Has NYSC Run Its Course?

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Onikepo Braithwaite
The Advocate By Onikepo Braithwaite, Email: onikepo.braithwaite@thisdaylive.com

National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) was established during the regime of General Yakubu Gowon by the NYSC Decree of 1973, following the Nigerian Civil War, which resulted in disunity, distrust and misunderstanding between the different Nigerian tribes.

The aim of the one-year program was “to promote unity, understanding and national integration among Nigerians”, by posting NYSC members (fresh graduates) to different states in the country, excluding their states of origin (and residence), to serve the country and in so-doing, learn about other Nigerian cultures, and maybe even settle down where they had served, after completion of the NYSC program, possibly inter-marrying.

However, events may have overtaken the reasons for the establishment of NYSC. Firstly, you can learn anything you want to learn about practically anything in the world on the internet, just by googling it. You need not go there physically. Whilst disunity, distrust and misunderstanding among the different Nigerian tribes still persists, and 56 years post- independence, that air of nationalism and national pride, like one finds in places like Ghana simply does not exist in Nigeria, the violent occurrences in various parts of the country makes it almost reckless, to post fresh graduates to danger zones.

Certainly, one would be playing Russian Roulette with a child’s life, if you posted them to the North East for NYSC. With all the Boko Haram activities going on there, it would be wicked and unfair to post a person who has a whole life ahead of him or her, to a place where there is a high probability of that lifespan being cut short, since their safety cannot be guaranteed.

My friend told me about her friend whose daughter was posted to camp in Kano. He not only dropped his daughter at the camp, he lodged at a nearby hotel, for the 3 weeks duration of the camp! He was concerned about his child’s safety, and knew that his mind would never be at rest in Lagos, while his child was there. We are all aware that Kano was a target for Boko Haram on various occasions in the past.

Ditto for places like Edo and Delta States, areas which seem to have become the new ‘Kidnappers Headquarters’ in Nigeria, and Niger-Delta with all the militant activities going on there. I did my Law School Chamber Attachment at the chambers of General I.B.M. Haruna (Rtd) in Kaduna. However, with all that is going on in Southern Kaduna, it is unlikely that I would recommend a place which I so much enjoyed 25 years ago, to anyone to do the same, today.

Recently, a friend of mine who is mixed race, took her son to Delta State for NYSC camp. She and her son entered into the lobby of the hotel which they had intended to check-in to, and spend the night. While waiting to check-in, someone approached her and warned her that it would be a bad idea for she and her son to lodge at that hotel over night, as half of the people hanging around the hotel were looking for victims to kidnap, and as she is ‘oyinbo’, she would be fair game. Needless to say, she and her son fled from the hotel like bats out of hell! Luckily, my friend has a friend whose older sister resides not too far from the camp, so they passed the night at her house.

If the truth be told, I consider my friend to be extremely brave. On hearing the word ‘kidnap’ at the hotel, I would have fled back to Lagos “with immediate effect and automatic alacrity” (as Chief Eleyinmi of Village Headmaster used to say). If anything happened (to the child) under such circumstances, one would forever, blame oneself. After all, we have heard stories of Youth Corpers working as electoral officers, being murdered on duty, and so on.

What about the deplorable state of the Camps? Another friend of mine told me how urine seeped from the toilets into the dormitory, at the camp where her son was stationed. The toilets at the Edo State Camp, cannot be called toilets. They are at best, make shift corrugated iron ‘shalangas’ (pit latrines) located outside, in an overgrown field where there are probably reptiles lying around, certainly unsafe for women, and anybody really to visit, especially at night.

Why should anyone have to live in such disgusting, unhygienic and unsafe conditions, all in the name of NYSC program? Not to talk about the suspect inadequate medical facilities available at the camps, and lack of adequate provision for food.

Some have argued that NYSC is not left out of the corruption-mania in Nigeria, so of course, probably only a fraction of what is allocated for the NYSC program actually reaches it, and this is part of the reason for the poor facilities in the camps.

As for NYSC fostering unity among Nigerians, I cannot say that the program has succeeded in achieving this goal. As far as I’m concerned, Nigerians are more tribalistic, and more concerned about being Muslim-Christian, now more than ever before. Maybe NYSC may have achieved a few of its goals at its inception when Nigeria was a different place, but today, I think not.

