Is NYSC Redeemable Or A Lost Cause?, By Adetola Salau

…there are a lot of people who think it is time to scrap the NYSC and divert the resources expended on the programme to a small business development scheme for our youth, to ensure that we can effectively deploy and engage our massive population. And this would especially be around the improvement of education, and vocational training to be specific.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth – Muhammad Ali

The latest saga with the former minister of finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, created a lot of uproar about the National Youth Service Crops (NYSC) scheme and caused a lot of rethinking about the programme itself.

In a virtual group of educational reformers, a lot of deliberations on what the scheme has entailed and what it could be, ensued over a couple of days. These reformers spanned various spheres – from the private to public sector and across various age groups, and the discussion was quite interesting.

What is the current state of the NYSC scheme?

The NYSC is included in the Nigerian Constitution, and as such any modification to it will require constitutional change. It might be easier to scrap it in its current form and then set it up in another form not included in the Constitution, but as a standing Act, so that it becomes easier to review and update in the future.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) wrote that: “It is one of the few ordinarily normal laws that found itself into the nation’s Supreme Law. See section 315(5)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution which gives it a pride of place such that the law cannot be tampered with, modified or altered without amending the nation’s Constitution. But even more relevant in ordinary terms when you break any part of the NYSC Act; you have broken the Constitution.”

A lot of people feel that the rule is what prevents Nigerians in the diaspora from returning back to serve. In comparison, thirty-two of countries have compulsory military service terms longer than 18 months. North Korea is 11 years for men and seven years for women.

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We have a challenge with building and maintaining institutions, which stay true to the mandates that they were created for, in the country. Unfortunately, we have a long litany of failed visions and worthy national causes. One cringes when reading the plans that are documented for most of the programmes in Nigeria – well written objectives and visions clearly articulated, which yet fail woefully.

From experience, usually, incompetence and corruption are catalysed by placing the wrong people to run these institutions. The NYSC is alleged to be run by military personnel who have no tertiary education and loathe university graduates. Cleaning this mismatch by getting the right people on the right bus would be a step in the right direction.

Has the NYSC achieved what it was designed for? What were its objectives?

The objectives of the National Youth Service Corps Scheme are clearly spelt out in Decree No. 51 of 16th June 1993, which are as follows (to mention a salient number – there are a total of 15 objectives, but we will skip listing them all here):

(1) To inculcate discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work, and of patriotic and loyal service to Nigeria in any situation they may find themselves;

(2) To raise the moral tone of the Nigerian youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvement;

(3) To develop in Nigerian youth, the attitudes of mind, acquired through shared experience and suitable training, which will make them more amenable to mobilisation in the national interest;

(4) To enable Nigerian youth acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self employment;

(5) To contribute to the accelerated growth of the national economy;

(6) To develop common ties among the Nigerian youths and promote national unity and integration.

There is an argument that we don’t need to spend so much on the NYSC in order to promote national integration. Internal tourism could perform this same task better and also foster the tourism industry and bolster Nigeria’s economic independence from oil revenue.

These are laudable goals when viewed in the context of nationalism and the building of a sense of patriotism and service in the Nigerian youth. The fundamental purpose of the NYSC is to bring different parts of Nigeria together. It is primarily aimed at young people after all and it is a way to orient them about the nation of Nigeria.

There are towns and villages in Nigeria where NYSC members are the only link to professional services. Also, female corpers serving as teachers encourage girl child education in rural areas. There are areas in the North that the only pharmacists they have are corps members.

What are the implications of this current state for Nigeria?

According to a report issued by the World Economic Forum and the Census for the United States, the population of Nigeria will reach 402 million people by the year 2050. Going by this number, Nigeria will become one of the most populated nations in the world – easily the third or fourth – surpassing the United States soon.

The implication of this is that we are projected to add 250 million new persons to our population in the next 32 years. Thus in the next couple of decades, Nigeria will become a teeming time bomb, due to its youth explosion.

Due to this crisis, there are a lot of people who think it is time to scrap the NYSC and divert the resources expended on the programme to a small business development scheme for our youth, to ensure that we can effectively deploy and engage our massive population. And this would especially be around the improvement of education, and vocational training to be specific. The true cost of the scheme comes up to almost N70 billion per annum for the nearly 700,000 corpers who pass through the programme on a yearly basis.

There is an argument that we don’t need to spend so much on the NYSC in order to promote national integration. Internal tourism could perform this same task better and also foster the tourism industry and bolster Nigeria’s economic independence from oil revenue.

