By Uguru Uchechukwu Okannagba
National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is the brainchild of General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd) after the Nigerian Civil War that ended in 1970. The NYSC Scheme began in 1973 by Decree No. 24 of 22nd May, 1973, although the National Youth Service Corps Act that established the Scheme commenced or became operational on the 16th day of June, 1993.
It is indubitable and crystal clear that the major aim of the Scheme is to promote national unity and peaceful integration after the defunct Biafran War, having admitted to remain one indivisible and indissoluble entity.
For the avoidance of doubt of the above assertion, it is material to take a voyage to the Act that established the NYSC. Section 1 (2) of the NYSC Act provides:
The service corps shall with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the Nigerian youths; The service corps shall with a view to the promotion of National unity; and The development of Nigerian youth and Nigeria into a great and dynamic economy.
Subsection 3 paragraphs (g) and (h) of the above section further provides:
(g) The objectives of the service corps shall be to remove prejudices, eliminate ignorance and confirm at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups; and
(h) Develop a sense of corporate existence and common destiny of the people of Nigeria.
The painstaking swot of the Act mentioned supra is to ensure that the opinion contained in this article is not made without basis or foundation. Thus, having laid an indisputable foundation, the question now is: Has any of the above mentioned objectives been achieved or accomplished since the establishment of the NYSC in 1973 till date or we are just deceiving ourselves in the name of NYSC?
The above question shall be answered in the negative and affirmative respectively. This is because, a comprehensive reading of the Act that established the Scheme will leave us without any iota of doubt that the Scheme is built purely on good motive which later culminated to deceit and its aims and objectives have been defeated long time ago. I am not oblivious of the fact that those who depend on the NYSC Scheme for their feeding or as a means of livelihood will not hesitate to disagree with this axiomatic truth, but the good thing is that, truth is built on a convincing facts which support what one says.
If I had all the time and space I would have taken the all the objectives of the Scheme seriatim and analyse them critically, but let me take the pain and deal with a few of them and leave the rest for some other time.
Promoting National Unity and Integration:
Beginning from 1973 till date, the NYSC Scheme has done little or nothing in terms of promoting our unity as a country devoid of the fact that the country keeps on deluding or beguiling its citizens that the NYSC has achieved a lot in promoting national unity and integration. It is unarguable that Nigeria as a country is heterogeneous and the names we bear as individuals automatically depict where one comes from insofar as he is a Nigerian.
Apart from that, greater percentage of the Corps members prefers to serve within their geographical zones.
Peradventure, if he or she is not posted to the area of his or her interest, the next option available is to re-deploy to that same area of interest by giving sympathetic and unsubstantiated reasons. This is prevalent and common to the people of South-west, who prefer to serve in their locality without considering the essence of the Scheme, while those that undertake the pain to serve with dedication irrespective of where he or she was posted are being humiliated, defrauded, discriminated against and ill-treated by their host communities as if they are foreigners in their own country or fatherland simply because they are on a compulsory national assignment. Experience, they say, is the best teacher. If not because I am writing this article as an ex-Corps member, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. As a Corps member, I had nasty and unpleasant experiences of which space will not permit me to recount here.
Shall we believe that it has promoted national unity while many Corps members don’t always go back to their various places alive not because of natural occurrence but rather decimated by their host communities, taking undue advantage of them being ignorant of their environment or place in which they found themselves. If the country should honestly take the statistics of Corps members who have been unlawfully murdered or lynched, one will certainly sympathize with the innocent youths on what they pass through in strange lands all in the name of NYSC. The public can only become aware of it when it is covered by the press like that of River State re-run election which was widely publicized. What about the ritual killings, duping and raping of Corps members in the remotest villages where they are posted to serve?
The earlier Nigeria as a country discovers its heterogeneous nature and admits the fact that it is a country made up of many nations but which out of the pecuniary interest of the Great Britain, was amalgamated or unholy married together. If this is discovered by those at the citadel of power, they can be able to proffer a lasting solution to the unity and integration of Nigeria as a corporate entity and not to keep wasting the blood and time of innocent Nigerians in the name of promoting national unity which has been defeated over decades ago.
Development of Nigerian Youth and Nigeria into Great and Dynamic Economy
Without any sense of equivocation or prejudice, are the Nigerian youths and the country itself more developed and dynamic economy-wise now than before the inception of the NYSC Scheme? I believe that as a citizen of this country, one should not allow emotion to overcloud one’s sense of reasoning. With soundness of mind, it is indubitable that the youths of the olden days are more developed, better placed and self-reliant than the youths of nowadays, even though there was no NYSC Scheme then as it is now. My assertion is predicated upon the fact that there was good quality of education with adequate facilities for learning. More so, prior to this era, the welfare of the undergraduates were given utmost attention by the government unlike now that sentiments have taken over, thereby denying the Nigerian youths in many areas, the opportunity of having western education.
How then do we blame the Nigerian youths for not being creative and skillful while the opportunity to be so has been deliberately denied them as a result of poor governance, poor policies, corruption and ethnic bigotry which have eaten deep into the fabric of our country, Nigeria.
