The National Youth Service Corps Scheme has been in the news following reports that the House of Representatives is considering a bill to repeal the NYSC Act. The scheme, established by decree 24, was introduced on May 22, 1973 by Nigeria’s military leader, Yakubu Gowon, to foster reconciliation, reconstruction, and rebuilding of Nigeria after the civil war.
Initially Nigerian university graduates below the age of thirty years were co-opted into the mandatory scheme, but later it was opened-up for polytechnic graduates. These graduates are posted to different parts of the country other than their states of origin where they serve their fatherland for one year. The youths are exposed to the modes of living of the people in these 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.
Despite its aim of fostering unity, some Nigerians think the scheme has not done too well in this regard with many of them believing that Nigeria was more united in 1973 than it is today. They argue that Nigerians could migrate to any part of the country and get employment without discrimination some years back, but can’t no longer do the same again despite the fact that the scheme has been on for more than 48 years. So, it is generally believed that the scheme has outlived its usefulness. Notwithstanding these public concerns, the NYSC scheme wasn’t really on the front burner of our national discourse until a move to repeal the act by the House of Reps was revealed on Monday.
The bill, introduced by Awaji-Inimbek Abiante (PDP, Rivers), is seeking to repeal section 315(5a) of the 1999 constitution and the National Youth Service Corps Act. The lawmaker listed different grounds why he felt the NYSC Act should be repealed.
According to him, the incessant killing of innocent corps members in some parts of the country due to banditry, religious extremism and ethnic violence and kidnapping of innocent corps members across the country has reduced the relevance of the scheme. He also argues that public and private agencies are no longer interested in recruiting these youths; hence corps members are no longer being well remunerated and are discarded with impunity at the end of their service year. Not only that, he says due to the insecurity across the country, the NYSC management now posts corps members to their geopolitical zones, thus defeating the objective of developing common ties among the Nigerian youths and promoting national unity and integration.
I doubt if anyone can fault any of the grounds on which this lawmaker is proposing the repeal of the NYSC Act. Although, I would be the last person to insinuate that the NYSC scheme has no relevance. I once shared in one of my columns how I spent a night in the house of a man from the northern part of Nigeria when I was stranded during my trip to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, for my NYSC posting. Despite being a southerner in the house of a northerner, I felt perfectly at home, because of the way my host treated me. We all sat on the floor and ate from the same tray. As I write this, I do not know the name of this man and I’m not sure he still remembers mine. But that feeling of oneness that we shared as Nigerians has remained forever engrained in me. Besides, I got to know many wonderful Nigerians from other parts of the country in the orientation camp, and if I must add, I also met my husband in the NYSC camp. So, I, like many other Nigerian youths, have benefitted from the NYSC scheme one way or the other.
Some of us had funs and still have good memories of our service year till date. There were hardly records of deaths of corps members then. Admittedly, some could have lost their lives, but the figure was certainly not as much as it is in recent years. Service year used to be a time graduates looked forward to. Unfortunately, now, the reverse is the case. These days, we hear news of corps members dying anyhow. If they don’t die in the orientation camp, they die in their primary places of assignments or in accidents. Aside the problem of insecurity across the nation, there are problems with our road networks which many have rightly described as death traps. In my time, I went on the trip to Abuja by road. The roads were relatively good then. But how many highways in Nigeria are truly good now? Countless numbers of corps members have been killed on Nigerian roads. A former Director General of the scheme, Brig. Gen. Suleiman Kazaure once said 95 per cent of deaths recorded by serving corps members are due to road accidents. When they don’t die in accidents, they are either kidnapped or attacked by robbers. Armed robbers once attacked 17 corps members, killing one along Abuja-Kaduna road.
