By Uche Amunike
This piece, written by my dear friend, Ikeddy Isiguzo, calls for a review of the NYSC Scheme which has been in existence since the past 27years. Like he said, it is not enough to pay these youth corpers N33,000 per month. What the country should strive to offer them is most importantly, employment after their service year. Nigeria owes them that much. As it stands, most parents are even calling for the scheme to be scraped as it is obvious the motive for which it was created has been defeated. Every year, we lose corpers either via car accidents on their way from their states of domicile to their states of deployment, or to the bullets of herdsmen and terrorists, or one tragic story or the other. Something that no parent deserves to face.
Every year, hundreds of thousands young graduates are sent into different NYSC Camps and yet, their future looks bleak when you look at it from the ordinary man’s point of view. The ordinary man who does not have the connections to get a job for his child fresh from the one-year youth service. The ordinary man who has no access to House Members, or the governor, or politicians that might help give their children jobs. What next, after paying them the N33,000??? That is the question Ikeddy Isiguzo is trying to find answers to in this very interesting piece.
THE National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, that Decree 24 of 22 May 1973 created, ran into trouble early in its life with the departure of its founding fathers. The scheme’s objective centered on “the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”. It had nothing for the youth.
After a grueling Civil War that tore Nigeria’s unity to shreds, the government of General Yakubu Gowon wanted a quick fix for the unity of Nigeria. The NYSC scheme was a brilliant idea in that direction. Thousands of youths served in parts of Nigeria they barely knew, learning new cultures and knowing more about their country. They were generally well received with their hosts providing free accommodation, in most cases.
The scheme provided cheap, but skilled labour for schools, government and private organisations who paid next to thing to have an annual in-flow of graduates for their establishments. The challenges grew as the country’s population of graduates increased.
None of the initial objectives considered the post-service challenges of the youths – principally getting jobs. Corps members in the earlier years, got jobs, sometime in the States where they served. Contracting employment opportunities posed bigger problems to the youth than where they were posted.
When government noticed challenges with the scheme it came up with different ploys to keep the scheme running, one of which was regular increases in allowance of corps members, the most recent being the N33,000 which would soon be swept away by inflation.
The major challenge that corps members face is inability to secure jobs after the scheme. An increase their allowances cannot address it. If anything, being unemployed would be tougher after one year of earning N33,000. The search for jobs is such a priority that it distracts the attention of corps members from their primary assignment.
A more recent challenge for the scheme has been security. Corps members have been killed in conflict areas. Others have been victims of electoral violence and rape. Hostility of some of their hosts is on the ascendancy. The ethnic and religious bias the scheme was supposed to mitigate have assumed new and more dangerous dimensions that require newer ideas to resolve them.
Corruption has seen resources made for scheme’s operations filtered into personal pockets. An NYSC official was jailed in Lagos in 1984 for embezzling the scheme’s funds. Other convictions have followed. The bigger corruption today is in officials demanding bribes for favourable posting and issuances of letters of exemption to unqualified people. A most recent case was the exemption of Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, President Muhmmadu Buhari’s former Minister of Finance from service. There is fledgling business of people getting into the scheme without meeting the educational criteria. Illegal orientation camps were found in Nasarawa State.
Twenty-seven years after Decree 51 of 16 June 1993 reviewed the objectives of the scheme, it is long overdue for another look at the relevance of the scheme with corps members at the centre of the concerns. The 1993 review, just like when the scheme was founded 20 years earlier, dwelt more on platitudes than creating relevance for the youths who are mostly affected by the scheme.
Its reviewed objectives made the youths seem to be the problem of Nigeria instead of its solution. The 1993 objectives, that are still in use, include:
- · 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 may find themselves.
- · To raise the moral tone of Nigerian youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvement
- · To develop in Nigerian youths the attitudes of mind, acquired through shared experience and suitable training. which will make them more amenable to mobilisation in the national interest
- · To develop common ties among Nigerian youths and promote national unity and integration
- · That Nigerian youths are exposed to the modes of living of the people in different parts of Nigeria
- · That Nigerian youths are encouraged to eschew religious intolerance by accommodating religious differences
- · That members of the service corps are encouraged to seek at the end of their one year national service, career employment all over Nigeria, thus promoting the free movement of labour
- .That employers are induced partly through their experience with members of the service corps to employ more readily and on a permanent basis, qualified Nigerians, irrespective of their States of origin.
Noble as these objectives seem, they cannot be implemented in one year during which the youths face uncertainty as they ponder their future when the allowances cease. A lot can be done for them.Governments should see the scheme as a job generating programme by developing integrated agricultural settlements that will become new cities as their populations grow. Corps members in each State would work in the settlements. They would have schools, medical services, mini-processes industries for the agricultural products, and other enterprises that would utilise the skills of corps members.
These would create more employments as they expand and more States build more cities to meet the needs of their rural areas. The cities would generate enough incomes through cooperatives they run with local farmers to pay the corps members who work there. Many corps members would not have any reason to return to the urban areas to search for non-existent jobs.
If governments think along this line, they would turn the NYSC scheme to a rural development agency that would provide jobs for the youths of Nigeria, whose future would be so brightened by their participation in the galvanization of our rural economies that they would no longer be concerned by how much they are paid as NYSC allowance. The Federal Government would also save itself the strain of scratching for resources to pay inevitable increases in allowances.