by Godwin Onuh Odeh
The comment by Brigadier-General Ibrahim Shauibu, the NYSC Director-General has generated wide reactions from Nigerians. The call is timely and not out of place. This maybe justified by the concept and ideas of National Service, the objective of the NYSC Scheme itself which society seems to have lost sight of, which the current DG has been working to ensure the organization regains its traditional mandate.
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These with the idea of the military reserve may support or prove right the DG’s comment. First, the alleged comment by the DG is right and consistent with the Emeritus Director of the American National Service, Donald J. Eberly’s conception of National Service as:
(a) Way to make the military draft more equitable,
(b) Way to ease the problem of youth employment,
(c) Citizen responsibility and,
(d) Form of experiential education.
These perception form and inform the basis of the ideas of “Moral Equivalent of War”, “Service- Leaning” and “National Service as a Way of Strengthening Ties among the People of the World” espoused by William James, John Dewy and Rosenstock-Huessy.
The DG comment under review may be perfectly situated within the context of William James’ view in particular. William James in 1906 in his “Moral Equivalent of War” speech proposed military conscription labour for a short duration of time for constructive engagement and services against the backdrop of the enormous energy young people possesses. The conscription advocated is not for the entire youth population, but fitted ones. This would further help channelling youthful energy from destructive ventures such as gangsterism and hooliganism to productive engagements for a safer society.
William Shakespeare and the famous Italian Mazzini appear to have shared similar view with James. Shakespeare defines youthful age, thus: “…then a soldier, (i.e the youth), full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard; jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation, even in the cannon’s mouth.” Mazzini, on the other hands buttresses this thus: “place the youth at the head of insurgent multitude; you know not the secret of the power hidden in those youthful hearts nor the magic influence exercised on the masses by the voice of the youth. You find among the youth a host of apostles of the new religion”. To William James, therefore military training and orientation would knock out or eliminate elements of childishness in the youths and transforms them to healthier citizens to be able to fight for the course of the society. The inculcated sense of discipline no doubt underscores crux of the military and paramilitary packages in the NYSC’s three weeks orientation/camping period. Paragraph (a) and (c) of NYSC founding objective aptly captured this thus: (a) “to inculcate discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work, and of patriotic and royal service to the nation in any situation they find themselves” and paragraph (c) “to develop in them the attitude of mind acquired through shared experience and suitable training which will make them more amenable to mobilization in the national interest”.
On the final note, the concept, idea and objective of NYSC positions corps members as reserve army. The idea of reserve army first appeared in Marxist literature in the 18th century. In Karl Marx’s understanding, reserve army is to serve two purposes; one regulating labour by foreseeable danger, and secondly, supplying labour for sudden expansion. This might be what the NYSC DG saw by advocating for mobilization of crops members for war to supplement the activities of security enforcement agents in the fight against insecurity. The United States for instance, reserved army or military reserve made up of retirees that are often fall back on when security needs arises.
Against this backdrop and the constantly changing and expanding security challenges in the twenty-first century it has become increasingly significant NYSC Scheme in the context of security puts into practice paragraph (a) and (c) of its founding objective enumerated above by improving on the military drilling and training for possible engagement. This is not to say corps members should be sent to Sambisa forest as some allege. After all, how many army officers are in the Sambisa.
Corps members may be deployed with other security operatives to work together for the peace of the nation, which is the core of “national interest”, it is expected they are amenable to. The collaboration and synergy would boost the numerical strength of the military to enhance performance. One, therefore, wonders why it should be thought incredible to get corps members mobilized for security engagement. After all, not all corps members are fit for the engagement and even the fitted ones, some upon completion of national service might be interested in Short Service Commission (SSC) or Direct Short Service Commission (DSSC) in the military. The challenge thus is the restoration of feeling of nationalism and patriotism to the hearts of the youths, which if done would make them more amenable for mobilization for security engagement. The DG NYSC therefore was not wrong in his alleged comment of mobilizing corps members for war; neither did he mean sending corps members to Sambisa.
Dr. Godwin Onuh Odeh is a specialist in NYSC Studies and teaches in Department of History, Sokoto State University, Sokoto