Any Nigerian graduate youth who had passed through the gamut of national youth service love to tell their experiences with nostalgia.
The national service, though faced with its challenges, its prospects far outweigh those challenges.
Recently, some Nigerian opinion moulders, at different fora, spoke for or against the continuous existence and relevance of the scheme. While few individuals criticise the activities of NYSC, most others praise the scheme and its director-general, Brig-General Shuaibu Ibrahim, for the reforms taking place in the scheme.
The critics intensified their trade when NYSC certificate began to have a photograph and date of birth of the holder. This little reform out of so many in the scheme, has put fear in criminal elements in the polity, hence the need to scrap the youth programme.
To cover up their real intention for wanting the federal government to discontinue the scheme, they criticize based on their blind fear of insecurity of corps members. They forget that insecurity in the country is not the monopoly of the NYSC alone; it affects all Nigerians and even foreigners resident in the country. Therefore, for a true patriot, insinuating that NYSC is irrelevant in the 21st century due to insecurity of life and
property is surely a disservice to Nigerian graduates and our heroes past.
Security is everyone’s business. A corps member is a citizen like all other Nigerians. We can’t find all-corps members’ market, hospital, road, school, etc. We cannot say the Police and Nigerian Armed Forces are no longer relevant because their personnel are dying in the hands of armed robbery, bandits, boko haram and other misguided elements in the society. Nigerians must wake up from their beds to fend for themselves in the face of violence spreading across the country. Life goes on.
Critics do not ask the government to stop recruiting young Nigerians into the armed forces on account of boko haram and kidnapers’ threats, but on daily basis, try to discredit NYSC, one of the most benevolent and popular graduate programmes in the country, because of insecurity.
When a corps member dies on Nigerian roads, they say NYSC is the cause and should be discontinued. When a corps member dies in a communal conflict, the blame goes to NYSC. The detractors know that NYSC does not build roads; NYSC does not instigate communal or religious crises.
Rather, it provides orientation for the youths on inter-personal relations and relations with their country, cultural appreciation and mutual respect for people’s religions, thus imbibing nationalism and patriotism in graduates.
Most criminals and insurgents threatening Nigeria today are those who had not done the compulsory national service of their fatherland.
Many prominent Nigerians had in the recent past spoken in favour of the indispensability of NYSC as one of the last vestiges of
nationalism and unity legacies of the post-civil-war Nigeria.
It is instructive for the scheme’s traducers to know that President Muhammadu Buhari, like other patriots, had thrown his weight behind the relevance of the scheme long after the civil war.
“I feel strongly about NYSC,” Buhari said in July this year to silence critics of the scheme whose outbursts mostly border on
Buhari, like all Nigerian youths, expressed his deep love for NYSC. He said the scheme broadens the horizon of citizens, opens up
opportunities, and enhances understanding of differences in cultural practices. As president, he understands why unity and cultural education is important for a diverse society like Nigeria; a country with over 250 ethnic groups clinging to different religious practices.
Buhari made his feelings known at his country home, Daura, when he hosted youth corps members who paid him Sallah visit. The visibly excited president said he had consistently commended former head of state, retired General Yakubu Gowon, for initiating the NYSC, which had created more opportunities for uniting the country.
“Every time I meet with former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, like recently, I still commend him for the initiative of the NYSC. The NYSC is spectacular in many ways.
“Some of you have come from Port Harcourt, Lagos, and Calabar and you can now feel the heat of Daura and how close it is to the desert,” he said.
The president further said the NYSC scheme was well-thought-out to unite the country through understanding.
“I feel very strongly about the NYSC and I am wishing you all the way very best. I assure you that you will be much better as Nigerians after your experience,’’ he added.
Also in July, Taraba state governor, Ishaku Darius, wanted further reforms for the scheme. He said that members of the National Youth
Service Corps should be allowed to undergo military training in order to know how to handle guns for self-defence.
The governor also said the duration of the scheme should be extended to two years to allow sufficient training for the graduates.
“The NYSC I will say should be two years. One year for compulsory military training and the other year for the social works that they are doing now so that anybody who graduates as an NYSC person can know how to handle the gun and defend himself just as it is done in Israel, Lebanon and other places, …”
This is a constructive recommendation by a governor of by a governor of a state where hostilities of insurgents affect daily life of the people.
Like his Taraba state counterpart, Ondo state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, early this year, restated the commitment of his
administration to NYSC in the state.
Akeredolu said the NYSC remains a household name whose activities have gone beyond unifying the country but is playing pivotal roles in national development.
“I think the National Youth Service Corps is living up to expectations in these areas as more purposeful driven and focused
Nigerian graduates are cutting their teeth in various leadership positions.
“The experience the corps members have during orientation courses is al aunching pad that is propelling them to greatness as the contents of the three weeks induction training is geared towards making them
better leadership material.”
Akeredolu who met his loving wife during the 1978/79 service year, confirmed that the scheme had made him a foremost Nigerian.
Unfortunately, one of Al Jazeera stories published by Sunday Trust of
Oct. 3, said the skills the NYSC impact on the corps members are obsolete. Thus, the story showcased the reporter’s ignorance of modern economy and how Gross National Products (GNP) works in a country.
He said, “Skills that make graduates more employable could be taught
in camps [instead] leadership skills, communication skills, emotional
intelligence skills, digital marketing skills and others. These are skills 21st century corporate organisations need…”
It is unfortunate that the speaker still believes, in this 21st century, that white-collar jobs are the appropriate rewards for higher education. While a rational citizen understands that it is better to be an employer of labour instead of becoming a job seeker after higher school graduation.
A nationalist or patriot looks at problems of his country, and tries to solve them, but NYSC critics, out of mischief, only attack
the respected graduate programme without proffering recommendations for its uplift to better achieve its mandates. Thus they want to weaken the country for the eventual breakup they crave for. So, are the NYSC critics not insurgents in their own rights?
Uji, a journalist and social commentator, writes from Abuja.