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Nigeria: 40 Years of NYSC

| July 3, 2013 More

Kaduna โ€” How quickly time passes! Exactly forty years ago today, on July 2, 1973, some 2000 fresh graduates of then Nigeria’s six universities fanned out across the country to commence the mandatory one – year national service under the National Youth Service Corps scheme (NYSC) just introduced by the Federal Military Government of General Yakubu Gowon.

It delayed their ascent to “the senior service” cadre by a year; no small matter to those young men and women on the cusp of a new “life more abundant.” A combination of carrot and stick however saw off their opposition to the scheme.

The decade of the 1970s was a good one for Nigeria. Optimism suffused the country. The civil war had ended and the 3Rs programme was being pursued in earnest. Governance, though under the military, had a purpose, thereby giving the people hope. Policies and programmes – including the Second National Development Plan – were being churned out to guide the processes of development as well as help to bring Nigerian closer together after the horrors of the war. The NYSC was in aid of the latter objective.

Into this heady mix then was the Class of ’73 sent. The scheme was a novelty; the participants were received with both curiosity and warmth. Most communities were meeting non – native graduates for the first time! Above all they felt safe and were safe. For the youth corps participants, the year-long engagement in the service was a time of adventure and of discovery. It was also a period of service, no mistake about it. The belief in official circles was that corps members had something to offer; so they were appropriately posted and put to the task right away, engineers, lawyers, teachers, etc. In the four decades since then a lot has changed about the NYSC. From a puny group of 2000 youth enrolment now tops a quarter million annually. An organisational challenge in itself, this expansion in intake, the Nigerian factor, has crept in to compound the problems. No longer are corps members assured of accommodation and prompt payment of their meagre allowances, they are not even assured of posting to places of primary assignment. They are now left on their own to seek out establishments willing to take them. It has also become quite easy to have ghost corps members as well as those who do not report to states to which they are posted. They still get to pass out though. The influence of the wider, fractious society is even more pernicious. Nowadays there are such groupings as the Christian Corpers’ Association and the Muslim Corpers’ Association, with all the paraphernalia to match. It would be no surprise at all if there are other groups clustered around other divisive factors. In earlier years, corpers bragged about their Alma Mata.

In the wake of the tragedy in Bauchi state two years ago there has been strong questioning of the relevance of the scheme in contemporary Nigeria. Weirder than calls for its scrapping were suggestions that corps members be posted to their “regions of origin.” It would be better to scrap the scheme altogether than to accept what will be the ultimate renunciation of its ideals.

At forty, NYSC is a middle-aged institution that needs to re-cast itself. The management must develop new ways to re- engage corps members in the scheme’s original mission. State directors must once again assume responsibility for appropriate placement of corps members for primary assignment. States and local governments should contribute more to the running of the scheme. The former should augment the paltry allowance currently paid to the corpers while the latter should provide accommodation. Additionally, local governments can encourage prominent personalities to “adopt” corps members in their localities and serve as their guardians.

The ideals of the NYSC are worth preserving and pursuing, never more so than now when forces of division are on the ascendancy. It is fitting that the its national office is named after General Yakubu Gowon, the Head of State who accepted the idea of the scheme and brought it to life.

Usman wrote from Kaduna

Category: Bauchi State News

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