I do not know whether the NYSC acknowledges the ‘fame’ it has achieved as a Government Agency that has trudged on for close to five decades. Secondly, I do not know whether critics of the Scheme have carried out any objective assessment on whether the NYSC should continue to exist or not. Thirdly, I am not certain what role, if any, the 2023 Elections have in the current travails facing the NYSC.
In as much as I do not have answers to the above, I know that the NYSC was established as part of solutions in a period of crisis in the country.
Controversies and protests against its establishment soon followed. Therefore, it may be safe to advise the Scheme to strengthen the resolve to live and probably die mired in controversies.
Currently, there is a lot of debate on the Scheme with the most uncharitable, calling for its outright proscription. The debates revolve around the many aspects of the Scheme . For instance, many have argued that the current insecurity bedevilling the country makes it ‘unwise’ for the government to continue exposing the lives of innocent children to danger. Others argue that the poor state of Nigerian roads makes it ‘reckless’ for the Government to continue subjecting graduate youths to travel on these roads to various states of posting for National Service. Others say the conduct of Orientation exercise for Corps members amid the resurgence of the third wave of COVID-19 is reckless. In fact, agents of fake news have since found another avenue for selling their stock in trade spreading news of killing of corps members and the infection of a large but unspecified number with COVID-19, as well as other calamities befalling corps members.
At the heart of this debate however is the dilemma of the NYSC as to whether these resentments represent the opinion of the silent majority in the country. Whether the opinions are right or wrong, the sentiments from most Government officials at all levels, beneficiaries of the services of corps members and even Countries who have approached the NYSC for technical assistance in the establishment of similar institution gives the NYSC the impression that it is delivering in its mandate of serving as catalyst for national development especially at the grassroots. A case in point is that those at the helm of affairs of the NYSC are always under pressure from Governments at various levels and other private entities requiring the services of Corps members.
For instance, at the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, Management of the NYSC took the wise decision of suspending the posting and conduct of orientation exercise in the affected States in the North-east.
However, the NYSC Management was under serious pressure from Governments of the affected States for the return of the posting and hosting of the orientation of the corps members in such states. I recall when this was extended to one of states, the then governor of the State, took the NYSC up and demanded the immediate return of NYSC activities in his State. While this resulted in the restoration of activities of the corps members in the affected States, it also made the return of posting and conduct of orientation in those states – albeit, with the dislodgement of the orientation exercise to other States.
Even though NYSC orientation exercise for corps members posted to security challenged takes, place in relatively more peaceful states, the Governors of the dislodged states and/or State Government officials have always visited them on camp, with a view to encouraging them not to seek redeployment out of the states. These visits have always yielded the desired results as a good number of the corps members opt to stay back and serve their fatherland in their original states of deployment.
Therefore, whereas it is not the question of the importance and contributions of the NYSC that is in question, it is perhaps the divisions that were hitherto buried through its establishment and the many successes the Country has recorded in the close to the five decades of the existence of the NYSC that is giving people who do not mean well for the Country cause for concern. It may also be safe to speculate that some Nigerians who for one reason or another circumvented the law by not participating in the one-year compulsory national service and have their eyes on elective or appointive positions in 2023 may be part of those sponsoring these campaigns so that the NYSC will be weakened and/or distracted.
In the end, the dilemma of the NYSC is, do we scrap it so that Nigeria will live in peace again? Do we scrap it so that nobody will die again? Do we scrap it so that there won’t be crises in any part of the country again? Do we scrap it so that southerners will have no reason coming to the north, and vice versa? Do we scrap it so that nobody will be kidnapped again? Do we scrap it so that the Corona virus will not spread? Maybe, without the NYSC, Nigeria will be better off – just maybe.
If power, education and other sectors receive the critical attention the NYSC is receiving from the polity, I think Nigeria would have attained greater heights. The NYSC has been subjected to all shades of opinion from the mundane to the downright hypocritical which does nothing but add to the dilemma of whether to heed the calls of the detractors or the overall interest of bringing development across all sectors through the services of the corps members.
Amidst all these, I recommend that results of opinion surveys, as well as statements and comments from individuals, governments and non-governmental organizations on the contributions of the NYSC be compiled and made available to the public. Also, the statistics of non-corps members involved in road accidents and those of the corps members. The NYSC should also provide, alongside the NCDC, the statistics on corona virus infections on corps members and non-corps members or even the number of students kidnapped right in their schools.
Only if we can decipher all these, then we will know that our problem is not the Scheme. Finally, the Federal Government should mandate the NYSC Authorities to publish names of those that have issues with the Scheme along with names of VIPs that attempted to circumvent the system for us to know who are behind the recent attacks on the NYSC. This, if done, will make the public get a clearer picture of the motives behind the recent rantings and whether they are justified.
Adadu is a researcher in peace and conflict resolution writing from Abuja.
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