developed. These could include learning the local language and understanding the culture
The NYSC scheme has always been managed by both the military and public service, however, I believe it urgently needs private sector support especially in planning and execution. I just hope the House of Representatives doesn’t end up discontinuing the scheme as we would have lost one of our best opportunities to support national growth.
Someone should please tell them that this is the way I see things today.