Since the recent deaths of some members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), in some parts of the country, there have been debates on the desirability or otherwise of the scheme. Richard Akinjide, former attorney general and minister of justice, is one of those against continued existence of the scheme. Established in May 1973 by the military government of General Yakubu Gowon, the scheme remains one of the greatest public institutions ever created in Nigeria with laudable objectives. This is a reassuring verdict of majority of Nigerians who spoke against the backdrop of calls in certain quarters that the programme should be scrapped.
The NYSC on its own is a faultless programme, according to those who spoke on the issue recently. But like the Nigerian projects, it has certain structural deficiencies, which must be addressed. This is normal because such programme has to be reviewed from time to time. These deficiencies are no reasons, going by some calls by Nigerians, why the scheme should be scrapped.
A close look at the objectives of the scheme, conceived some 36 years ago, shows a deliberate effort at progressive movement of the country through the Nigerian youths. These objectives are aimed at inculcating discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them, a tradition of industry at work; patriotism and loyalty to Nigeria in any situation they may find themselves; to raise the moral tone of the Nigerian youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievements, social and cultural improvement.
Others are to develop in the Nigerian youths the attitudes of mind. acquired through shared experience and suitable training, which will make them more amenable to mobilisation in the national interest, and to enable them acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self- employment.
Yet others are, to contribute to the accelerated growth of the national economy; to develop common ties among the Nigerian youths and promote national unity and integration; to remove prejudices, eliminate ignorance and confirm at first hand, the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups and to develop a sense of corporate existence and common destiny of the people of Nigeria.
Marcel Umesi, a youth corps member currently serving in Jigawa State Radio is excited about the scheme. “What else can any patriotic Nigerian ask for?” The excited corpse member. who made a short trip to Abuja, said but for the NYSC scheme, he would not have had the opportunity of visiting Jigawa, at least not now.
There is no doubt that the ideals enunciated by the founding fathers of the scheme have not been executed to the letter, yet, whatever problems that have been encountered have not been in vain because of any lack of vision. Somehow, the problem of NYSC, like the problem of Nigeria, is artificial.
Before the coming of NYSC, many Nigerians did not go out of their areas for anything. With the NYSC, it became compelling that young Nigerians who ordinarily would not leave their states and zones, were made to move. This perfectly justifies the position of Marcel Umesi.
As a result, upon discovering the facts on ground, many of these young men and women have dropped their predispositions and prejudices against other sections of the country. Interestingly therefore, the advantages of the scheme have been manifold.
These young men and women, who move in their droves to places other than their home areas, take up various job opportunities in and out of government establishments; some even establish their own businesses; many marry and bring up their children and integrate in the local ways of life of the people. What else can a country in desperate need of unity ask for? This is why all hands must be on deck to achieve the objectives of the scheme through equitable distribution of members of the service corps and the effective utilisation of their skills in areas of national needs, Umesi emphasised.
In addition, Nigerian youths in the programme should be assigned to jobs in states other than their states of origin. To achieve this, it becomes the. responsibility of everybody to ensure that groups of youths work together as representatives of Nigeria as far as possible and that they are exposed to the modes of living of the people in different parts of the country.
Also, Nigerian youths should be encouraged to eschew religious intolerance by accommodating religious differences. They should be encouraged also to serve and to seek at the end of the one-year national service, career employment allover Nigeria, thus promoting the free movement of labour. Again, employers should be induced partly through their experience with members of the service corps to employ them more readily and on permanent basis irrespective of their state of origin, since they are qualified.
True, some Corps members have lost their lives in the course of serving their fatherland. Regrettably as this is, many believe there is no justification whatsoever to completely state that such grave mishap like death occurs because these patriotic Nigerians were in their areas of primary assignments. Instances abound.
Definitely, the souls of Akande Oluwaleke Olalekan, Akinjobi Ibukun Oluwatosin and Odusote Adetola Oluwole, corps members who died in Jos, the Plateau State capital during the religious cum political upheavals of November 27,2008, the memory of Miss Anthonia Amarachi Okeke, a corps member and Corps Liaison Officer, CLO, who was declared missing in mysterious circumstances on December 19, last year, at llawe Community in Ekiti South-West Local Govemment Council of Ekiti State, are irreplaceable.
So, the assault and subsequent dastardly murder of the 22-year old Miss Grace Adei Ushang in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital on September 26, this year, cannot be good enough reason for protagonists of abrogation of NYSC scheme. True, other members of the NYSC have equally lost their lives in various accidents as a result of the dilapidated roads across the country as they moved from one area of their primary assignments to another. And this is after their parents have spent fortune to train them.
As has also been well reported, there had been cases where Corps members were rejected at the places where they were posted with their attendant difficulties. Indeed, nobody will argue against the presence of these difficulties. But, at the end of the day, these demerits cannot be weighty enough to justify the cry for the abrogation of the NYSc. Even with the difficulties, there are people who think that the one-year period should be increased to two years.
The emphasis should be to get back to the past days of glory when beneficiaries had good time in their service year. Then, they got good treatment from their hosts who promptly provided their needs. ‘Then, corps members were well treated and respected everywhere in the country and it was a pride to adorn the NYSC uniform. They were so jealously protected that some of them decided, after the service year, to settle in their places of assignment and actually picked their better half there.
“They were properly accommodated and in some places, apart from their government approved stipend, they were periodically given foods and transport allowances to make them comfortable. They were seen as government children and pampered by all. And in appreciation, corps members strove to leave good footprints behind, which were of course compensated by the NYSC authorities, which gave awards to deserving members at the end of every service year.
Also, cases abound where corps members embarked on community projects such as construction of classrooms in remote villages where children studied under trees, construction of bus stops and community roundabout, repair of roads and environmental sanitation and beautification of environment as part of their contribution to the development of their host communities.
In most cases, many communities in appreciation of their efforts organised elaborate valedictory parties for them at the end of the service year. These good memories of the scheme have vanished and the scheme has today become a dreadful experience for Nigeria’s teaming graduates. To many, it has become a mission to death and they would rather serve within their locality or forfeit the experience and damn the consequences. This is especially common amongst people who have attained the ceiling age of 30 at which the service becomes optional.
Although there had been calls in the past for the restructuring of the scheme to suit present day realities in the country, with some people even arguing that it is no longer necessary and should be completely scrapped, the recent development has heightened people’s apprehension about the scheme. There are some areas that need adjustment and restructuring no doubt. Allowances for stipends for corps members, their accommodation, their security must be improved. The scheme is laudable and still relevant, which is why many Nigerians are also asking that it should metamorphose into a military programme.
Government may consider such comments of good spirited Nigerians because this is a vital tool for uniting Nigerians.
Culled from ThisDay