ByÂ Mack Ogbamosa
ONE of the fundamental instruments binding the nation together- the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) – has been under media bashing in recent times.
There have even been calls for its scrapping because, according to the critics, the scheme is no more relevant.Â They base their arguments on reasons like unhealthy nature of the orientation camps, rejection of corps members by some employers, death of corps members from road accidents and riots as well as the inability of the scheme to achieve unity.
Established in 1973, the objectives of the scheme are: To inculcate discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work and patriotic and loyal service to the nation in any situation they find themselves.
*To raise the moral tone of our youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvements.
*To develop in our youths the attitude of mind, acquired through experience and suitable training which will make them amenable to mobilisation in the national interest.
*To enable youths acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self-employment.
*To contribute to the accelerated growth of national economy.
*To develop common ties among our youths and to promote national unity and integration.
*To remove prejudices and eliminate ignorance and confirm at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups; and
*To develop a sense of corporate existence and common destiny of the people of Nigeria.
While it cannot be said that the scheme has achieved all its objectives, this writer believes that most of the arguments advanced for its scrapping are borne out of ignorance and misunderstanding of the laws guiding the establishment of the scheme.
For instance, those who blame the NYSC management for the filthy nature of the orientation camps miss the point.Â The law establishing the NYSC vests the provision of orientation camps on the state government.Â It is a known fact that the NYSC management has over the years alerted various state chief executives to this situation. Investigations by this writer reveal that unfortunately, apart from few states like Kano, Abia, Katsina, Osun, Nasarawa, Zamfara, Benue and Gombe, there has not been a positive response on the part of state governments either to construct or uplift the facilities in the orientation camps.
On rejection of corps members, it should be noted that the population of participants in the scheme has grown from about 2, 400 at its inception to 250, 000 this year.Â This has, of course, created problems of placements for primary assignments which have been compounded by the refusal of corps members to accept certain assignments like teaching, lack of accommodation for corps members by employers, declining economy and shrinking places of services, poverty and lack of adequate information about the scheme among prospective corps members before being mobilised.
The argument for its scrapping because of death of corps members from road accidents is also flawed.Â While nobody wishes anybody dead, it is unthinkable that deaths arising from these incidents are targeted at corps members.
It should also be noted that the deaths arising from ethnic and communal clashes are not limited to corps members as people from various backgrounds are affected by these unfortunate incidents.
It is also important to note that most deaths on our roads are caused by bad and neglected roads.Â These roads are not meant for corps members only.
That the NYSC has not unified the country is to beg the issue.Â The scheme is only one of the many ingredients for unity.
Though it has not met our expectations, it has contributed a lot to bring Nigerians together.Â Many inter-ethnic marriages in the country took their roots from the NYSC scheme.
Many top professionals in the country working in states other than their own today got the opportunities while serving as youth corps members.
A large number of Nigerians who learnt and understood languages other than their indigenous ones did so while serving in the scheme.
What is to be done?
Instead of scrapping the NYSC, what we should do is to strengthen the scheme.
State governments, corporate organisations and individuals should be ready to assist the NYSC to succeed by providing and upgrading orientation camps.
Corps members should be prepared to go to rural areas, accept teaching or other jobs.Â They should note that the service year is not a period of industrial attachment where those with professional qualifications must work in areas of their training.Â It is a year of selfless national service.
Employers must be ready to provide accommodation for corps members.
Corps members should have adequate information about the scheme before mobilisation.
Government must provide adequate employment for the people and invest in infrastructure like good roads to reduce accidents on our roads.
There must be adequate security for all citizens whether the President, the street beggar or the youth corps members.
NYSC alone cannot guarantee unity in the country.
How to achieve unity
We cannot achieve unity when we are still talking of state of origin instead of state of residence.Â We cannot be united when we discriminate on the basis of religion, where there is nepotism and when there is wrong application of the principles ofÂ Federal Character.
Unity will elude us when there is a high level of poverty and social insecurity.
Above all unity can only be with us when we have an effective leadership- a leadership that performs.Â This will reduce insecurity and the constant resort to ethnic and religious cleavages.
Mr. Ogbamosa , a lawyer/journalist, writes from Lagos.