By Solomon Semaka
At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, the African continent was gripped with the horrors of the slave trade. The only commodity for this trade was human beings. Care was also taken to make sure these human beings were young and without any physical challenge. The destination was the plantations in North and South America and the West Indies. What that trade did to the African continent is that it uprooted the youth, the lifeblood of any society and transferred them to another continent most brutally and inhumanly anyone can think of. These youths were not just migrants that were to be labourers that would wages and send back remittances. No! They were a lost generation who mostly didn’t come back home and didn’t contribute anything to their society. It is the position of this article that actions like these, taken against the youth to a large extent contributed to drawing Africa back in terms of development. However, not just the slave trade, but so many other social, economic and political policies as well as actions taken by governments around the world have a profound impact on the youth. The centrality of youth in the area of sport, military, agriculture, commerce and trade is such that any country that neglects its youth is doomed to fail. Selling African youth into slavery by fellow Africans was one of the greatest undoings of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Nigerians have a youthful or growing population that has faced more challenges in recent times than any other country on the planet. With an educational system that has failed to accommodate every youth, to rising unemployment and the twin evil of underemployment and exploitation that has characterized Nigeria’s private sector workplace, it is difficult to say when the Nigerian youth will be free. The rise in insecurity all over the country is linked to the inability of the government to adequately address the challenges of the youth and gainfully engage them. Ritual killings have skyrocketed in recent times in a quest to make quick money. So many lives have been wasted by ritualist and body part merchants who believe they can actually make money through occultic sacrifices. The rise of internet scams and criminal impersonations in Nigeria is also alarming. The perpetrators are sadly youth who choose to misdirect their intellectual know-how to swindle others. We cannot isolate kidnappings and ransom demands as well as terrorism from the list of crimes committed by and against Nigerian youths. While we lament on our failure to accommodate the youth and or put up measures to counter these vices and crimes, there is one government agency worthy of commendation and praise for being the flagship for youth-friendly and proactive institution. That agency is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), headed by one of Nigeria’s most decorated army officers in the person of Major General Ibrahim Shuaibu.
The NYSC has come to be the hope of Nigerian youths in terms of mentorship, leadership training and self- actualization.It is is the largest employer of labour with over 300,000 corps members passing through the scheme annually. Since its inception five decades ago as a post-war reconstruction effort, it has employed more than 60 million Nigerians and has the capacity to do more. There is no family in Nigeria that does not have either an ex corps member, a serving corps member or a prospective corps member. It is an achievement and the highest honour for Nigerian youths to be adorned in NYSC kits.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Major General Ibrahim Shuaibu as the DG of NYSC is the conception and initiation of the NYSC Trust Fund, the equivalent of what Tetfund is doing in the educational sector.With the bill for the establishment of the Trust Fund already in the National Assembly for deliberation and passage, it is only normal to call on all Nigerians especially members of the national assembly who are all beneficiaries of this noble scheme to expedite action on the passage of the bill. Civil society organisations must solidly support this bill and make the needed inputs that will make the bill effective and relevant in addressing the challenges of the NYSC.
The NYSC Trust Fund is important in addressing the myriad of challenges facing corps members and the scheme generally. While the DG has so far done marvellously well with the limited resources at his disposal, it is important to add that there is still so much to be done. For instance, most states of the federation do not have befitting orientation camps. There is also the need for the NYSC to build state of the art skills acquisition centres in all parts of the country where corps members are deployed. Health services rendered by corps members to indigent members of rural communities can also be another area the NYSC Trust Fund can be channeled into. The list is endless and we can only thank the DG for this laudable initiative. Nigerians must therefore support this noble idea to make this a reality as soon as possible.
One of the objectives of establishing the NYSC scheme was to encourage national unity after the Nigerian Civil War. NYSC has achieved this not only in the area of inter-tribal marriages but also through language skills acquisition and by extension, trade relations. Before the establishment of NYSC, intertribal marriages were minimal and frowned at because of tribal distrust. There were strange reasons why one group must not marry the other. Intertribal wars and age-long disputes formed the basis for such distrust. With the coming of NYSC, this became a thing of the past as the posting policy of the Scheme made it possible for people to interact, learn new languages, marry and do business effortlessly. Learning one’s language is always not easy but once you can attempt, you instantly become a friend. The NYSC keyed into this initiative and produced pamphlets in the major languages of Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa which helped corps members to learn basic communication skills. The number of corps members who have decided to settle down in their places of primary assignment, marry and start a business or get employment is enormous.
Due to the size and complexity of Nigeria, the conduct of elections was always stalled by a lack of qualified and patriotic Nigerians who could reach deep into the hinterlands and creeks. Conflict of interest also made people indigenous to a particular place unfit to deliver credible elections. Electronic voting also required youth who are technologically sound with knowledge of computer applications. Corps members came in handy and have since been conducting elections judged by even international observers as credible and fair. The success of Nigeria’s democracy story will not be complete without the mention of Corps members’ role in the conduct of the elections.
While appreciating Mr. President for his youth- friendly policies, we pray for quick response as the Trust Fund bill will soon be on his table for assent. It is also important to thank the minister of Youth and Sports for always supporting the scheme. Mention must be made of civil society groups, religious leaders and traditional institutions as well as other stakeholders. This support must be sustained especially now that the DG is working hard to make the Trust Fund a reality.