Over the course of five decades, it has been an outstretched monotone from government and other proponents that the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) was founded to foster citizenry reintegration and national unity after the civil war. We have heard it thousand times without number, and what is left to be seen are the fortunes of the scheme when placed sideby-side its negatives fifty years after. First, there were so many half-truths about NYSC scheme. Though history has it that there’s no military conscription in Nigeria, but operating a scheme established by a military decree and enforcing it on young graduates that unless they undergo it, they can’t secure employment in government establishments, is to shy away from the stark truth that NYSC is a ‘para’ military conscription, because those who, through genuine causes, obtained exemption letters, will have their entry point into the civil service shortened by one step. Secondly, the scheme in more ways than one cuts the image of wastage of human resources. And this explains the ugly phenomenon where the teaming populations of unemployed youths that roam the street were former corps members. They have observed the so-called ‘service’ to fatherland, and the reward they got is negligence from the government that coerced them into that mission. So, in the area of securing employment, the scheme has failed. With unemployment rate of 35.2% (formal sector consideration), the statistics keeps widening.
Thirdly, some argue that it is a social unification scheme that has kept merging people of different cultural backgrounds. But the idea of thinking that it’s only NYSC scheme that cements people of varied ethno-religious affiliations in fraternal love is warped. The records are everywhere, Institutions of Higher Education — Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges Of Education bond people of diverse cultural, religious and tribal backgrounds more than anything else in Nigeria. And next to it is Civil service scheme including the armed forces, followed in that pecking order by professional or vocational occupations such as Medicine, Priesthood, Lawyers etc; before NYSC scheme comes into the equation. Just take a cursory Google-look at various fields of human endeavor fostering cohesion among Nigerian citizenry separated by the agonizing memories of the civil war and you would be shocked how poor NYSC has fared. The gap created by the tragedy of those unfortunate belligerent years keeps widening by the day, due the hypocrisy of our political leaders who instituted the NYSC package. Starting from Gen. Gowon himself up to the present occupant of the country’s number one seat, the story has remained the same. If it’s not hypocrisy, which other term best describes the narration where the man who formulated the decree refused to grant the Igbo warlord, Col. Ojukwu, state pardon to return to Nigeria. And when Gen. Murtala Mohammed overthrew his government, Murtala allowed the scheme to keep running to help in ‘reconciling’ the aggrieved victims and victors of the war. Yet he saw nothing wrong in refusing Ojukwu a return bid to his fatherland. It was after 13 years in exile, that Federal Government of Nigeria under President Shehu Shagari granted him an official pardon and opened the road for a triumphant return in 1982. How can the ‘reconciliation’ crusade enshrined in the NYSC codes assimilate into our youths if the political leaders are insincere with it? When entrusted with the task of managing the finance ministry of the post war Nigeria, Chief Awolowo and his team of functionaries had to share the collective responsibility of having demonstrated the height of hatred against the Igbo survivors with their twenty pound policy.
Yet, they expect NYSC to remain faithful to its mandate of reuniting the populace afflicted by errors of the war. Flashback to 2011 post-election violence that claimed the lives of about eight Corps members nationwide orchestrated by angry youths (ostensibly sponsored by aggrieved losers of that election) up North, and you would understand with those who are calling for the abolition of the program. Furthermore, let’s consider the stipend government pays these young graduates. They receive paltry sum of thirty thousand naira (excluding bank commission). Consider our economy and survival indices and you would agree that their stipend is nothing short of a slave wages. It only belittles Nigeria as a country where youths are so cheap to hire with meager fee. How does one expect multinational companies like Julius Berger to remunerate our graduates lucratively when they hire them, if one’s own government has already demeaned one. Our leaders place little or no value on our young graduates. The orientation camps across the country are all eyesores. Poor living conditions, inadequate amenities and uninhabitable halls of residences, are common sights in camps. Foods served at the orientation camps is best compared to the junk the biblical prodigal son ate in the distant land of his wastage (Luke 15:11–32), simply because the top ‘men’ of the organization allegedly embezzle chunk of the appropriated logistics funds with impunity.
On November 29 2016, Miss Ifedolapo Oladepo died in the NYSC Camp in Kano state due to poor health facility. She was a first class graduate of Transport Management from Ladoke Akintola university of Technology. Her kidney was failing, but the Doctors at the Camp were busy loading her with antimalarial drugs. Please don’t blame them, they are fresh graduates — Corps Member Doctors who just rounded off their housemanship training. They are the cheap Labour NYSC uses in Camp Clinics. Similarly, on December 1 the same year another First Class graduate of Petroleum Engineering from the University of Uyo, Mr. Ukeme Monday, died in Zamfara State orientation camp. In addition to his First Class certificate, it was learnt that Monday had also won four scholarships and other top academic prizes as a student. That is to say two “First Class” Corps Members Died in NYSC Camps 48 hours apart, due to lack of proper medical facilities that could take care of their basic diagnosis and treatment. How can such concentration camps impact sense of forgiveness and reconciliation on the mind of the youths who are meant to preach the gospel of national unity to the wider society by their own examples? On the contrary, exposure to such unfriendly environment engenders ferocious anger and hostility. But surprisingly, Nigerians are Spartan survivors. The Corps members would just exhibit Fela’s satire of “suffering and smiling”, and life goes on. As you read this some ambassadors of the scheme in some corners might be getting agitated, arguing that there had been some goodies harvested from the program since inception. That is a fact! There is no such thing as absolute evil.
That NYSC have some gains is a palpable truth. But juxtaposed with its innumerable disadvantages, the scheme is due for cremation in our national archives. David Owaboye, in an article published in Punch newspaper on February 7, 2017 observed: “We all know, the scheme does not create revenue for the governments but rather milks the government of huge amount of money in paying the staffs and taking care of the corps members. Due to the recent recession in the economy, the scheme became more threatened.” For the NYSC scheme to fully actualize its purpose, under the harsh economic atmosphere of Nigeria, certain reforms need to be put in place. Federal Government should charge agencies for the services of corps members assigned to them. These employers of labour should be made to buy licence before corps members can be posted to their organisations and these licences will be renewed either monthly or yearly to enable the Federal Government increase corps members’ allowances by 50 per cent. Also, a policy should be made for every state to be accountable for corps members deployed to their state. Therefore, all states should be able to pay allowances to their corps members and provide maximum security for them. More so, to foster the purpose of this scheme, let every corps member be posted to their Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) according to their course of study. Graduates of Education Faculty should be posted to schools, graduates of management sciences be posted to finance sectors just as Medical and Health Corps members are placed in hospitals.
This will foster economic growth in Nigeria. The Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development program of the scheme, which was initiated to reposition corps members for challenges ahead and make them self-reliant/independent should be expanded and loans be readily made available to corps members with ideas and innovations in their selected skills. Anything less, NYSC should be embalmed, recycled and interred. This will help spare our country and her youths of the ungodly stress of having to waste one calendar year and innumerable resources in a scheme that runs on botched values. What becomes of about fifteen thousand employees of the scheme you would ask? Well, if all these errors bedeviling NYSC prove incurable then it will only be safer for government to set up an interim management committee that will see to its winding down and subsequent re-absorption of its numerous staff members into the ministry of youths and sports and the dormant National Directorate of Employment (NDE).
May daylight spare us.
• Jude Eze a medical laboratory Scientist, Columnist and Public Affairs Analyst writes from Lagos. He can be reached via. firstname.lastname@example.org