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The National Youth Service Corps Decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973 which has now been repealed and replaced by Decree 51 of 16th June 1993, established the NYSC in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian civil war, with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, email@example.com, 08036070980