Is the NYSC Still Relevant? —By Joseph Oko Odey

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Joseph Odey|31 July 2016

In this era of increased fiscal prudence owing to dwindling revenue, the government is exploring ways to generate more income for the national coffers. One of the means by which it has done this is by turning to the taxman: any casual observer would notice that since crude oil prices nosedived over a year ago, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, an institution hitherto known to exist only in name, suddenly went on overdrive. Businesses of all sizes were threatened with immediate closure if they did not update their tax papers. You would find FIRS notices on virtually every business premises.

Presently, one will be hard put to find a Nigerian that is not aware or in agreement with the fact that the government is hard pressed to save money by reducing the humongous cost of running the country while trying to plug loopholes through which the available funds are being frittered away.
In this light, it is important to bring the attention of the government back to the National Youth Service Corps – a scheme that has lost its usefulness over the years and has gradually become a heavy burden on the nation’s lean finances.

Established by General Yakubu Gowon in 1973, it was meant to be a catalyst for the government’s effort at reunification after the devastating three-year civil war by exposing young graduates to the way of life of other parts of the nation through travelling and intermingling which the scheme facilitated. It was also intended to ameliorate the issue of deficiency in manpower as the country lacked skilled hands at that time, having gained independence a little more than a decade before; and independence caused the withdrawal of many British colonial staff.

Fast forward to 2016, forty-three years after the formation of the scheme, it has become largely unproductive and is perceived by graduates as an unnecessary encumbrance to be endured before one can seek paid employment.

As it was formed to help with integration, those who participated in the early days of the scheme were posted to places far from their areas of origin. For example, a Mahmud from Sokoto in the defunct North-Western State who graduated from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria would be assigned to serve in the South-Eastern State, now Cross River. In the same vein, a hypothetical Mukoro from Bendel State who graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka would find himself serving somewhere in Gongola State. These movements indeed promoted interethnic interaction and helped to bond the country tighter.

In contemporary times however, with the greatly increased mobility of Nigerians and a whole new level of social interaction, you would find in every town, people from virtually all the states of the federation in temporal or permanent residence, effectively neutralizing the usefulness of the NYSC as a means of facilitating the relocation of Nigerians to different places for integration.

Also, every federal institution of higher learning in this country can boast at least a hundred students from each state of the nation. As a student of the University of Maiduguri (from Cross River State) I met and acquainted myself with students from the thirty-five other states. I knew Irene Okon from Akwa – Ibom state, then a student of the faculty of law; Joshua Ebuka, of the department of Accountancy was my friend from Imo state; Hope Chukwuemeka from Abia, also a law student was my associate; my friend ‘Ali Baba’ Alada of the faculty of Veterinary Medicine was President of the University of Maiduguri chapter of the Lagos State Students Association. I also knew Abubakar Baba from Yobe, Oche Hyacinth from Benue State, Happiness Sarki from Adamawa, Deborah Bula from Gombe among many others.

Although it is often argued that the Youth Service Scheme provides hands-on training for young graduates and is also a kind of middle ground to help with the transition from student to worker, it is not entirely the case. This is because every student, in the course of study, is made to undergo a compulsory period of training called SIWES – Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme. It is compulsory for SIWES students to be attached to industries or organizations for practical training to gain skills and experience relevant to their field of study. It is one of the requirements which must be fulfilled before graduation. This makes the argument that the NYSC should be sustained on the grounds of skill acquisition rather preposterous.

To add to the issues militating against the scheme, it is now common to see participants getting transferred to places of their choice. After the NYSC posting, those unsatisfied simply grease a few palms to get themselves re-posted, most times to their home states which renders the entire process ineffectual.

In the last 8 years alone, roughly 500 billion naira was spent on the scheme. The larger slice goes to pay the monthly allowance of corpers while another huge part oils the bureaucracy running it. We all remember how the scheme was almost grounded sometime ago when its budget was downsized by 13 billion, a small fraction of the total figure. If the NYSC scheme is discontinued, part of this huge sum could be used as seed capital for fresh graduates who wish to be entrepreneurs and job creators as it will be of greater benefit to them and the Nigerian society.

Although many might kick against jettisoning the scheme on the grounds that its bloated staff would lose their jobs, this is not so as they can easily be absorbed by suitable ministries or agencies and be more relevant there; thus contributing more to the nation.
Seeing that the National Youth Service Scheme has become desultory, it should be discontinued or completely overhauled to reflect present realities and ease the strain on the nation’s lean purse considering the lingering economic distress. This would also save Nigerian youths the drudgery of having to waste a year of their lives in conditions akin to slavery all in the name of NYSC.

Joseph Oko Odey
Plot 1345 Ahmadu Bello Way, Garki II, Abuja.