The NYSC has lived up to the expectation of the founding father as agency for national unity and development. It has proved to be the surest way to the promised land. In deed the scheme could much more with due support especially from the Nigerian elite. The youth could take the country to the top of the mountains when properly empowered and directed. In spite of the sharp divisions within the political class it is possible to forge national unity and development in Nigeria. All it requires is for the elites to do the needful and the citizen to participate honestly and diligently in nation building. This is where the NYSC Act comes in for it contains basic ingredients for building great nations. Unfortunately it has largely been breached thereby slowing down the pace of development and unity of the country. In this piece I shall show why it is important to know, understand and observe the contents of the Act as way forward for the nation.
The NYSC provides the opportunity for active participation and positive contribution to national unity and development. The purpose of the NYSC, and how to make it fulfill the dreams of the nation for unity, integration, and development are clearly stated in the NYSC Act . It is a piece of work that captures the inner feeling of Nigeria with shattered dreams after independence to be a great nation, develop a strong national identity and be driven by shared values of patriotism, honesty, truthfulness, tolerance, disciple, justice, fairness and such values. Small in size, simple to understand and pregnant with high hope of success and strong faith in the powers of the youth, it makes an interesting reading. It ought to be a must-read for Nigeria, a primal for our children, but from all indication the document is not a familiar tract to many Nigerians. It has not been widely read, or if read, its tenets have not been fully observed.
Recent events in the country by people who should know better but claimed not to know support this view. Some infractions of the act such as failure to report for service, abandonment of service, lobbying or rejection of service suggest a lack of knowledge and understanding of the NYSC Act. As the Bible has taught us ‘people perish for lack of knowledge’. This appears to be true for the NYSC. It could be correctly stated that people had violated the NYSC Act for lack of knowledge, and absence of patriotism, commitment etc to nation-building- all to the detriment of the country. There is therefore every need to revisit the NYSC Act. at least to upgrade knowledge and fill some observed gaps. For now there is the need to build a common perception of goodness about the nation, A sound knowledge and deep understanding of the Act would be helpful. The NYSC is an exercise in patriotism, nationalism, nation-building and deliberate effort in social re-engineering of the country. While it is a great opportunity to serve, many see it negatively as obstacle to their progress. The Act is addressed to the youth to deploy their creative energies to the service of fatherland today so that our tomorrow could better. This is why service evasion is so bad and painful. And that is why efforts must be made to promote greater knowledge and understanding of the scheme.
SOME DISTURBING OBSERVATION
Though not an excuse, ignorance abounds galore about the demands of the NYSC Act which may explain why the country is not moving as fast as it should do in the national unity and development lane. Some recent disturbing observations could be helpful for illustration here. They call for positive action. The first observation to review here happened at a club in Benin where a man after reading a news report about a Governor said aloud to none in particular that he had lost hope and confidence in the Judiciary. ‘How could a Judge reasonably rule that service in the NYSC is not a requirement for a graduate to become a Governor?’ They say the ruling was based on the technicality of the law… Like the angry man I was shocked to learn about that judgment. In our opinion it is a deliberate misinterpretation of the fact or deliberate twisting of the truth on so-call technical ground to suit a purpose. It is a deviation from the NYSC Act which among others demands for the production of Certificate of National Service for employment purposes. According to section 12(2) it ‘should be the duty of prospective employer to demand and obtain from any person who claims to have obtained his first degree……. Also we hear that it should be the ‘duty of every employer to produce on demand by police officer not below the rank of Assistant Superintendent of police, any such certificate … A dodger of national service should hide in shame, punished and not be celebrated and rewarded with juicy appointments meant for patriots.
The second observation happened at a Cyber Café in Abuja where I listened to a conversation between youth about the NYSC. To them rather than an opportunity to make useful contribution, the scheme was obstacle. And they were only going to serve because they that without the NYSC CERTIFICATE OF National service or exemption the will be room for jobs or further studies. The only reason for doing the NYSC is for getting clearance for employment after your first degree or to gain a place for post gradual study. On closer interaction it was obvious that beyond the narrow and selfish goal of removing what seems to them as obstacle to employment or further education, the NYSC serves little or no useful purpose. No sense of altruism or adventurism. This is failure of public enlightenment on the scheme. From the question and answer we had, it was clear that they knew little or nothing about the objective of scheme documented in the Act such as the promotion of nation unity, inculcation of discipline, patriotism, spirit of industry, morality, right attitude to work, self-reliance, skills for self-employment, tolerance, removal of prejudice and others etc. I am not even sure that any of them had read the NYSC Act, let alone to internalize its contents. if the prospective participants did not know much about what they were about signing in for, then the scheme was in trouble.
