Re-thinking the NYSC scheme
By Luke Onyekakeyah
THE reported move by members of the House of Representatives to sanction ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that reject corps members amounts to scratching the problem on the surface while overlooking the main issue at stake. That move won’t change anything. By the time the lawmakers have sanctioned hundreds or thousands of establishments that normally accept corps members, there would be few left to absorb the teeming number of graduates that are qualified for the service. That would have created more complex problem than the action was intended to solve.
We must be frank to ourselves. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is in serious trouble in all ramifications. The scheme is faced with a plethora of problems arising from the endemic corruption and bad economic situation. To be candid, what the lawmakers should be considering is whether or not the scheme should continue or be scrapped altogether. To do that would require a total re-assessment of the scheme, a re-evaluation of its continued relevance after 35 years vis-?-vis the capacity of the economy to support it.
On this note, the indication by the lawmakers to amend the NYSC law comes closer to what the country needs at this stage. That amendment should result in one of two outcomes: One, to come up with a fresh and more effective scheme that the economy can conveniently carry or two, the abrogation of the scheme in its totality. Whichever way, it is important that something should be done now to change the structure of this wobbling, ineffective and disoriented national program.
The NYSC scheme was introduced in the country at a time when it was mostly needed. When the Biafra war ended in 1970, the country was left devastated from the pangs of the excruciating three-year fratricidal war. The defunct Eastern region was particularly ravaged as the people nursed the wounds inflicted by the war. The then military regime under Gen. Yakubu Gowon, being preoccupied with how to re-unit a divided nation and heal the paranoia of its constituent ethnic groups decided to establish the NYSC scheme. The scheme was established on 22 May, 1973, with the overriding objectives of promoting national unity, integration and rapid economic development.
There is no doubt that the idea behind the scheme was laudable and the objectives lofty. For instance, when the scheme was inaugurated, there was real need to re-unite the various ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria. The event of the war caused a mass movement of people from their places of residence in other parts of the country to their ethnic homeland. The NYSC served a framework at that bleak period to re-distribute educated manpower from one part of the country to the other. That provided the youths who beheld the ravages of the war to appreciate the culture of the other ethnic groups across the country. That objective has since been achieved.
Also, the NYSC has contributed immeasurably in alleviating the manpower need in some states, particularly the northern states that lacked trained personnel. Government establishments and employers of labor in the organized private sector have reaped from the "cheap" labor provided by the scheme. But it must be pointed out that the scheme more or less has helped to promote unemployment in the country. It is common knowledge that many unpatriotic establishments in the public and private sectors preferred using free corps members in their operations than engaging them on permanent basis. This is because they believe that every year, a new batch of corpers would be there from which they would readily draw from.
Moreover, when the NYSC scheme was established, there was severe lack of trained manpower in the country. The post-war reconstruction effort of government at the time needed such trained manpower in different parts of the country. Again, the NYSC provided the framework for re-distributing the scarce trained manpower that was needed in different sectors of the economy. The result was that employers of labor as well as MDAs readily accepted corps members posted to them. There were virtually no cases of corps members being rejected at least within the first decade of the scheme. Incidents of corps members rejecting posting was not rampant except in cases where the corpers were married and didn’t want to separate from their partner. Above all, the economy was buoyant enough to accommodate the corps members.
Another point that should be mentioned is that at the time the scheme was set up, the number of prospective corps members was minimal. With only thirteen federal universities, the population of corps members was manageable. It was in the quest to boost the number of prospective corps members that made graduates of polytechnics and colleges of education to be included in the program. Thus, NCE graduates participated in the programme. The NYSC scheme arguably fared well within the first decade of its establishment and the reason was that the economy boomed with industrial productivity at its peak. But from the mid 1980s, when the economy nosedived, the fortunes of the scheme changed along the same line. This was compounded with the establishment of private universities from the 80s that began to produce large number of graduates annually.
The NYSC scheme, to me, was one of those good ideas that were put forward with the expectation that the country would move steadily on the path of economic progress and development. But this has not been the case. The country has disappointed all expectations. The NYSC and the economy are moving in opposite directions. While the population of prospective corps members has grown exponentially, the economy has shrunk beyond imagination. The truth therefore is that given the present depressed state of the economy where thousands of industries have folded up, it would be foolhardy and indeed pretentious to still believe that the thousands of qualified graduates from the 97 universities and more from the polytechnics must serve in the NYSC scheme. This is no longer feasible. The authorities should patriotically appreciate this fact and rethink the entire project. The last few years in particular have seen the worst of the NYSC scheme both in logistics and administration. The entire programme has become a nightmare and innocent graduates are the ones suffering. Many have lost their lives.
For example, looking at the initial objectives of the scheme, it is obvious that today, many of them are out of tune with reality. Today, the country is not lacking trained manpower. The numerous tertiary institutions in different parts of the country are producing skilled manpower. No state is excluded. There is practically no state of the federation that doesn’t have a university or polytechnic within its domain. The truth is that there is severe graduate unemployment throughout the country. In contrast, when the scheme was established, graduates were like hot cake. But the situation has changed.
T he evidence is that graduates who are posted to some government and private sector establishments are rejected. While some of the rejection may be frivolous, the reality is that there is glut in the labour market, which makes employers to be discriminatory on whom they should accept. This is what the House of Reps is kicking against. But you can’t force labour, which would be redundant on any establishment.
Worst still, the entire scheme has been mismanaged in line with the general mismanagement in the country. There is no infrastructure for the scheme. Some states managed to build orientation camps for corps members, but the condition of these structures is nothing to write home about. Thousands of graduates are assembled in these dilapidated enclosures without water, toilet facilities, beddings and electricity. The corpers defecate in the surrounding bushes and endanger their lives in the process.
There is unbridled bribery and corruption going on in the entire set up. Some unscrupulous NYSC officials have turned the scheme into a honey pot for self-enrichment. The issue of uniting the country through the scheme is out of the question as corps members bribe their way and choose where they want to serve. Favouritism, manipulations, cheating and inconsistencies have become the hallmark of the scheme.
Finally, the bleak economic condition has made it almost difficult for the federal government to foot the mounting bill of running the scheme. The measures adopted so far to exclude some category of corps members such as NCE graduates and on the basis of pregnancy and age limit have not helped matters. There is nothing wrong in taking a critical look on the entire scheme with a view to downsizing it to manageable proportion because it is no longer working. The purpose has been defeated. My candid opinion is that the scheme should be made optional or in the alternative scrapped. Graduates who wish to participate in the programme should be engaged while the rest should be issued with exemption certificate. There is no need pretending that all is well while the reality proves otherwise.
source: rethinking the NYSC scheme