Even if NYSC is not abolished totally, there should be a re-think and re-strategising. Frankly, I see no reason why anyone who is not interested in being a member of the armed forces or police, has to go to any camp to be drilled by soldiers, doing march past and man-o-war or whatever its called. Its a waste of time, and adds no value. Some say it teaches discipline. Maybe. But any adult who went through primary, secondary and tertiary education, and graduated with a degree, could not have done so without a measure of discipline.

I believe that instead of camp, there should be a skills acquisition training program for the NYSC members. Since so many remain unemployed after NYSC, if government provides different types of skill acquisition workshops, farming, fish farming, technical, entrepreneurship and so on, these Youth Corpers can face the world and start their own businesses with the combination of their university knowledge and the skills acquisition, not necessarily waiting for paid employment, sitting at home idle and becoming increasingly frustrated, veering into crime to survive.

NYSC members are made to go and teach students in government schools all over the place. I guess that it is some form of work, at least for one year before the joblessness starts, even though the remuneration is rather poor. However, I’m sure that there are many government schools in everyone’s normal place of residence that Youth Corpers can teach, as opposed to sending them to dangerous places to do same. Whether it is in one’s home state or an outside state, service to one’s country is service to one’s country.

The phrase “give back” does not even seem to apply in the Nigerian context, as apart from the earlier Nigeria days, most governments have given nothing to the Nigerian people. Again, maybe in the earlier days of NYSC, one could talk of “giving back” because many attended non-fee paying government schools, from primary to tertiary, and obtained good quality education. One could go to General Hospital and get decent free medical treatment. But alas, today, the narrative is different. These things are no longer available, so why would the NYSC member be “giving back” to his country, having received nothing from it?

I met a girl when I went to do some charity work at the HIV Clinic at General Hospital. She came from a very poor family, and in order to obtain a tertiary education, she sold herself to all who would buy, to finance her education. She ended up with her degree and HIV. Pray tell, what does she owe this country, that she wants to “give back”? The country failed her, and could not fulfil its constitutional obligation to provide her with free education in accordance with Section 18(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2010)(1999 Constitution), so she could be useful to herself and her family.

Nigerian Government has to learn the art of reviewing its policies, updating them and abolishing them, if need be.

For starters, NYSC should be voluntary. Since NYSC is a source of first employment for many, those that want to do the program, by all means, should. In our time, there were two batches of the NYSC program every year. You were guaranteed of getting into the second batch in January, if you missed the first batch the previous year, sometime mid-year. Now, graduates have to wait years to be admitted into the program, because of extremely large numbers of graduates seeking to gain admission into the program. While waiting, apart from the normal unemployment issues, NYSC is a pre-requisite to secure a job in most organisations; this amounts to a vicious cycle.

The salaries of the Youth Corpers are ridiculously low. If NYSC became a voluntary program, maybe their salary packages would increase, as there would certainly be a reduced amount of pressure on the program.

If I had my way, I would certainly say that there should no longer be posting of NYSC members out-of-station, unless they opt for it. Camp should be abolished, since it serves no purpose and the conditions there are deplorable. It should be replaced with robust skill acquisition and entrepreneurship programs.

In fact, the circumstances of the NYSC, the out-of station postings and the conditions that these fresh graduates face, amounts to government being in contravention of Sections 14(2) (b), 17(2)(b), (c) & (d), and 17(3)(b) & (c) of the 1999 Constitution providing inter alia that the security and welfare of the Nigerian people are fundamental objectives of the Government of Nigeria, the sanctity of the human person shall be recognised, government shall be humane, and conditions of work shall be humane.

  • John

    I had a discussion last night about this topic with my fellow Corp member at the camp, reading this article now it sounds like you overheard the discussion 🙂, I couldn’t agree more with the facts stated herein…
    However our leaders are not interested in our “best interest” I concluded.

  • Ify Onabu

    Absolutely, the NYSC has run its course. The scheme is no longer fit for purpose and should be scrapped. I served in 1982/83 batch and after the service in Maiduguri, [yes Maiduguri] the good bye I got from my fellow corper was: ‘you southerners should now go to the south to look for work’. It ended on a sad note. I realised that the 16 hour journey from my village in Delta State to Maiduguri was a waste of my time and resources!

