NATIONAL YOUTH SERVICE CORPS: 1973 – DATE
There is no gain saying the fact that the future of any country depends on the youths. While one may give credence to the saying that leaders are born, not made, one must also concede to the fact that leadership in a modem society requires a certain degree of preparation and orientation before the assumption of that role.
It was the need to look beyond the immediate and to think of the future leadership of the country that necessitated the mobilisation of certain categories of our youths through the National Youth Service Corps Scheme. This was done with a view to giving them the proper guidance and orientation relevant to the needs of the country.
At the end of the civil war, General Yakubu Gowon, the head of the federal government in 1973, had announced a “no victor, no vanquished” policy. In order to give substance to this old pronouncement, the Gowon administration embarked on a national programme of rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation. With the bitter lessons of the First Republic still fresh and the pains of the war yet resounding in the background, it was immediately realised that the proposed national youth service programme would be needed to quickly address the roots of the problem of national unity. Lessons from the Nigerian civil war dictated the need to explore avenues where Nigerians could mix freely for better understanding and to foster national unity.
The government however chose to proceed cautiously. It first declared May 27th of every year the National Youth Day. In his 1972, National Day broadcast, General Yakubu Gowon spoke of his government’s intention to establish two youth service schemes, one voluntary and the other compulsory. The schemes, he said would be designed to bring together our qualified young men and women and to inculcate in them a sense of discipline, dedication, national pride and consciousness through nationally directed disciplined training, not necessarily in the Armed Forces, but in serving the nation in any capacity for a short period before settling down to their chosen careers. And at the Eighth convocation ceremony of the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, two months later, General Gowon invited Nigerian students to come forward with their own ideas on how the proposed scheme could be made to work.
Finally, after months of exhaustive deliberations and consultations, the National Youth Service Corps Decree 24 of 1973 was promulgated on May 22, 1973, and the National Directorate was inaugurated on June 4 1973. Professor Adebayo Adedeji was appointed its first Chairman (National) and Colonel (Dr) Ahmadu Ali its first Director (National). The decree stated that the NYSC is being established with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity.
At the inauguration of the scheme on 4th June, 1973, the Head the State, General Yakubu Gowon, in his address in Lagos said. “I am delighted to address this inaugural meeting of the Directorate of the National Youth Service Corps. It is not a new subject to contemporary Nigerians, in fact, since the attainment of independence, Nigerians from various walks of life, including university students and intellectuals have, from time to time, addressed themselves to the need to establish a scheme which would bring Nigerian youths together under a single umbrella, with the objective of instilling in them those qualities of dedication, patriotism and national consciousness without which no country or people can be truly great and without which our young people cannot have the right to aspire to the future leadership of this nation.
“It has been generally accepted that if Nigeria is to make rapid progress in all fronts internally, and if she is to make her mark in the continent of Africa, and indeed, in the comity of nations, then her youths must be fully mobilised and be prepared to offer willingly and without asking for rewards in return, their best in the service of their nation at all time.
“The establishment of the National Youth Service Corps is the first step towards the realisation of this lofty goal. To achieve this goal, the nation has set out the main objectives of the scheme. To recapitulate, the main objectives of the National Youth Service Corps are:
* To inculcate discipline in our youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work, and, of patriotic and loyal service to the nation in any situation they may find themselves.
* To raise the moral tone of our youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher deals of national achievement and social and cultural improvement. To develop in our youths attitudes of mind, acquired through shared experience and suitable training which will make them more amenable to mobilisation in the national interest.
* To develop common ties among our youths and promote national unity by ensuring that: as far as possible, youths are assigned to jobs in states other than their states of origin; each group, assigned to work together, as representatives of the country as possible; the youths are exposed to the modes of living of the people in different parts of the country with a view to removing prejudices, eliminating ignorance, and confirming at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups.
