The Bill before the House of Representatives seeking the discontinuation of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has received knocks and cheers from a host of Nigerians.
These include serving and prospective corps members, parents and former staff of the organisation, who noted that the scheme is still serving its purpose and should not be scrapped for any reason whatsoever.
However, some respondents expressed support for the bill, saying NYSC has outlived its usefulness and should either be restructured to meet current realities or scrapped outright.
This is as the NYSC, yesterday, clarified that it was not mobilising corps members for war. The NYSC Deputy Director (Publications), Emeka Mgbemena, made the clarification in a statement, titled, ‘Rebuttal: No Corps Member is Being Mobilised for War,’ issued on behalf of its Director (Press and Public Relations), Adenike Adeyemi.
The statement read: “This is to clarify the misrepresentation of the NYSC Director General’s recent interview with the media currently trending on the social media.x
“The Director General had stated that in line with the National Defence Policy, corps members are like soldiers on reserve, because their education, exposure and sophistication can make them easily adaptable to military training.
“He charged them to remain focused and patriotic, and for the spirit of NYSC to live in all Nigerians. “Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim never, at any point, said that corps members are being mobilised to fight war.
“The scheme shall continue to safeguard the interest of corps members at all times.” The Bill seeking to repeal Section 315(5)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and has already passed the Second Reading, was sponsored by Awaji-Inombek Abiante, representing Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State.
In the explanatory memorandum of the proposal, Abiante said: “Incessant killing of innocent corps members in some parts of the country due to banditry, religious extremism and ethnic violence; incessant kidnapping of innocent corps members across the country…
“Due to insecurity across the country, the NYSC management now gives considerations to posting corps members to their geopolitical zone, thus defeating one of the objectives of setting up the service corps, i.e. developing common ties among the Nigerian youths and promote national unity and integration.”
The NYSC, which started on May 22, 1973, was established during the military regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, under Decree No. 24 of 1973, to reconcile and reintegrate Nigerians after the Nigerian civil war.
Speaking with The Guardian, a former Director of Mobilisation at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Anthony Ani, expressed great concern about the Bill seeking discontinuation of the scheme.
Ani, in an interview, yesterday, in Abuja, cautioned that the move might worsen the level of insecurity in the country, adding: “If you scrap NYSC, what are you going to do with these young graduates that have come out from the university with nothing to do?
“Don’t you think that it will heighten the insecurity situation in the country? Don’t you think that it will make our youths to be very despondent and then begin to fight the government?x
“Another objectives of the NYSC, which is very critical, is to make the corps members be self-reliant. Right now, we don’t have big employment available in Nigeria to go round and government is the highest employer of labour in the country as of today. The majority of industries have all closed down and the ones still operating are working at less than 50 per cent capacity.
“You now ask yourself, can government employ all the graduates coming out when we have over 350,000 corps members graduating from the NYSC? Can the federal and state governments employ all of them? The answer is no!”
He stressed that the scheme is the most needed programme now, in view of the present situation where Nigeria is almost divided along ethnic and religious lines.
“More than ever before, this is when you need the NYSC. If we are talking about national unity and now you have a situation where people are now suspicious of one another; I think we need the NYSC more now than ever.
“First and foremost, we have to look at the purpose for which it was established, which is to foster national unity and integration, among others. When you look at it, we then ask ourselves, right now, what is the situation in Nigeria, are we more integrated? The answer is no,” he said.
He added that the scheme has established the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) programme to coordinate efforts towards empowering corps members nationwide to become thriving entrepreneurs and value-adding employees after their service year.
Ani explained: “That is why the NYSC, right from 2012, has been stressing on the need for skill acquisition for corps members. They now have camp and post-camp training, which gives corps members the opportunity to acquire at least one skill God has endowed them with and once they discover it, NYSC will help them to develop this skill and also assist them to get a start-up capital.
