After the divisive coups of 1966 that led to the Nigerian civil war and the gruesome occurrences therein that terminated the lives of over two million Nigerians, the General Yakubu Gowon regime deemed it fit to establish a national integration programme that would involve the paramilitary training and postings of youthful graduates of tertiary institutions to different parts of the country other than their states of origin in order to foster unity, tolerance, understanding and mutual co-operation amongst the youths and their host communities as a spring board to a more cohesive, fraternal, stable and united Nigeria.
Indeed the first batch of intakes for the 1973/74 service year had a total of 2,364 corps members consisting of 2,024 males and 340 females while in 2013 the service figure had risen significantly to a total of 2,715,911 consisting of 1,584,060 males and 1,131,851 females. With this astronomical increase of participants, the financial and administrative costs of the program has also risen in tandem and due to the steep economic downturn, many a policy maker or government apparatchik has questioned the viability or sustainability of the programme with some calling for the outright abrogation of the scheme, its gradual phasing out or the reduction of the participants in order to reflect the dwindling state of the nation’s finances.
This last option seems to be what the NYSC authorities have adopted given that recent intakes into the programme from the various institutions of higher learning has been on the basis of quota or a percentage of the eligible participants from any given institution. For instance if higher institution A has say 2,000 eligible graduates for the programme, the NYSC authorities may accept only 600 of them leaving the remaining graduates to wait for another service year or more depending on their luck or favorable reference from their respective institution.
Without any further obfuscation, it must be stated clearly that this quota policy, no matter the reasons so adduced, is a perverse negation of the laudable principle of national integration, unity and cohesion envisioned by the founding fathers of the scheme and should be discontinued as a matter of urgency so as not to slide down the road towards national disintegration, disunity and dissonance of unimaginable proportions.
For one, what criteria did the NYSC authorities adopt in selecting the successful participants for the programme? Was it on the basis of test scores, GPAs, or graduating positions? i.e. first class, second class etc. or was it based on the states of origin or ethnic, sectarian or geopolitical affiliations of the prospective corpers?
No matter what criteria was adopted for the NYSC’s quota policy, it is manifestly evident that the policy is contentious, divisive, provocative and counter-productive in all its ramifications as the original intent of the scheme was to provide ALL graduating youths in higher institutions with an opportunity of contributing to the development of segments of the country, other than their areas of origin thus acclimatising and assimilating the cultures, traditions and practices of previously ‘alien’ parts of the nation.
By selecting a few graduates for the programme, the NYSC authorities would only imbue the ‘rejected’ ones with feelings of hostility, discontent, distrust and apathy towards the programme and further aggravate the feeling of alienation and deprivation prevalent amongst the nation’s youths that has fueled the incidences of armed robbery, kidnappings, cultism and even insurgency and other anti-social ills in recent times.
It is important to point out that some policy ramifications go beyond the financial implications as the primacy and consequences of such policies or its non-implementation can make or mar the nation’s unity, progress or stability for decades and even generations to come. For over 45 years, after the civil war, the nation has known relative peace, and tranquility even though security challenges still exist and foster in some parts of the country, it is arguable that the NYSC programme has gone a long way towards preventing a conflagration of the scale of the civil war due to the level of national integration, cohesiveness, tolerance and understanding it has fostered resulting in many youth corps members settling in their areas of primary assignments with a resultant exponential increase in inter-marriages, cross-cultural and inter-religious relationships and friendships cutting across all geopolitical and geographical spheres.
Apart from Nigeria, other African, Asian and European countries operate this policy of youth service. For instance in Ghana, the National Services Secretariat runs a mandatory one year service for all Ghanaian graduates of tertiary institutions within and outside the country. In Malaysia, the national service programme is known as National Service Training Programme or Program Lathan Khidmat Negara (PLKN) while in the UK, Germany, Israel, Sweden etc, military conscription for national service has been institutionalised long before the Second World War.
Therefore Nigeria cannot be an exception by the selective conscription, phasing out or even abrupt abrogation of its national service programme of the NYSC. It behoves the NYSC authorities to adopt more creative approaches to funding the scheme apart from the annual subvention they receive from the federal government in order to ensure the holistic and wholesale application of the programme to cover all graduates from tertiary institutions and not a select or privileged few. Establishment of nationwide farms and agricultural programmes, microfinance banks, co-operatives, small, medium and large scale enterprises by the NYSC authorities would go a long way in generating revenue and income to cover shortfalls in the budgetary allocations to the agency. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. The NYSC programme is too important to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency or financial adversity.
— Asalu is Special Assistant to the Hon. Speaker on Student Parliamentary Affairs