Of NYSC, its many antagonists, by Abdulsalam Mahmud
In the Sunday Trust of 3 October 2021, was a feature with a terror-inducing headline, “Unsafe and uncertain: Inside Nigeria’s mandatory youth corps”, originally done by Al-Jazeera. The report, however, has so many spurious claims, outright misinformation and erroneous facts, deliberately put together to discredit the scheme, which for years, remains the darling of Nigerian youths.
The issue of insecurity conspicuously highlighted by the Al-Jazeera reporter showed that he was cut between deliberate falsehood and immortal truth.
It was heartwarming that the report notes, “While there have been cases of corps members being killed or kidnapped, there is no data to suggest they were targeted because they were part of the NYSC.”
As a move towards guaranteeing corps members’ safety, the NYSC management has partnered with relevant security agencies. It has also unveiled measures and issued stern directives that will prevent corps members from becoming objects of violent attacks by daredevil criminals or auto crashes occasioned by night travels.
The NYSC management, being responsive to public outcry, had in the past, promptly withdrawn corps members wherever their safety was threatened, in addition to embarking on a continuous sensitisation of corps members on security matters.
Part of the story reads: “Completing a year of service with the NYSC is mandated by Nigerian law, with fines or jail time prescribed as punishment for those who fail to do so, although experts told Al Jazeera these penalties are never implemented…”
Besides the fact that the experts who spoke with the reporters of Al Jazeera are apparently faceless in the story, one wonders whether the piece was hurriedly put to meet the reporter’s master’s deadline.
For the revered Al Jazeera feature editor to allow “jail time” instead of “jail term” in the report makes it suspicious.
Again, here goes another quote in the report, “Although some graduates find ways to skip the programme, many working-class Nigerians – whose job prospects are already limited – cannot sacrifice the potential opportunities that come with an NYSC certification.”
Many readers, I am sure, would have doffed their hats for the Al Jazeera reporter, if at all they had taken their investigation deeper by furnishing the readers with the number of persons found to have skipped the service and what could have motivated them to do so.
The feature also painted a graphic picture of the plight of one Kelechi, 27, who was posted and first served in Taraba state in 2019.
Part of it reads, “When he first applied, he was posted to Taraba state in northeastern Nigeria, along the middle belt region between the north and the south – an area plagued by inter-ethnic conflicts and banditry…”
Rational-thinking, patriotic Nigerians will wonder whether graduates apply for national (NYSC) service or are mobilised by the authorities of their respective universities and polytechnics? Or was the said Kelechi’s case different? Why should he have to apply when NYSC does not seek applications from fresh graduates before mobilising them for the one-year mandatory service?
The reporter also sought to know why corps members are sent to insecure places from a fictitious NYSC spokesperson, as his/her name was obviously omitted in the report despite the spokesperson giving a harmless response. Which sane and progressive organisation will deliberately send unarmed youths, who are the nation’s most productive assets, to volatile places?
The deplorable state of NYSC orientation camps in some states, which the report painted, cannot be controverted. Yet, it is public knowledge and an empirical fact that the unhygienic state of many of these camps is now history in a spate of two years under the visionary, dedicated, purposeful and transformational leadership of Brig-General Shuaibu Ibrahim.
So far, efforts have been intensified by many state governments and the federal government, to complete landmark rehabilitation works at some of the old camps and new ones built.
Engagement with critical stakeholders is one important strategy adopted by General Ibrahim to attract goodwill for the NYSC. And to say that it has been quite effective in helping to attract tremendous support to the scheme will be an understatement.
An audience he once had with the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) facilitated the rehabilitation of old permanent orientation camps and the completion of new ones across the country.
The irrefutable fact is that the streams of achievements recorded by the Nasarawa state-born senior military officer cum administrator par excellence, together with the novel policies introduced by him are too innumerable for any writer to chronicle in a single piece.
It was comical to learn in the Al Jazeera story from one corps member that she did not learn anything while participating in the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) programme at the orientation camp, where she and others were trained on photography. But the fact that Margaret, the female corps member in question, could not have learnt anything does not mean others did not.
It also does not puncture the reality that many corps members who were once trained in various vocational skills, courtesy of the SAED programme, graduated to become self-employed, while several of them, also assisted with funds by the NYSC management, are now doing amazingly great as young entrepreneurs who have also offered jobs to many unemployed youths.
It is apt to posit that Gen. Ibrahim has since matched words with actions in his bid to reinvigorate the NYSC SAED programme. He facilitated the scaling up of the SAED training regime and securing collaborations to put up more skills acquisition and training centres across the country. The farms and agricultural ventures of the scheme have equally been expanded and strengthened under the eagle eyes of the DG.
The NYSC DG also attracted funding for corps members’ business proposals. Some of the new collaborations in this regard include an enterprise development programme with the Unity Bank, tagged “Corpreneurship” which offers a sandwich training and competition, leading to the award of business funds as prizes.
The British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) is also funding “Farmers for the Future” programme which offers agro-entrepreneurial training and mentoring for corps members and empowerment with money, land, agricultural inputs and services to the tune of N5,000,000. Others are the Enterprise Development Centre partnership which has benefitted 140 corps members, among others. Must all Nigerian youths be trained on leadership and ICT as the report wants us to accept? Then where is diversification of the economy which even common Nigerians know is the sure way to economic advancement?
Furthermore, the fact that corps members are deployed to public schools as teachers was necessitated by the need to bridge the shortfall of teachers in public schools across the federation. Besides, the NYSC, from inception, made it explicitly known to all and sundry that it prioritises postings to rural areas to impact agriculture, health, infrastructure and education sectors. So, what is the fuss about one Moses to have been posted to teach in an Ondo school? Was he the first and only corps member to have been posted to a school? Was he asked to go and steal, or rather contribute to moulding the lives of disadvantaged children in a remote community?
The fact that several calls had been made in some quarters, demanding the total abrogation of the NYSC Act portrays the Al-Jazeera report as a hatchet job.
Amid the existential threats facing it, the NYSC scheme has continued to remain a unifying force, binding Nigerians of various shades of religion, culture, ethnicity and ideological creed.
The scheme has come to stay despite its numerous antagonists because the youth for whom it was established, love the clarion call.
Mahmud, a commentator on national issues, writes from Minna, Niger state.
Of NYSC, its many antagonists, by Abdulsalam Mahmud