In this game of unenlightened actions, almost everyone has been involved, The state and federal had been known to have failed to comply with the provision of NYSC which asked employers to ask for certificate of national service or exemption from would be employee. That failure led to the embarrassment of having two citizens who refused to serve fatherland in their youth as ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. One was in Finance and the in Communication. After much the minister resigned. The petition against her was that the certificate she presented for employment was not genuine. She explained that a third party got the fake papers for but did not that they were not genuine. Well she could granted the benefit of the doubt even though ignorance not an excuse in law. Both the minister and the government breached the provision of the law. After her resignation, she should have been mobilized for national service in accordance with the law. It is the responsibility of the gradual to make himself or herself available for service (2d) and to make himself available at such place and time as may stipulated by the authority. But it is equally incumbent on the employer to demand for evidence of service. The failure to do what is expected carries penalties.
This is clear in section 13 of the Act which says ‘any person who fails to report in the service corp in the manner directed by the directorate’, (b) who refuses to make himself available for service… is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of N 2,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 month or to both such fine and imprisonment . While the minister of finance simply resigned and left in peace without facing the law, the minister of communication in the same cabinet was even more bizarre in his explanation of his failure to answer to the national call. According to him, he worked elsewhere after graduation in a higher capacity which he believed was superior to participation in the service corps. For him the law of the land is irrelevant. Only his interest is important. He is the law and national interest is secondary. While such selfish attitude is not the stuff which build great nations, the police in a good system that works would have arrested him to face the law.
The minister betrays ignorance of the law with his arrogant statement because section 2:2a-d of the NYSC spells out the condition for exception. These include (1) Be over the age of 30 on graduation, ( b) past service in the armed forces of the federation or the Nigeria police forces for the period of 9 month (c) a member of staff of NSO, State Security, NIA, Defense Intelligent Agency or have been conferred with national honors. From the foregoing, it becomes clear that the minister under reference was grossly out of point. But the NYSC cannot do it alone. She needs the support of the and institutions outside her control. For instance the police ought to rise to arrest and prosecute law-breakers including violators of the NYSC Act. It is thus a shame that an offence that has become public knowledge was not queried by the police. This is why I have decried what I call the dependency syndrome of the scheme over time the tends to frustrate its noble efforts in nation-building. But if the police did not find it necessary to arrest minister, the NYSC should call him to serve or prosecute him in the failure to respond at least to teach some lessons in patriotism, nationalism discipline, justice and fair-play. No one should be allowed to promote himself above the laws. As Director Corps Welfare of NYSC I encouraged the prosecution of all those caught running illegal NYSC camps in Keffi , Nasarrawa state -most of them victims of ignorance of the NYSC Scheme. Morality is of essence here.
Another reason for concern is the suggestion in some quarters to make NYSC a part of the national intelligence network. On the surface such suggestion may look attractive and capable of servicing useful purposes. However, it should be resisted because of its potential destructive effect on the scheme itself. If nothing else espionage is not a friend of any person or community. That is why secret agents operate under cover because spying on others does not generate confidence and support of those being spied upon. So far, is seen by the public as dove of peace and agent of national unity and development Making corps members to be spy- men will not add value to the rating of the scheme or contribute much to the achievement of the objectives stated in the NYSC Act. Rather it will simply generate suspicion and hostility towards corps members.
For emphasis, apart from the objective of ensuring ‘the proper encouragement and development of common ties among Nigerians, promotion of national unity and the development of the country into a great and dynamic economy is also meant to inculcate discipline, sprit of industry, promote patriotic and loyal services to the country, raise the moral tone of youth, promote national ideal, develop right attitude, to nation building in the national interest, and create strong national identity. It is aimed at acquiring the spirit of self-reliance and skills for self-employment as well as contribute to accelerated growth of the economy, develop common ties among Nigerian youth, national unity and integration, remove prejudices, eliminate ignorance and above all develop a sense of corporate existence and common destiny of the people of Nigeria.