*To encourage members of the corps to seek, at the end of their corps service, career employment all over the country thus promoting the free movement of labour. To induce employers, partly through their experience with corps members, to employ more readily qualified Nigerians irrespective of their states of origin. To enable our youths to acquire the spirit of self-reliance. “
He went further to say that:
“It should be clear from these noble objectives that it is in the interest of all concerned that the National Youth Service Corps should succeed. However, its success, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, depends, to a very large extent, on the manner in which you as members of the directorate discharge your duties and responsibilities.
“You have been called upon to render a unique service to this great nation in an entirely new scheme. The courage and the spontaneity with which you responded to the call on duty and placed your God-given talents and experience willingly at the disposal of the nation has given me cause to believe that you are up to the task before you.
“I trust that just as you have accepted your assignment as a challenge, so have aII the members of the state committees as well as all the officials who will be associated with the scheme. I therefore, have no doubt whatever that the scheme will be successful.
“Naturally, the goings cannot be easy at the beginning. Many unforeseen difficulties will arise. Your time, energy, and perhaps patience, will be fully stretched from time to time; but as long as you keep the objectives of the scheme constantly in mind, and, so long as you accept this opportunity for service as a challenge, you will not fail. I have the assurances of all the state governments that they, on their own part, will give you maximum co-operation at all time.
“They are no less involved in this new venture than the federal government. In this connection, I am aware that your secretariat has already been so inundated with requests for corps members (this high level-manpower) in various fields that it is impossible to meet even 25 per cent of the state governments’ requests. This, in my view, has already got the scheme to a good start. “
On the 2nd July, 1973, each corps members reported at the state capital where he was deployed. This was known as the call up. On this day, the first group of youths serving and dedicating their lives obeyed the clarion call to render service to their fatherland began their journey of a programme divided into four main stages. The stages are:
NYSC corps members are camped for three weeks in an NYSC orientation camp where they live a military-like regimented life. Events at NYSC camps include parades, Man ‘O’ War activities, and drills (every morning), lectures on different topics like entrepreneurship, job search tips, self employment, national security, road safety, fire fighting, HIV/Aids, environmental issues, MDGs, NYSC aims, and so on are organised at the NYSC orientation camps for corps members. At NYSC orientation camp, corps members are divided into different groups called Platoons. These platoons compete against each other in activities like sports, dance, drama, beauty pageants, and so on.
There is also an endurance race usually towards the end of NYSC orientation camping so that most corps members will be fit for the race. A campfire night party is also part of the NYSC orientation programme. NYSC orientation begins with an induction and ends with a winding down parade ceremony. At the winding down ceremony, NYSC corps members will be given posting letters to their places of primary assignment. NYSC Camping is generally fun.
After the fun in camp, NYSC corps members will now face the challenges of everyday Nigeria. During Primary assignment, NYSC corps members are posted to organisations to work for about 10 months. Most corps members are posted to schools where they are expected to help in providing teaching services.
The major challenge NYSC corps members face is rejection. Most organisations reject corps members posted to them. The next is accommodation, immediately followed by financial difficulties, especially in the early days of settling down.
Community Development Service, NYSC CDS:
CDS is at the core of the NYSC scheme, each corps member is expected to belong to an NYSC CD group. During CD, NYSC corps members use their skills in selfless service to communities in which they are deployed.
NYSC corps members usually focus their CDS on some challenging issues in their community of deployment, some include adult literacy; charity visits to hospitals, prisons, old people’s homes and children homes; sanitation; construction/provision of basic infrastructure; and so on.
Passing out ceremony:
Passing out ceremony is the last stage of the NYSC scheme. This consists of one or two weeks of events, which ends with a passing out parade. Events usually take the format of lectures on some topics similar to the one at the NYSC orientation camps but focus is on preparing NYSC corps members for the challenges they will face in Nigeria.
Lectures focus on issues like NAPEP, NDE, self-employment, entrepreneurship, preparing winning CVs/resumes, Tips on Job interviews, and such related topics. NYSC secretariats use this period to study experiences of corps members with the scheme.
