The National Youth Service Corp (NYSC Nigeria) was set up by decree 24 and modified by decree 51 of June 1993 to inculcate in Nigerian youths a spirit of selfless service to the community and to promote a spirit of oneness and unity in a nation of diverse cultures, economic and social backgrounds. It was one of the tools by which Nigeria hoped to achieve some of her post civil war objectives of a united, strong and self-reliant nation, a dynamic economy, a land full of opportunities for all citizens and a free and democratic economy.
What is National Youth Service Corp (NYSC Nigeria)?
An organized activity in which young people serve others and the environment in ways that contributes positively to the society. Successes claimed by NYSC Nigeria point only to the fostering of national unity (increased inter- ethnic marriages, change of attitude, etc). However, as concerns civic responsibility, there has been no stronger evidence than increased voluntarism in community development projects based on the introduction of awards. The NYSC Nigeria scheme has only a few of the features common to successful programs and in more than one instance clearly runs counter to them. For example it is not easily apparent that the NYSC Nigeria scheme meets the needs of the Nigerian society. The need for national unity and social integration on which the aim of the program is centered – if the reports of achievement are anything to go by – would have been met if it met those needs. More common activities embarked upon by participants of the NYSC Nigeria scheme and their areas of service have little relevance to the needs implied in the objectives. Needs that would be met by the scheme, as it is currently being implemented could be redefined possibly as justification for its continuation.
Using the NYSC Nigeria scheme to swell the thinned ranks of teaching staff in the rural areas was not a stated objective nor is there conclusive evidence on which to base the claim, even if it can be shown as an area of need relevant to the Nigerian society. It may also not be a desired objective of the scheme unless it is compatible with the core philosophy of NYSC Nigeria and contains some positive features. This particular claim of success also gives little indication of how effective the NYSC Nigeria corps members have been in the classroom without prior teacher training, whether they remain voluntarily in the teaching profession on completion of their mandatory service year and if indeed anything was gained from the experience. Another success claimed is that the NYSC Nigeria scheme is used to provide cheap labor thus implying that corps members are used to replace paid workers. This is a negation of the philosophy of NYSC Nigeria in a country where unemployment figures are high, and many core service areas are under-serviced. Where governments increasingly use the program to provide services in areas with acute staffing shortages, care should be taken to ensure that they do not replace paid workers and that participants are provided with appropriate orientation and training as well as adequate support during the service period to ensure their effectiveness.
The NYSC Nigeria Scheme runs to N9 billion a year in stipends alone. This does not include provision of allowances, uniforms and other kit, nor does it include the cost of administration. The NYSC Nigeria scheme is almost entirely funded by the central government and despite this huge cost, the value derived from the scheme has not yet been computed. The successes recorded by operators of the scheme may be regarded by some as benefits to the nation and that its value lies there-in. It is however impossible to see the gain to individual participants without the stipend which, contrary to the philosophy of the program, is the only other incentive for participation – the first being that participation is compulsory. Participants are generally not known to speak highly of the scheme and many consider it a waste of their time. If the singular aim of the NYSC Nigeria scheme is to foster national unity, all that would be required is a formal evaluation to verify the achievements claimed by its operators. This being done, the scheme can then be marked as highly successful and tendered, as was done at the 5th national Conference of the International Association of National Youth Service, as evidence for cultural integration. Doubts about this claim will of course be forgiven, given the clamorous calls for a sovereign national conference and an increasing incidence of ethnic and religious clashes. The more important question however is, in the light of the new social, economic, cultural and political dispensation, should the NYSC Nigeria Scheme have more than the singular aim of fostering national unity or could it be used to achieve other objectives that are more in line with societal needs and of greater value to the nation even as individual participants benefit from the experience?
The revised NYSC Nigeria Scheme is characterized by poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, a lack of infrastructure, corruption, and ignorance and may be on the verge of socio-political disintegration. Even without this evidence of social malaise, there are areas of societal need that are indicative of a need for a properly implemented NYSC Nigeria program. An NYSC Nigeria program that provides service-learning opportunities as a benefit to participants and from which Nigeria as a nation will derive the most value can then be designed to service areas where they are needed. Areas such as emergency and disaster response, fire/rescue service, security police/coast line and border patrol/forensics, road safety, road works maintenance, lighting, beautification, etc, health services paramedics, doctors, nurses, community development education, health, environment and post-prison rehabilitation.
Finally, NYSC Nigeria can be used as an avenue for involving more young people in the Nigerian democratic process. As part of the prescribed military orientation, participants should be helped to understand their social rights and responsibilities. Information on social principles, citizenship responsibilities and the political process should be routinely provided and arrangements made to involve young people in the decision-making structures of government.