I was opportuned to be at a forum where the pioneer National Director (presently called Director General) of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Rtd. Col. Dr. Ahmadu Ali, OON shared an interesting story, as well as his first-hand experience of what ensued in Nigeria shortly after the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon announced decree No. 24 on 22 May 1973, which established the NYSC.
Ali, a very jovial elder statesman who many years after retiring from the army joined politics, was elected as senator and later became a one-time national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said that university students were disenchanted by the news of birth of the programme owing to misconceptions they had.
According to him, one of such misapprehensions was the notion held among the students that the one-year mandatory national service was a way of delaying them from grabbing white-collar jobs that were readily available. He also said the students were disgruntled because they felt they had to wait for 12 months before they would begin to enjoy free well-furnished houses and official cars that came along with jobs in those days. Hence, they had to find a way of registering their displeasure in a language the government would understand better and quicker, to ensure discontinuation of the idea.
He continued the story by saying that students consequently embarked on peaceful protests that later metamorphosed into riots, which led to destruction of property across campuses. The unrest escalated beyond campuses to streets in major cities and towns all over the country. It reached a stage that a slogan, “Ali Must Go” was coined to press home the demand for the baby (NYSC) to be killed even before its birth.
The most hilarious part of the Kogi state born icon’s story was, as he was driving in Lagos one fateful day while the pandemonium lasted, he came across some protesters who barricaded roads and forced every passerby to chant Ali Must Go. On reaching one of those barricades, the people there didn’t even know how to chant Ali Must go. Instead they were chanting “Ali mon go! Ali mon go!” So, he joined them in chanting “Ali mon go!” until they allowed his vehicle to pass. Few meters from the barricade, he stopped and asked some of the protesters “Please, who is this Ali and what did he do?” They responded “We don’t know him or what he did. But he must go.” Meanwhile, he was the Ali in question.
To buttress people’s vehement antagonism towards the formation of NYSC in 1973, the founder, General Dr. Yakubu Gowon Rtd while speaking in Abuja as Chairman at a sensitisation workshop on the NYSC Act, Cap N84 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria under the theme, ‘NYSC: Call to service’ said “When my administration established the NYSC with the promulgation of Decree No 24 of May 22, 1973, the objective was to ensure that Nigeria remained an indivisible entity that would be focused on sustainable development. Though, the establishment of the scheme was followed by a protest throughout the length and breadth of the country.”
Paradoxically, in 2008, something interesting happened in this country with regards to university students’ participation in national service. NYSC that year through its Director General, Brigadier General Yusuf Bomoi of blessed memory announced that its budget for the year was inadequate to mobilise the number of graduates turned out, owing to the proliferation of corps producing institutions. Hence there was need for such ivory towers to fashion out modalities of presenting number of graduates that the Scheme had funds to mobilise.
The announcement didn’t go down well with students of tertiary institutions, who were eagerly anticipating call-up for service. Hence, demonstrations were held in campuses across the country, which prompted the then president, Late Umaru Musa Yar’adua to intervene by approving supplementary budget for the NYSC; and all eligible graduates got mobilised.
You may be wondering “Why this narrative?” The answer is simple. To inform you that NYSC is Nigeria’s most beautiful bride after its 50 years of existence.
It is true that just like in the wake of its establishment in 1973; there are some people who are calling for the scrapping of NYSC today. In fact, Hon Awaji-Inombek Abiante sponsored a bill during the 9th Assembly, calling for NYSC’s discontinuation, listing insecurity in the country, incessant killing of corps members and inability of firms to retain corps members after service due to failing economy as some of the reasons why the NYSC should be scrapped.
It is a fact that the entire global community is grappling with various forms of security challenges like kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry and the like. This goes to show that NYSC as a human institution, involved in human activities doesn’t have immunity from whatever form of insecurity facing us. Hence, insecurity should not be a ground on which anyone should call for the scrapping of NYSC or any other vital organ of our nation.
As a matter of fact, we as a people should rather focus on assessing NYSC and think of how to make it more functional in meeting the objectives for its establishment. I stand bold to say that a close look at the monumental contributions of NYSC to our national life will reveal to all and sundry that the only call that is necessary is for everyone to applaud the Scheme with a standing ovation.
It is not news that NYSC has remained a major needle and thread that has held this country firmly knitted as an indivisible entity, taking into cognizance its role in promoting national unity and integration. Testimonies abound of countless Nigerians who but for NYSC wouldn’t have found themselves in other parts of the country. They didn’t just go, served and returned to their familiar terrains; they remained in their new-found communities, got married, settled down and are doing booming trades.
Frankly speaking, the amazing contributions of NYSC to the all-round of Nigeria’s development cannot be overemphasised. To say the least, the Scheme has through its four cardinal programmes tremendously added to the progress of this great nation.
The four cardinal programmes are: Orientation course, Primary Assignment, Community Development Service, Winding-up/Passing-out.
Lest I forget, one important function NYSC has been doing over the years in the lives of Nigerian youths but seldom gets mentioned is “Character molding”. It is commonly said during convocation or graduation ceremonies that graduates are awarded certificates in attestation to the fact that they have been proven worthy in “Character and Leaning”. Truth be told, a good number of today’s graduates are grossly malnourished in character.
One can safely say that the present day NYSC is a major burden-lifter for the government and the entire citizenry because it serves as a bridge between the academic environment and the wide wild world. The least we can do is to support this beautiful bride to become more glamorous and radiant.
One sure way of doing so is by beckoning on the President to sign into law, the long awaited NYSC Trust Fund so that the Scheme can have enough funds to adequately tackle some of the challenges militating against its smooth operations.
Philibus wrote from Press and Public Relations Unit, National Youth Service Corps Directorate Headquarters, Abuja