By Dare Akinwale
After the riots and violence in some parts of the north that claimed the lives of some corps members, the senate has decided to review the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.
Finally. After forty years.
There are many people calling for an outright ban of the scheme, while others are saying certain crucial changes need to be made. There have been diverse opinions circulating over the years about what should be done about the NYSC, but this is the first time the government has committed to reviewing the programme. The deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu who is taking up this initiative, said, “I have already started championing the legislative transformation of the NYSC scheme since we have failed to take advantage of the objective establishing the programme, which is promoting national unity and cohesion,” he said. “The proposal would lay more emphasis on corps members’ postings as well as the entire operation of the scheme.” But the important question to ask is this: why just now? Was it not obvious over the years that the programme had lost its relevance, that it was not meeting the needs most graduates and indeed, the country? Why did we have to wait for the blood of innocent young people to be shed before taking action that should have been taken so many years ago? I know someone might contend that the violence in the north was not a direct consequence of the NYSC‘s stagnancy, and maybe what happened was too sudden for anyone to predict such an explosive outcome. That may be true, but we cannot say that if the NYSC administration had been consistently committed to the corps members’ welfare, the possible danger to their lives could not have been envisaged and adequate protection made for them. Any serving or former corps’ member is aware of all the problems involved in posting, remunerations, security and welfare of many corps members all over the country and how most of them merely endure the one year just to obtain their certificate.
The idea behind the NYSC programme was good and noble in the 1970s after the civil war, because among other things, it was aimed at engendering a spirit of national unity and healing the wounds of the war. But after forty years, the priorities on a national level have changed so much that we cannot continue to live only on the ideals of the past. The twenty-first century Nigerian graduate is significantly different from that of the last century and cannot be given the best based on a programme designed in the days of his father’s youth. The NYSC administration and the Nigerian government have not, until recently, seen any need to address this disparity. The unfortunate climax of this situation was that certain families had to pay in the blood of their children serving in the north.
If we do not take warning from this situation, we would always pay the greater price for neglect and not doing things until the last moment. For example our educational system has suffered from years of neglect and now we are paying the price in the thousands of unemployed and unemployable graduates, a technology-deficient industry, and an increasing rate of brain-drain. If education is continually reviewed and changes implemented, the average Nigerian graduate will be more equipped and skilled to developing a growing and productive economy. During my national service at the College of Agriculture in Kaduna when I wanted to prepare lecture notes for my genetics class, I was given a twenty year-old syllabus for to use. So when those students graduate, they would be twenty years behind their contemporaries around the world. And yet we wonder why many students don’t take genuine interest in their work? A Youth development commentator, Cheta Nwanze, speaking on Rubbin’ Minds on Channels Television on Sunday lamented; “most Nigerian graduates are victims of an incomplete education, they are not capable of serious critical thinking, they can’t ask the right questions.” It sounded harsh to my ears, but I certainly could not argue with it because some of my experiences lent credence to the statement. If we continue along this path, one day we would pay a much greater price, maybe when most of our degrees are no longer recognized by other schools around the world? That is why education needs to be reviewed now, and the results of the new changes made need to be appraised as well, not after twenty years, but much more regularly, maybe annually or bi-annually. This is what needs to be done in every ministry for consistent effective output.
The same way we worked hard at securing a significant change in our electoral process, we can continue direct our energies at ensuring the review of the NYSC by the national assembly yields a profitable result for future corps members and the nation. We can demand that our newly elected leaders take a honest, critical review of education, social welfare, health, labour conditions, before it costs us in a price that comes with sorrow.
And we must not forget those who died in the riots of the north. We must not forget Obinna Okpokiri (http://dailytimes.com.ng/blog/murder-obinna-okpokiri), and other corps members who were killed in the line of electoral duty that was thrust upon them. We must fight to get justice for them, for their families and for all of us, because if we don’t, it will happen again and then, it could be worse.
More on the NYSC proposed review can be read here