By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Waking up around 3 am on August 15th 2023 and then reading through the major news stories on the online versions of most newspapers, what actually caught my eye and dominated my attention was the disclosure by the National Bureau of Statistics which shows that the current inflation rate is @ 24.08 percent.
This percentage of inflation tells only one story- that the times are indeed tough.
The good news is that even with the high crime rate in the Country, there remains a brighter side. That brighter side is the fact that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has deliberately demonstrated a remarkable interest to make the Nigerian youths the centrepiece of his strategic and sustainable development programmes as the current President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The President is said to be passionate about driving the Progressive process of creating the enabling environment to boost the productivity of the Nigerian youths through the information technology sector and other developmental initiatives that are pivotal to economically empowering Nigerian youngsters through skills acquisitions.
One theme that dominated his campaign blueprints is youth development. Central to the attainment of these lofty goals of putting in place effective mechanisms to jump-start youth development is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
Besides the aforementioned, writing also from the realm or perspective of nation-building and the cultivation of unity, one programme that has stood the test of time and proven its efficacy is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Nigeria.
Despite recent criticisms of its cost-effectiveness and relevance, it is crucial to recognize that the NYSC scheme remains an essential component of our national fabric, fostering cohesion, empowerment, and skill development among our youth. The current scrutiny surrounding the NYSC, though valid, should not undermine its fundamental significance for our nation’s progress.
*A Pillar of Unity and National Cohesion:*
One of the most potent arguments in favor of the NYSC is its role in knitting the diverse tapestry of Nigeria together. Our nation is home to a plethora of ethnic groups, languages, cultures, and religions. Amidst this diversity, the NYSC acts as a unifying force by exposing young graduates to different parts of the country.
Through this cross-cultural immersion, prejudices are dispelled, stereotypes are debunked, and friendships are forged across regional lines. This experience fosters a sense of belonging to a greater whole, weakening the pull of ethnic divisions that have historically plagued our nation.
Furthermore, the NYSC introduces participants to the socio-economic realities of various parts of Nigeria. This firsthand exposure encourages empathy, understanding, and a shared commitment to addressing disparities.
By living and working in communities different from their own, corps members become advocates for national development, advocating for infrastructural improvements, educational enhancements, and healthcare advancements.
*International Endorsement and Lessons from Abroad:*
Nigeria’s National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has gained recognition not only within its borders but also on the international stage as a model for fostering national unity and youth development. African countries, including The Gambia and Sierra Leone, have visited Nigeria to understudy the NYSC programme for adoption in their countries.
This recognition was further underscored when the NYSC offered to assist the Republic of Gambia in reviewing and implementing its own National Youth Service Scheme (GNYSS) Act of 2016. The then Director-General of NYSC, Sule Kazaure, affirmed this commitment during a visit by Alieu Jammeh, the Gambian Minister of Youths and Sports, to Abuja in April 2016. During the visit, Kazaure emphasized the symbolic significance of the NYSC in promoting unity and solidarity within Nigeria.
He highlighted the distinctive role that the NYSC has played in the country’s history, bringing together diverse Nigerian youths from various backgrounds and regions to serve their nation. Kazaure revealed that this unique approach to fostering cohesion and understanding among young people had attracted the attention of leaders from other African countries, such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Gambia, who are interested in adopting similar initiatives.
The NYSC’s positive impact on Nigerian society has been characterised by the introduction of various programmes that have ensured the scheme’s continuity and growth. Notably, the NYSC has enabled Corps members to engage in community development projects in the spheres of education, healthcare, and more, providing them with opportunities to contribute meaningfully to their host communities. This hands-on experience has not only empowered young Nigerians with practical skills, but has also cultivated a sense of patriotism and responsibility towards their country.
Gambia’s interest in emulating Nigeria’s NYSC model stemmed from the desire to address challenges in youth unemployment and national unity. Alieu Jammeh acknowledged the NYSC’s successes in promoting patriotism and practical skills among Nigerian youths.
He also recognised that the NYSC’s practice of deploying Corps members across the country to serve in various sectors has enhanced their understanding of different cultures, languages, and traditions, thereby fostering a spirit of unity and cooperation.
The Gambian Government’s enactment of the GNYSS Act reflects its aspiration to replicate Nigeria’s success in addressing similar challenges. Jammeh explained that the GNYSS Act mandates new graduates to undergo a minimum of six to a maximum of eighteen months of national service in various sectors before seeking formal employment in the public sector.