“I am not of the opinion that the NYSC should be scrapped. However, I have listened to the sponsor of the Bill and the reason he adduced. Number one is said that because of insecurity, corps members are being killed. I think that is a lie.x
“The only time corps members were killed was during the election in 2011. After that, we have not had any incident where corps members were attacked and killed. The other corps member killed was during a demonstration in Abuja, which was an accident.
“Giving that as an excuse is not correct, and I don’t think it was proper for somebody to now say that corps members are being killed as a result of insecurity. That is not fair to the NYSC; the sponsor is not properly informed. However, this is democracy and he has the right to air his opinion.
“The other reason that corps members are now being posted to their geopolitical zones. The truth of it is that I doubt whether he took time to read the NYSC Act. There is nowhere in the Act where it states that people should not be posted within their geo-political zones.
“I want people to specifically refer to Section 1, Subsection 4 D of the NYSC Act, which states that corps members should be posted to states other than their own and in given them assignments, they should make sure that people from different sections of Nigeria are within that place.”
Raymond Jeremiah, a retired Naval officer and parent, told The Guardian that with the current situation in the country, the scheme’s objective seems defeated.
He, however, quickly added: “Rather than scrap the NYSC, government should review its objectives and focus training on self-defense, vocational skills and entrepreneurship.
“There are many graduates, but little or no job to cater for them. With the vocational training and start-up capital, they can start something for themselves rather than waiting endlessly for jobs that are not forthcoming.”
For Ifeoluwa Dopamu, a graduate assistant, the current state of insecurity poses a great challenge to the scheme. She, however, believes it is still very relevant in the quest for national unity and cohesion and should not be scrapped but reformed.x
“Those calling for the scrapping fail to understand that it is one of the reasons we have many graduates in our society. While growing, I looked forward to the day I would wear the khaki and serve the country, which eventually happened,” she stated.
An Abuja-based corps member, Nonyerem, shares Ani’s thought that discontinuing the scheme could lead to more insecurity in the country. “It is not a wise decision to scrap the scheme, because insecurity might just worsen.
“Most corps members use the scheme to save up their allowance as a way to push themselves after the service. If it is scrapped, many people might go into crime almost immediately.
“As an alternative, the scheme can be restructured. Skill acquisition or technical training should be the focus of the scheme instead. Paramilitary training can also be added, but it should not be done in a way that makes security agencies irrelevant.”
Emmanuel, a corps member in Lagos, said: “I am in support of restructuring the scheme. It should focus on boosting entrepreneurship instead or more contemporary technical courses.
“Furthermore, every corps member should be given a sort of capital to start something, however small, after service. That way, youths won’t have to deal with anxiety and over-thinking after service or engage in anything untoward.”
Sophia from Delta State also joined the clamour for the scheme to be restructured in favour of entrepreneurship and grants, saying: “N33,000 in 12 months is N396, 000 for each corps member. Let government pay every graduate that amount at once, so we can use it to start a business or invest in future trainings and not spending a whole year endangering our lives as easy targets for kidnappers and others.x
“Also, after the service, most people would be left unemployed with nothing to show for it. So, they should scrap the thing and pay graduates.”
For Zara Okeke, a 400-Level student of the University Of Benin (UNIBEN), the scheme is a dream she has looked forward to right from elementary school.
“I am not sure what the main attraction is, whether it’s the NYSC uniform or the zeal to serve my country for a year or even the proof that I finally pulled through all the hurdles to get tertiary education, but scraping the scheme for all the said reasons would amount to scraping my dream.
“As a younger girl in secondary school, we lived in a face-me-I-face-you house; our environment wasn’t education friendly and as a matter of fact, only a few young ones braved the odd of furthering their education after secondary school, as most of them dropped out before graduating from high school. Some girls got pregnant while others gave in to menace.
“My father would always call my attention to any ‘corper’ at sight, just to remind me why I have to take my education seriously in order to gain admission into the university and then go ahead to serve my country, wearing the peculiar uniform.
