By Emeka-Rems Mgbemena
The National Youth Service Corps was established by Decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973, now quoted as NYSC CAP N84, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
Taking a walk down memory lane, General Yakubu Gowon, the Head of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria from1st August, 1966 to 29th July, 1975 in his Independence Anniversary broadcast on 1st October, 1972 announced Government’s plans to establish the National Youth Service Corps as a follow-up action of sorts to the 3 Rs of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, enunciated by Government to speed up the healing process of a country recovering from the throes of a thirty-month civil war that started 6th July, 1967 and ended, 15th January, 1970, leaving in its wake, millions of casualties on both sides of the conflict.
It was on the cessation of hostilities that the then leadership of the country came to the realisation that it would take more than the staccato of gunfire, the rolling of tanks and the booming of bazooka to hold the numerous ethnic nationalities making up the entity, Nigeria into a unified whole.
Unity and peaceful coexistence cannot be decreed.Therefore, a pathway to this, Government rightly thought should be to create a sustainable platform that would engender mutual trust, respect and understanding among the youths which will foster national unity.
Thus, the announcement of the establishment of the Corps, which would afford university graduates that veritable platform to begin the process of nation building resulted in protests by the students who felt that dedicating one whole year to the service of the fatherland would be an unnecessary waste of time, as many of them were to secure white collar jobs upon graduation from the universities.
There is no gainsaying the fact that as at then, many graduating students had up to two or more job offers. Employers would flood the universities to interview graduating students for possible employment. Interestingly, available job vacancies outstripped the number of graduating students.
Hence, the acquisition of a university degree was a passport to better life, given the fact that on getting employed, a three bedroom flat and a vehicle loan awaited the employee which explains the anger and frustration of the students at the thought of getting “conscripted” into the so-called national service.
On the other hand, their parents, relatives and guardians were apprehensive; and gravely concerned about their safety, given that the country had just emerged from a bloody conflict, which made journey outside one’s cultural zone seemingly precarious.
Indeed, parents expressed genuine concerns, as inter-ethnic suspicions were quite high. They felt that the deployment of their children to “far- flunged” areas, was akin to putting them on a slaughter slab which must be resisted.
Besides, they ( parents) were in a hurry to start reaping the fruits of their labour, having made so much sacrifices in order to see their sons and daughters through tertiary education which was a no mean feat.
Be that as it may, the heat generated did not deter the Federal Military Government from going on with the establishment of the Corps through the promulgation of Decree No. 24 which gave it legal backing.
It is imperative to emphasise that Government beamed the searchlight on graduate youths to drive the process of building a renewed Nigeria, in recognition of their enormous strength, and centrality to national development, being the most enlightened class of Nigerian youths.
The university graduates would be yearly mobilised to contribute in building a new nation out of the ashes of the fratricidal war — a new nation founded on egalitarianism, an indivisible and prosperous entity the citizens and Africans would be proud of.
Gratifyingly, on 2nd July, 1973, the first set of Corps Members, comprising 2364 graduates who were thirty years of age and below, drawn from the then existing Nigerian universities ( University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello University, and University of Lagos) became the pioneers of the Scheme.
The NYSC has the following objectives, as enshrined in NYSC Act CAP N84 Laws of The Federation of Nigeria 2004;
a, to inculcate discipline in Nigerian 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;
b, to raise the moral tone of the Nigerian youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvement;
c, to develop in the Nigerian youths, attitudes of mind acquired through shared experience and suitable training, which will make them more amenable to mobilisation in the national interest;
d, to develop common ties among our youths and promote national unity by ensuring that;
i, as far as possible, youths are assigned to jobs in the states other than their state of origin;
ii, each group assigned to work together, is as representative of the country as possible;
iii, 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 firsthand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups;
e, 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;
f, to induce employers, partly through their experience with Corps Members, to employ more readily qualified Nigerians, irrespective of their states of origin, and;
g, to enable our youths to acquire the spirit of self-reliance.
The Act which repealed Decree No. 24 of 22nd May, 1973 that established the Corps came with accompanying changes in structure of the Scheme and nomenclature:
i, Director-General replaced National Director as Chief Executive,
ii, The “National Directorate” replaced “Directorate” of the Scheme,
iii, The NYSC “State Governing Board” replaced “NYSC State Committee”, but had its membership and functions retained;
iv, The Act provides for the establishment of an NYSC Local Government Committee in each Local Government Area in the county, and specifies the composition and functions of these Committees,
v, Creation of Zonal Offices in line with Government’s objective of grassroots development.
The Corps employs four cardinal programmes that drive the objectives, namely : Orientation course; Primary Assignment; Community Development Service; Winding-up/Passing-out.
A critical assessment of the Scheme’s 50 years trajectory indicates that it has remained on course as a pivot of national unity and development; and has equally grown in leaps and bounds over the years in numerical strength.