NYSC as a Scheme came up with the idea of Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneur Development (SAED) to make the Nigerian youths acquire various skills while in camp, but I finally discovered that it is a calculated strategy to exploit Corps members the little token they receive as monthly allowance (popularly called “allowee”) from the federal government, knowing full well that the money is too meager to even take care of a Corps member. If the government has undertaken to develop the Nigerian youths through the NYSC Scheme, why not make SAED compulsory and finance it both in and outside the camp? In all, the cons of NYSC outweighs its probative values and only panacea is for its to be abolished or restructured to avert its vainglory. If I begin to itemize what Ojukwu, Nzeogu, Professor Chika Obi, Soyinka and others were doing in the days of their youths without the knowledge of NYSC you will be consternated.
Welfare of Corps Members
In line with the NYSC Act, section 6 (1) provides for the establishment of a governing board for the NYSC Scheme in all the States of the federation. Subsection 2 further provides that the governing board shall be responsible for; arranging and providing accommodation, boarding, transportation, and providing other facilities which are essential for the welfare of members of the service corps and success of the Scheme in the state, and many more too numerous to mention.
In view of the responsibilities envisaged by the Act, the fact remains that such only obtains in theory and not in practice. It is obvious that the primary need of any corps member is where he or she would lay his or her head (i.e. accommodation), having been posted to a strange land without being conversant with the environment or what obtains therein. But in reality, not of such is made available for the corps members, even though it is the responsibility of the governing board of the NYSC Scheme to do so. And because they don’t do it, their principals/employers at their various Place of Primary Assignments (PPA) do not bother themselves in providing accommodation for the corps members posted to them.
Going by the provisions of the NYSC Act and what the initiator of the Scheme wanted its to be, it would have been the best and enviable Scheme for the youths and young school leavers but the reverse is the case. Corps members suffer as if it is a capital offence to be a graduate and serve one’s fatherland! The most annoying aspect of it is that the public is still living in the old position when corps members are treated like kings and every individual corps member being regarded as “federal child” (“piking”). But now, corps members are being humiliated, embarrassed and intimidated even by drivers and their conductors who try to take undue advantage by charging them higher in transport fares despite seeing them in khaki uniforms, which symbolizes service to the country.
Without much ado, NYSC has little or nothing now to offer to the nation. The officials and the government are only hiding under it to impoverish the Nigerian youths who are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiary of the Scheme.
NYSC is a corruption-breeding ground. It is only when one is serving that one will know that many corps members do arrange with their local governments inspectors to take all and in some cases, certain percentages of the monthly allowance as consideration to allow them go back to their various business or homes only to be coming once in a month to sign their monthly clearance in the various states in which they were posted to serve. When such incongruous attitude is inculcated into the youths during their first working experience, what do we think will happen when they find themselves in the higher position of handling or managing the affairs of this nation?
When it comes to ethics and moral life, the NYSC has provided a plain ground where morality has no more place in the lives of the Nigerian youths. Many corrupt and unimaginable things are baptized as “flexing” or “socialization” all in the name of NYSC. It is an eyesore!
The reality of the NYSC with regard to my personal experiences during my service year are inexhaustible, but all I have to say is that, our leaders should stop deceiving the led and wake up to face reality.
It is axiom and glaring that Nigeria is made up of different people with different languages and cultures, but why do we deceive ourselves professing that we are promoting unity whereas those piloting the affairs of the country have refused to do what will give room for unity to flow on its own without any element of one’s consciousness. One can only lead a horse to the stream but cannot force it to drink water! Give chance for the negotiation of the corporate existence of this country and unity will be promoted in the highest order and not holding on the illusion or hallucination of promoting the unity of our great nation through the NYSC Scheme of which its purpose and aim had been eroded over decades ago.
The unity of this country will not and cannot come via NYSC, simply because of wrong notion we have about ourselves, coupled with the wrong foundation that has been laid by the past and present leaders of this country. No matter how we may hold the NYSC in high esteem, the truth remains that equivocation and sentiments have overtaken the relevance of the Scheme.
If such is not the true position, is it justifiable that I was posted as a Corps lawyer to serve in the Law Firm of Agbaje, Agbaje & Co., at Oke-Bola, Ibadan, Oyo State, but was flagrantly rejected for no just cause other than the flimsy reason that they don’t need Corpers, only to later discover that they accepted two other corps members who are lawyers like me who came after I had left just because they from the southwest and speak their Yoruba language fluently, without considering the fact that I was posted there before those ones and was also called to the Nigerian Bar before them. How on earth can such inhumane and outright breach of my fundamental human right against discrimination reflect promotion of national unity as espoused by the NYSC Scheme? It is because of all these hurdles that are associated with the NYSC Scheme that many people who have passed through its rough road, re-assigned suitable meaning to the acronym “NYSC” as “Now Your Struggle Continues” instead of “National Youth Service Corps”.
Let me stop here. But whoever that may doubt the information contained herein should try to sample opinion from corps members before doing so. Such should further ask him or herself why corps members are prohibited from granting press interviews while in the NYSC camp. This will go a long way in convincing any doubting Thomas that there are many questions that those who are behind the Scheme need to answer if the right thing is to be done. The essence of this is not to sabotage the Scheme but to let the public know what obtains in the Scheme.
Uguru Uchechukwu Okannagba is an Ebonyi State based Legal Practitioner.