“So, if insecurity is the issue, perhaps government should permit everyone to serve at his or her comfort zone, although I really wish to explore other parts of Nigeria, especially the North. I find some of the interesting stories I heard of the place worthy of adventure.
“However, with the everyday development of insecurity in that geography, it’s no longer a safe place for ‘corpers.”
Okeke, however, objected to paramilitary training, saying such would be too rigorous for female ‘corpers’. “Am I supposed to get trained to singlehandedly defend myself against insurgents, kidnappers and other criminals in the country? And if that were the case, how long would the training take before I can actually defend myself?x
“I don’t see the feasibility of paramilitary training, which is why I opted for students serving at their comfort zones. All these options can be explored rather than scrapping the scheme, which has now become some sort of a culture, a part of who we are as a country,” she said.
A former vice president of the Students’ Union Government (SUG), Federal Polytechnic Oko, Atani Campus in Anambra State, Nkiruka Okeke, also decried the move to discontinue the scheme at a time she was inching towards her turn to serve, saying: “Make them no try me ooooo. Not now am about to serve, biko.”
A serving corps member, Omalicha, added: “NYSC brings together people from different ethnic groups (in camp and primary assignments). There are skills being taught there too, which is sponsored by government, as well as an opportunity for those wishing to relocate.
“If where they are posted to is not good, they may choose to be re-posted. There are many impacts of NYSC to corps members.”
A final year of student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, who simply gave her name as Ada, described the Bill as “kill-joy”, noting that she hopes to enroll for the scheme.
She, however, admitted that the promotion of ethnic rather than national interest, disunity and rising security challenges in the country are issues that could make her have a rethink and forgo the exercise.
A final year student of the Plateau State University, Bokkos, Cecilia David, said she was saddened by the move to scrap the scheme, adding: “I have been so very excited that very soon, I would be going to another state to do my national service.
“Let government tackle insecurity. Insecurity is everywhere and corps members are just victims of national insecurity; they are Nigerians.”
An Abuja-based corps member, Benita, said: “The scheme should not be scrapped, because it has done more good than the harm being highlighted.x
“Truly, it is not meeting up to the purpose for which it was created and there can be some sort of restructuring to help it become effective. Government should bring in new ideas. The advantages of the scheme cannot be overemphasised; it’s a very big opportunity for people to visit places they have never been to and gain more contacts.
“I can boast of friends in almost every part of the country. It is a way of bolstering national unity, because I see these people I met as my own family.
“I don’t think there should be an alternative to the scheme. If it is scrapped now, prospective corps members would feel left out. NYSC is almost everybody’s first job experience. Even while drafting your CV, you have something to say.
“NYSC also has many staff and scrapping it would mean destabilising many homes that rely on someone working in the organisation.”
She also explained that paramilitary training for corps members was not sufficient to checkmate security challenges, noting: “Corps members cannot be paramilitary; it would not be easy. Would three weeks be enough to give someone a good paramilitary training? I don’t think so.
“Everybody should be able to defend themselves. In any case, we have security agents that should be doing that as their job. The insecurity in the country should be tackled on its own.”
Mahmud Sani said the scheme is a symbol of national unity, noting: “If the House suggests its modification, there is no problem, but not scrapping it. If they have nothing to keep them busy, they should shut up.”
IN Cross River State, Godwin Ohara, who is waiting for his call up letter for November batch, stated: “I think it should not be scraped, because the NYSC platform gives young graduates the opportunity to go outside their immediate environments to different states to serve their nation and at the same time get firsthand experience of what they might want to be in the field of work.
“Although I know our country today is facing security issues, I don’t think scrapping the scheme would be the solution; they should rather find drastic measures to end insecurity in the country.
“The NYSC may not be serving its purpose 100 per cent, which is the unity of the country, but it is the best for the country. Corps members could serve in their states or within their geographical locations.”x
He sees para-military training as a good idea, but noted that the scheme “should also make rules that will guide against miss-use of such skill.”
