As issues of security, kidnapping and backlog of prospective corps members linger, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is once again held up for scrutiny about its relevance or otherwise to national development. In this piece, IYABO LAWAL examines issues around the scheme and whether or not it should be scrapped as currently being proposed by the House of Representatives.
Clement Jones graduated from university two years ago and to date, has not been called up to participate in the NYSC programme. He was 27 when he graduated. During the two-year of his waiting, he got a job, so, he is not looking forward to going to serve his fatherland in the mandatory scheme. His employer too will not want him to go.
Jones is fortunate. His situation contrasts with hundreds of prospective corps members, who wait at home in vain for their call up. By the time they are finally called up to serve in the scheme, some of them have exceeded the age limit set for the programme.
There are also others deployed to volatile and war-torn areas that lost their lives to bandits and kidnappers while serving the country.
With rising insecurity, the scheme is up for scrutiny, and this time, the House of Representatives has started the procedure to scrap it.
The NYSC, a one–year compulsory programme for students under 30 years, who studied in Nigerian tertiary institutions, or Nigerian graduates abroad, who intend to work in Nigeria, was created through decree 24 on May 22, 1973, by the military administration of Gen Yakubu Gowon.
The vision of the scheme is to foster national unity and even development. Among other things, the organisation’s mission is to “be at the forefront of national development efforts, as well as serve as a profitable platform for imparting in our youth’s values of nationalism, patriotism, loyalty, and accountable leadership.”
The core objectives of the scheme include discipline, fostering the tradition of work, teaching ideals of national development, developing skills for self-employment, removing prejudices, eliminating ignorance and promoting national integration.
In 2018, NYSC increased the number of corps members by 53,000 graduates, bringing the new figure to 350,000.
The agency mobilised 297,293 corps members nationwide in 2017 and paid them N67, 383,359,602 as allowances. The corps members are spread across two batches and two streams in 2017, with each stream having about 74,000 corps members.
With the increment in the number of corps members, the NYSC, according to its 2018 budget, earmarked N83, 160,000,000 for their allowances.
Apart from the N3, 200 paid to each corps member during the three weeks orientation in camps, the NYSC also pays N19, 800 as a monthly allowance to each of them.
Excerpts from the NYSC 2017 budget showed that apart from allowances, the NYSC spent N2, 491,681,500 for kitting of the 297,293 corps members and N3, 272,103,431 for meals for 21 days.
Apart from the corps members, the budget for feeding, at N500 per meal, included 74,326 camp officials.
In its 2018 budget, the agency spent N11, 651,846,453 on kitting, transport allowances and feeding for 350,000 corps members. It was the same in 2019.
But the budgetary allocation shot up in 2020 as the monthly stipend to corps members was increased to 33,000. The budget was increased by lawmakers from N10.33 trillion presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to N10.6 trillion, to accommodate the new allowances.
However, many corps members have lost their lives in unexplainable circumstances. These youngsters are dying at an alarming rate and there are no reliable statistics on the number of deaths. While some die at orientation camps, others are killed at their places of primary assignment. Consequently, the scheme, which used to be fun at the beginning, is now a nightmare.
In the last 20 years, corps members have been victims of election violence, kidnapping, abduction by terrorist groups and rape, with many being killed while serving their fatherland.
On September 26, 2010, the media was agog with the story of the abduction and raping to death of Grace Adie Ushamg, a female corps member, serving in Maiduguri, Borno State.
The 2011 general elections triggered the flame of political violence in Northern Nigeria, which led to the killing of a number of corps members. Over 20 corps members lost their lives in the election violence.
Also, during the period, about 50 corps members were locked inside the Nigerian Christian Corpers’ Fellowship (NCCF) Secretariat in Minna, Niger State, by some youths protesting results of the presidential election, and the building was set on fire.
Though all the corps members escaped, that was the end of the service for them, while their families urged their relations who were prospective corps members to go for exemption certificate instead of going to die for a country that did not pay their school fees, and even if they had government scholarships, they should not risk dying for the country in such gruesome manner.
In 2012, the orientation programme for NYSC Batch “C” members across the country was postponed in Bayelsa, Borno and Yobe States, because of insecurity as conditions across the three states they could not guarantee the safety of corps members. Hostage-taking and killings in Yobe and Borno were high at the time, hence posed a great risk to corps members’ safety.
There was also a gory account of how some female corps members on electoral duty were forced to thumbprint for a particular party in Giade Local Government Area of Bauchi State. They were tortured, fondled by irate protesters, and 11 of them were butchered like animals. To date, families of the dead corps members are still mourning their huge losses, as the government only promised to “get to the root of the matter”.
The bombing of NYSC permanent orientation camp in Maiduguri by the Boko Haram sect, some time ago, dealt a heavy blow on the programme, Moreover, in its gruesome bombing shortly after the 2011 presidential election, the deadly group killed many Nigerians, including corps members in a bomb blast, with the Federal Government promising to give N5 million to families of victims and jobs to corps members who survived the attacks immediately after the mandatory one year service. Sadly, most of them still roam the streets looking for jobs.
Similarly, hostage-taking has had its share in the worsening threats for corps members. In 2013, three corps members were kidnapped from Ogonokom Corper’ Lodge in Rivers State and released after 10 days in captivity by their abductors.
The following year, five corps members, who donated a library project to a school in Omademe community in Nkwere Local Government Area of Rivers State, were abducted while returning from where they went to inspect the project. The accounts are endless.
Many have argued that the decision to continue a scheme set up to fill an immediate need created by the fractious civil war for 48 long years is the clearest indication that the war never ended and that unity remains elusive. Besides, they noted that the killing and kidnapping of corps members, particularly in northern Nigeria, have further justified the call for the suspension of the scheme.
They pointed out that delay in mobilisation of graduates often result in frustration for parents and students, as they would have to wait at home idling away for, perhaps, another year because, without NYSC discharge certificate, they would not be hired by any potential employer.
Similarly, opponents of the scheme said holding prospective corps members in abeyance burdens the system even further, as backlog generates a ripple effect – with Nigeria’s many tertiary institutions churning a record number of graduates every year.
They argued that the backlog puts the young graduates at a great disadvantage when they go in search of employment. Often, the months of one year of delay by NYSC may make them unattractive to potential employers that prefer to hire graduates of certain ages.
Other arguments against retaining the programme include claims that it is a waste of funds, leads to loss of lives of corps members in crisis-prone or hostile areas, makes youths engage in illicit behaviour during orientation camps where supervision is minimal and adding little value to host communities as young graduates with no formal training in teaching are assigned to teach children in rural areas.
But the biggest argument against the scheme is that the current operation does not even help the objectives of the programme. Prospective corps members with people in prominent positions manipulate postings to states of their choice, hence, defeating the original purpose of the scheme.
There are others who held that the scheme should be reviewed for greater efficiency. For these people, the government can make the scheme optional, or reduce the age limit to 25 years as against the 30-year limit, which is becoming a big problem.
They noted that when the government’s lack of funds causes prospective corps members to spend two years at home waiting to be mobilised for youth service, something is lost in them.
Source:Guardian Nigeria Newspaper
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