NYSC: Before the cord is broken

by Gbenga Kayode

The recent strident and repeated calls on the Federal Government of Nigeria by a broad spectrum of the population to review, or completely scrap the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme may not be misplaced after all. Yet, the Government and other stakeholders need to exercise great caution on the practical modalities for resolving the burning issues thrown up by the latest developments.

Originally, the NYSC is an organisation set up by the Nigerian Military Administration of Gen. Yakubu Gowon in 1973. Also known as the compulsory National Service, it was designed to involve the country’s graduates for a year, towards the social, economic, educational, cultural development and integration of the diverse parts of the country.

However, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria’s electoral umpire in conjunction with the Management of the Youth Service Scheme, decided to engage and train serving Corps as adhoc electoral officers for the country’s last general elections.

The novel development in the nation’s political landscape, which many countrymen and women and members of the international world had hailed as the right step in the right direction, at least comparatively, was purportedly meant to ensure fairness, justice, honesty of purpose, patriotism and forthrightness in the conduct of the general elections.

Moreover, it is believed by many, that such young Nigerians majority of who are serving outside their states of origin and proximity of their institutions of higher learning and bubbling with vigour might not be as corrupt as the old folks, many of whom supposedly have one vested political interest, agenda motive and party affiliation or another.

Nevertheless, the story suddenly changed for the worse days into the elections. Notwithstanding the previous bomb blasts that devastated the INEC office in Sulaja, Niger State, and parts of Maiduguri, Borno State, on the eve of the first in the series elections, killing and maiming a number of electoral officers, including Cops members, hell was once more, let loose immediately Prof. Jega announced Jonathan as the winner of the election.

Sadly, scores of these vibrant, educated and promising young population posted to and serving their fatherland in certain Northern states as Niger, Kaduna, Sokoto, Kano, Bauchi, Plateau, Nassarawa and Borno states, readily became the target of mobs of irate yet illiterate, jobless and impoverished youths who unleashed terror on the populace, including the serving Corps members, resulting in killings, burning of houses, vehicles, business premises and churches.

In the ensuing confusion and volatile atmosphere up North, nine NYSC members were cut down in their prime in Bauchi, and once lively young Nigerians’ corpses were conveyed back to their respective states for burial; over 3,000 Corps members ran to and got stranded at an army barracks in Bauchi for days as refugees.

Also, about 50 members were reported to have been rescued alive from the secretariat of the Nigerian Christian Corpers’ Fellowship (NCCF), fondly called the “Family House” by Corps members, where a new 18-seater bus belonging to the Fellowship was burnt. They had earlier been locked up to be burnt in the Secretariat before help swiftly came their way!

Thus, because of the socio-political peculiarities of Nigeria, all the stakeholders especially those calling for the outright scrapping of the scheme should remember the core objective of the scheme: that young people of other tribes, social and family backgrounds will learn the cultures of the indigenes in the places to which they are posted to serve towards ensuring peaceful co-existence and unity among Nigerians.

Frustrated, a male Corps member in Lagos State recently declared in a chat with the media, in the wake of the post-election uprising in some parts of the country thus: “I am really fed up. Let the Government scrap the NYSC programme. It has brought sadness to many homes. This is why many seek redeployment….”

Despite this rising and untoward bloodthirsty development in the Northern parts of the country with regard to forging a peaceful relationship with Youth Corps members in their midst, drastic, decisive, effective and swift measures need to be taken by the appropriate authorities immediately through a comprehensive review of the laws establishing the programme.

With a combination of moral suasion to appeal to the consciences of the diverse sections of Nigeria on the need to live together as one indivisible socio-political entity and clearly stipulate sanctions against any troublemakers and their sponsors, the Government at all levels must consciously institutionalise responsible, responsive and purposeful leadership.

This could be achieved only when values-based leaders emerge to manage the people’s commonwealth judiciously, empower the hapless and largely unlettered youths and jobless hoodlums through increased investment in education. Traditional and religious leaders should also learn to practise what they preach; hide and seek attitude coupled with hypocrisy on the part of many will only continue to tear the nation apart via needless crises.

Sustained enlightenment programmes should be designed to encourage all to appreciate the fact that in spite of identified lapses in the implementation of the NYSC scheme, it unarguably, remains one of the fundamental pillars of promoting unity particularly among the educated and enlightened young Nigerians till this day.

In clear terms, the nation’s leadership should be careful about adopting the absolute scrapping of the scheme; instead, they ought to redesign it. Why? Taking such a drastic measure may someday become one of the subtle ways towards the balkanisation of the Nigerian nation.

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