The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), set up in 1973 as part of the reconciliation effort of the then General Yakubu Gowon’s military government in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, has hit 50 odd years, the fabled golden jubilee year. It is time, too, to reflect on the journey so far especially as it relates to the principles and intents undergirding its existence.
It is instructive to note that since its establishment, NYSC has reasons to claim that in those years, it has played its role in fostering national unity, providing valuable skills, and serving as a stop gap for employment opportunities for the country’s youth.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, while it is essential to acknowledge its imperfections, in particular, the money guzzler it has become, it would be hasty to advocate for the review of its viability and continued existence having regard to its contribution to the determination of government to foster national unity with the youths as the pivot which actually is one of its primary objectives.
To a large extent, in the opinion of this newspaper, the policy of deploying young graduates from diverse backgrounds, cultures, traditions and religions to various parts of the country for a year of service, has played a role in exposing the youth to the differences, peculiarities and influences that gauge the peoples’ behaviour patterns building, in the process, attitudes that conduce to understanding, acceptance and tolerance.
This push towards integration has proven to be instrumental in breaking down ethnic, religious, and cultural barriers. By living and working together, young Nigerians gain firsthand experience of different regions, languages, and traditions, fostering mutual understanding and strengthening the fabric of the nation. Through this programme, lifelong friendships have been formed, some leading to marriages, dispelling stereotypes and promoting a shared sense of national identity.
Focusing on the economics of sustaining NYSC as a programme, a section of the society had had cause to advocate the scraping of the scheme. Others, for not- too- obvious reasons, argue that 50 years after, Nigeria has not achieved unity in the true sense of the word. To hold NYSC, per se, accountable for any perceived lapses will amount to giving a dog a bad name. The Corps cannot do much when the political elite continue to insist on exploiting the fault lines of ethnicity and religion at the slightest opportunity. In our view, the NYSC has done its part in fostering national unity, it is now left to the political leadership to achieve unity in the country through an equitable pursuit of social justice.
Besides, the NYSC also provides an avenue for young graduates to acquire valuable skills and experiences that enhance their employability. The three-week orientation camp, followed by the primary place of assignment, exposes participants to new environments and challenges. They gain practical knowledge, leadership abilities, and teamwork skills that are often lacking in traditional educational settings.
In a country grappling with high rate of youth unemployment, the NYSC has emerged as a significant stop gap for employment. Upon completion of their service year, corps members gain an edge in the job market, having acquired practical skills and work experience.
Many organisations, both in the public and private sectors, have recognised the potential of corps members and offer employment opportunities to deserving ones. Additionally, some corps members use the platform as a launchpad for entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to job creation and economic growth.
While acknowledging the importance of the NYSC, it is crucial to address its imperfections and work towards improvement. One of the main criticisms is the security risks that corps members face in certain parts of the country. The advent of terrorism, banditry, and secessionist agitation in the country had put the programme in regrettable jeopardy. The NYSC, in collaboration with relevant authorities, must take proactive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of all participants.
Additionally, efforts should be made to streamline the posting process, ensuring that corps members are deployed in fields that align with their areas of study, allowing for optimal utilization of their skills and talents.
To maintain the NYSC’s relevance, periodic evaluation and adaptation are necessary. The programme must continually align with the evolving needs of the country’s youth and the demands of the labour market. Regular engagement with stakeholders, including government, educational institutions, and employers, can help identify areas of improvement and address emerging challenges. Incorporating more diverse skill development programmes, such as digital literacy, vocational training and entrepreneurship, can enhance the employability of corps members in an increasingly competitive job market.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Youth Service Corps, it is essential to recognize its positive impact on Nigerian youth. Scrapping the programme would be a disservice to the millions of young Nigerians who have benefitted from it over the years. Instead, efforts should be directed towards addressing its shortcomings and enhancing its relevance, ensuring that it continues to empower and equip the youth for a brighter future.