What is more? Nigeria is now a killing field where lives are snuffed out of people anyhow. There is hardly any day we don’t hear news of killings, kidnappings, banditry, accidents and all kinds of bizarre stuffs. All manners of people are kidnapped- the rich and the poor. As a matter of fact, in today’s Nigeria, kidnappers have gone beyond lurking around the forests or highways, to stealing people from their homes. Now, there is no security either at home or outside of it. It’s indeed a perilous time for the country. People are constantly being warned of the danger of staying late outside their immediate environment for fear of being kidnapped. Nigerian criminals have gone beyond stealing property to stealing people because the latter has proved to be more profitable. It is as if it is even safer to be a kidnapper or bandit in Nigeria than being an armed robber. After all, kidnappers and bandits are allowed to negotiate with their victims. Our senior government officials meet with them and we have prominent Nigerians negotiating on their behalf too. The authorities are afraid of them. Just this week, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was still begging them to drop their guns and borrow money from the Federal Government. The CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, while lamenting that the economy cannot grow in the face of insecurity, appealed to criminals who he described as “our brothers, who decide that they want to live in bushes and forests,” to “please, begin to retreat, drop their arms and come and embrace the anchor borrowers’ programme.”
In a situation like this, asking innocent youth to travel to totally unfamiliar terrains all in the name of NYSC scheme is like sending them to a slaughter house. Many parents would rather the scheme be scrapped to free them of the apprehension they have to contend with anytime their children have to go for the service year. But, in spite of my personal misgivings about the scheme, I believe it is still the responsibility of the National Assembly to take a decision on either to repeal, modify or leave it as it is. That is why I found the emphatic stand expressed by the Youths and Sports Development Minister, Sunday Dare, that the NYSC scheme will not be scrapped, rather quite strange.
Reacting to reports on the bill to scrap the NYSC scheme which interestingly has reached the second reading in the House of Representatives, Dare posted on his official Twitter handle that the scheme would not be scrapped. He said this is because the NYSC scheme remains one of the greatest tools for National development for our youth. “The commitment of the government to sustaining the NYSC scheme remains. Dynamic Reforms and Initiatives towards current realities are ongoing. Nigeria will stand with her youth,” he had tweeted.
Such statements in my view suggest that the minister has not only predicted the outcome of the lawmakers’ debate, but concluded that their efforts are an exercise in futility. In a democracy, lawmakers are the representatives of the populace. They are elected to make laws and review same based on what they think their constituents want. They should at least be allowed to do their work.
Thankfully, the bill has only scaled the second reading. The bill, being a constitution alteration bill, still has to go through the committee stage, the committee of the whole, third reading, concurrence with Senate and will have to be passed by two-third of the 36 state Houses of Assembly. It is after this long process that the President would now assent to it for it to become law. So, it still has a long way to go-so many hurdles to scale. Considering this long process, the possibility of it surviving the current ninth assembly is almost nil, the more reason why our youth and development minister should have either kept quiet or advised government to raise a lobby group to relate with the National Assembly if government really considers the bill to be a serious issue.
Some Nigerians already believe that our National Assembly is a rubber stamp and that the leadership of the assembly are an extension of the executive arm of government. The statement from Dare seems to justify this position. I think it is out of place for a youth minister to make a categorical statement on what is still being debated by Nigerian representatives at the House of Reps. He could have advanced reasons why the scheme should be allowed to continue like the Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps, Shuaibu Ibrahim, did. To the DG, the NYSC scheme is still integral to the country’s unity. He believes the scheme has been a valuable tool for the country’s socio-economic development; that the NYSC is not a waste of time; security is everybody’s business and, that parents should sensitise their children not to endanger their safety. Since every country has its challenges, he says Nigeria should turn its challenges to opportunities. Perhaps, the DG and other people in government may have to tell the rest of us how we can convert the current insecurity in the country to opportunities, but he has at least made his point. That is acceptable.
Nigerian politicians should know their limits. It is high time they stopped arrogating unnecessary power and importance to themselves. This unnecessary arrogance is partly why a lawmaker could boldly call a constituent a thug in a public place. I know that Nigeria has often been described as a banana republic; we can start changing the narrative by learning to say the right words even we still have problems doing what we say!
Olabisi Deji-Folutile (Ph.D) is the editor-in-chief, franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: [email protected]