From its humble beginning of 2364 Corps Members mobilised at inception, the Scheme at present, mobilises on the average, three hundred and fifty thousand Prospective Corps Members every year for service, thereby making it the biggest youth — mobilisation agency in Africa.
The NYSC has witnessed twenty-two Chief Executives, starting from Col (Dr) Ahmadu Ali rtd to the present Director-General, Brigadier General YD Ahmed.
The Chief Executives variously made impactful contributions to the growth and repositioning of the National Youth Sevice Corps in line with the vision of the founding fathers at their respective time.
As a dynamic institution, the Scheme has continued to evolve over the years, and in reaction to socio-economic stimuli which will be explained.
Today, the National Youth Service Corps is supervised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, with Chief Sunday Dare as the Supervising Minister.
Like other government parastatals, there is a Governing Board Board, appointed by the President, charged with the key responsibilities of appointment, promotion and discipline of staff members, in addition to seeing to the welfare and deployment of Corps Members for service, as well as policy formulation. The Board at present is chaired by Her Excellency, Ambassador Fatima Balla Abubakar OON.
The Scheme today operates 13 Departments, 4 autonomous Units, 6 Area Offices, 37 Secretariats, 148 Zonal Offices and 774 Local Government Offices.
The foregoing structure that drives the policies and programmes of the National Youth Service Corps, in line with its objectives, as encapsulated in the enabling Act.
Doubtlessly, in 50 years, the NYSC has left indelible imprints in the proverbial sands of time, particularly in the spheres of Health, Education, Infrastructural development, Advocacies, among others.
The enormous contributions of the Scheme in the area of Education cannot be over-emphasised. It is a truism that in some States of the Federation, the primary and secondary school systems are sustained by Corps Members, that if their services are withdrawn, there will be a system collapse.
Remarkably, Corps Members are found in the remotest parts of the States, where even the natives do not want to work in, imparting knowledge, catering to the healthcare needs of the people.
Similarly, in some rural communities, the only doctors the people have ever seen are Corps doctors, who function as Chief Medical Director, and in most instances multitasking.
The NYSC Health Initiative for Rural Dwellers (HIRD) driven by Corps medical personnel ( doctors, pharmacists, nurses, medical lab scientists, physiotherapists) ensures free medicare to the rural dwellers regularly.
The community development projects of Corps Members, ranging from civil construction works, such as water boreholes, wells, bridges, culverts, classroom blocks to intangible projects such as free extra-mural lessons, campaigns against drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, harmful health practices, dangerous driving, among others have continued to deepen the relevance of the Scheme as a development– oriented agency, thereby making it a household name in Nigeria.
It is pertinent to note that the NYSC, in partnership with UNICEF for so many years drove the biggest HIV/AIDS sensitisation project in the world, through the Peer Educator Trainers ( PETs) programme, with Corps Members as the vanguards. They were the engine of the project and rescued millions of Nigerians, especially the youths from the preying claws of the monster, HIV/AIDS, through massive education and generation of awareness on the virus, treatment and preventive measures.
Talking about national integration, so many inter – tribal marriages have been contracted over the past 50 years by ex-Corps Members as a result of their exposure to the Scheme, thus, strengthening the bond of unity among Nigerians, and pulling down the obstacles of ethnic suspicions and stereotypes.
Conversely, bridges of unity and lasting friendships among the Corps Members have continued to be built each service year, with a good number of Corps Members settling down in their respective states of service after the service. This indeed has a far reaching positive implications for national unity and integration.
Suffice it to say that in the area of national assignments, the participation of Corps Members in the nation’s electoral process brought about some measure of credibility to the entire process. By the Scheme’s policy, Corps Members are deployed to states other than their states of origin, which to a reasonable extent forecloses partisanship on the part of Corps Members working as election umpires. Since their foray into national elections, they have continued to approach the national assignment with fervour, discipline and patriotism.
Their sterling performances in the conduct of past national elections had earned the Scheme commendations from both government and non governmental bodies, including the European Union and some international bodies.
Undeniably, the Scheme in 50 years has continued to make direct positive impact on the lives of Corps Members, building their character and changing their world view which is usually utopian while in school.
Revealingly, there have been instances Corps Members who were cultists while in school discarded membership of the clandestine groups after life – changing encounters in the NYSC Orientation camps, which have discipline as bedrock.
In 2012, the Scheme in response to socio-economic stimuli as earlier stated introduced Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development programme ( SAED), with a department dedicated to coordinate the activity. The skill programme starts during Orientation course, with in-camp training, and progressing to post-camp training, after the Orientation course.
It goes without saying that SAED is one of the greatest initiatives of the Scheme which is in line with its objectives of making “Corps Members self-reliant”, and has continued to raise a crop of entrepreneurs from amongst the ranks of Corps Members over the years. The Scheme has not only provided them with the requisite platform to acquire or hone their skills, but equally links them up with financial institutions such as Bank of Industry ( BOI), Bank of Agriculture ( BOA), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Access Bank, among others that extend grants and credit facilities to the Corps entrepreneurs.