All these require mutual trust respect between the scheme and community which could be destroyed by deploying them out as secret agents. This is more so when the act requires that as far as possible Nigerian youth are to be assigned to jobs in states other than their state of origin”. The thought of the next man to you a spy cannot generate love and acceptance and cooperation so critical to success of the NYSC, As history has taught the world the America Peace Corps was initially well loved and widely embraced by the rest of the world until it became known to be associated with the CIA. Henceforth, the public trust in it was broken and eventually the Peace Corps itself lost its appeal and relevance. Still the secret agencies can apply for the services of some corp members like other employers but not to make the scheme a part of the national intelligence network. It smells great danger,
What all this suggest is poor knowledge of the NYSC and its essence in nation building. Basically two factors can be held to be largely responsible for this namely 1) poor publicity by the NYSC and 2) general reading culture of the country. As an exercise in nation-building, promotion of national unity and development and strong national identity the importance of nation-wide publicity, active citizenry participation and informed knowledge of the NYSC and essence cannot be over-emphasized. While the scheme must be assisted to brace up to this all important task of public enlightenment on the NYSC- the Acts and the cardinal programs of the scheme, the purpose of this easy is to contribute to public education by highlight some key areas of the NYSC. This is against the background of the ignorant shown by the public about the scheme and the embarrassment such ignorance has caused the nation.
This is why the current feelers from Gowon House Abuja- the Head quarters of the NYSC are cheering. In the first quarter of this year a new Director –General was appointed for the scheme. He is Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Shaibu, a former Military Assistant to past Director-General of NYSC, he is no stranger to the NYSC. A General with a Doctor of Philosophy( PhD) degree, he has shown great determination to get things right by doing things right, First thing first. He went to the basics of NYSC Act and emphasized the importance of public education on the matter. He wants the staff and the public to know and own the scheme as way forward. He has promised hell for imposters and cooperate with relevant agencies to ensure that only qualified Nigerians are mobile for national service. Given embarrassment the nation had received from people who dodged national service only for them to come later to assume high national position, thereby rewarding unpatriotic attitude, he suggests that the NYSC be involved in the pre-screening of those being considered for high office. The latter suggestion should be taken seriously. Nigeria should not allow unpatriotic people who failed to respond to national call to occupy high offices. It send the wrong message.
KEY AREAS OF THE NYSC ACT
Basically, nation building is not an easy task. It requires the honest and committed effort of citizens led by the elite to build a great nation. The history of Nigeria has been remarkable for is poverty, under-development and disunity. As already hinted, the NYSC was established with this awareness to create a corps of dedicated elite to promote national unity and development and to cultivate those values that facilitate nation building such as patriotism, nationalism, hard work, discipline, right attitude, and related ones as contained in the 1999 constitution. This aspiration is very clear in the NYSC Act which sets out the objectives of the scheme.
The Act defined the category of youth for service and condition for call-up to services and penalties for failure. It established three Directorate, State Governing Board and Local government Committee to run the service corps and to take care of their welfare and ensure their security, It points to areas of placement of corps members, evaluation of service, issuance of certificate of national service and exemption, production of certificate of national service on demand by employers, the police and defined offences and penalties. We have already discussed some of the issues. It only remains to emphasize key areas of the Acts that appears most misunderstood.
The period of service is one year –usually in a state outside one’s original state. It is actually the obligation of the individual to report for mobilization and schools to present graduates for mobilization. Employers are obligated to request for evidence of service or exemption before employment and it an offence to employ a graduate without certificate of national service orexemption. Offender could be prosecuted, fined or jailed. Employers are to take into account of the period of service in the service corps in the computation of seniority, salaries etc. The NYSC Act defined the responsibilities of the graduate, the different tiers of government and the employers of labour., who are expected to provide accommodation, transportation, medical care or funds in lieu of the these services. While there are penalties and punishment for default, there are rewards for good conduct and outstanding performance for instance-Honors award for excellent performance. Youths are deployed to critical areas of National needs. The participant is to accept posting to any place so stated. The DIRECTORATE ‘shall not be compelled in any manner whatsoever to deploy a member of the service corp to any particular undertaken or project’. Lobbying for preferential posting is illegal. Impostors, unauthorized wearing of NYSC uniforms are punishable offences under the Act. For instance any one not eligible to serve –… in the service corps but so participate or attempts to participate is guilty of an offence, and liable on conviction to a fine of N4,000 or to imprisonment for a term of 2 years or to both such fine and imprisonment. Giving false information an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N5,000 or imprisonment for a term of three years or to both such fine and imprisonment. Any employers who employs without following the subsection(3) is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N5,000 or imprisonment for a term of three years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
It is unfortunate these penalties have not been applied by the NYSC and the society is not even aware of them. The Director General have to show some example here. It is thus reassuring that General Ibrahim Shaibu the new Director General of NYSC has expressed his desire and determination to tackle these and other issues head-on as way of promoting discipline one of the major objectives of the scheme. He deserves every support and encouragement in the collective interest of national unity and development.
*Prof. John Abhuere is the director, Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja