Once upon a time, the khaki green jacket and bright orange boots were a symbol of the transition to adulthood and an affirmation of your readiness to serve Nigeria. But, in 2018, the scheme has lost its lustre, struggling under the weight of more corps member deaths, the silence of the Minister of Finance, and the circus of Davido's service.
Although some still see NYSC as an opportunity to experience the cultural variety of Nigeria, others see the scheme as a complete waste of time and resources. One that should be reformed or scrapped.
An Offspring of the Civil War
The NYSC was established in 1973 by General Yakubu Gowon after the Nigerian civil war. It was created as a compulsory one-year programme that rallies all young graduates both within the country and in the diaspora, between the ages of 18 and 30 for national service. Its primary purpose was to drive sustainable growth and development in Nigeria while promoting socio-cultural integration and national unity by placing youths in different parts of the country.
45 years later, Nigeria remains deeply divided along regional and ethnic lines. In fact, the situation has escalated in the past decade. Since the end of the civil war in 1970, social unrest has manifested in various forms across the country. From the Niger-Delta militants in the South-South, the IPOB tensions in the South-East and of course, Boko Haram in the North-East. What does it say about the scheme if those that have partaken seemed to have worsened, rather than repaired, our ethnic divides?
Hard Work Doesn't Pay
One of the supposedly essential benefits of NYSC is that it provides temporary employment for graduates. However, the quality of employment offered is highly questionable. Most corpers are posted to workplaces that do not relate to their degrees at all. For example, a Pharmacy graduate recruited to teach English at a secondary school, disregarding whether or not they possess the relevant skills to do so. Not only is it a waste of individual talent, it is also inimical to Nigeria's fragile education sector. The government needs to urgently reassess the posting strategy, to ensure that the full knowledge and skills of these corpers are being harnessed.
NYSC is also expensive. In 2017, the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development was allocated ₦83 billion and NYSC gulped ₦73 billion out of this. Despite this, the scheme continues to deteriorate visibly.
Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, with nearly 10 million children aged 8-14. Although there are many reasons for this, one key culprit is the lack of funds; so rather than pouring money into NYSC, sometimes giving allowee to those already relatively well-off, we should be diverting these resources to where they are needed the most.
Moreover, even the monthly stipend NYSC gives corps members has its flaws when you consider inequality in Nigeria. Graduates are paid the meagre sum of ₦19,800, just above the current minimum wage, and in Nigeria, this amount is like gold to the poor and chicken change to the privileged. The method of allocating monthly pay is disputable as it does not consider individual circumstances. Would a needs-based allocation method be better, or would that undermine the spirit behind NYSC?
Although there are rumours of a possible increase in the monthly allowance, no real change has been effectuated. And, knowing Nigeria, it might just be yet another pre-election ruse aimed at gaining popularity among the youths.
From Corper to Corpse
After spending years in university, many have unfortunately lost their lives all in the name of serving their country. Most of these deaths are caused by highway accidents as a result of the distances corpers have to travel. Others are a result of sheer negligence and poor healthcare infrastructure in many camps. The death toll has also skyrocketed in the North due to the high level of insurgency in the region.
Several youths have openly expressed their disdain at the terrible living conditions in some camps. From lean food portions, harsh military treatments, inadequate health facilities and unsanitary environments; it is not a place many want to be.
Amend or Abolish?
NYSC has experienced consistent hindrances in its coordination and effectiveness. In theory, the idea and intent of the scheme are laudable, but in reality, it has just become another vehicle driving the problem of corruption in Nigeria. Like many national projects put out by the government, NYSC has failed to achieve its initial objectives.
With all its complexities and controversies, policymakers need to focus on restructuring and reforming the scheme to fit the needs of the growing youth population. If not, maybe it is time for NYSC to pack up and leave.