– WHY NYSC IS IN NEED OF REFORMSTHISDAYLIVE – THISDAY Newspapers
Long before Nigerians were collectively horrified by the image of a female soldier dehumanizing a female corps member, they had grown weary and wary of the National Youth Service Corps.
It was seven years into Nigeria`s independence in 1967 when the last vestiges of the euphoria generated by the historic occasion in 1960 was brutally wiped off by a Civil War. By the time the guns boomed for the last time after an internecine three-year battle of attrition, the country`s suspect unity and cohesion had been irreparably damaged.
Mr. Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria`s military leader at the time and one of the chief protagonists in the war, in an apparent defiance of predictions that the country was done for, famously declared that the war had produced no victor and no vanquished. He attempted to lead a genuine national reconciliation. Many years down the line, it`s proven a fool`s errand.
The National Youth Service Corps was established in 1973 by Mr. Gowon. With the benefit of hindsight, it is not difficult to see that the scheme was an attempt to salve the conscience of Mr. Gowon who as military president presided over the wholescale slaughter and starvation of children during the war. The ‘Nigeria Prays’ project coordinated by Mr. Gowon has also been interpreted by many as yet another attempt to make amends as guilt has proven such a difficult customer.
The NYSC was created to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil War. Coming from a senseless war, Nigeria surely stood in need of a rebuild. The scheme has had its highs, many of them in fact. Every year, thousands of Nigerian graduates, fresh from the chaos of Nigeria`s higher institutions, and ecstatic about having survived interminable strikes by disgruntled university staff, flow out and fan out into every nook and cranny in service of the country.
Many of them, who only visit their states of assignment for the first time because of the scheme, make impossible sacrifices. There have been heartwarming stories of libraries built and clean water provided in the most rural of villages. There have been amazing stories of rural children treated of killer childhood diseases and educated for next to nothing. Many families hitherto mired in generational poverty have been given a lifeline by innovative corps members amidst many other moving stories of the backbreaking sacrifices the heart can make when touched by the suffering of others. To this end, the NYSC and its many participants over the years must take full credit. Their efforts have been indelible monuments to the transcendental power of education.
The lows have been legion and lamentable. Corps members have been caught in the vicious cycle of Nigeria`s electoral crises. Drafted to serve as ad-hoc staff by the Independent National Electoral Commission, Corps members have lost their lives to those who make tainted living from desecrating ballot boxes. Corpses of Corps members have been returned to heartbroken families.
Corp members have also fallen victims of the senseless crises which occasionally plague some of Nigeria`s most restive cities, out of nowhere. As Boko Haram has slaughtered its way to local and international notoriety in the Nigeria`s north-east, Corps members have become increasingly endangered. Because the scheme sends them to the remotest parts of the country, some of them have run into Boko Haram`s many traps.
When the postings are published, those who have the means immediately seek redeployment from volatile states. Insecurity has cast upon the scheme a situation where its ultimate aim of fostering national unity is defeated because participants in the scheme are reluctant to serve in some states. So, the scheme has become narrower than those who conceived it ever imagined. Today, insecurity strangles the scheme which is not able to guarantee the safety of its members.
The body language of those who administer the scheme has also not helped matters. It was not long ago that the scheme`s Director-General stirred the hornet`s nest by saying that corps members could be sent into warfare at short notice.
The scheme has also suffered from a severe lack of funds. Some states do not commit to paying participants anything other than what the federal government commits to pay monthly. Many states have done shockingly little to upgrade the scheme`s facilities within the states thus leaving corps members vulnerable to insecurity and poverty. All these happen because it is convenient for state governments to ignore the mammoth contributions of corps members to the development of their respective states.
The NYSC was a child of the Nigerian Civil War. Like any child of war, it was not carefully planned. However, it has gone on to do its bit.
However, in the face of prevailing circumstances, it appears the scheme has outlived its usefulness. Unless it is met with genuine reforms, it must be scrapped.
Kene Obiezu, Abuja