In spite of problems bedeviling the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, leading to call from some quarters for it to be scrapped, the scheme still remains relevant for national integration
By Emma Ibeleme
When he was posted to Jigawa State for his mandatory National Youth Service Corps, NYSC programme, Marcel Umesi wanted to seek for reposting. His fear was hinged on some nasty stories he heard about the state and her people. Being a Christian, Marcel imagined what would be his fate should there be a religious riot in Jigawa State. But during his recent visit to Abuja, the corps member who is doing his primary assignment with Jigawa Radio said he would have regretted his action if he had been posted out of Jigawa State. He told this magazine that but for the NYSC scheme, he would not have had the opportunity of visiting Jigawa State, at least not now. Another corps member, Olawole who served in Bayelsa State and was later retained in the state ministry of information after his service year, said he would have been roaming about the streets looking for a non-existing job if not for the NYSC scheme.
Since the death of some Corps members in some parts of the country, there has been the debate on the desirability or otherwise of the NYSC scheme. Richard Akinjide, former attorney general and minister of justice in the second republic is one of those against the continued existence of the scheme. He is therefore calling for its scrapp. In the alternative, Akinjide said it should be made voluntary and not mandatory for university graduates if at all government still wants to retain it. “What is happening in Nigeria is what I will call ‘Lugard Doctrine’. When Lord Lugard was amalgamating the southern and northern protectorates in 1914 to form the present Nigeria, he said: “Amalgamate the country, but do not amalgamate the people,” Akinjide said in a recent interview with a national newspaper.
Another opponent of the scheme, Chief Bisi Akande, national chairman of the Action Congress, AC, wants the scheme to be replaced with “compulsory military service after secondary education.”
Established in May 1973 by the military government of General Yakubu Gowon, the NYSC still remains one of the schemes created for socio-cultural integration of Nigerian youths. The scheme exposes the youths to the modes of living of the people in different parts of the country and encourages them to eschew religious intolerance by accommodating religious differences. Corps members are encouraged to seek career employment in their places of primary assignment at the end of their service year.
The NYSC has lived up to the dream of its founding fathers. A close look at the objectives of the scheme, conceived some 36 years ago, shows a deliberate effort at progressive movement of the country by the Nigerian youths. These objectives are aimed at inculcating discipline in youths by instilling in them, a tradition of patriotism and loyalty to the country, and co-existence.
Commentators have continued to laud the establishment of the scheme. They see it as a unifying factor and a tool for national integration. True to the dream of the founding fathers to establish a scheme that will give the youths the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievements, social and cultural improvement, past and even present corps members have been able to develop national consciousness after participating in the NYSC scheme. Some marriages, which otherwise, would not have taken place became possible. Everlasting relationships and contacts are established by ex-corps members. Before the coming of NYSC, apart from the itinerant and ubiquitous Igbo traders, many other Nigerians did not know much about people of other tribes. With the NYSC, it became compelling that young Nigerians who ordinarily would not leave their states and zones, now become conversant with other people and tribes. Others have acquired experiences and suitable training, which will make them more amenable to mobilisation to national development. As a result, most youths have dropped their earlier prejudices against other sections of the country.
The recent call for the scrapping of the scheme was informed by the death of some corps members. During the November 27, 2008 riot in Jos, Plateau State, three corps members – Akande Oluwaleke Olalekan, Akinjobi Ibukun Oluwatosin and Odusote Adetola Oluwole lost their lives, another corps member, Miss Anthonia Amarachi Okeke, a corps liaison officer, CLO, was declared missing in mysterious circumstances on December 19, last year, at Ilawe community in Ekiti south-west local government of Ekiti State, while 22-year old, Miss Grace Adei Ushang from Cross River State was raped and murdered in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital on September 26, this year. All these deaths are regrettable. But then Nigerians from other parts of the country were killed in political and religious circumstances in places outside their states of origin. Even among people of the same communities, communal conflicts have sent many to their early graves. Is it enough justification to discourage inter-tribal or inter-ethnic settlements? Not at all! The NYSC is the only national scheme that encourages peaceful co-existence and socio-cultural integration.
There is no doubt that the ideals enunciated by the founding fathers of the scheme have not been executed to the letter. Yet, whatever problems that have been encountered have not been because of any lack of vision. Somehow, the problem of the NYSC, like the problem of Nigeria is artificial.
Case s abound where corps members embarked on community projects such as construction of classrooms in remote villages where children studied under trees; the construction of bus stops and community round-about, road repairs and environmental sanitation and beautification as part of their contribution to the development of their host communities. In most cases, many communities in appreciation of the efforts by corps members serving in their locality give chieftaincy titles to some of these youths.