As part of the efforts of the present administration to develop human resources capacity, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) can be remodelled and restructured in such a way that the country can benefit maximally from various graduates that come out of different institutions of higher learning.
And, instead of them looking for white collar jobs that are virtually non-existent, they would be veritable employers of labour that can contribute immensely to the growth and development of the country.
The way and manner the scheme is being bastardised calls for critical review. It has been said that because of the very high unemployment rate in Nigeria, some graduates for many years running, have been doing youth corp scheme on a yearly basis until the secure a permanent job; in some other instance, those who are supposed to be serving will be working elsewhere in different urban centres, while even some would be doing their post graduate studies abroad and still at the end of the one year, they would be issued a certificate of service as people who have duly served their country.
Whereas the scheme can be turned into a big national asset, particularly in the area of skills acquisition and vocation studies as well as human resources development across board.
The NYSC scheme was created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil war. The unfortunate antecedents in our national history gave impetus to the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps by decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973 which stated that the “NYSC is being established with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”.
National Youth Service Corps was born as a child of necessity, established as part of the reconciliation effort of the government after the most trouble era in Nigeria ’s history. That was the initial objective but the present national realities have even made it more imperative.
National reconciliation and integration are continuous efforts and process which the agency has been spearheading.
Through the NYSC, Nigerian youths are brought together, posted from one part of the country to the other and given the opportunities to offer voluntary and selfless services.
At the take- off, a total of 2,364 youths drawn from the existing six universities were mobilized, trained and deployed to different parts of the country other than their states of indigene.
Ever since, it has consistently impacted positively on our socio-economic development mainly in the area of patriotism and gallant sacrifice by the youths towards the development of the country.
The takeoff of the scheme became possible through the determination and spirit of the then military regime to ward-off solid opposition mounted by undergraduates of Nigerian universities who were being besieged as the eventual beneficiaries.
Having survived in the past 43 years, the scheme has since recorded massive improvement in different aspects of its operations. As well, the system has in addition contributed extremely to the nation’s socio-economic development efforts.
This was further elaborated upon in 1993 to look beyond the immediate present and to think of the future leadership of the country, which necessitated the mobilization of certain categories of our youths through the NYSC scheme.
This was done so as to give them the proper guidance and orientation relevant to the needs of the country. Hence, the National Youth Service Corps Decree No.24 was repealed and replaced by Decree 51 of June 16, 1993.
The decree recommended that, 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; and finally, 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 origin.
However, the reality on ground now is that the seemingly intractable insecurity situation in the country, especially in many parts of northern Nigeria , the uncertainty of even securing a job outside one’s zone after the service year, among many other anomalies associated with the NYSC scheme, are now threatening the foundations of this laudable scheme.
Corps members are now endangered species, prone to greater dangers like violent deaths through bomb blasts, mob attacks or gunmen’s onslaught and gang rape (for the female ones).
During the April 2011 post-election violence, for example, about 11 corps members were reportedly killed. Many others were killed in one form of violent attack or the other, especially across the northern region.
Before the post-election violence, several other corps members employed as ad hoc staff by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, met their untimely death in places like Suleja , Niger State, as well as in Jos, Plateau State , in the wake ethno-religious crisis in those areas.
This spate of insecurity has been a source of worry for every sector of the polity.
Also, the National Youth Service scheme came under severe crisis, with not a few Nigerians calling on the federal government to proscribe the scheme. Even those who were not in support of its proscription were worried, unsure how it would successfully sail the tide of killings, kidnapping and bombings in some parts of the north, in fact following the post-election violence of 2011, the worrying kidnap of five corps members in Rivers State in the not too distant past.
In the same vein, not only do graduates works their ways to places of primary assignment, most of the corps members prefer urban centres to rural areas, in fact, corps members do not even serve at all but still collect their NYSC certificates.
It is instructive to note that corps members are still posted to violent prone areas, and those posted to these areas are children of the less privileged in the society.
This is coupled with unwholesome practices such as delegating classified official responsibilities to corps members, non-residence in the communities where corpers workplaces are located, thereby leading to irregular attendance and poor supervision of corps members not only detract from the noble objectives of the scheme but negatively affect her corporate image.
It is indeed ironic that, while the scope and responsibilities of NYSC have grown tremendously since its inception, its allocation as a percentage of federal and state budgets has drastically gone down.
The states have been particularly guilty in this regard, as many of them choose to see the NYSC as a federal initiative which the federal government must fully provide for.