A former corps member, Chris Njoku, maintained that NYSC has always served as a national integration programme, no matter how it is viewed by some Nigerians.
He noted: “Whether we like it or not, the idea of scraping it doesn’t make sense; they should rather tackle insecurity.
“NYSC has helped me in so many ways. No other scheme will give you the lifetime experience. So, scraping NYSC would be the biggest mistake this country could do to fresh graduates,” Njoku fumed.
A 400-level student of the University of Calabar, Ada Anyafulu, condemned the idea of scrapping the scheme, saying her biggest dream has always been to wear the NYSC kaki.
“I have always dreamt of wearing NYSC kaki and still dreaming, so the idea of strapping it is not right. I think the best they can do is give corps members the opportunity to choose their place of serve,” he added.
Some corps members, however, insisted that the scheme was no longer achieving its founding goals of unifying the country, calling for its discontinuation.
Rufai Abolanle, an undergraduate of the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, lamented that innocent corps members were being killed or kidnapped in some parts of the country due to banditry, religious extremism and ethnic violence.
“It should be scrapped. Government should replace it with a better scheme,” she told The Guardian. AbdulRasheed Azeez, his 200-level counterpart, also said the scheme should be scrapped because of insecurity, noting that as a student, he used to be excited about the NYSC, but has stopped looking forward to it because she would not want to go to a state where crisis could start anytime.
“If government wants to retain it, people should be allowed to participate in the scheme in the same state or a nearby state.”
A serving corps member in Kebbi State, Tochukwu, stated: “I honestly feel it should be scrapped since the aim is no longer achieved. After graduation, one should be entitled to a certain amount to assist in any business idea.x
“Nowadays, one big issue with the scheme is that most organisations no longer employ workers again; they rely on corps members to do most of the fulltime roles, because it is cheaper labour for them, and this is not fair to the corps members.
“The issue of paramilitary training would not be useful, as it cannot be sufficient to help corps members defend themselves in the face of insurgents or killer herders.”
Another corps member in Oyo State, Sherifat, feels the scheme should be suspended for now, “because the security issues in the country is worsening. Let government attend to the security issues first. I don’t think youths should be endangered.
“Corp members choosing where they want to serve defeats the purpose of the scheme, which is fostering national unity. It is best to not allow corps members serve wherever they want to serve, but at least, post them to their fields of interests. It would be better for their productivity. The aspect of the scheme where almost everyone is posted to schools should be restructured.
“I personally don’t believe in the idea of the paramilitary training. Not everybody is wired to have the strength for such. Even in the camps, you would see people fainting from just parade.
“Again, there is so much extremism in Nigeria that the soldiers would take it to another level. If at all it should hold, it should be an optional training.”
Another corps member based in Lagos, Tega, believes the scheme should be scrapped, insisting that the purpose of creating it has been defeated.
“It does not bring any plus to people; it doesn’t take care of the corps members involved. Some of the people who are fostering this insecurity right now were also once corps members, meaning that it didn’t really do much to spread unity.
“So, those people went through the service year in those days where the orientation was even stronger and are currently the ones fighting against each other. If it didn’t work then, it won’t work now. I feel instead, school leavers should be given a one year paid workmanship in their field of study.x
“On paramilitary training, I feel we cannot be like security personnel and so it should be optional.”Another corps member in Kebbi State, Odufa, shares the same sentiment.
She said: “We already have universities where people of diverse backgrounds meet. There is no need for furthering the programme. As an alternative, firstly the scheme could be made voluntary.
“Secondly, it should stop being a requirement for securing good jobs, because it throws almost all the corps members into work areas that are away from their field of study, like schools, so they really don’t get any deepening of their expertise.
“Thirdly, they should provide technical training instead, to help youths adapt to the current career standards in the labour market. Education is already a unifier; there is no need for the scheme.
“Considering the current insecurity, paramilitary training is essential for everyone and not just corps members. If it should be introduced, it should be done in a safe and quality manner and not just to glorify punishment by extremist soldiers.”
