IN 1973 Nigeria was a country fresh out of a bloody civil war that caused the death of about three million of its people, a war which many have argued could have been avoided. This was the main reason why the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) gained widespread support on its inauguration by then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon in that year.
Since then, Nigerian youths who have graduated from higher institutions at home and abroad are generally expected to be posted to places outside their ‘comfort zones ‘to undergo a three-week military controlled boot camp which the scheme hopes will instil important values in them.
The 1993 decree which is still in force today spells out the admirable objectives of this scheme including raising the moral tone of Nigerian Youths. The scheme has scored many achievements, most notably as a platform for young Nigerians to hone valuable skills and an opportunity to put them to good use. For this sole reason I have chosen to ignore the many failings of the scheme and not join the many voices calling for its scrap which in their opinion has become a large cesspool of corruption, a tool for subtle brainwashing in the hands of the military as well as a loud criticism of the pitiable sum of just under twenty thousand naira which corps members are expected to survive on for a month.
Now, over forty years and billions of dollars later, this core objective has not been realised as Nigeria is still struggling to harmonise the interests of its diverse people, with recent events showing that grudges of the older generation are being inherited by the young generation such that national interest is constantly being sacrificed on the altar of ethnic loyalty. It is still a problem that Nigerians think of themselves first as members of an ethnic group.
Bearing in mind the economic reality which we find ourselves today, I believe it is time to channel resources elsewhere because it has become obvious that one-year of compulsory national service will not unite the country, especially when this scheme takes a huge chunk off our annual budget.
One thing which I have realised from my frequent tours around this beautiful country is that Nigerians are naturally peaceful and yielding when they can afford the basic necessities of life. As this is not often the case, young people often become tools in the hands of those who would not mind splitting the country across its fault lines for obvious selfish reasons. Why don’t we then reduce the extravagant cost of governance, scrap money-guzzling schemes and re-invest this extra money in productive ventures that would boost our GDP and per-capital income.
Why don’t we invest in schemes that would empower young productive Nigerians, a scheme that will not discriminate against enterprising Nigerians who did not attend tertiary institutions and if after this decide to take further steps that will contribute to national unity, there are less expensive ways. For example, we can revise our school curriculum to include a compulsory subject which would mandate pupils and students to study a culture and language from another region of the country.
Another one is replacing state-sponsored pilgrimage with State-sponsored excursions to other parts of the country where indigent people would be exposed to the beauty in other parts of the country.
While this is not a call for the scrap of the commendable NYSC scheme, I hope to encourage the policy makers to spend our limited resources on productive schemes which help young Nigerians attain financial stability as this is the key to National cohesion and unity.
Nnamdi Uzuegbu, a corp member and lawyer writes from Abuja.