The scheme should be reformed to reflect the times

As part of efforts for a comprehensive review, restructuring and reform of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), the Minister of Youth Development, Jamila Ibrahim has promised to inaugurate a team for the assignment. “The first of these reforms,” she said, “will be centred on reviewing participants with an entrepreneurship mindset and making skills development a core of the programme.” While we see this as a step in the right direction, we also urge the minister to take on board some of the ideas that had been floated in the past and the reform efforts of her predecessors.

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 NYSC has made significant contributions to the development of the 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 to deliver some tasks for 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, road safety awareness, campaign against human trafficking, among others.

However, the NYSC 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, as we pointed out last year, that only about 5.7 million Nigerians were 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 the continuity of the scheme. 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 more 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 recent disorderly state of internal security. 

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