NYSC corps members, especially those posted to state capitals practice for the passing out parade during this period. After passing out parade, NYSC discharge certificates are issued to successful corps member.
At the inception of the scheme, its membership was restricted to graduates of local universities who were not more than 30 years of age but in the ensuing years, its scope has been broadened and Nigerian graduates from foreign universities and holders of Higher National Diploma were incorporated into the scheme.
Although the objectives and operations of the NYSC are primarily geared towards the inculcation of discipline in the raising of moral tone and the development of common ties among Nigerian youths, the mobilisation of corps members to secondary assignments for the purpose of undertaking Community projects has become an essential feature of the youth programme.
Corps members are posted to cities far from their city of origin. They are expected to mix with people of other tribes, social and family backgrounds, to learn the culture of the indigenes in the place they are posted. This action is aimed to bring about unity in the country and to help youths appreciate other ethnic groups. Through the NYSC, Nigerian graduates, including those who have never left the confinement of their parents and vicinity leave their place of birth or state of origin to a different state entirely. As such, corp members mixed with people of other tribes, learn their cultures and traditions. With this, corp members appreciate other ethnic groups in the country. In addition, the scheme has been able to erase doubt about a place, the people and their culture.
There is no aspect of the Nigerian social, cultural and economic life that the NYSC has not been touched, or has not contributed meaningfully. It has become a household name in many sectors that one can say that if it is for this sector alone, the NYSC shall continue to be relevant as long as the resources could maintain it.
The scheme has impacted, positively on various aspects of our national life. The NYSC has come to be acclaimed as one of the most effective and successful instruments in our continuing efforts at achieving a humane and egalitarian society, based on mutual understanding, trust, tolerance and a common vision of our national destiny.
The NYSC scheme has not only remained intact, but has also prospered and expanded considerably.
Having survived in these past years, the scheme has since recorded massive improvement in different aspects of its operations. As well, the system has in addition contributed extremely to the nation’s socio-economic development efforts. For instance, the NYSC, as a scheme has witnessed in terms of structure and modus operandi amidst some terrifying challenges.
In the nation today most national programmes involve corp members especially where voluntary service is given or required prominent attention. For instance, during census, immunisation, elections, members are usually engaged as ad-hoc electoral officials.
The NYSC scheme has enabled young, active, intelligent Nigerian graduates to contribute their quotas towards national development.
The NYSC scheme has enabled corp members to get temporary and in most cases permanent employment. There are many cases of corp members who were retained in their areas of primary assignment.
The scheme has also enabled corp members to have a sense of belonging and to be less dependent so as to be able to face the challenges ahead.
NYSC has not been without its ups and downs, with tales of killings and abductions of corp members everywhere. Security has also become a major issue in the past few years with a couple of NYSC corps member victims of religious and tribal crisis as well as terrorist attacks and kidnapping.
Furthermore, there are other challenges which, include underfunding, large number of graduates above what was anticipated by founders of the programme, and rejection of NYSC corps members on primary assignment.
The biggest challenge for NYSC today is what happens to the thousands of graduates that pass out of NYSC programme each year. It is not right for government to allow those who have served this country meritoriously to languish in the hopeless job market of Nigeria.
Good things are always met with resistance. The vision of the NYSC is still the single unifying factor in Nigeria that has survived so long. Having survived the last 40 years, what the government needs do to make it last longer and more useful is to create social welfare schemes for passed-out NYSC corps members. The general welfare of corp members should be taken seriously. This is to enable corps members perform creditably.
Government should pay current corps members better allowances. The monthly allowances for corps members should be increased. This is because, the amount paid is not enough to meet the basic needs of corp members. NYSC should also be restructured to reflect today’s reality.
Conclusively, in Nigeria today, no one can speak of national unity, or rural development, without mentioning the NYSC. Therefore, it is a scheme that should not be toyed with. It should be guarded jealously. Those in authority should, year after year go through the objectives, vision and mission of the NYSC scheme and build more on it for effective actualisation of the programme.