Despite the challenges, the scheme has been remarkable

Established in May 1973 by then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon as a vehicle for national integration at the end of the civil war, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) celebrates its 50-year anniversary this week. We commend its staff and management as well as all Nigerians who have participated in the one-year mandatory programme for graduates of tertiary institutions. As one of the few national institutions that has struggled to abide by its original objective, the scheme has served as a veritable agency of national integration in the past five decades. 

By availing less privileged states of quality manpower, the NYSC has made significant contributions to the development of our country. From using corps members for enumeration work during the national population census, presiding officers during the conduct of national elections and deployment for routine immunisation, the NYSC has partnered with other organisations for the good of the country. In the health sector, the scheme has helped to reverse the menace of HIV/AIDS pandemic, Ebola and the COVID-19 pandemic through awareness campaigns and sensitisation of the public on prevention and care. The scheme has also impacted such areas as education, legal aid services, crusade against corruption, road safety awareness, campaign against drug abuse and human trafficking, among others. 

However, we must also admit that the scheme has in recent years been bedeviled by challenges that grossly limit its impact, reduce its appeal, and undercut the ennobling idea of national service. Besides, that only about 5.7 million Nigerians have been mobilised for the scheme in 50 years points to the fact of many evaders in a country where hundreds of thousands graduate from tertiary institutions every year. It is therefore little surprise that not a few Nigerians continue to question why the scheme should remain. Two years ago, a bill to scrap the scheme passed a second reading at the House of Representatives. 

 We subscribe to the ideals of the NYSC. But we also agree that time has come to reform the scheme so it can provide value aligned with the current needs of the country and its participants. Such reform package could focus on five inter-related areas: security, funding, branding, content, and structure. It could also involve the reform of the current approach of the major but compromised milestones in the life of corps members—from mobilisation, through orientation, primary assignment, community development to passing out.    

The first issue that the management needs to sort out is in deployment. Posting corps members to areas of urgent national needs will offer the country multiple dividends. One, it will allow for better and even deployment of manpower and ensure focus and greater contribution to national development. Two, by ending the spectre of rejected and under-utilised corps members, it will improve the self-esteem of participants and ensure that corps members serve their country with dignity. And three, it will restore the spirit of national service to the scheme.    

There is also a conversation that the NYSC should form the basis of a compulsory military service scheme, as it is done in some countries. The proposition is for corps members to serve in the military for a compulsory specified number of years after graduation. Those who opt to make careers in the armed forces could be used to progressively raise the standard of the police to replace the present predominance of illiterates that have complicated the work of internal security. The prospect of such an elite force should interest those concerned with our resent disorderly state of internal security.   

On the 50th anniversary, we must remember the corps members who paid the supreme sacrifice or got disabled during the one-year mandatory national service. Despite the challenges of the past 50 years, the NYSC can be described a Nigerian success story. To bridge the financial deficit that has become a huge burden, a bill to establish a trust fund has been passed by both the senate and the House of Representatives. Its speedy assent will help to bridge the financial deficit requirement of the scheme and complement the efforts of government and other stakeholders, especially in empowering the youths.

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