In this exclusive piece, ionigeria correspondent, Gbenga Odunsi — in separate interviews — sought reactions of Nigerians on the mandatory one-year NYSC scheme.
“Youth obey the clarion call. Let us lift our nation high. Under the sun or in the rain. With dedication and selflessness, Nigeria is ours, Nigeria we serve.”
Every year, thousands of youths graduating from the Universities and Polytechnics within and outside the country are mandated to participate in the one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
It is approximately that time of the year again when fresh graduates nationwide begin another chapter of struggle after passing through stress to get degree certificates. They are preparing to be mobilized for the mandatory National Youth Service. In the next couple of weeks, the graduates will be in different camps of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
The average Nigerian student goes to school and spends, at least, four years – that is if he is not an engineering, law or medical student who should complete his studies between 5 – 7 years.
The NYSC scheme, a once in a lifetime experience, which every young graduate yearns for, was established on 22nd May, 1973 by the administration of General Yakubu Gowon, the then Head of State – by Decree 24 to promote unity and develop ethnic ties among youth from the various states of the Federation.
The decree, which has been repealed and replaced by Decree 15 of June 16, 1993, states further, “the purpose of the scheme is primarily to inculcate in Nigerian youths the spirit of selfless service to the community and to emphasize the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social background.”
The NYSC is perceived as a scheme that fostered unity and encourages understanding among tribes that make up Nigeria. It also allowed interaction and union (in the form of marriage) of people who never had a history of meeting. It was designed to make the youths contribute to the development of the nation. Forty-four years down the line, is the programme adding value to the nation and to the youth who mandatorily spend one year of their lives “serving” the nation?
Ionigeria investigation, however, has revealed that very few Nigerians believe in the values listed above – With the right amount of money, one can “buy” his or her choice of state. A fresh graduate thinks of how he can fit into the society quick enough to pay back his parents’ investments on him throughout his school days. He has siblings that depend on him for various domestic help but then, the nation is saying he should go to a far-flung community to serve, says Babalola, a youth corper in Oyo State.
With a ‘what-are-you-talking-about look’, Okonkwo, a youth corper explained ionigeria that “Like most of our national projects, the scheme is fast declining in value and usefulness. It is no longer shocking that the scheme is broke with funds barely sufficient to cater for the young graduates presented for national youth service. Food/structural facilities, essential for the up-keep of corps members are grossly deficient in some orientation camps.”
Against the glorious past of secured primary places of assignment, corps members now struggle with the problem of rejection. In desperate attempt to secure the few available ‘juicy’ placements, many now use personal influence such as letters from well connected ‘powerful’ individuals to secure favourable postings. It is, of course, sad to note that the crop of corps members that are to reconstruct and rebuild the nation’s economy are idle with unutilized potentials.
Indeed, the major reason for establishing the national service programme was to build cohesion among the different nationalities that make up the country by posting “Corpers” out of their places of study and origin.
According to Bassey, he was posted to the North but after the mandatory three weeks orientation, she changed her posting to Ogun State at the cost of N150, 000. Some even pay to get their certificate without actually serving!
A staff of the NYSC – a friend of ionigeria reporter – who pleaded anonymity condemned the scheme in totality. According to him, he would not advise any responsible graduate to allow himself posted to any Northern state. He further describes the programme as a colossal waste of time, money and our youths.
“There is also a lot of division in the country now. Ethnicity and religion have been pushed so much to the fore. So what is the relevance of the NYSC scheme?”
In spite of many Nigerians calling for a scrap of the NYSC programme, some are of the opinion that the scheme is still of relevance and has improved ethnicity differences in numerous ways.
Adesewa Fola noted that the fact that the scheme was established to promote unity irrespective of state of origin, tribe, or religion is fantastic! According to her, in a country where some people would easily draw on stereotypes when dealing with someone from another tribe instead of using sense, it’s great to know that the NYSC was created to build bonds between all Nigerians from different backgrounds.
“Corpers get to learn from different cultures which might be different from that which they learned at home.
“What I love most about the whole scheme is the opportunity to contribute and help people in different communities. This could be seen through the CDS initiative where one person I interviewed told me she felt she was making a real difference in people’s lives. So perhaps, the NYSC scheme is really a great initiative and meets most of its objectives.”
Umoru Aaron believes that the NYSC scheme is still relevant to the Nigerian society and argues against critics of the scheme, who want it scraped on account of lack of relevance to meet with the demands of today, saying, “I believe that the nation remains indebted to the scheme, especially those corps members, who paid the supreme price during the programme. It is a disservice to this great country for anyone to discourage graduates from participating in the scheme.”
Umoru is of the opinion that if the scheme is scrapped, it would do more harm than good to Nigeria’s social and economic integration. He, therefore, calls for a restructuring of the scheme for its stability and continuity relevance.
As a recruiter, fresh graduate recruitment is mostly about identifying their leadership qualities because they are generally inexperienced. The Youth Service period always provides opportunities for Youth Corpers to showcase their innate leadership skills and also build on their current leadership skills. However, the most interesting thing about being a ‘Youth Corper’ is that the ‘youth’ part plays a prominent role in modeling what they become in the future either in their professional careers or in their businesses when they end up being entrepreneurs, says Adedeji Omotayo.
Abubakar Ibrahim, 59, told ionigeria that what the youth does not realize is that the NYSC concept provides a lot of opportunities for them to showcase their leadership skills at various levels in the service.
“The NYSC concept is an opportunity to either showcase the leadership qualities or build on it.
“Such qualities must have been demonstrated while growing up first as Prefects in their Primary and Secondary Schools and even at religious or social gatherings. Such skills are expected to be either identified or developed further during the youth service period.”
Has the NYSC programme lost its essence or is the nation going through a major revolution that is invariably affecting the usefulness of the program? Both angles should be considered. But should the program be scrapped because of these two factors? It remains an answer with a lot of twist and turns.