Mordecai, a corps member, also in Kebbi State, urged the government to restructure the scheme in such a way that each person serves in his or her geopolitical zone at the very least or where they choose to serve, just as he said paramilitary training would not be a bad idea, if included.
For Abdul, despite the fact that the scheme is geared towards unifying Nigerians, most do not feel safe serving in some states in the country and the alternative is to allow them do so in places where they feel secure.
“For states that are not secure, ‘corpers’ shouldn’t be posted there till the security situation improves. I also think paramilitary training should be given to ‘corpers,’ so we can defend ourselves as best as possible.
“Many Nigerians are very tribalistic and believe in ethnic supremacy, thus defeating the whole purpose of the scheme and has rendered it almost useless today. I suggest that NYSC should become zonal and each geopolitical zone be allowed to host its own ‘corpers,’ sharing them within their zone as they deem best. This would solve a lot of problems, seeing that many people are no longer interested in going to some regions.”
Aminu in Oyo State decried worsening insecurity in the country, saying if the situation continues, the scheme would have to be discontinued to protect the lives of prospective corps members.x
“People would always want to ‘work’ their service to their home state, because everyone wants to feel safe and nobody wants to die. We all know what is happening with our security officers in the country now. Before now, the ratio of Police to citizens was appalling and now it is even worse.
“Bandits, herdsmen and kidnappers have more sophisticated weapons than our security agents. So, who am I to face them as a mere ‘corper?’ Paramilitary training for ‘corpers’ is not a bad idea if it is structured well and carried out appropriately,” he said.
For Abdulrahman, people only participate in the scheme because of the free money they get for the year, stressing: “I believe the scheme is helping some people, but the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.”
Uche in Lagos said NYSC should be scrapped, not only due to insecurity, but also because of the proliferation of graft in the system.
“There is too much insecurity in Nigeria. In fact, Lagos is technically the safest place in Nigeria; every other place is a red zone. Let us not talk about the North, where people are still being posted. It makes no sense for this scheme to run, because there is no value for human life in Nigeria. If a corps member is killed, the highest we would hear is ‘may her/his soul rest in peace.’
“Also, any scheme that causes disparity between the rich and the poor makes no sense to me. Even before the security challenges, people were already influencing where they wanted to be posted. That alone has defeated the aim for which NYSC was established. The system itself is full of bias and graft. People pay huge sums of money to influence these postings.
“NYSC is a waste of time, because after the scheme, most of us go back to Square One. The system is messed up; it is just a social gathering. Even in the camp, there is graft; so many people are ghost corps members,” he said.
A prospective corps member, Vivian Nwajiaku, noted: “If the scheme was really fostering any unity, Nigeria would not be on the brink of war right now. All these years, it hasn’t achieved its purpose.
“But they should not scrap it totally; they should scrap camping, but leave the PPA (Place of Primary Assignment), and people should be able to serve wherever they want.”
For Maria, a post-graduate student at the Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo, the objective of the scheme, though good, has been defeated with the present insecurity around the country, stating: “I did my national assignment in Katsina State and was seconded to a school. But with the current realities in the country, in terms of insecurity, I think the NYSC should be scrapped.”x
She said there were other ways to engage graduates rather than jeopardise their lives in the name of fostering cohesion through national service.
“Being posted to Katsina helped me to change the notion and perception I initially had about the North and their level of education. But during my service period, I had a near death encounter in my PPA,” she recalled.
She stated that if government does not want to scrap the scheme, it should provide security for corps members, especially after the orientation period.
“If government doesn’t want to scrap the programme, they should provide security for the corps members, particularly after the orientation programme at the camp.
“Yes, NYSC programme is good, as it provides post-graduation experience to corps members; they learn on the job. But I’m of the opinion that the scheme should be scrapped, as the essence of its establishment is being challenged now with the state of insecurity in the country. What other purpose does the programme promote if the safety of the participants are not guaranteed,” she said.x