NYSC: Bonding agent turned national headache

NYSC members

NYSC members

Nigeria has, for a greater part of her existence, not been without cries of marginalisation from one ethnic group or the other.As a matter of fact, the needless Nigerian Civil War, which some people prefer to call the Biafran War, (July 6, 1967 to January 15, 1970), which was fought to counter the secession of Biafra from Nigeria, is a reflection of the deep-seated and long-standing nature of pent-up emotions, that abound in the country.

The war, which was triggered when arrowheads of the Biafra movement felt they could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated federal government, totally ruptured what was left of national cohesion, peace and unity.

With Decree No. 24 of 22nd May 1973 (now repealed, and replaced with the National Youth Service Corps Act, Cap. N 84, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004), as a vehicle, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was birthed. Among other things, the scheme was created to facilitate the reconstruction, reconciliation and rebuilding the country, in the wake of the civil war.

According to the decree, the “NYSC is being established with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria, and the promotion of national unity.”

Since inception, participants have sung that melodious anthem, which energises them to do the best they could, in serving their fatherland. It goes thus: “Youths obey the clarion call, let us lift our nation high, under the sun and in the rain, with dedication and selflessness, Nigeria ours, Nigeria, we serve.”

As expected, the scheme, which pioneer director general was Col. Ahmadu Ali, has, in no small measure, used universities’ graduates, and later, their counterparts from polytechnics to attempt a unification of the country.

In the year-long ritual, the corps members are dispatched to far-flung parts of the country, where they are expected to mix with people of other tribes, social and family backgrounds, learn their hosts’ culture, with the ultimate aim of bringing about unity in the country. It is also to help young Nigerians to appreciate and better understand other ethnic groups.

Activities engaged in by corps members within the service year, are broadly divided into four, and every participant must satisfactorily participate before he/she is qualified to earn a certificate of national service.

A three-week military-styled boot camp opens each service year. It is here that orientation is done. Thereafter comes the deployment to places of primary assignment, community development service and the grandest of them all, the winding-up/passing out phase.

The compulsory three-week orientation course, for all mobilised for the national service, is designed to achieve the following objectives: to give corps members a better understanding of the objectives of the NYSC Scheme and enable them internalise its ideals; to acquaint members with their environment in their political, cultural, social and economic setting; to prepare them for their particular roles in the scheme; to equip them with practical social and leadership skills that will enable them meet the challenges of the service year ahead; to inculcate in them, the spirit of national consciousness as a basic ingredient in nation building; to instill discipline in the youths, and to give corps members adequate physical and mental training, and cause them to imbibe the spirit of collective responsibility.

Other contents of the orientation camp are physical training, drills, lectures on the people and tradition of the host state, social activities designed to create opportunities for them to interact, among others.

From the less than 10, 000 graduates, who took part in the inaugural exercise, the scheme has grown to the point of mobilising over 200, 000 of this class of youths yearly. It is in similar fashion that its problems have also mounted and now threatening the very existence of the scheme.

As a matter of fact, were it not due to the fact that Nigerian graduates are ineligible for employment, until they have completed the national service, a good number of those waiting at home would have happily opted out of the service.

Year-in-year-out, services rendered and handling of corps members by the concerned agency allegedly depreciates. In the orientation camps for instance, the welfare of the “corpers” as they are fondly referred to was constantly nose-diving compromised, and this happened in a sizeable number of states.

These camps either had no serviceable facilities, or the facilities are so inadequate that they most times do not survive the three-week orientation exercise.Toilet facilities always take the lead when it comes to being out of order. Consequently, open defecation was the order of the day, the attendant health hazards notwithstanding.

Dilapidated hostel accommodation, where broken down windowpanes as well as doorframes are a common sight, add to the pathetic picture in these places, where potable water and healthcare facilities are seen as forms of luxury.State governments are statutorily required by law (provided in the NYSC Act) to provide, equip and maintain the orientation camps, but a good number of them observe this in the reverse, while some make conscious efforts to live up to expectations.

This perhaps explains why the incumbent Director General, Brig. General Sule Zakari Kazaure, soon after assuming office, drew attention to the very poor state of facilities in camps, and called for urgent attention. Corps members’ kits are a constant reminder of the lack of aesthetics that has enveloped the entire country, and to an extent, a reflection of the insipid taste of managers of the scheme. This is because some of these uniforms arrive the camps without buttons, with loose threads dangling, and so badly sown that they are simply unfit to be worn by those on national service. For the footwear expected to last the period of the service year, some are given out torn, or with pronounced factory faults.

