As the name demonstrably suggests the NYSC was established to foster a sense of national unity, common purpose and service to the Nigerian State. The driver for the NYSC’s establishment in 1973, was of course the aftermath of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war 1967-1970 in which over a million lives were lost, and the need by the Yakubu Gowon military regime to engender a sense of national identity amongst youths.
For graduates, the NYSC was and remains a condition precedent for accessing the Nigerian white-collar labour market. Crudely put, to work as a civil servant, lawyer, engineer, doctor, accountant, banker engineer, lecturer, pharmacist etc NYSC is non-negotiable. In reality, it has also meant the Yoruba/Hausa/Igbo/ Urhobo/Itshekiri (and other ethnic groups) graduates serving their fatherland outside their own states of origin. As a consequence, there has been the interaction with other cultures and, crucially, education in the wider sense about the Nigerian entity amongst NYSC graduates to date.
But all this needs to be put in proper perspective and John F Kennedy’s famous aphorism rings true: “ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for you country”. The NYSC today runs counter to this central philosophy as enunciated by JFK. Rather than it being what Nigerians can do for Nigeria, the NYSC is now what “Nigeria can do to Nigerians”. This of course is demeaning and patronising to say the least.
These are the arguments. First, a Northern Nigerian does not need to physically “serve” in Southern Nigeria or vice-versa to truly be able to demonstrate what he or she can contribute meaningfully in service to his country. For example, it is possible to set up a legitimate internet service offering a market like Amazon or EBay from a room in Onitsha accessible by people in Ibadan, Kontagora, Zaria or indeed Johannesburg. This is service to the nation and, by extension, to the world.
Second, the NYSC was established in the aftermath of the civil war as a reconciliatory attempt by ruling military dictatorship to actualise the claims they made at the time of “no victor no vanquished”. Nigeria is not in a state of war, the aftermath of a war, neither is the country in a military dictatorship. And besides, if Nigeria were (heaven forbid!) to engage in warfare with a belligerent state, exactly what use would NYSC graduates be in a military sense, given they have never received any military training (unlike the Israeli model)? Therefore, the original premise for the NYSC ceases to exist.
Third, Nigerians interact freely with one another: at parties; through inter-marriages; on okada; on public transport; in the market place; in the classroom – primary, secondary and tertiary levels; at work; in churches, mosques and alternative places of worship or non-worship etc. The notion that graduates need an NYSC “to be done” to Nigerian graduates is today an absurdity.
Fourth, a Nigerian graduate with a top class degree can be head-hunted by a multi-national or indeed an international organisation e.g. the UN, IMF, ILO, WHO and others without the strictures of the NYSC. Does this mean that graduate is not contributing to Nigeria even though we live in a fast moving, dynamic and inter-connected world underpinned by globalisation? As I write, we have WHO doctors helping with the cholera pandemic in Zimbabwe some whom could in fact be Nigerians. Nigerians in diaspora send millions of dollars and medication to their parents, relatives, hospitals, charities regularly supplanting international aid receipts according to the World Bank and other sources. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that all of these Nigerians necessarily went through the NYSC programme. And even so, this is universally acknowledged to constitute practical humanitarian service to Nigeria.
Fifth, the socio-economic and political factors informing the creation of the NYSC have changed fundamentally. Under-employment is rife across the country, a peripatetic power base severely hampers the country’s manufacturing capacity and corruption is endemic in public and commercial sectors -itself informing the creation of the EFCC. Substantive anecdotal evidence indicates that several thousand people are owed salaries in the public and commercial sectors. Against, this backdrop, graduates should be allowed to find legitimate employment as soon as possible and not be constrained by a moribund NYSC programme which has outlived its usefulness.
Finally, and the most important reason is the recent cold-blooded murder of Messrs Olalekan Akande, Oluwatosin Akinjogbin and Oluwole Odusote in the recent Jos riots. These young men were having the NYSC “done to them” by the Nigerian state and died through no fault of their own.
It is a real struggle for the average Nigerian parent to educate his child from primary to tertiary institutions. Equally, it is an added and an unnecessary burden for those parents (a number of whom are pensioners) to have to fund expensive trips to far flung places in Nigeria in the name of the NYSC where their children’s safety cannot be guaranteed. The Government’s inability to guarantee the safety of the youth corpers and indeed all those who perished in the Jos riots is poignant as the first duty of any government is the security of its citizens.
For these and the aforementioned reasons, the NYSC programme should be scrapped forthwith.