A case for NYSC and the Nigerian youths By Charles Ibekwe

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Nigeria’s national parliament is not expected to function like a house of comedians. It ought to be a serious chamber and a progressive think-tank for Nigerians. It is supposed to be populated by men/ women of integrity, foresight and very knowledgeable legislators mandated to make good legislations for the progress and development of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, and glaringly too, the nation’s parliament has been overrated in recent times. Specifically, the House of Representatives is fast earning for itself a notorious reputation of an assemblage of idle and retrogressive minds. Even street comedians should have a better sense of humour.

The House of Representatives is habituated in doing everything possible to assail and assault the sensibilities of Nigerians they have been elected to serve. About a week ago, an opposition legislator, Hon. Awaji-Inimbel Abiante (PDP Rivers State), proposed and sponsored a bill to repeal the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Act. This bill seeks to abrogate Section 315(5)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

The proposed bill has passed the second reading in less than a week, It is an indication of its advanced stages of getting the nod of parliament to proscribe the NYSC, a noble youth scheme, which has been in exsistence since 1973.

The defunct Military regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd) was goaded into launching this scheme in 1973 to bridge the schism and pervasive air of distrust and hatred among Nigerians in the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war of 1967 to 70. From the intendment of the Gen. Gowon’s military administration, the NYSC initiative was crafted and designed as a significant part of his 3Rs policy of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction to heal the nation.

Furthermore, the NYSC is structured to foster national unity, integration and a better understanding of the disparate entities of the country’s plurality. It also has the mandate to engender a greater and deeper understanding of the ethnic, linguistic, religious, and socio- cultural compositions of Nigeria in youths, frequently referenced as leaders of tomorrow. Suffice it to say, no positive relic of the Gowon administration has surpassed the reality and goodies of an NYSC scheme.

Ironically today, Hon. Awaji-Inimbel Abiante and his cahoots in the Green Chamber want Nigerians to believe the NYSC scheme has outlived its usefulness. And more offending, these lawmakers have committed scare public funds to sponsor its scrapping in the nation’s life.

But more profoundly senseless are the reasons advanced by the lawmakers for embarking on this unpopular action. Sponsors of the bill for the scrapping of the NYSC are arguing that the scheme deserves a “death sentence” because the objective of the NYSC Act in promoting national unity and integration have been disfigured by compromised national insecurities, in some geopolitical zones in the country, as reflected in the pervasive threats of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and violent clashes among other national malaises.

It sounds hollow! Whilst the national threat of insecurities is real; the most infantile reasoning is what Hon. Awaji-Inimbel Abiante and his clan of cheer clappers, backbenchers and nitwits in the Green Chamber. It is not discernible in any conceivable way how scrapping the NYSC is a substitute or remedy to curing the nation’s insecurity pandemonium and scourge.

And determined to push a self-serving and nonsensical argument beyond the threshold of absurdity, the sponsors of the NYSC repeal Act questioned the rationale for the overdependence of private and public agencies for jobs and roles that these agencies should ordinarily have engaged the serving corps members in gainful employment. The legislators frowned at the poor remuneration, from employers’ who hire the services of corps members, only to discard them after the mandatory one-year service scheme.

From the periphery, one is tempted to believe, the Reps members are truly concerned that Nigerians earn poor wages and remunerations’ which has saliently echoed in the parliamentary discourse on scrapping of the NYSC. Yet, this is the same parliament which turned down President Muhammadu Buhari’s a mere N55,000 (fifty-five thousand) proposal for new minimum wage for Nigerian public servants. Rether, it approved a paltry N33, 000 (thirty-three thousand). There should be a limit to hypocrisy.

However, the national parliament has not told Nigerians the real reasons they want the NYSC scrapped. But it is extremely poor outing for the Green Chambers which has pleasurably declined increasing the budget of Nigerian Military in the age of insurgency and still grappling with approvals for bills to establish community policing to complement conventional security to suddenly turn around to be so concerned by insecurities and feels scrapping NYSC scheme is the antidote to securing the lives of Nigerians.

