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As NYSC clocks 50…

Fifty years after it was established in 1973 by the military government of General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) has been…

Fifty years after it was established in 1973 by the military government of General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) has been integrated into Nigeria’s national psyche; it is perceived as one of the country’s social assets for national development.  The inspiration for the NYSC scheme came from four sources: the United States Peace Corps scheme; the British Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) and Tanzania’s Ujama Programme.

The scheme became important for bringing together young Nigerians who had completed undergraduate programmes in Nigerian universities, after the fractious civil war, 1967 – 1970, which created grief, anger and bitterness across the country.

With its military orientation, the NYSC was set up primarily to facilitate national cohesion. However, it has many other objectives, among them the following: “To inculcate discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work, and of patriotic and loyal service to Nigeria in any situation they find themselves; to raise the moral tone of the Nigerian youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvement; to develop in the Nigerian youths the attitudes of mind, acquired through shared experience and suitable training, which will make them more amenable to mobilization in the national interest; and to enable Nigerian youths to acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self-employment…”

In the last 50 years, the scheme has lived up to its billing to an extent. Members of the NYSC have provided the bulk of the ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the conduct of elections at both national and sub-national levels. The electoral umpire has found them to be more impartial and nationalistic-minded than other ad hoc staff deployed for elections previously.

In many secondary schools across the country, NYSC members filled in the yawning space created by the scarcity of teachers in secondary schools, polytechnics and colleges of education. Many educational institutions across the country eagerly wait for the deployment of fresh batches of NYSC members to fill their manpower needs. In like manner, graduates from the faculties of health in Nigeria’s higher institutions, among them NYSC members who are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, etc  fill in the gap created by the lack of medical personnel in rural hospitals.

Other members of the scheme mobilize funds for community projects in rural areas. In no small measure, the advantages of the NYSC scheme are numerous, though there are still areas of concern. To date, there is the issue of disunity which ought to have been tackled by the scheme. We still have youths who are skeptical of serving in some parts of the country. They do everything possible to ensure that they are posted to certain areas as against other areas. This is an area that needs to be worked on to ensure unity of the country which is one of the cardinal objectives of the scheme.

After 50 years, it is time for those in the leadership and management cadres of the NYSC to rethink its objectives and strategies, in the light of several factors. The Nigeria of 1973 is not the same as the Nigeria of 2023, in terms of population, economic indices, education, and opportunities.

In its early days in the 1970s, when Dr Amadu Ali, a retired colonel and former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was its Executive Director, the scheme was resisted because it was seen as creating an unnecessary delay for graduates to enter into the world of work and begin to earn salaries. At that time, there were enough facilities to make life comfortable for members of the scheme in all parts of the country; graduates were respected and they were proud to participate in it; and to many, NYSC provided a seamless transition from their studies to employment.

Today, the story is totally different. The dilapidated infrastructure at NYSC orientation camps; lack of lodges for NYSC members; lack of places of primary assignments; half-hearted leadership and management of the scheme; insecurity; and allegations of corruption, have defaced and diminished the enthusiasm of  many Nigerian youths to participate in the scheme.

The NYSC management must rise to the occasion and  ensure judicious use of its annual budgets in such a way that its facilities are up to standard. The NYSC can also consider partnerships with organisations in Nigeria and international donors in the area of funding and entrepreneurship training and internship opportunities for corps members. That way, corps members can be independent after the service year instead of joining the already populated unemployment group.

Furthermore, we urge the private sector to support the scheme by continuously accepting corps members into their organisations. No doubt, the NYSC needs all the support it can get to make it relevant to Nigeria today and tomorrow.

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