  • omodafididafidi

    Am quite sure u know the saying don’t ask what your pun try can do firu but what u can o or your country. As for salary it is an allowance not a salary. I think the water is one of those who gas iven up on her country.
    As ir NYSC it Gould stay. I think it does a lot of good for the country despite its problems. I think the idea of getting rid of every institution that has some lapses is a failing on our part as we always go for throwing away the baby with the bathwater easy way out.

    • John

      I can see how the depth of ur wisdom

  • 0swal0

    Yes, it has run its course and should be scrapped. Perhaps replaced by a paid compulsory military service scheme for people of 18 and above.

  • Anne Mumuney

    Well said. A country that cannot protect its citizens anywhere, and you forcibly expose our children to kidnapping, death from road accidents on bad roads, inhumane conditions, terrorism? Totally agree that it should be voluntary, until the government is in a position to provide safety, security and humane conditions for our children.

  • caltu

    It is obvious that most people will shout you down, if you ever mention the scrapping of NYSC. That is our country for you. The few beneficiaries will take you to task and call you all sorts of name. But thanks to Onikepo for venturing and raising salient issues.
    The NYSC is like a salt that has completely lost it taste – it instantly becomes useless. Once a lofty initiatives, the first ten years was the golden age of NYSC – ask graduates who participated between 1973-83. Thereafter or thereabouts, things began to fall apart and still falling to date. All sorts of criminal Nigerian factor set in, to destroy the original intent of the initiators.
    First, you could sit in the comforts of your home to chose, the state and company where you will serve, including your own state. Just know some one who knows some and the guy knows someone.
    The NYSC director suddenly became a juicy appointment, just like the Commander of JTFs today. While all these were going on, we were approving and building Universities every day, and they did not disappoint in churning out thousands of graduates every year. Meanwhile the NYSC secretariat were in deep slumber, such that soon, they were totally overwhelmed by the number of graduates, ready to serve. The batches service came into play, but the funding left much to be desired. They went from two sets of uniform to one for a service of a year, that is, if you get one at all. Don’t even talk about correct sizes. And the slide continues till date. These are indeed not my greatest concern, nevertheless.
    I am eternally worried about the first impression we give to our youths in NYSC camp. That we don’t care a damn! That for me is the killer. You talk eloquently about serving your country, but you gather them in camp to expose them to squalor and dehumanizing conditions. Basic services and amenities are a huge luxury in camps today. All they take away is threat of this punishment or the other, with out your meeting their basic needs to function. Woe betide you, if you are from a poor family.
    What about postings to primary assignments? Truly and frankly “Now Your Suffering Commences”.
    A rethink is absolutely essential today. In its current operational state we are simply traumatizing our youths and they leave with terrible impression about this country. It needs to change. It is in these camps that we have the only opportunity to inculcate the zeal to die for this country, aka patriotism, but we are rather doing the opposite – sharing hopelessness. It is a tragedy.
    My take though, is that NYSC can still be salvaged. Let’s re-engineer it an reinvigorate it for the benefit of our country.

  • Daniel Obior

    NYSC has failed in achieving its objectives and should be abolished. There are individuals who may say how useful it had been in their experience. But in total sum, it is a resounding failure. Unfortunately, it will not be abolished because government officials at all levels are making a kill out of the scheme, from the huge amount of money voted to it. It is common to see relatively low level staff in the NYSC organisation building several houses and acquiring exotic cars. The scheme is riddled with corruption and not fit for purpose.

  • William Norris

    NYSC died when The Dullard named Buhari unleashed his fanatic Almajiri hordes after losing the 2011 Presidential Election, killing the following Youth Corpers who were engaged in serving the Northern region of the Zoo….

    Teidi Tosin Olawale (from Osun State, BSc Computer Science)

    Nkwazema Anslem Chukwunonyerem (Imo State, HND Electrical Electronic Engineering),

    Okpokiri Obinna Michael (Abia State, BSc Environmental Management).

    Adowei Elliot (Bayelsa State, BSc Computer Science)

    Adewunmi Seun Paul (Ekiti State, BSc, Social Sciences).

    Adeniji Kehinde Jehleel (Osun State, BSc Banking & Finance).

    Gbenjo Ebenezer Ayotunde (Osun State, BSc, Education Economics)

    Ukeoma Ikechukwu Chibuzor (Imo State, BSc Medical Microbiology)

    Akonyi Ibrahim Sule (Kogi State, HND Business Administration).

    When will The Dullard be brought to justice for his cold blooded murder of these young Nigerians?