Nigeria will slide more into disintegration if NYSC is scrapped, says varsity don
Assistant Director, Cladue Ake School of Government, University of Port Harcourt, DR. SOFIRI JOAB-PETERSIDE, told KELVIN EBIRI that Nigeria risk sliding into integration if NYSC scheme is scrapped. He argued that given the inherent contradictions bedevilling and threatening the existence of the country, this is not the best time to discontinue the programme.
With the downturn in the Nigerian economy, shouldn’t the NYSC programme be scrapped?
The economic crunch or the crisis in the Nigerian State at the moment makes it more expedient that the programme should be continued. Since its creation (NYSC), it is correct that our country is more divided than ever. If in the thick of this kind of programme, we still have this difficulty and the country is still going this way, imagine what would have happened, if the scheme is not there at all.
You have graduates who come from states like Zamfara to Rivers to serve and there are people from here who are in other parts of the country to serve their fatherland. I think the programme was well intended. Even though the country is not at war, but I think that given the crisis bedeviling the Nigerian State, I don’t think that this is the best time to discontinue the programme. If the funding is a problem, I think that what is required, is that the present government should provide an economic blueprint of how it intends to turn the economy around and not to shy away from its responsibility. The NYSC scheme is important. If NYSC is discontinued, this country will slide deeper into crisis than it is now.
Nigerians are more divided today than when the NYSC was introduced. Will you say the scheme still relevant?
My argument is that if you say the country is more divided now than ever, I don’t think you will solve the problem if you say the programme should be discontinued, even though, it has its own challenges. For instance, there are parents who don’t want their children to be posted to the North East of the country, and all that. In some cases, corps members have become victims of the crisis in that region. I think there are certain things that can still be done to consolidate on the unity of this country, even though some people are yearning that we should go our different ways. We have to do whatever we can, to make sure that nagging problems gearing towards disintegration are addressed.
But then, killing of corps members in some Northern states and Rivers during elections makes the programme unappealing to some parents?
No one can deny that there is some joy derived from wearing the NYSC uniform and being seen as serving your fatherland, but there is need for some caution. Conflict and violence are inevitable in society. What we should canvass is that the polity needs to be redesigned to contain violence. It shouldn’t be on the basis of violence and attacks on corps members that the programme can be discontinued or for lack of funds. If majority of our representatives thinks otherwise, because there is a law establishing it, so be it. But I don’t think we should discontinue with the programme. There is an Act establishing the NYSC and the only way to end it is to repeal the Act.
Those opposed to the NYSC scheme, will argue that the programme is riddled with corruption. For instance, prospective corps members pay N6000 to register and access their posting, only to find out that they share same registration pin with someone else?
Can that be a basis for the programme to be scrapped? Every institution of the Nigerian state is characterised by corruption. There is one form of corruption or the other. Addressing the nagging problem of corruption is key. That should not be the basis for discontinuing the programme.
If government claims it is fighting corruption, then, the fight against corruption should be total. Corruption is endemic and this corruption is not industry or institute specific. Corruption has penetrated every facet of the Nigerian state. NYSC is just a tip of the iceberg. There are several other state institutions that have been enmeshed in corruption and still very corrupt. Corruption should not be a basis for an institution that is very necessary for the survival of this country, to be scrapped. There is no Nigerian President who has not had one issue of corruption or the other. So, NYSC is not the only institution that is facing the problem of corruption.
All of us have had experience through the NYSC programme. If not for the NYSC some of the life experiences we have had, we wouldn’t have had. If a certain segment of the country does not want the programme to continue, like I said, it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to look at the issues and call for public hearing. If majority want the programme scrapped, then you scrap it. But I don’t think that the government can just wake up one morning and scrap the programme. The government also contends that it wants a united Nigeria. If it wants a united Nigeria, then this is one programme that binds the country together and must be sustained.
With two batches of prospective corps members awaiting call up, isn’t it evident that the government is under financial pressure to sustain the programme?
Funding should not be an excuse to scrap the NYSC programme. There are other programmes that the government does not need to fund. If you remove what the National Assembly is taking, there will be more money to fund other programmes that are crucial to the integration of this country. If you say funding is the problem, government should reorder its priorities. That is what I am saying. If you calculate what that the National Assembly take home and compare that with what the government spends on the NYSC programme, you will agree with me that we have often times misplaced our priorities.
And I think it is time government reorders its priorities, by focusing more on projects that are very necessary and vital for the unity and integration of this country. With the downturn in the economy, the government should put all programmes and institution on the scale of balance and scale them and see the ones that are very necessary. Those ones that are very necessary should be the ones to be funded. The ones that are not necessary you should leave them. The NYSC is very necessary to the survival of Nigeria. There are certain ethoses associated with the NYSC programme. I am sociologist by training and I know that there are certain variables that are critical for the development of any society, that are engrained in the NYSC programme.
Should the NYSC be restructured?
I don’t see what is wrong with the programme at the moment to warrant its restructuring. Remember the argument of government is lack of fund and not that the programme is not necessary. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the structure of the NYSC. Government could still set up a committee to reorganise the system. There is nothing wrong with reorganising a system. The way out is for government to reprioritise its programmes.
Scraping the programme will make Nigeria slide more into disintegration. We all passed through the NYSC and we all have our experiences. Everyone who passed through the programme knows that it has the potential of reintegrating the country. One thing is having a policy and another thing is how it is applied. That the system is being abused does not mean that it is not necessary.
Should the NYSC be made optional?
If you say optional, that will be as good as phasing it out. Some fresh graduates will not like to go on that programme. If you make it optional, that integrating element will no longer be there, because it will now leave people to voluntarily elect to serve or not to serve.