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NYSC’s growing pains

After the cessation of hostilities of the war to keep Nigeria one, there was a felt need to build mutual trust and confidence among the people of Nigeria and also instill a sense of belonging from all parts of the country. The aim was to quickly ensure that the divisive mind -set that had pervaded the atmosphere during the war would be outlived and replaced by a new sense of unity in diversity, of the right to freely choose any part of Nigeria as ones place of abode and business.

This policy was the central plank of the government of rtd. General Yakubu Gowon, on whom the lot fell to try to heal the wounds created by the war. To ensure the policy took concrete effect, a national service scheme was created that made it mandatory for young adults coming down from universities and other higher institutions to serve their nation for one year, not in their states of origin but in states other than their own. It should be noted that the NYSC and the creation of the Federal Government Colleges system where bright and promising young pupils are posted to federal schools outside of their home states were a few of the conscious measures taken then in the attempt to build unity and a sense of belonging in the nation.

The successes of these schemes are there for everybody to see. The FGC system has contributed to the emergence of Nigerians who have developed friends and acquaintances across the nation, as can be seen from the activities of their old boys’ associations. Recently however the old standard of admissions that ensured only the brightest and best were chosen has been bastardised and this has affected the sustenance of the gains of the policy. The NYSC scheme has similar aims with the FGC policy but at a higher level.   Young men and women are sent to places other than their home states to serve, where they meet other people like themselves from elsewhere, to live and interact with themselves and amongst their hosts. The one year stint during which time these young men and women stay in their stations over the years has done a lot to educate generations of Nigerians about the diversity of their country and the mosaic of its culture and people and their idiosyncrasies.

In its more than 40 years, one of the many plusses of the scheme is that many cross-cultural marriages have been solemnized between corps members which has helped in deepening the nation’s quest for integration. Many more have chosen to stay back in the states they served in, picked jobs and raised their families— which also has created , even though imperceptibly, the integration of cultures and people and hopefully would lead to the eventual evolution of the Nigerian people into a cohesive entity. The NYSC scheme has also contributed to the even distribution of man-power. Many years ago, there existed a huge lopsidedness of manpower across the country, characterized by shortfall in many states while there are surfeits in others,  particularly in the area of teaching, and the NYSC scheme provided  a ready made avenue to correct the imbalance.

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The fore-going is a cursory review of the impact of the NYSC scheme since its inception which on balance could be said to be salutary, which puts its present unfortunate circumstance in bold relief. The 2012 batch of the NYSC has found itself in a needless controversy, sparked off partly by the unfortunate death of corps members while on national assignment as electoral personnel last year, and also by the prevailing insecurity in certain parts of the country. A lot of hue and cry has therefore been raised about whether or not corps members should be posted to violence- prone states.

Indeed graduates of Lagos State University staged a demonstration at the state’s assembly urging the assembly members to prevail on the NYSC authorities not to send them to where there is violence. The National Assembly members have also waded into the fray and resolved to instruct the NYSC authorities to stop sending corps members to crisis prone states and those already posted to those states should be re-posted to states that are not experiencing violence. The NYSC has agreed to do just that- withdraw those already posted to the affected states and send them to other states.

The NYSC has been a little tardy with the issue of postings in the prevailing circumstances of lack of safety in some states. It allowed matters to be taken out of its hands when the issue became a subject of public interest, which unnecessarily generated bad publicity for some states through labeling them as unsafe. The NYSC authorities should have foreseen and pre-empted the brouhaha through throwing up the issue for debate on what to do about its 2012 batch, in view of the prevailing circumstances and letting the contributions guide its policy on postings.  The decision to now re-post corps members from one state to the other, only after the issue had become a subject of demonstration by prospective corps members and parliamentary disputations is not a good augury for the future of the scheme. This is because soon not only endemic crisis, but mere skirmishes like communal riots could be made ready excuses for some states to become pariah states for corps members.

The NYSC authorities should have realized that the death of corps members in their assigned states while on national assignments had made their job to be not business as usual, but one that needed them to re-think their approach to the way they run their affairs, in order to be able to assuage public fears about the necessity of the scheme in these uncertain times, while at the same time drawing attention to the scheme’s many achievements. All said, it has become even more imperative for ways to be found to bring the prevailing insecurity hanging over some states to an end now that it is affecting a veritable vehicle of national cohesion and integration.

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