Opinion: Towards Understanding NYSC, By Dr. John Abhuere

There are many factors that account for poor or even wrong evaluation of organisations. Some of them include poor knowledge of the the historical background and operation of the organisation including its goal and objective, wrong definition of relevant terms, asking the wrong questions, outright bias, disregard for external environmental influence, narrow conception of costs and benefits of project etc.
In all these historical knowledge of the programme under evaluation is of great essence and a poor knowledge here could be harmful. This is where I believe the problem of evaluating the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) lies, resulting in hasty conclusion based on poor understanding of the history operation, narrow perception etc of the scheme.
An understanding of the history of Nigeria and operation of the scheme is thus vital to the appreciation of the NYSC. This is so because the scheme is a product of the sad history and experience of the country over time and its operational structure and related activities such as posting to primary assignment, community development, annual games, dance and drama festival were designed to advance the cause o national unity and development. Fortunately, history does not support the abrogation of the scheme today.
One of the problems of post colonial Nigeria was the neglect of character, civic, moral education of the citizen and history of the country. There was no institution specially designed to teach these and other nation building lessons and skills. The set objectives of the NYSC which include the achievement of unity and development are reflective of the problems, mood and aspirations of the country at the time of its inception and have remained ever so relevant till date.
They emanate from the bowel of sad historical experience after Independence which was characterised by ethnic loyalty, tribalism, mutual group suspicion and distrust, mass poverty, illiteracy, acute shortage and uneven distribution of skilled manpower, inadequate socio-economic infrastructural facilities etc.
Bpy proposing abolition of the NYSC, are we now saying that we are tired of nation building – a work in progress or the task has been completed or not achievable?
The quest for national unity and development is noble and worthy of any effort whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. It is endless.
Thus, the NYSC is a neo- nationalist outfit established amongst others to fill the ideological and developmental gap in nation building efforts in Nigeria especially after the civil war of1967-70.
It was designed to inculcate discipline in the Nigerian youth and by extension the entire society, promote the spirit of selfless service, self-reliance,oneness,brotherhood, tolerance. It is also to promote national unity and integration, development, tradition of industry, the acquisition of skills for self-employment and self-reliance,elimination of prejudices, ignorance, and accelerated growth of the economy. The general aspiration was to realize the goal set in the second National Development plan,which includes the attainment of “a United strong and self-reliant nation,a great and dynamic economy and a land of bright and full of opportunities,freedom and democracy” etc.
For emphasis, it should be stressed that due to poor practice of party politics between 1960 and 1973 before the scheme was established, the spirit of nationalism, patriotism and hard work suffered much set-back, went down and gave way to tribalism,cp corruption, indolence and apathy in the country.There was general loss of interest in the growth and development of the nation leading to decay and decline in nearly all the departments of her life. Consequently, military coup, civil war, mass poverty and under- development were some of the effects.
There was need for change-to re-capture the glow, vibrancy patriotism, nationalism and strong determination of pre-independence years for which our dogged nationalists were better known to build a nation we all could be proud of -an aspiration for which Nigeria was better known in times before independence.
As already alluded, the objectives are timeless and their achievement is critical to the well being of the country.They convey and reflect the dreams and emotions, the pains and joy, the aspirations,- in short the inner feeling and collective desire of most Nigerians. The scheme is a demonstration of the general resolve and determination of a people over time to take their destiny in their own hands in accordance with their own definition, image and imagination.
It is certainly far beyond ” reducing ethnicity…” which the Nation newspaper speaks of in its editorial of 8-12- 2016. It is needless to say that the pursuit of national unity and development has been a persistent life preoccupation of many countries including the USA.
Meaningful development was a prime motivation for the establishment of the NYSC. According to the NYSC handbook, Nigeria is a country characterized by colonial rule, slave mentality, ethic loyalty, mutual group suspicion and distrust -all of which contributed to the civil war of 1967.The country was also faced with underdevelopment problems such as poverty,mass illiteracy, shortages of skilled manpower lopsided labour distribution and infrastructural deficiency. She was equally beset by poor leadership, misgovernment indiscipline, rapidly waning nationalism and low level of patriotism.
The continuing relevance of the scheme is therefore not in doubt even today. It was the need to address critical national issues such as unity, growth and development and desire to cultivate a crop of leadership and patriotic citizenship as well as promote the unity and development of the country that necessitated the mobilization of the graduate youth in order to give them proper guidance and orientation relevant to the need of the nation. As could be gleaned from the second National Development plan,the country after the civil war 1967-70 yearned for “a united, strong and self-reliant nation that is full of opportunities for all citizens, dynamic economy as well as a free,democratic society”
Towards this end, the positive role of the youth in nation building was recognized. The NYSC was established. It thus represents a deliberate attempt to correct pass mistakes and to actualize the dreams and aspirations of the nation state through youth participation in the development process as defined and set in motion much earlier by the nationalists,who struggled and won political independence for the country in 1960. The journey was billed to be long. So far appreciable steps had been made in right direction.
