NYSC: A WASTEFUL ANACHRONISM32 views
Within a space of two weeks three young Nigerians died in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camps across the country. All three deaths were due to poor health facilities, negligence and carelessness on the part of medical officials at the camps.
Ifedolapo Oladepo, Ukeme Asuquo and Elechi Chinyerem died in NYSC orientation camps in Kano, Zamfara and Kaiama respectively after falling ill. Of the three incidents, the case of Ifedolapo Oladepo, a graduate First Class graduate of Transport Management from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, was more tragic. Ifedolapo died in NYSC orientation camp in Kano due to to negligence on the part of NYSC and poor medical facilities. Criminal negligence on the part of NYSC medical team. Her death was simply nothing short of murder.
According to reports, Ifedolapo fell ill in camp but instead of camp authorities to avail her medical attention, they assumed she was feigning sickness in order to evade parade. When it dawned them that she was indeed ill, they called in the camp medical crew who ended up administering on her a medication that not only manifested immediate rashes all over her body but also caused her discomfort. And as if that was not enough, they did nothing to mitigate the strange after effect; they left the poor lady writhing in pains unattended to for hours until she gave up the ghost.
What kind of healthcare professionals were these? In saner climes heads ought to be rolling by now and some fellows put in the dock or behind bars and stripped of their certification. But trust us Nigerians. Soon the whole thing would be history and the medical murder would be forgotten and the murderers would move on to their next victim. But maybe, just maybe, this would be different as the House of Representatives is set to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of six corps members within the year.
While we await next line of action by government, the death of these three youth corps members in orientation camps once more underscores the recurring question of the relevance or otherwise of the NYSC program in today’s Nigeria. Yours truly is of the view that the time has come to scrap the scheme altogether. Several reasons make this imperative.
The first and most obvious is that the scheme has outlived its usefulness. Established in May 1973 by the Gowon Administration, the objectives of NYSC were:
- To inculcate discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work, and of patriotic and loyal service to Nigeria in any situation they may find themselves.
- 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
- To develop in the Nigerian youths the attitudes of mind, acquired through shared experience and suitable training. which will make them more amenable to mobilization in the national interest
- To enable Nigerian youths acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self-employment
- To contribute to the accelerated growth of the national economy
- To develop common ties among the Nigerian youths and promote national unity and integration
- To remove prejudices, eliminate ignorance and confirm at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups
- To develop a sense of corporate existence and common destiny of the people of Nigeria.
- The equitable distribution of members of the service corps and the effective utilization of their skills in area of national needs
- That as far as possible, youths are assigned to jobs in States other than their States of origin
- That such group of youths assigned to work together is as representative of Nigeria as far as possible
- That the Nigerian youths are exposed to the modes of living of the people in different parts of Nigeria
- That the Nigerian youths are encouraged to eschew religious intolerance by accommodating religious differences
- That members of the service corps are encouraged to seek at the end of their one year national service, career employment all over Nigeria, thus promoting the free movement of labour
- That employers are induced partly through their experience with members of the service corps to employ more readily and on a permanent basis, qualified Nigerians, irrespective of their States of origins
These objectives, laudable as they appear, were obviously drawn up as a direct response to the national mutual suspicion and distrust that pervaded the country before, during and immediately after the Nigeria Civil War (1967 – 1970).
Forty-three years down the line however, the country is still far from achieving them, thus throwing up the question of whether enough research was done, prior to its establishment, on the best possible policy to adopt to foster national unity, integration and harmony among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria.
It is worthy of note that at the personal level Nigerians do not give much of a hoot for ethnicity in their daily affairs. Every Adamu, Adewale, Okeke, Ogbemudia or Okon on the street does not care much about ethnicity, tribe or religion in their interpersonal and socio-economic relations. As a country however, it is a different ball game, even as the corrupt and insincere political elites trumpet these same sentiments purely for selfish purposes. Nigerians, in my view, do not need an elaborate state policy in the mold of the NYSC program to conduct their affairs across ethnic-cum-tribal divides. On the contrary, such state policy in fact, serves as a constant reminder of our differences, thus exacerbating ethnic consciousness and mutual suspicion amongst us, especially given the obvious inequity and inequality that exists in our country.
Secondly, by its conception, NYSC is an alienating and discriminatory public policy. Only graduates of tertiary institutions below the age of 30 are eligible to go through it. The critical segment of the youth population who could not go beyond the Ordinary National Diploma is alienated from it. Much of this segment has no accommodation in the extant scheme of things. Nor is there a clear-cut career path planned for them. Hence they usually end up as drivers, commercial motorcyclists, try-cyclists, petty traders, vulcanizers, artisans or such other kindred jobs. Those of them who could not settle down to any vocation become street urchins, miscreants, area boys, armed bandits, political thugs etc. And members of this segment of our youth population are far greater in number than those accommodated in the NYSC scheme. So, I ask, who orientates this critical mass? Who preaches the idea of national unity, national integration and inter-ethnic accommodation to this group? In the end, the question may be asked as to how much effect does the NYSC program that accommodates less than 2 percent of our youth population every year really have. Is a national policy that is to all intents and purposes discriminatory and alienating worth retaining in a country with a burgeoning population? These are valid questions.
The third reason NYSC should be scrapped is the security challenges facing the country in the last couple of years. Since the return of the country to democratic rule in 1999, these challenges have assumed an alarming dimension as the political class manipulate the democratic process to thwart the will of the people. Election violence has become a regular affair and corps members deployed as ad-hoc staff of the electoral umpire often get cut down in the cross-fire. Cases abound in which corps members lost their lives when acting as electoral officers. Added to this is the menace of terrorism, militancy, roving killer herdsmen, kidnapping and other recent developments that have now become a serious threat to our national security. In the face of all these, it has become foolhardy to send young people to parts of the country they are neither familiar with nor have any friends or relatives.
Our well known slipshod approach to organizing and managing public institutions – which was in large part responsible for the untimely death of the corps members under reference – is yet another reason NYSC should be scrapped. What is more, corruption has effectively ensured that whatever end the program was designed to achieve has been effectively thwarted. The NYSC is, without mincing words, now a drain pipe to our lean resources.
But the program is not all a waste. Relationships have been built through NYSC, experiences shared, ideas exchanged and a few other things learnt about Nigeria and her peoples through platform of the NYSC. However, all things considered, the gains of the scheme can no longer match its huge deficit. And it is for this reason that I opine that the huge resources used to sustain it should be used to fund and reposition a more relevant and productive National Directorate of Employment (NDE).
There are many reasons NDE should be promoted at the expense of NYSC. The first is that NDE eliminates the discriminatory and alienating characteristic of the NYSC. NDE also provides opportunity for real skill acquisition on a continuous basis – something NYSC lacks and which is vastly needed in our national life today and always. Finally, NDE provides our youth opportunity for entrepreneurship and less dependence on salaried job.