It may be recalled that on Friday 26th January 1996, The Gambia National Youth Service Scheme (GNYSS) was officially launched by the then chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC), Captain Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh. This came as a result of the coordinated efforts of the NYSC technical experts deployed to The Gambia on biennial basis through the Nigerian Technical Aid Corps (TAC). Thus, it appears at the time of the founding of the GNYSS that NYSC seems to be one of the indirect instruments of concretizing and furthering Nigerian foreign relations in the sub region through TAC.
Though the NYSC helped in founding of the GNYSS in 1996; attempt at establishing a national youth service scheme in The Gambia has a long history. The idea was first envisaged in the first national youth policy of 1989, during the administration of President Dauda Jawara. After a pilot survey, the first batch of fifty corps participants were mobilized in 1990 and the second batch of 1993 was made up of about one hundred youths. This move was abruptly interrupted in 1994 by the military coup that brought Captain Yahya Jammeh to power.
The former Executive Director of the GNYSS and the Director of Planning/and Deputy Permanent Secretary Ministry of Youth and Sports, Musa Mbaye, was among the first batch of fifty youths mobilized in 1990. The structure and operation of the GNYSS at the time was comparable to a Boy Scout activity, aimed at job creation and leadership training.
The time of mobilisation of the second batch of the experimented national youth service in The Gambia coincided with the First Global Youth Conference held in Racine, Wisconsin, USA from 18th to 21st June 1992. The incredible appearance of the NYSC led to the hosting of the second edition of the Global Conference in Abuja in 1994. At the Abuja conference, The Gambian delegates were led by Mrs Amina Faal-Sonko, the then Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture of the country.
It may be recalled that the communiqué of the 1994 conference called on nations without a standing or viable national youth service to do so without delay. Thus, the military government of The Gambia in 1995 directed the Ministry of Youth and Sports to come up with a proposal for the establishment of a national youth programme. It may be interesting to note that prior to the directive, the Zambia had tried to help The Gambia, but failed because the country’s mode is not well structured compared to Nigeria’s NYSC.
In search of a modest scheme, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture of The Gambia set up a task force to embark on a global tour of national youth service schemes. At the end, the NYSC was adjudged the best.
Aminah Faal-Sonko observed with glee, thus: Members of The Gambian Study Team that visited America, Europe, the Middle East and a number of African countries in search of a model youth service scheme for The Gambia, were unanimous in their report that the NYSC in Nigeria is the best organized Youth Service Programme in the world.
Following this finding, the Gambian authorities in 1995 put forward a request to the NYSC through the Directorate of the Nigerian Technical Aid Corps. The request may be broadly categorized into two, namely; training and personnel; training focuses on: (a)short- term attachments and (b) study tours, while the personnel focuses on (a) one administrator and (b) five field coordinators.
Consequent upon the consideration and approval of the above, four batches of NYSC technical experts were deployed to The Gambia between 1996 and 2004. The first batch (1996-1998) was made up of six NYSC officials namely; Gregory Kas Enegwea, Mr. Anthony A. Enweonwu (of the blessed memory), Mr. E.E. Akinola, Mr. Nuhu S. Kwaghe, Solomon O. Ochim and Mrs. Victoria Ango.
Gregory Kas Enegwea – the leader of the first group or team, was sent ahead to The Gambia for a two- month preliminary analysis of the nature and expectations of the Scheme. It was the preliminary analysis that gave birth to GNYSS in its entirety. Enegwea summarizes the exercise in the following words:
At the course of the preliminary studies, I discovered that Zambia had tried to help establish a national youth service scheme for The Gambia but failed because theirs have no structure. So, what I did was to conceive a scheme modeled after the Nigerian NYSC and to borrow ideas from Ghana national youth service (which has two sets; one for degree graduate and another for non-graduates) and Tirelo Setshaba of Botswana. Thus, I set up a scheme for The Gambia focusing on school dropouts and WASSC holders, because when I and my team members went there, there was no university in The Gambia, before one could talk of establishing a scheme that could mobilize graduate youths. More so, it is the young school dropouts which poses the greatest challenge to the society that The Gambian authorities want to engage in skill acquisition through GNYSS.
As noted, this groundwork assignment made possible the launching of the GNYSS on Friday, 26th January, 1996. The second batch (1998-2000) was made up of Mr. Gabriel Ojo Alonge, Habibu O. Kurawa and the late Miss. Dorothy Ogbudu. Mr. Gabriel Ojo Alonge was the leader of the team. The third batch (2000-2002) was made up of three NYSC staff; Miss. Funke Eniola O. Ambekemo, Chief Gregory Anya and Mr. Adamu Emmanuel and fourth batch (2002 – January, 2005) which was the last was made up of two NYSC experts namely; Mr. Aloysius O. Idoga and Miss Tete Ukpong. These subsequent ones consolidated on the activities of the first batch.
Having said these, it is good to note that the nomination of experts was done without the knowledge of the officers underscoring their resourcefulness, innovativeness and culture of discipline at work that was required to be reproduced in the West Africa sub-region of The Gambia. They were seen as model and perfect representations of the NYSC and Nigeria at large. This image they sustained throughout their stay and are up to date, NYSC is remembered and celebrated in the Republic of The Gambia.
In short, The Gambia as it is, has reciprocated to Nigeria in several ways. Other African countries where Nigeria had labored so much in one way or the other should learn lessons from The Gambia in giving due honour to Nigeria in this era of diplomacy of reciprocity and consequence. This 27-year-old story remains crucial in the commemorative events of NYSC at 50.
NYSC, The Gambia and GNYSS salute thee!
Dr Godwin Onuh Odeh, Senior Lecturer in the Department of History, Sokoto State University, Sokoto