The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was established by Decree No.24 of 22nd May, 1973, now quoted as NYSC CAP N84, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
Taking a walk down memory lane, General Yakubu Gowon, the Head of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria from 1st August, 1966 to 29th July, 1975 in his Independence anniversary broadcast on 1st October, 1972 announced government’s plans to establish the National Youth Service Corps as a follow-up action of sorts to the 3 Rs of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, enunciated by government to speed up the healing process of a country recovering from the throes of a thirty-months civil war that started 6th July, 1967 and ended, 15th January, 1970, leaving in its wake, millions of casualties on both sides of the conflict.
It was on the cessation of hostilities that the then leadership of the country came to the realisation that it would take more than the staccato of gunfire, the rolling of tanks and the booming of bazooka to hold the numerous ethnic nationalities making up the entity, Nigeria into a unified whole.
Unity and peaceful coexistence cannot be decreed. Therefore, a pathway to this, government rightly thought should be to create a sustainable platform that would engender mutual trust, respect and understanding among the youths which will foster national unity.
Thus, the announcement of the establishment of the Corps, which would afford university graduates that veritable platform to begin the process of nation building resulted in protests by the students who felt that dedicating one whole year to the service of the fatherland would be an unnecessary waste of time, as many of them were to secure white collar jobs upon graduation from the universities.
There is no gainsaying the fact that as at then, many graduating students had up to two or more job offers. Employers would flood the universities to interview graduating students for possible employment. Interestingly, available job vacancies outstripped the number of graduating students.
Hence, the acquisition of a university degree was a passport to better life, given the fact that on getting employed, a three bedroom flat and a vehicle loan awaited the employee which explains the anger and frustration of the students at the thought of getting “conscripted” into the so-called national service.
On the other hand, their parents, relatives and guardians were apprehensive; and gravely concerned about their safety, given that the country had just emerged from a bloody conflict, which made journey outside one’s cultural zone seemingly precarious.
Indeed, parents expressed genuine concerns, as inter-ethnic suspicions were quite high. They felt that the deployment of their children to “far- flunged” areas, was akin to putting them on a slaughter slab which must be resisted.
Besides, they ( parents) were in a hurry to start reaping the fruits of their labour, having made so much sacrifices in order to see their sons and daughters through tertiary education which was a no mean feat.
Be that as it may, the heat generated did not deter the Federal Military Government from going on with the establishment of the NYSC through the promulgation of Decree No. 24 which gave it legal backing.
It is imperative to emphasise that government beamed the searchlight on graduate youths to drive the process of building a renewed Nigeria, in recognition of their enormous strength, and centrality to national development, being the most enlightened class of Nigerian youths.
The university graduates would be yearly mobilised to contribute in building a new nation out of the ashes of the fratricidal war – a new nation founded on egalitarianism, an indivisible and prosperous entity the citizens and Africans would be proud of.
Gratifyingly, on 2nd July, 1973, the first set of corps members, comprising 2,364 graduates who were thirty years of age and below, drawn from the then existing Nigerian universities ( University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello University, and University of Lagos) became the pioneers of the Scheme.
A critical assessment of the Scheme’s 50 years trajectory indicates that it has remained on course as a pivot of national unity and development; and has equally grown in leaps and bounds over the years in numerical strength.
From its humble beginning of 2,364 corps members mobilised at inception, the Scheme at present, mobilises on the average, three hundred and fifty thousand prospective corps members every year for service, thereby making it the biggest youth — mobilisation agency in Africa.
The NYSC has witnessed twenty-two Chief Executives, starting from Col (Dr) Ahmadu Ali rtd to the present Director-General, Brigadier General YD Ahmed.
The Chief Executives variously made impactful contributions to the growth and repositioning of the National Youth Sevice Corps in line with the vision of the founding fathers at their respective time.
As a dynamic institution, the Scheme has continued to evolve over the years, and in reaction to socio-economic stimuli which will be explained.
Today, the National Youth Service Corps is supervised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, with Chief Sunday Dare as the supervising minister.
Doubtlessly, in 50 years, the NYSC has left indelible imprints in the proverbial sands of time, particularly in the spheres of health, education, infrastructural development and advocacies, among others.
The enormous contributions of the Scheme in the area of education cannot be over-emphasised. It is a truism that in some states of the federation, the primary and secondary school systems are sustained by corps members, that if their services are withdrawn, there will be a system collapse.
Remarkably, corps members are found in the remotest parts of the states, where even the natives do not want to work in, imparting knowledge and catering to the healthcare needs of the people.
Similarly, in some rural communities, the only doctors the people have ever seen are corps doctors, who function as Chief Medical Director, and in most instances multitasking.
Their sterling performances in the conduct of past national elections had earned the Scheme commendations from both government and non governmental bodies, including the European Union and some international bodies.
Undeniably, the Scheme in 50 years has continued to make direct positive impact on the lives of corps members, building their character and changing their world view which is usually utopian while in school.
Nonetheless, there appears a silver lining, with the proposed National Youth Service Corps Trust Fund (NYSCTF) which has been passed by the National Assembly, and awaiting presidential assent.
Refreshingly, the trust fund will address the infrastructural deficits besetting the Scheme — dilapidated orientation camps and offices; establishment of more skill acquisition centres, among others.
In 50 years, the Scheme has remained a catalyst for national development, and with the quality of leadership offered by Brigadier General YD Ahmed – led Management; it will obviously continue to break new frontiers, having stepped on the threshold to attain diamond jubilee.
Emeka-Rems Mgbemena, Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, wrote from Abuja