The National Youth Service Corps was established in 1973 by General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd.) administration with the aim of fostering unity among Nigerian young educated elite. The Scheme is in its 36 years of existence amidst heated debate on whether or not the NYSC has outlived its usefulness. In fact, the incumbent Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, Prof. Attahiru Jega has suggested that the scheme should be converted into a military service and should be made voluntary. Others, including some serving corps members themselves have suggested that the scheme should be abolished.
There is no gainsaying that NYSC is in need of reform but to call for the scrapping of the scheme will be counter-productive. Available statistics shows that over 1.5 million has participated in the scheme in the last 36 years of its establishment. At inception, the scheme enrolled 2,364 but in 2008 alone, 250,000 graduates were mobilized for the mandatory one year service. What can be inferred from the above statistics is that there is an astronomic growth in the number of students mobilized for the scheme. However, has there been a corresponding provision of material, financial and structural resources to meet the huge number of participants? NO! According to the immediate past Director General of the scheme, Brig-General Yusuf Bomoi, challenges facing the NYSC include: dilapidated status of some orientation camps and inadequate camp facilities in the existing ones. Other problems listed include, corps members rejection by their places of primary assignment; underutilization of some serving corps members and fraudulent inclusion of names of unqualified people for service. Additionally, from my personal experience, lack of provision of accommodation for serving corps members by their places of primary assignment as well as exploitation of corps members by the NYSC staff and some of the corps employers also form part of the problem.
However, in spite of the numerous challenges facing the Scheme, it still has a lot of usefulness and relevance. It is exhilarating to wear the customized NYSC brown Khaki and crested vests, boots and tennis canvass. The Scheme also continues to expose young educated Nigerians to diverse cultures, traditions and customs of other ethnic groups as graduate youths are posted away from their States of origin and schooling. Moreover, corps members are used as ad-hoc census and electoral officials when the need arises. It thus widens ones worldview. The NYSC scheme has also promoted inter-tribal and inter-ethnic marriages. What’s more, many have equally been retained in States and places where they served. All these coupled with the perception of the Scheme as a means of poverty alleviation, albeit temporarily, are some of the enduring virtues of the NYSC that cannot be discountenanced even after 35 of its existence.
Some of the corps members who complained about the scheme are indolent and hedonistic. They want to be posted to city centers where they will have access to light, water, good accommodation and telephone services. Only a significant few take their posting to rural communities stoically. Yet, this scheme is about service, a national service for that matter. NYSC teaches the values of life. It teaches that all that glitters is not gold and that there is need to contribute to the upliftment of the society. That is why a component of it is a periodic community development service (CDS). What is fundamentally wrong if corps members who read Mechanical Engineering, Mass Communication, Law or Architecture are posted to primary and secondary schools to teach? There is none of these professionals who did not, I believe, possess a secondary school certificate before proceeding to the University or Polytechnic. Why then do corps members complain bitterly about being posted to schools to teach? Where are the industries and companies that would have assisted to absorb many of the professionals mobilized for the Youth Service? Even, the allowance being paid corps members (N9, 775), though very inadequate is meant to teach lesson in prudence and resource management. However, the Scheme, like every human endeavour, is susceptible to abuse and is far from being perfect.
The solution to the myriads of problems facing NYSC lies in diversified funding sources. It is high time States, local government and agency like Education Tax Fund are made to provide counterpart funding for the sustenance of the Scheme. Corporate bodies should also be made to chip in their support while the Scheme should be allowed to organize fund raising. It is imperative to stipulate provision of decent accommodation and a minimum wage payable as a prerequisite for all those who write in to request for corps members. Local and State governments would also need to construct more Corpers Lodge to accommodate those serving under the Scheme. Many of our insurance companies can also give free life insurance for serving corps members. I also subscribe to the idea of making the Scheme voluntary as the projected 300,000 figures for 2009 is astronomic. I bet many more graduate students will still willingly volunteer to engage in the Scheme. After all, due to the high rate of unemployment, there are people who are said to be involved in antics like name swapping in order to be re-mobilized to serve more than once. The managers of the Scheme can also start thinking about reducing the length of the service period to six months instead of one year or alternatively leave it at one year but use the last three months for intensive training of corps members in entrepreneurial or business skills. This can be a joint venture between NYSC and National Directorate of Employment (NDE). For those who successfully undergo this training, micro credit should be made available to them as a start-up capital for self-employment. This way, the government would start taming the current menace of unemployment. Lastly, NYSC will need to purge itself of the bad eggs in its midst while Zonal Inspectors (ZIs) also need to work harder at protecting the interest of serving corps members under them against the shylock corps employees. Some of these suggestions will need parliamentary amendment of the Act/ Decree establishing the Scheme. This should be drafted without further delay for passage into law.