Has the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, accomplished the mission and vision of its founding fathers? Nwakaego Ohaegbulam examines the 42-year-old journey in this report
“Youths obey the clarion call, let us lift our nation high; under the sun or in the rain; with dedication and selflessness; Nigeria’s ours, Nigeria we serve”
This familiar anthem usually accompanied by military drum beats has been sung by every Nigerian graduate during the one year duration of the national youth service. The National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, year comprises four main segments in which every corps member must satisfactorily participate before he is qualified to be issued a certificate of national service. These segments are: orientation courses, primary assignment, community development service and winding up/ passing out.
As a national scheme that was created by decree No.24 of May 22, 1973 under the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil with the aim of uniting Nigerian youths from diverse ethnicities while giving them an opportunity to offer voluntary and selfless services to the country, 42 years down the road is a long one.
It was the need to look beyond the country’s situation at the time and to think of the future leadership of the country that necessitated the mobilization of certain categories of youths through the NYSC Scheme. This was done with a view to giving them the proper guidance and orientation relevant to the needs of the country. The purpose of the scheme was primarily to inculcate in Nigerian youths the spirit of selfless service to the community while emphasizing the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social background.
The take off of the scheme became possible through the determination and spirit of the then military regime to ward-off solid opposition mounted by undergraduates of Nigerian universities who were being earmarked as the eventual beneficiaries. In the first year, it started off with 2,364 youths drawn from the existing universities were mobilized, trained and deployed to different parts of the country other than their states of indigene.
A cursory look at the country’s chequered history since independence shows that it needs the scheme as part of the quest to create unity and peace amongst its people with diverse cultural or geographical background. This is especially so as the post-independence period ushered in an era of hatred, ethnic loyalties, sectionalism, rancor, corruption, bloodshed to mention but a few which snowballed into the traumatic events of the civil war. Faced by these almost intractable problems, which were further compounded by the burden of reconstruction after the civil war, the government and people of Nigeria set fresh goals, and objectives for the country, aimed at establishing a new Nigeria from the debris of the old. The aim was to build a united, strong and self-reliant nation; a dynamic economy; as well as full open opportunities for all citizens in a free and democratic society.
It was against this backdrop that the government plagued by a myriad of problems coupled with the prevailing state of disunity, disintegration and disarray came up with the NYSC policy of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation (the 3 R’s). It was based on this policy that the idea of NYSC was conceived to serve as a medium through which meaningful progress in the sphere of unity, peace, harmony and good measure of integration was expected to be achieved in the Country.
Apart from preparing corps members for formal post graduation jobs and managerial administration, NYSC also served as a major employer of labour by opening doors for many job seekers to be employed across different cadres.
During the celebration of 20th anniversary of NYSC scheme the need to reassess and upgrade it arose. Thus, the former Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida promulgated Decree 51 on June 16, 1993 to replace Decree 24 of 1973 with which the scheme was originally established. The aim of the new Decree was to look beyond the immediate present and think of the future leadership of the country for which the corps members were being groomed. This was done with a view to giving them the proper guidance and orientation relevant to the needs of the country.
Since its establishment 42 years ago, the story of NYSC has been that of growth, progress and expansion. From a figure of 2,364 corps members in 1973, the number of Corps Members has risen over the years. Today, about 250,000 Corps Members participate in the Scheme annually.
There is no gainsaying the fact that, since its inception, the National Youth Service Corps has recorded numerous achievements, including the promotion of National Unity and integration as well as in areas such as education, agriculture, health, infrastructural development, science and technology, socio-economic amongst others.
Corps Members have also made profound and enduring contributions to the provision of health services. In some instance, serving medical graduates have single-handedly provide health care services in many remote areas of the country, thereby contributing to the governmental responsibility of providing health for all. The participation of Corps Members in the General Elections in 2011 and the recent one in 2015 as electoral officers has been lauded by Nigerians, United Nations, the International Community and International Observers. The participation of Corps Members in the Scheme served as a launch pad for greater services to the Nation. The Scheme also acquaints Corps Members with such concept as the challenges of self-reliance and nation building by encouraging them to undertake ‘personal community service projects’.
Youths participation in the NYSC, have been equipped with necessary attributes and skills for their individual survival as adult in a competitive world. During Orientation Course, basic training programmes in entrepreneurship development are organised by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) in collaboration with the NYSC. A new programme known as Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development was introduced in 2012 in support of government’s empowerment programme for youths. This initiative which is aimed at transforming many Corps Members into entrepreneurs is to enable them acquire skills in various areas such as Agro-allied, Automobile, Cosmetology, photography, ICT, Tourism, Energy and Power, Construction and Horticulture.
To address the problem of post-service unemployment, promote public- private partnership for entrepreneurship and self-reliance amongst Corps Members, NYSC has gone into partnership with a number of relevant stakeholders for technical and funding support. The gain in the partnership is the memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with the Bank of Industry, Voluntary Service Overseas, and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) etc.
As the Scheme engages members of the service Corps through the various activities that constitute its Cardinal Programmes, it has, since its early days in 1974 been making deliberate efforts to encourage excellence, and reward outstanding participants. To date, a total of 1,158 ex-Corps Members have been conferred with the President’s NYSC Honours Award. The President’s NYSC Honour Award attracts: a National Certificate of Honour duly signed by the President, a Gold Medal, Cash prize, Scholarship to study up to PhD in any University in the World, and automatic employment in the Federal Civil Service; to the winner. The Award also boosts post-service employment.
In terms of social interaction, youths from different ethnic groups come together under one noble family. Corps Members get married to their colleagues from different ethnic groups during and after service year thereby promoting national integration and unity. Corps members, who marry each other during the service year, are recognised and given financial rewards.
One of the outgoing corps members who spoke with the UNION Olubukola David, expressed her joy at participating in the scheme and urged the Federal government not to scrap the scheme especially as it fosters unity among youths.
As the NYSC scheme clocks 42, it is the expectation of Nigerians that the objectives for which it was established be fully realized while government at all levels should continue to give it the necessary support needed. Even though many have argued that the scheme be scrapped on the grounds that the corps members have become easy targets in times of religious crisis especially in the north; the government has said it is been convinced by the advantages of the scheme to retain it.