There can be nothing so farcical than this! The flimsy excuses they have adduced for attempting to scrap the NYSC speak volumes about their incapacity to really comprehend the problems of Nigeria and the best ways to assist the executive arm of government resolve them.

Despite the security threats, to blanketly argue that NYSC members are denied employment by private and public establishments because of the near-free labour they offer while serving the nation is absolutely false. While it is utopian to think every corps member should be reabsorbed by his or her place of primary assignment, many lucky ones have had the opportunity to be returned after service since the inception of the scheme.

There are immutable records that corps members who have performed creditably or excelled in their places of primary assignment have gained employments by various establishments. The NYSC scheme has by far too many benefits to the participating youths and the nation for anybody to think of scrapping it.

These benefits have not faded and cannot be eclipsed in the psyche of Nigerians in the manner contemplated by the Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila-led House of Representatives. It is inappropriate now that the country is in dire need of national unity for the peaceful co-existence of Nigeria’s younger generation.

It is fair to assert that the mandate of the NYSC has not been fully utilized over the years. But the NYSC’s current leadership led by Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim is performing wonders with these young Nigerian graduates. His overhaul and repositioning of the scheme which has expanded opportunities of self-reliance and employment for ambitious Nigerian graduates is exceptional.

The incumbent NYSC Director General has either launched or reinvigorated the hitherto dead training and investments ventures of the scheme. The NYSC’s Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development Programme, the one month’s practical skills training in the orientation course content for corps members during camps has assumed a pride of place.

Many young Nigerians have used the skills acquired during the orientation camp and savings in the course of service to establish private businesses or investments. Is this a scheme some Reps members are plotting to scrap at a time the FGN is scouting for every window to tackle the massive youth unemployment?

One of the main focus of the Buhari Presidency now is on diversification into agriculture to guarantee food security. Gen. Ibrahim has not only revamped moribund NYSC farms nationwide, which cultivates tens of thousands of hectares of lands , but has partnered and is still partnering agencies like the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA); Leventis Foundation Nigeria and the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation among hordes of others.

These organizations’ and agencies have offered serving corps members the rare opportunity of trainings as soil doctors and extension services workers; agricultural best practices and agro-allied linked ventures. These have the potential of spiral effects on agricultural activities in various communities across the country.

There are other ways envisaged by Gen. Ibrahim to assist the FGN tackle massive youth unemployment through the NYSC. A parley has reached advanced stages with relevant stakeholders to formally establish a legislation-backed NYSC Trust Fund. It is designed to source its funding from a percentage of profits of mega companies operating in Nigeria to among other things, financially empower passing out corps members for financial independence and private investments to become employers of labour, instead of employment seekers.

Just recently, at the 2018/2019 President’s National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) honours award ceremony, President Buhari offered automatic employments to ex-corps members in the Federal Civil Service. Others benefitted from scholarships to pursue post-graduate studies up to doctoral level in any university in Nigeria. These were ex-corps members who excelled in the four cardinal training programmes of the Scheme.

These are some of the benefits the Reps who sponsored the repulsive bill seeking to scrap the NYSC are tactically trying to deny Nigerian young graduates. It is sufficiently poor reasoning and an inexplicable daydreaming. Already, patriotic analysts’ are trumpeting that the haters and adversaries of President Buhari in the National Assembly are trying to set another trap for him with the idea of scrapping NYSC. It would generate massive criticisms of his failures again. Mr. President must be wary of the black sheep tacitly, but assiduously working to ruin his administration.

The sponsors of the repugnant bill on NYSC are the undisguised enemies of the Nigerian youths.They are the same parliamentarians who kicked against the idea and funding of President Buhari’s youth and the less privileged empowerment initiatives’ under the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP). They are back again, in another garments and Nigerians must rise up to secure their country from these saboteurs.

Ibekwe is a public affairs analyst and wrote this piece from Enugu.