The need for our youth to focus on their abilities to earn income, as valuable members of society, is critical. One year of employment, culminating in a chronic state of unemployment and a sense of desperation when it is over, is unacceptable.

What are the ways forward/suggestions or options for addressing our educational issues? I.e. through skills development, and programmes delivered in the scheme.

We have the proponents of scrapping the NYSC scheme stating that there are meaningful ways of engaging the youth, including through small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) creation and venture funding. They paint a vivid picture of a N70 billion venture fund for SMEs each year; how much could be achieved with it; and how this would lead to a lot of innovation (we would be almost as great as China by now!).

Following up on this; most of our youth would be gainfully employed. Take the SME statistics that over 37 million SMEs offer about 84 per cent employment in Nigeria (on a ratio that one of each such business employees 1.6 people). Imagine these businesses being able to employ 3 to 4 persons on average, and that would lead to 148 million being employed.

On the other side, the supporters of the NYSC scheme remind us that doing away with the programme or rebranding the scheme as a new program won’t suddenly make the Nigerian factor affecting it suddenly disappear.

A suggestion that was formulated with some restructuring was that the emphasis of the NYSC should be tweaked to focus on education, which should be utilised more effectively. And, corps members should be offered rigorous training during the three-week camp period and sent to schools. Such schools should be around wherever they live, thereby curtailing the expenditure by NYSC.

And, those who volunteer to go the interior areas should be offered adequate compensation for their sacrifice. These Corps members, during the one year of service, must be subjected to professional training and mentoring programmes. This will certainly help with raising the quality of teachers in the public schools. It will also help alleviate the issue of the shortage of teachers.

In Cuba under Fidel Castro, it was the equivalent of NYSC that delivered 90 per cent national literacy within a decade. The corps members went into communities that professionals wouldn’t in remote areas and lived there with the people

The N50,000 monthly allowance is not an unfair wage to beginner teachers or healthcare workers. This led to the summary of what the NYSC should embody: It should focus strictly on health and education. This conclusion was reached when the impact of those two spheres was taken into account with everything else in a nation.

Overall Recommendation

One of the reformers in our group did the calculations: N473,760,000,000 is spent annually to cover just uniforms at N90,000 each and a monthly allowance of N48,900 for 700, 000 corp members annually. This does not include camp costs, feeding, and salaries of all NYSC staff. So the budget for NYSC of N70 billion must be monthly. When we factor our projected population growth; the expense for NYSC will be a trillion per annum in the nearest future.

Continuing in that same vein of reform, this budget could be slashed by 60 per cent and the scheme would still be intact. Ridiculous charges like corps members paying N4,000 for a scratch card to access and print their Call Up letters. That adds up to N3 billion annually. That should be abolished. In talking about the uniforms, N90,000 for the uniforms per person is simply absurd. A full fire-retardant, three layered fireman’s suit in the Unites States costs about $200 or N73,000 each; yet our corp members are given khaki tunics and tee-shirts.

Call To Action

The N50,000 monthly allowance is not an unfair wage to beginner teachers or healthcare workers. This led to the summary of what the NYSC should embody: It should focus strictly on health and education. This conclusion was reached when the impact of those two spheres was taken into account with everything else in a nation. Through the NYSC programme, 750,000 tertiary instituion graduates being mobilised into the two mentioned sectors annually would create a tremendous effect on the nation.

This is the plan outlined by one of the reformers to drive the transformed scheme:

(1) Add primary health care and education curriculum like pedagogy to General Studies as a compulsory credit for each year in university. This would ensure that graduates would be entry level axillary ‘teachers’;

(2) Assign corp members to schools and healthcare centres/hospitals exclusively for five years and offer education credits to them as part of the service, which could be either monetised or go towards tuition for post-graduate studies;

(3) Extend the NYSC by a year for outstanding performers, guaranteeing them a soft landing in the job market, creating an opportunity to make our educational sector reach global standards and transform health care in one stroke.

And, these steps:

(i) Restructuring the General studies curriculum across all tertiary institutions;

(ii) Refocusing the NYSC on two spheres conclusively;

(iii) Utilising the corpers in these spheres to drive reformation across the nation locally;

(iv) Singling out performers for an extension of service;

(v) Making the NYSC service five years instead of a year to be able to build and maintain long lasting improvement;

(vi) Offering the corp members professional credits in the sectors that they chose to build their content capacities for free.

These steps would go a long way in building Nigeria to the nation that we desire to live and be a part of.

Adetola Salau, Carismalife4U@gmail.com, an advocate of STEM education, public speaker, author, and social entrepreneur, is passionate about education reform.

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