Feeding of corps members is another source of concern in camps. Foods served here always attract a heavy dose of criticisms, with some participants alleging that they were unfit for consumption. This explains why some of them always resort to restaurants in the ever-bustling mammy markets, for their food needs.

Once out of camp, some participants of the scheme are saddled with another form of headache. If they are not posted to firms that do not require their services, they are posted to those who would end up not paying them the agreed token for services rendered. The idea of posting corps members to outfits relevant to their disciplines, appeared to have taken flight, hence a situation where some of them end up in offices that are never relevant to their disciplines, for their primary assignments.

For those that are rejected by firms they were originally posted to, they most times have to start the search for their places of primary assignments on their own, during which period randy business owners, who take advantage of their conditions and sexually abuse some female participants of the scheme.

Even though it is understood that the new posting policy of the scheme is focused on areas of needs, and not individual preferences of corps members, the young graduates, some with active connivance of their parents, induce NYSC officials heavily to get choice postings. Across the length and breadth of the country, there are ample evidence that all is not well with the scheme, even though its managers would prefer the public see the other side of the coin.

As a matter of fact, the growing list of those on queue to be mobilised for the national assignment, subtly hints at the logistical burden that the outfit yokes under. All these not notwithstanding, the government has continually maintained that it would not do away with the scheme.

“We cannot dismiss the gains of the NYSC scheme in integrating Nigeria … I will stand firmly for the sustenance of the system, to continue in its capacity-building of Nigerian citizens because, it is an indispensable aspect of diversifying our culture and building one Nigeria,” was how Minister of Youth Development and Sports, Solomon Dalung, presented government’s stance on the scheme, while on a working visit to the Lagos State NYSC orientation camp.

He added: “Apart from the basic orientation programme the NYSC provides, the scheme should also move into including professional and enterprising programmes, which will be used to support and motivate those who would not want to embrace public services in Nigeria … After the mandatory one-year service in the government is planning an extension, to professionally train interested corps members in skills acquisition, enterprising and professional programmes. Our youths must embrace the reality of time, and must venture into other areas of economic development.

“When we started this scheme we had only about 3, 000 graduates, so we didn’t plan for what we have now, (but) it is better we take care of what we have. “Camps are not owned by NYSC, but by state governments. They maintain it; we only put it to use so whatever they have given us is what we will make use of. If we had planned for it, the whole of NYSC locations would have started with permanent structures. The visioners of the scheme did not even anticipate that it would live as long as it has lived today. Looking at the time it came, immediately after the civil war, it was part of the strategy to try and bring Nigerians together but we didn’t anticipate what we are having today.”

In April this year, President Muhammadu Buhari, said the scheme would be used to drive his administration’s change mantra. How he intends to do that still remains a mirage, especially in the light of the difficulties the scheme is grappling with. In his speech to the swearing-in of 2016 Batch “A” corps members, Buhari stressed that his administration places high premium on the NYSC scheme.

“I charge you to use the various NYSC Community Development Services platforms at the grassroots to carry out public enlightenment and mobilisation for change in behaviour, thinking, cultural orientation and outlook,” he stated, adding: “Thousands of graduates from the higher institutions of learning get frustrated daily as they search for non-existing jobs … I firmly believe in (the) NYSC and I think it should remain a national programme to promote integration.”

Paucity of funds is one major factor that may contribute to annihilating the scheme, if the disclosure by director general of the scheme, Brig. Gen. Sulyman Kazaure, is anything to go by.Kazaure, who spoke in May, in Abuja, gave unavailability of funds arising from the N13bn shortfall in the agency’s 2016 budget, as reason for the inability to call prospective corps members of Batch A, Stream 2 to camp then.

While addressing the Senate Committee on Youth and Sports, Kazaure said: “As of today, the required money for the exercise has not been provided by the Federal Government, despite series of efforts made to that effect, through letters over the past (few) weeks by the NYSC.”

The military top brass regretted that the request letters to get the operational funds for the mobilisation exercise forwarded to the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Finance, and the Presidency, before the expiration of the orientation camp for Batch A, Stream 2 corps members did not receive any favourable response.That episode was not the first time that NYSC was in a tight corner over delayed release of funds by concerned authorities.

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Col. Ahmadu AliNYSC
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