By Suleiman Ahmad Ya’u
There has been a sudden upsurge in the debate over the years as to whether the NYSC scheme which was introduced by the Gen. Yakubu Gowon led military administration in 1973, after the civil war, to help in uniting the nation is still relevant or not. While many are of the view that the scheme had outlived its usefulness and the purpose for which it was introduced had since been defeated and hence called for the total and outright abrogation of the entire scheme, others on the other hand argued that the scheme is still very much relevant and it still serve some cardinal role which they believe are vital in nation building and caution against scrapping it as, according to them, it could be counterproductive.
Whatever side of the argument one may alienate with, one fact that both side unanimously agree on is the fact that the NYSC of today is not the same as that of 1973 and some of the facts are crystal clear for everyone to see while some are hidden except for those that are within the system or have recently partook in the scheme activities. The idiosyncratic choice of corps members to redeploy to another state is enough to send a message of discontent to the government that the scheme is actually losing touch with one of its intended goal- Promotion of national unity.
Let the bitter truth be told. The NYSC scheme of today like many other national schemes has been deeply contaminated with endemic and insidious corruption. It has turned into an avenue through which some few cabals make so much money through dubious means and inflated contracts. Many Nigerians have continued to raise their concern over the years as to the actual amount being budgeted for each corps member throughout his one year mandatory service. Some argued that the amount is almost up to a Million Naira but the NYSC officials have kept mum over the issue; they are yet to acknowledge, debunk or make public the figures for every Nigerian to know. The management should expeditiously make the figures available as Nigerians have the right to demand for it since the F.O.I Bill is signed into law.
The NYSC Zonal/Local governments inspectors are now are now smiling with the spate of abscondment in the NYSC as they have found a lucrative business through which they extort huge amount of money from those corps members that abscond. The reason for the abscondment of corpers may be due to ill-health, fear of insurgency, marriage and even shear laziness. No matter the reason of abscondment by corps members, what matters to the Zonal/Local government inspectors is just what you will give them to put in their avaricious pocket. They charged corps member an amount ranging from N5, 000 – N11, 000 monthly illegally for clearance while some corps members are even forced to forfeit the entire N19, 800 monthly allowances to them. Only God knows the total amount these so called Zonal/LG inspectors take home monthly through these illegitimate act. That may be why a lot of new faces miraculously appear on the day of collection of certificate and one continues to wonder where they have hidden for a year, who has been signing their monthly clearance form and on which planet they are holding their weekly CDS meetings.
Another worrisome factor is the overdependence on the corps members who have no teaching qualifications, aptitude or even any form of crash program on teaching skill by schools especially those in the rural areas. It is worthy of note to mention here that the incumbent Director General of the NYSC, Brig. Gen. Johnson Olayumi in an interview he granted in march 2015 acknowledge that they had cases where corps members are made acting Vice Principals in some schools/colleges because there are no classroom teachers. This may be the reason why some people argues that the scheme had instead of reducing, succeeded in exacerbating the already existing high rate of unemployment in the country. According to them, the employers of labor like schools and organizations have found corps members to be a source of cheap, if not slave, labor and therefore prefer to be using them instead of recruiting permanent staffs. This argument may be right, verifiable and substantiated considering how some private schools use corps members to teach their students several subjects only to pay them a paltry amount of as low as N2, 000 per month despite the huge amount they taxed or extort from the parents of their students. These need to be address.
Other criticism against the scheme that was initially designed to mobilize graduates that are less than 30years is how it has now been suddenly chunked up with graduates far above the maximum age of 30years. There are instances where even people above the age of 45 are been mobilized. How some corps members are being camped for three weeks in horrendous conditions, with horrible feeding arrangements, worse sanitary conditions and the schemes ineffectiveness to empower graduates for self-employment and entrepreneurship has also been a major challenge.
Despite all the shortcomings of the NYSC scheme, we must at least, in the spirit of justice and fairness gives it its due where it has earned it. The NYSC has no doubt succeeded to some extent in instilling some salient societal norms and values in corps members and has made appreciable impact on the social and cultural spheres of life.
The NYSC had also succeeded in giving Nigerian youths the opportunity to know more about other parts of the country. Many youths from certain part of the country would never have known other parts of the country without the scheme. Even President Muhammadu Buhari, during a visit by a delegation of the ministry of youth led by its permanent secretary in August 2015, acknowledged this when he said that “Whenever I go home to Daura, I look out for corps members from Lagos, Aba and other parts of the country. I am always thrilled to learn that except for the NYSC, some of them have never left their states of origin to visit other cities of the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari also said “I firmly believe in NYSC and I think it should remain a national program to promote integration”. It’s now 42 years down the line since the scheme was introduced in 1973; the question that is still been raised is that has the NYSC scheme succeeded in bringing about the national unity and integration that it is primarily designed to achieve?
The way out of this is not, however, an increment of the monthly allowance from N19,800 to N49,800 as many graduates have recently been agitating for or the monthly job seekers allowance that Dr. John Kayode Fayemi made mention of recently during his ministerial screening at the senate chamber, I rather prefer instead that the N19,800 be maintained and the corps members be given a substantial amount of start-up capital of N250,000 or more at the expiration of their one year mandatory National assignment as many graduates who wants to create career as entrepreneurs face the hurdle of lack of funds for capital, thus unemployment and its related accomplices remain the status quo. I believe this empowerment scheme that will engage fresh graduates out of school with resources to enable them pursue their ideas and execute them in an environment of support and guidance will help in no small measure in drastically reducing the astoundingly growing rate of unemployment, boost the rate of production in the country and reduce the demand for white-collar jobs.
I also recommend that if the NYSC scheme is decided to be sustained, graduates should be assign to organizations where their skills will be very effectively utilized and the issue of posting most corps members to schools without them having any teaching qualification, aptitude or even any form of crash program on teaching skill should be addressed. Many corps members circumvent the scheme because they believe that they are redundant and not productive in their place of primary assignment (PPA) and they therefore prefer to bribe the officials in order to abscond from the scheme only for them to be fraudulently issued with completion certificate at the end.
I wish to call on the Director General of the NYSC, Brig. Gen. Johnson Bamidele Olayumi to ensure discipline among his staffs and anyone found wanting on any act of corruption especially among the Zonal/LG inspectors should be severly dealt with accordingly so as to serve as deterrence to others.
Finally, I wish to call on President Muhammdu Buhari to expeditiously set up a committee to thoroughly review the activities of the NYSC scheme and come up with feasible recommendations that will help in radically reforming the scheme to solve the astoundingly growing rate of unemployment beyond its initial purpose of only National unity and integration in order to be in tandem with the Presidents vision and mission of significantly increasing the number of jobs created annually, boosting the rate of production and creating wealth for a robust economic growth.
Suleiman Ahmad Ya’u is a Political scientist and Public affairs analyst based in Kano.