The under-utilization and non-utilization of Corps members in their primary duty stations has been a perennial problem. In many establishments, corps members are reduced to glorified clerks and office assistants, untrusted with the real duties for which they have been posted and therefore unable to contribute meaning fully to national development.
Therefore, NYSC should be restructured, to purge it of corrupt practices in all ramifications, corps members should not be posted to violent prone areas under any guise and they should not be used as INEC ad hoc staff for elections. Also, postings should not be influenced or changed to suit some people, not matter how highly placed. Corps members should well catered for and made a memorable period of all corps members.
Again, instead of just posting corps members to their places of national assignments, NYSC should liaise with the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) to train graduate in various vocational and entrepreneurial skills and after completing their training NYSC can group them and help them get loans from Bank of Industry and other Micro Finance Banks to set up Small Scale Businesses, thereby becoming employers of labour instead of looking endlessly for non-existent jobs.
NYSC is still very relevant and should be continued but periodically reviewed to meet the challenges of the present epoch.
Again, not too long ago, National Youth Service Corps(NYSC) management worked with the National Salaries and Wages Commission( NSWC ) to place corps members on a public service salary scale.
Former NYSC boss, Brig. Gen. Johnson Olawumi noted that the move would address the frequent agitation for review of corps members’ allowances.
Apparently previous attempts to secure adjustment in the allowances of corps members at the National Assembly did not yield the desired result. Olawumi maintained that the N19,800 monthly allowances for corps members was inadequate in view of current economic realities in the country, he noted that the Corps was working with the wages commission to concretize the proposal. It would be recalled that that the amount paid to corps members are very penurious and pales into insignificance at the end of the day.
It would be recalled that one of the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Nigerians would use in assessing the current administration is how many Nigerians Buhari and Osinbajo were able to lift out of poverty.
President Muhammadu Buhari has budgeted N500 Billion approximately 9 per cent of the total budget to lift poor Nigerians out of poverty. The poverty reduction strategy would center on six key social protection programmes to be coordinated by the Office of the Vice President OVP, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo with an effective inter ministerial involvement. Recently, Vice President Osinbajo emphasized that “The collective wealth will be invested in phased social programmes that will lift majority of Nigerians from poverty” Social Protection refer to the set of policies and programs aimed at preventing or protecting all people against poverty, vulnerability, and social exclusion throughout their life cycles, with a particular emphasis on vulnerable groups.
Social protection can be provided in cash or in kind, through non-contributory schemes, or poverty-targeted benefits such as social assistance or social safety nets, contributory schemes with social insurance being the most common form, and by building human capital, productive assets, and access to productive jobs.
Today, the need for social safety nets as a poverty reduction strategy is a critical concern for governments across the globe and for the billions of men, women, and children striving to improve their livelihoods.
As interest in and the use of social safety nets keep growing, countries struggle to make social safety net interventions more effective.
It is for this reason that the present administration has worked out modalities through the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Bank of Industry to adequately fund the Small and Medium Scale Industry as a way of reducing poverty, creating wealth, generating gainful employment and growing the GDP in a depressed economy.
The government has also targeted agriculture and solid mineral development as avenues for the diversification of the economy away from oil to create vast employment opportunities across the length and breadth of the country as well as draw people out of the poverty cesspit.
It is on record that, the present administration in what is the first roll-out of its N500 billion social investment programmes, has commence taking applications online for positions in the 500,000 direct teachers jobs scheme.
Aside, there will be training programme for 25, 000 people in the area of technology, another 75,000 people will be trained in the areas of building services, construction, utilities, hospitality and catering, automotive vocations, aluminium and gas services, all trainees will be paid for the duration of their training. Also, the teacher corps initiative, which will engage and train 500,000 young unemployed graduates programme; is a paid volunteer scheme of a two-year duration.
There are other schemes in the Buhari’s presidency social investment programme that will soon be rolled out, these include, conditional cash transfer that pays N5,000 monthly to one million Nigerians, the Micro-Credit scheme for more than 1.5 million Nigerians, the Home Grown School Feeding programme that will serve 5.5 million Nigerian pupils in primary school a free hot meal per day this year and the Education Support Grant Programme for 100,000 tertiary students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM and education.
Similarly, the government recently launched through the Bank of Industry, a N10 billion Youths Entrepreneurship Support (YES) project to empower youth with loans to start businesses. Therefore, the NYSC is a scheme that government can use optimally to drive its policies to the overall advantage of the country.
Jide Ayobolu, a social commentator, writes from Lagos