Rep Awaji Inombek Abiante, a member of the House of Representatives recently sponsored a bill proposing that the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) be scrapped.
The scheme was established in 1973 after the Nigerian Civil War designed to promote reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation.
The scheme was also set up to bridge ethnic and religious divisions in the country and to foster the spirit of nationalism.
It was mandatory at the initial stage for all graduates of tertiary institutions, but the age was later pegged at 30 years, while holders of National Certificate in Education (NCE) were excluded.
In spite the objectives of the NYSC, many Nigerians think it is high time the scheme was scrapped, arguing that it has lost its relevance.
No doubt, Abiante’s suggestion to scrap the scheme is reinforcing that argument,
that the NYSC’s objectives ought to be reviewed or updated to fit the current realities of modern day Nigeria.
Abiante, in his explanatory memorandum of the proposal gave reasons the NYSC should be scrapped.
He noted that incessant killings due to insecurity and frequent rejection of corps members by some public and private agencies as some of the reasons.
According to the lawmaker, “The bill seeks to repeal Section 315(5) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (as amended) on the following grounds, “Incessant killings of innocent corps members in some parts of the country due to banditry, religious extremism, and ethnic violence.
“Public and private agencies/departments are no longer recruiting able and qualified Nigerian youths.
“They rely heavily on the availability of corps members who are not being well remunerated and get discarded with impunity at the end of their service year, without any hope of being gainfully employed.
“Due to insecurity across the country, the National Youth Service Corps management now gives consideration to posting corps members to their geopolitical zone.’’
Available record shows that in 2011, seven corps members were killed during the post-election violence that erupted in some parts of the country after the presidential election.
Despite these glaring problems, the question as to whether NYSC has outlived its usefulness is debatable.
According to Mrs Auta Precious, a parent, the situation at hand underscores the belief that if nothing is done differently, the NYSC would have achieved less in uniting the nation, particularly in recent times.
Precious queried the rationale in posting corps members to places that are under heavy security threats.
According to her, the scheme which is designed to promote national unity seems to have lost its objective.
“Do you notice that many people don’t want to serve in other areas apart from where they are conversant with?
“These days you can school in Abuja and still serve in the same city which was never the practice unless in some special cases.
“NYSC was designed to move corps members to various parts of the country outside their base to understand and appreciate other peoples’ culture and religion and in doing so foster national unity and national integration,’’ she said.
Mrs Tolu Shalewa, a teacher, said that the scheme is promoting immorality among some corps members following their continued rejection by private and government agencies.
According to her, this immorality is heightened because the allowance they are paid is not enough for house rent, transportation and feeding.
One of the corps members, Miss Olaedo Ugochukwu, urged the federal government to review and update the NYSC.
Ugochukwu believes that a reviewed NYSC should focus on training every graduate on self- defence, vocational skills and entrepreneurship.
“This may be for just a month or two and it is important to increase corps members’ allowance so they can have start-up capitals to engage in meaningful ventures upon completion of the service.
“Many graduates with start-up capital would begin businesses and develop quickly,’’ Ugochukwu said.
On the contrary, Malam Abdulmajeed Nuhu, a corps member, insists that NYSC has achieved its objective of promoting national unity.
“The scheme has provided the opportunity for a lot of people to travel to different states and regions and interacted with people of different ethnic groups.
“Because of this scheme, we have learnt to understand other peoples’ ways of doing things even though we don’t celebrate it, but there are increasing inter-ethnic marriages that one should have course to give credit to the NYSC.
“I have spent all my life in the Western part of Nigeria, but after being posted to the North for the one year national service, I have been able to travel across different states.
“This has provided a platform to meet and interact with various calibre of people from various ethnic groups, thereby expanding my social network.
“What other scheme would achieve this objective if NYSC is scrapped,’’ Nuhu queried.
Ms Lois Jonathan, a journalist, hailed NYCS’s capacity to expose Nigerian youths to the work environment.
“A lot of youths would not have had any work experience if not for this scheme.
“Being posted to different places of primary assignment has made them more responsible.
“They are assigned duties and they learn work ethics, human relationship and discipline which will help them even after service.
“NYSC is a way of empowering the youths after graduation.
“Imagine after graduation, no job, no work experience, no exposure, how can an average Nigerian youth cope? But the scheme has engaged these youths meaningfully for one year.
“The allowance may not be enough, but smart people save part of it, gain work experience, explore opportunities and expand their network during the period.
“So, even after service, they have where to start from,” she said.
She encouraged corps members to explore the skill acquisition and entrepreneur development scheme of the NYSC to empower themselves.“NYSC has its flaws but the benefits outweigh them. Instead of scrapping the scheme, they should modify it,” she stressed.
While most young Nigerians on social media appear to agree with Abiante, youth and sports minister, Sunday Dare’s position is that the NYSC won’t be scrapped.
“The NYSC scheme remains one of the greatest tools for national development for our youths. 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 youths,” Dare, whose ministry oversees the NYSC had shared on Twitter.
Similarly, Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim, director-general of the NYSC says the scheme is critical to the unity of the country.
According to Ibrahim, the NYSC is not a waste of time; its relevance in integration and national cohesion must not be under-estimated.
He said that the NYSC has been a useful tool for the socio-economic development of the country through the deployment of corps members outside their base.
Ibrahim added that corps members contribute in many ways to the lives of residents of their host communities.
The bill to scrap the NYSC still has to go through two more readings in the green chamber and rounds of debates in the two chambers of the National Assembly.
The federal lawmakers should listen to the voices of Nigerians and do the needful.