(By Hussain Obaro)
“The programme has failed to meet the dreams of the founding fathers in terms of national transformation and economic prosperity, although successes may have been made in the aspects of national integration and cohesion. What is equally important is the aspect making Nigerian graduates self-reliant and job providers rather than job seekers. The alarming rise in unemployment rate in our country is a pointer to the fact that the NYSC scheme which is supposed to bridge this gap has failed to do so.“
THE National Youth Service Corps scheme was established by Decree 24 of 1973 and was later given teeth through Decree 51 of June 1993. Some of the objectives include inculcating discipline in the youths and instilling in them a tradition of industry at work and of patriotic and loyal service to the country in any situation they may find themselves. The objectives are also to raise the moral tone of the youths through giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvement and to develop common ties among them to promote national unity and integration.
The objectives seek to remove prejudices, eliminate ignorance and confirm at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups. A sense of corporate existence and common destiny of the people of Nigeria is expected to be developed. It is intended that the youths would develop an attitude of mind, acquired through shared experience and suitable training, which would make them more amenable to mobilisation in the national interest. The scheme is to enable the youths acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self-employment and thus contribute to accelerated growth of the national economy.
Whereas the first five of the objectives as listed in the foregoing have been realised to some extent, the same cannot be said of the last three. If the Vision 2020 of government is to become a reality through the transformation agenda then special attention has to be paid to the NYSC scheme. The beneficiaries should not wholly be jobs seekers after their service. However, the NYSC as we know it now, has always only boosted the Curriculum Vitae of our graduates and prepared them for employments which are not even available.
The programme has failed to meet the dreams of the founding fathers in terms of national transformation and economic prosperity, although successes may have been made in the aspects of national integration and cohesion. What is equally important is the aspect making Nigerian graduates self-reliant and job providers rather than job seekers. The alarming rise in unemployment rate in our country is a pointer to the fact that the NYSC scheme which is supposed to bridge this gap has failed to do so.
A lot has been said and written about the scheme following the death of nine corps members during the 2011 general election in Bauchi State. Some have called for the scraping of this all-important programme while others have carefully proffered various solutions. Recently the NYSC itself announced the need to make the members combat ready by integrating martial art training into the programme.
Although the equivalent of the youth service in the United States of America is a one year compulsory service in the U.S. military, where all physically and medically fit graduates are made to serve their country in the military at the end of which some of them who may wish to remain in the military are allowed to stay and make a career in it. We all know that the objectives of the Nigerian NYSC scheme is totally different from that of the U.S. Therefore, the introduction of martial art training into the NYSC is not only myopic but baseless and unnecessary. The Nigerian youths are not being prepared for war and the objectives of the NYSC has not stated so. Hence, the need to be careful and think twice so that this would not turn out to be counterproductive like what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and some other Middle-East countries. These have found it difficult to control the uprisings in their land. This is because most of their citizens have acquired some forms of military skills.
There are numerous ways by which the NYSC can put a permanent end to unnecessary killing of corps members under any guise. Corps members should not be trained and seen as fighters, as this will only amount to treating the symptoms rather than the disease.
The proposed NYSC reform should critically look into the issue of posting of Corps members as well. Their primary assignment should always reflect national integration, unity, cohesion, reconciliation and economic prosperity as enunciated in the objectives. What is the point sending out corps members to places where their services are not needed? What sins have they committed that they have to be subjected to so much torture, brutality and hardship in the name of national service. Yearly, close to 60 per cent of them are rejected by establishments and firms to which they are posted. They are often treated as outcasts and second class citizens. Some have been victims of indecent assault and abuses of various kinds, all in the name of National service.
With particular reference to Imo State where I served between 2009 and 2010, corps members were even rejected by some Federal Government agencies such as the Nigerian Television Authority(NTA) and some others. State ministries would have nothing to do with them, even schools, both primary and secondary. Their reason was that they had their full complement of staff. Corps members were posted to churches, mosques, restaurants, eateries, hair dressing salons, bars, hotels and guest houses and even private laundry shops. Obviously these are the only places where they would not be rejected. After being rejected, corps members are left to roam the streets in search of places for primary assignment. Some of them have to beg to be fixed up with some even having to offer gratifications. This certainly cannot be the national service of the dream of the founding fathers, national humiliation and torture of those concerned.
The best way to use the NYSC scheme effectively for the attainment of stated objectives and permanently put a stop to the killings and abuse of the members are as follows: The NYSC Scheme’s duration should be reviewed and reduced from the current compulsory one year to compulsory four months. Corp members should be camped at the various expanded and equipped camping facilities throughout the period of the scheme except for a few who might be needed for crucial national assignments like elections. Such would predictably need to be trained in their own camps for the purpose.
The National Directorate of Employment should be part of the four months scheme in order to give the corps members an elaborate entrepreneurial training and encourage them to develop skills for self- employment. Corp members, regardless of their courses of study, should be mandated to belong and learn at least a vocation of their choice such as mechanised shoe making, modern fashion designing, modern poultry farming, mechanised agriculture and animal husbandry. ICT training, etc. should be integrated into the scheme while elaborate and simplified training should be given. At the end of the four months training, interest free loans of between N500, 000.00 and N1, 000,000.00 should be made available to them depending on the entrepreneurial vocations they wish to venture into.
These loans which should be repaid within a duration of one to two years should not be given in cash but by way of supplies of the machineries and equipment or tools needed to start their trades. During the period of training, regular weekly outreach programmes should be organised to enable them interact with their host communities as this will enable them to learn more about them. Apart from the interest free loan that each corps member is entitled to in exchange of their NYSC discharger certificates, each of them should also be unconditionally entitled to N100, 000.00 camp allowance at the end of their NYSC year. Once this is done, our youths will not only be self-reliant and job providers but will also go a long way to affect the economy of our country in no small measure. It is a known fact everywhere in the world that small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs / SMIs) are the backbone of every booming economy. In other climes, they are the largest employer of labour and they are the “driver” of large economies in the world.
If the Nigerian youths are given these all important roles and opportunities through the NYSC scheme for them to channel their energy and resources in “driving” the economy of the country into prosperity, then the Vision 202020 as well as the transformation will not only be releasable but there will be drastic reduction in crimes and other dishonourable conduct, civil disturbances and terrorism of any sort.
It is not right for our corps members to begin to beg, bribe or be subjected to harsh and humiliating conditions before they can serve their fatherland. What such experiences indicate is that corps members are no longer needed “out there.” The authorities should stop sending our precious graduates to places where their services are not needed. We should make the best use of these vibrant, energetic, brilliant and youthful sets of Nigerians in areas they are wanted to achieve economic development and National prosperity, and the proverbial transformation agenda so that come year 2020 Nigeria can take its rightful place among the 20 most developed economies in the world.
•Hussain Obaro is anatomist and a religious analyst/public commentator.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”