The programs for goal realization were well thought out. For instance, the orientation prepares the youth mentally and physically for the task of national service. Its military drill is the anchor of discipline- the basis of success of all human efforts. The primary assignment provides the participant with some work experience and opportunity to participate in the economic process of the country. The community Development service is an exercise in tolerance and cooperation between corps members and host communities. Progress may be slow, but it will amount to collective loss if we start retracing our steps now.
The scheme has recorded tremendous success over time. It belongs to the winning team in Nigeria. We can improve the performance of a winning team but is not always advisable to change it. If nothing else the scheme has proved to be an effective platform for youth participation, development and empowerment for the propagation of national unity and development of the country .
It has helped too in making youths better Nigerian than most of their parents. They hold a healthier perception of their country and are ready to serve under the sun and in the rain and to go to any where there are opportunities for effective participation ,growth and development for a fulfilling life in the interest of the country.Spend a day in an NYSC camp and you begin to appreciate well the beauty, strength,the leveling, transformative power of the scheme and the bright prospect for national unity and development as a result.
Dr lawal was right when he observed: no one remains the same after one’s-national service. Many become unstuck to primordial values such as tribalism, ethnicity, or religious bigotry. To paraphrase Emir Sanusi11 of Kano, they become proud to be called Nigerians and to speak the language of new Nigeria they had helped and are helping in building. The trouble today is that colony of ex- corps members is still tiny and dire need of expansion.
True, there are still ethnic and religious tensions but steadily, the scheme has weakened their tap roots and reduced their negative effect.
Though slow it has promoted steady transition from ethnic attachment to nationalism,from tribalism to patriotism and much religious tolerance, strengthen bond of unity, understanding and tolerance and in the process made many more Nigerians out of Nigeria.
The contribution to the promotion of national consciousness is perhaps the loudest as the Abiola /kingibe presidential ticket of 1993 election could show- twenty years after the establishment of the scheme. In spite of it being a Muslim – Muslim ticket, Nigerians following the value orientation of the NYSC with its emphasis on patriotism, nationalism, ethnic/religious tolerance voted massively for it. By 2015 a Nigerian president could concede defeat to the opposition candidate because of his belief that national interest should always be above ethnic or individual interest. And by 2016 an emir of Kano could proudly say that he is a “Nigerian” unlike his parents who he said were “northerners.”
The scheme has helped in ensuring the constant flow of labor to all sectors of the economy including the rural areas for developmental purposes. It has served as a source of motivation to many non graduate youth to embark on tertiary education. The NYSC uniform is now a symbol of national unity and selfless service.In short, the scheme has positively impacted on society:moderates youth behavior, promotes national consciousness on consistent basis, mobilizes youth for the implementation of national programs such as population census,registration of voters,agricultural revival,war against indiscipline, rural basic heath, fight agains HIV/AIDS and much more.
Dtill, the NYSC is not perfect. There are problems to solve for optimal performance. Conventionally when something is faulty- say a car, you call a repairer to fix it and arrange for regular maintenance to maintain its hygiene status. You don’t just throw it away unless it is really far beyond repair. Why is the NYSC different when it is certainly not beyond fixing. Why the suggestion for its scrapping in spite of its achievement and relevance?
One of the often disregarded aspects of the objective of the scheme by the Nigerian elite is the demand for sacrifice by citizens in the national interest. Here the youth had played their part well by accepting posting to different parts of the country. But most of the nation’s elite negate the idea of sacrifice by bad examples in public life say through corrupt practice, influence peddling, urban bias in orientation, lobbying for preferential posting for their wards, threat of abrogation of the scheme at the slightest irritation to their interest and failure to fund the scheme well to make every orientation camp a good place to stay for training.
While all precautions must be taken against death, unfortunately the latter is inevitable and beyond control of ordinary man. As already noted there is really no place to hide from the merciless hands of death- both inside and outside are open to it. The best in the circumstance is to be courageous and prayerful that it should not come to one so soon a time. So let the birds fly high instead of caging them.Nor is it really healthy and helpful to lock our kids up in our backyard’s botanical garden. The youth have their world to live and it might be better to allow them explore a bit of it early.
This is where the NYSC comes in. As K. Belo-Osagie notes in the Nation’s newspaper of December 22 2016p28, the National Youth service is real learning period in many ways for the Nigerian youth. It is an experience worth having.
For instance, according to her, “the orientation camp experience is one of the most memorable aspects of the national youth service corps(NYSC)scheme. The three-week program of physical drills, parade,sporting and cultural activities, skill acquisition, lectures, pageantry and endurance treks is usually challenging, educative and fun-filled for graduates drawn from tertiary institutions nationwide and abroad”
The NYSC “is a time to form vital friendships, learn new lesson about places and people,and gain some form of work experience and skill. However the poor state of facilities in most orientation camps across the country distract from the experience”.
So maintain what is good and fix what is bad.

Dr. Abhuere is a retired NYSC Director and founder, Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja

Author: News Editor

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