Friday, December 18, 2009

Re-Invigorating The NYSC

The Punch Newspaper of Thursday, February 12th 2009, carried a story on its page 11, with a caption: ‘Wear NYSC Uniforms During Crisis’; the story goes as follows: “The Delta State Coordinator, National Youth Service Corps, Mrs. Edith Nweke, has asked youth corps members in their various places of primary assignment to wear NYSC uniforms as a mark of identification during crisis situation. The uniforms, according to her, communicate unity, peace and stability and are capable of protecting lives of corps members when danger looms, especially during communal clashes. Nweke in an exclusive interview with our (The Punch) correspondent in Asaba, said wearing the uniforms would also make warring parties to perceive serving members as neutral in time of conflicts.”

This writer is of the opinion that millions of Nigerians were in complete disagreement with the Delta State coordinator of the NYSC. This is because, once there is a crisis, whether communal, political or ethno-religious, the bloodthirsty perpetrators of such crisis and the stray bullets that fly around during crisis would not differentiate a person wearing the NYSC uniform from others. Apart from these, the trauma of being caught at such places and the apprehension corps members’ family members go through is another thing.

The NYSC of today is a mirror image of the present day Nigeria- it is so much engulfed by uncertainties; but there is hope for it revival. Anger with bitterness, pessimisms with despair and optimisms with little hope are today trailing the NYSC. The recent Jos crisis has brought out Nigerians’ diverse perceptions of today’s NYSC. The reason for that is absolutely not only the heart-saddening Jos crisis; but an indication that what we have is not what ought to be.

The National Youth Service Corps Decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973 which has now been repealed and replaced by Decree 51 of 16th June 1993, established the NYSC in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian civil war, with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity; this was to inculcate in Nigerian youths the spirit of selfless service to communities, and to emphasize the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural, religious or social background.

Has the NYSC achieved the objectives for which it was set-up? Is the scheme relevant to the present realities in the Nigerian society and the world at large? If one is optimistic about the scheme, one has to know that, what we have, is it what ought to be. At the same time, those that are pessimistic about the future and the relevance of the scheme in the present day Nigeria, have to know there are considerably some rooms for the restructuring of the scheme.

The NYSC has to be restructured in cognizance of the current Nigerian and global realities– especially as it relates to the economic uplift of the Nigerian youths. Time has come for the NYSC to be the engine room for in-depth research with a holistic approach to identify youth issues; marshal youth participation in the Nigerian economy and equip them with knowledge and skills to face emerging issues in the context of globalisation. Let the NYSC, in this ‘New World’’, be the springboard for the Nigerian Graduates to effectively participate in the global economy.
The scheme has to pull itself from the mentality of the regimental ‘by the left, quick march!’ approach - i.e. the situation where much emphasis is given to the two weeks orientation camp; after which corps members are left at the mercy of their primary employers and the harsh environment they may find themselves.

The one year national service should, and must be beyond the primary assignment, where more than 90 percent of corps members end up being discouraged and go through stern hardship; because only those that have the opportunity to serve in private sector get the chance to learn some new skills, practical walkthroughs and sound decision-making process.
The NYSC scheme has to be re-modified and its workings restructured so that it would serve as an apex organisation for the sensitisation and empowerment of Graduates to embrace the challenges of the complex world.

The first step is for the scheme to search for partners- both local and multinationals companies, for its funding and running of programmes such as establishment of invention and innovation centres. There are quite a number of private sector players who would be willing to contribute to that. The Nigerian Universities chunk out thousand of Computer Software Engineers, Operation Researchers, Applied Scientists, Designers, Agric-Engineers etc every year. These invention and innovation centres can serve as employers of corps members, at the same time as an avenue to train them for the larger world. Private sector players who are to manage these centres would also make the most of them in their R& D and for recruitment of fresh hands.

Another way which the scheme can use to re-define its objectives is in the area of effective revitalisation of the Corps Members Farming Project. This aspect of the scheme should be invigorated. The farms should be transformed into large scale farms, where corps members from different disciplines would apply their knowledge to manage them. However, the project has to be continuous and sustainable, i.e. a framework should be put in place so that commercial banks and other institution can come in.

