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NYSC @ 50: Trust Fund initiative better than making the scheme voluntary

As the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) celebrates its 50th anniversary; there are constellations of opinions making a case for its sustenance against the backdrop…

As the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) celebrates its 50th anniversary; there are constellations of opinions making a case for its sustenance against the backdrop of landmark achievements, while others challenge the status quo probably due to the constantly changing national and global realities. Paramount in the opinions garnered that is of interest to this piece, is that advanced by Distinguished Professor Attahiru Jega. On Monday 15th  May 2023, Professor Jega in a lecture as part of activities marking the scheme’s 50th anniversary, spoke on the theme: “Five Decades of Fostering Unity and Development” and averred that NYSC be reconfigured as “Voluntary programme for Nigerian graduates”. It should be pointed out from the onset that there is something unique about the mandatory nature of NYSC which has endeared it to people and earned it national and global prominence.

Had the scheme been made voluntary from the onset, it wouldn’t have achieved and reached where it is today. In short, its mandatory nature made it compelling for final year students of producing institutions and instills in corps participants a sense of diligence, dedication, discipline and responsibility underscoring the regimented lifestyle inherited from the military that still occupied a colossus space in the management of the scheme’s affairs. Making it voluntary in the century therefore, appears synonymous with the theology of having begun in spirit but ending in the flesh, which spells doom and disaster.

More importantly, evidence gleaned from the principle and practice of national youth service across the globe shows that NYSC remained the best organized national youth service in the world since the mid-1990s. Aminah Faal-Sonko, buttresses this 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”.

The above re-echoed in 2018 while on a study tour in The Gambia and I was told by Mr. Mohammed Koroma, the Accountant of the Gambia National Youth Service Scheme (GNYSS) that:“ NYSC cannot be compare with any other national youth services; comparing it with others is like comparing the living and the dead which is wrong”.

It is against the above background that NYSC stands out and appears taller than several national youth services that are essentially voluntary in nature and even among the mandatory ones. Examples of both services which NYSC even remained the best are as include; the Senegalese National Youth Civic Service founded in 1997; Burkina Faso National Programme  established in 2005 and the Liberia National Youth Volunteers Service Programme  founded  in 2007, among others.

In short, despite loads of criticisms and barrage of suggestions, NYSC at fifty has made impressive marks across sections of the Nigerian society and has become a household name in the country. The struggle, sustenance and successes of NYSC are no doubt, a cumulative effect of triumph of optimism over pessimism and of professionalism over mediocrity.

It is imperative to note that the central aim of the scheme from whatever perspective one may view it  remains youth mobilization for accelerated and integrated national development, which is in line with the theme of its 50th anniversary noted earlier. The significant point of departure of the thesis here with Professor Jega’s is, rather than making NYSC voluntary which epitomizes loss of strength and vigour; it should be systematically unbundled through the NYSC Trust Fund package. This is crucial because for youth development to become a historical reality, Nigerian graduates particularly those previously mobilized and serving corps members ought to be consciously and deliberately empowered, as development of any kind is not a child of natural growth. As a matter fact, it is widely noted that the degree of graduate unemployment and involvement in social crime due to the already overloaded 21st century labour market is alarming. The logical  consequence of this is the social, economic and political displacement of Nigerian youth and graduates, which Ban ki-Moon, aptly captured in his grief that: “a large number of youth have no immediate prospects and are disenfranchised from the political, social and development processes in their countries. Without urgent measure, we risk creating a lost generation of squandered talents and dreams”. The point is, NYSC Trust Fund is capable of standing on challenges of the youth on the head.

More so, decades ago within the stretch of NYSC’s history at fifty, upon completion of the compulsory one year national youth service, only 5.7 per cent of the graduates received offers of employment; 60 to 70 per cent spent up to thirteen to fourteen months; 14 per cent spent two to three years, while some never got a government job at all. Sadly, rather than ameliorating, the entire scenario appears degenerating in the twenty first century. Thus, a well over 70 million unemployed Nigerians essentially drawn from the youth population is becoming like a dynamite awaiting explosion.

There is an urgent need to factor in youth empowerment and capacity building in the operations of NYSC as done by the Trust Fund. The Nigerian experience too has shown that adults head and lead the state politically, while youths dominate and lead technologically. Youth therefore, are more creative, innovative and enterprising than the adult though, they have over the years been bereaved of needed support. The point is, unemployment makes youth vulnerable to crime as evidence would have one believe. As a result, it is severally argued that the “most important democracy is democracy of empowerment” meaning, the most important democracy and government is that which offers jobs to the youth population.

Against the background of the plight of the Nigerian graduates, the idea of the NYSC Trust Fund initiated during Major General Ibrahim Shuaibu’s years comes into sharp focus and remains the best way to go rather than making the scheme voluntary for Nigerian graduates as espoused or theorized by Professor Jega. After all, as noted, test cases of voluntary schemes show they have not fared better than the NYSC. The focus of the NYSC Trust Fund which is fundamentally situated within the ideas of the National Youth Service in line with global best practices, include the following; addressing infrastructural deficit in the orientation camps; adequate provision of operational logistics, welfare of corps members, and capacity building as well as addressing problems of graduate unemployment in Nigeria and other related functions as may be prescribed from time to time. This is of utmost relevance towards strengthening the institution of NYSC at fifty. Finally, it may be interesting to note that some schemes elsewhere in Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe, have what is known as National Youth Revolving Funds, which NYSC Trust Fund would take care of. Thus, the National Assembly and the Federal Government as a whole should give all the necessary legal backing and kits for the takeoff and operation of the NYSC Trust Fund (NTF) as the scheme celebrates its golden jubilee.

Dr Godwin Onuh Odeh, is a senior lecturer and Specialist in NYSC and Youth Studies, Department of History, Sokoto State University, Sokoto

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