Consequently, so many ex-Corps Members today are entrepreneurs, running profitable businesses, mentoring and employing thousands of Nigerians, and contributing to the nation’s Gross Domestic Products ( GDP). SAED is a direct answer to the often asked rhetorical question: After the NYSC, what is next?
A corollary to the foregoing are the NYSC ventures, with Ventures Management Department established to oversee the activities of the initiative. Today, the Scheme has established integrated pilot farm settlements across the six geopolitical zones of the country. They are sited in Ezillo, Ebonyi State; Iseyin, Oyo State; Obubra, Cross River State; Dangulbi, Bauchi State; Samantha, Kebbi State and Leleyi, kwali in the Federal Capital Territory.
The Scheme also has Livestock Feed Mill at Ipaja, Lagos; garri processing factory, Afon Kwara State; Rice Mill, Abakiliki, Ebonyi State; Garment Factory, Minna, Niger State; Garment Factory, Mgbakwu, Anambra State; NYSC Water Factory and Bakery, Kubwa, Federal Capital Territory; NYSC Bakery, Water and Garment Factories, Keffi, Nasarawa State,;NYSC Printing Press, Kaduna, all contributing to the national economy, while also serving as centres for skill acquisition and entrepreneurship training, for both Corps Members and youths of the community where they are located.
One other radical change witnessed in the Scheme is the transition from manual process of mobilisation to online method, which has revolutionised the entire NYSC mobilisation process. It has improved the integrity of mobilisation, eliminated to the barest minimum inclusion of unqualified people for service, made data retrieval easy and improved the monitoring of Corps Members through biometric clearance of Corps Members. The online mobilisation started with 2014 Batch “C” Corps Members.
The introduction of online mobilisation process with a department established to oversee the operations has eliminated the old system of Prospective Corps Members having to travel to their respective institutions of graduation to collect their call-up letters. That system exposed Prospective Corps Members ( PCMs) to the dangers of vehicle accident, robbery, kidnap, rape, among others.
Now, the PCMs can print out their call-up letters in the comfort of their various homes. Lost call-up letter can also be reprinted.
In 2022, the Scheme established NYSC TV and Radio Stations in order to ensure robust information dissemination, while also serving as training ground for Corps Members to hone their skills in broadcast media, under the supervision of NYSC managers.
In June, 2021, the Scheme under the leadership of then Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim, now Major General, unveiled nine books that holistically captured its contributions to national development, in so many sectors of our national life. The books present readers a vantage view of the 50 year old Scheme that has weathered several existential threats to stand the test of time.
NYSC Museum of Dynamic History, which unarguably is one of the biggest in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja was established in 2021 also. A visit to the world class museum takes one back in time, and to the present, with invaluable lessons to be gleaned from the museum domiciled in the basement of NYSC National Directorate Headquarters, Abuja.
However, just like every other organisation, it has not been all rosy. The Corps is confronted by numerous challenges, most of which are extraneous to it.
Insecurity is an extraneous problem which is of global and national dimensions, and a critical challenge confronting the Scheme. As a result, so much pressure is exerted on the deployment and relocation policies of the Scheme, with Prospective Corps Members, as well as their parents demanding for preferential deployment and relocation, often supported with forged medical papers.
Some Prospective Corps Members who could not meet their expectations evade service, while some of those already serving abscond from Service, all of which are infractions of the Act setting up the Service Corps.
In addition to the challenge of insecurity, some State and Local Governments have not been discharging their statutory responsibilities to the Scheme. For instance, Some States do not have permanent NYSC Orientation camp which falls within the purview of their statutory responsibilities, as enshrined in the NYSC Act, while some NYSC Permanent Orientation camps are in a state of dilapidation, yearning for urgent attention.
The Scheme is however grateful to a number of State Governments that have been living up to their statutory duties, and even going beyond that.
Many other challenges revolve around inadequate funding, in the face of other competing national interests.
I give kudos to the Federal Government which shoulders the greatest responsibility of funding the Scheme since inception, which has been an uphill task.
Nonetheless, there appears a silver lining, with the proposed National Youth Service Corps Trust Fund (NYSCTF) which has been passed by the National Assembly, and awaiting presidential assent.
Refreshingly, the trust fund will address the infrastructural deficits besetting the Scheme — dilapidated orientation camps and offices; establishment of more skill acquisition centres, among others.
The fund will equally boost the Scheme’s Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development programme by granting credit facilities or grants to a greater percentage of willing and qualified Corps Members who have acquired skills, and in need of funds to establish their businesses.
In 50 years, the Scheme has remained a catalyst for national development, and with the quality of leadership offered by Brigadier General YD Ahmed – led Management; it will obviously continue to break new frontiers, having stepped on the threshold to attainment of diamond jubilee.
Emeka-Rems Mgbemena, Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, writing on email@example.com is an Abuja based public affairs analyst.