As earlier mentioned, the NYSC should be restructured in such a way that it becomes the stepping-stone for the Nigerian Graduates to have skills; true knowledge on productive and profitable work environment; personal financial education; know-how on managing income and how to plan ahead and manage small projects. To achieve this, the NYSC needs a management that knows itself and what it stands for and do what is right. A management that is resourceful; courageous, corrupt-free and has an uncanny ability optimally taps youth’s constructive and creative energies and develops their personality and entrepreneurial skills.

Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State,, 08036070980

New Approach To Salvaging The Education Sector

It is no more news, Nigeria is witnessing systems deterioration. The most worrying and one that requires urgent, systematic and systemic attention, is the education sector.

The confusion, lack of stability and misdirection in the Nigerian education sector has reached a stage that the sector needs a radical restructuring and galvanization composing of reforms similar to that of Soviet Union 1980’s Glasnost and Perestroika reforms; the 1947 European Recovery Program,- The Marshall Plan and China’s Chairman Mao, 1958,The Great Leap Forward. Perhaps, one may sound as an alarmist; but we need such kind of reforms in order to further liberalize the sector, recreate and rebuild its hitherto strong foundation and bring new ideas and thinking to policy planning and effective management of the sector.

Nigeria has for the several years formulated quite a number of education policies. The country has organised so many seminars and conferences, collected voluminous proposals and blueprints from both local and international experts, on how to salvage the education sector. Does it mean that all those past efforts were not in the right direction? Of course not, what was missing was the leadership’s political will, and the right team to push the right button. Though, this not a call for the usual way Nigerian government does things. It is a known fact that from the late 80’s, public schools in Nigeria, have been bewildered by perpetual labour disputes, government incessant revision of the education curriculum, constant amending of schools calendar, and the seeming joy in altering and introducing new policies in the education system.

There is a huge hole in the heart of our education system. Thus, as nation, we dearly need a means that can finally construct a plan that will solve the continuously increasing problems in our education system. We really need a shift in the way our schools are run. And we have to put up a system that will provide adequate funding and help in improving the standard and quality of both teachers and students; a system that will completely aid in shifting away from the tradition- where government is the provider, administrator, monitor and assessor of how fund are utilized. Though, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Nigeria as a nation has three options on how to breathe life into the education sector: first is outright government shouldering of the management of the sector; the second is leaving everything to the private sector; while the third option is opting for Public Private Partnership.
The first option, i.e. outright government shouldering the management of the education sector seems to have failed, largely due to corruption and mismanagement, because the system has worked before. During the 50’s 60’s and even early 70’s the Nigerian education system has clothed, fed, educated and provided readily available jobs for the teaming educated Nigerians. However, the irony is; those who had the benefit of the system, are the ones who destroyed it.
The second option i.e. leaving every thing to private sector hands, should not be in anybody’s mine, as it would be detrimental to the progress of Nigeria. This is because once the education sector is left to the mercy of private hands; many Nigerian children would be shut-out of school, since majority of Nigerians cannot afford the fees charged by privately owned educational institution. Thus the nation would miss the opportunity of developing the best of her human capital.

Looking at the present state of administration of our education system, it seems private sector participation in the sector is inevitable. This writer is a strong advocate of private sector greater participation in managing our public schools; but not a ‘bulldozer’ kind of participation, where government will entirely surrender these schools to private entrepreneurs- thus, students, teachers and parents would be at the mercy of private hands. What we need is, a ‘measured’ Public Private Partnership, where government should build new schools, equip old ones. Then take a benchmark from a well-run private school on what it costs per student-head in running a school; then a gradual entrusting of public schools to private sector, where government provides the funds, taking into cognizance the cost per student; as it is in private scholls, while the private sector manages it especially in the area of infrastructures maintenance, provision of teaching tools, management of training programmes for teachers - hence, our educational system will be run efficiently, new sustainable jobs will be created and government will be relieved from the burden of ‘ carrying the camel and its loads’. This suggestion may appear odd. However, an honest assessment of the budgetary spending per student head by the three tiers of government will for sure for show that the amount spent by the government per student head exceeds the one the best schools in Nigeria charge per student head.

As earlier mentioned, the type of reform, the Nigerian education system needs should be systematic as well as systemic. It has to cover primary, secondary and tertiary schools, at the same give emphasis to prioritization of need. And all the three tiers of government as well as the private sector should participate effectively and efficiently with well-spelled roles to be played by each.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State,, 08036070980