This move, by the Gambian Government, aimed at bridging the gap between formal education and practical skills acquisition, thus ensuring that Gambian youths are equipped with the tools they need to thrive in the workforce.
Therefore, this international recognition underscores the value of the NYSC in fostering unity and skills development, and its centrality to national development.
Additionally, and in the context of global comparisons, it is worth noting that even developed countries recognise the value of investing in their youth.
In the United Kingdom, for example, substantial resources are allocated annually to provide unemployment benefits and support programmes for young citizens. Similarly, countries like the United States and Canada offer a range of educational and vocational opportunities to help young people develop skills and transition into meaningful careers.
The comparisons with countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, which have their own youth-focused programmes, further support the case for the NYSC’s continuation. While these schemes address unemployment, they do not necessarily address the unity-building and skills-enhancing facets that the NYSC excels in. The NYSC not only imparts vocational skills, but also inculcates values of responsibility, leadership, and community service.
*Enhancing Economic Empowerment:*
Critics of the NYSC often point to budgetary concerns and other challenges as reasons to reevaluate the scheme’s continuation. However, it’s crucial to consider the long-term benefits that a programme like the NYSC offers.
Beyond the immediate financial considerations, the NYSC serves as a nation-building platform that instills values of citizenship, empathy, and cultural understanding among Nigerian youth. By enabling graduates to serve in regions different from their own, the NYSC breaks down regional and ethnic barriers, fostering a sense of national identity that is essential for a diverse country like Nigeria.
Rather than viewing the NYSC as a mere expenditure, it should be seen as a strategic investment in our nation’s future. The criticism of the scheme’s cost needs to be weighed against its short and long-term benefits. The skills and values acquired during the NYSC can catalyse economic growth and empowerment among graduates. By incorporating specialised training modules within the NYSC framework, we can equip participants with practical skills that can lead to entrepreneurship and job creation.
Consider the scenario where each NYSC participant is exposed to a specific vocational skill, such as agriculture, technology, or craftsmanship, during their service year. This would not only enhance their employability, but also contribute to local and national economies. These graduates could become a pool of skilled manpower, driving innovation and productivity across sectors.
*Strategic Adaptation and Modernisation:*
Additionally, the NYSC has consistently responded to societal changes and challenges. For instance, the scheme has adapted its programmes to address issues like public health awareness, community development, and entrepreneurship. This flexibility showcases the scheme’s ability to evolve and remain relevant in an ever changing world.
While the NYSC has served us well for decades, there is merit in adapting it to the changing times. Rather than dismissing the programme outright, it is essential to modernise its structure and objectives. Strategic changes could include a stronger focus on skills development, collaboration with industries for apprenticeships, and incorporation of technology-driven training.
By introducing these enhancements, the NYSC can evolve into a programme that not only fosters unity, but also addresses the demands of the contemporary job market. Equipping young graduates with relevant and practical skills will empower them to be self-reliant and contribute meaningfully to the nation’s economy.
*Conclusion: Embracing a Progressive Future:*
As we navigate the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, it is critical to recognise that the NYSC remains a cornerstone of our nation’s unity and empowerment. Rather than viewing it through a narrow financial lens, we must acknowledge its multifaceted benefits – from promoting cohesion to imparting skills for economic growth. The call for its discontinuation may stem from self- seeking, as well as valid concerns, but it should not eclipse the larger narrative of its success.
In a global landscape characterised by social divisions and polarisations, the NYSC offers a beacon of hope. It is a platform where young minds transcend differences, embrace diversity, and collectively work towards a brighter future. The ongoing dialogue about the NYSC’s relevance should not overshadow its crucial role in shaping a unified and empowered Nigeria. In the spirit of national progress, let us endeavour to consolidate, strengthen, and enhance the funding system of the NYSC, bolstering its capacity to groom our youth as leaders, problem solvers, and catalysts of positive change.
The NYSC’s impact is not limited to Nigeria alone as it resonates across her borders. The interest shown by other African countries, including Gambia, that replicated the NYSC’s success speaks volumes about its potential to contribute to regional stability and development.
In conclusion, while discussions about the NYSC’s effectiveness are valid, we must recognise its unique role in nurturing unity, fostering skills development, and empowering our youth.
All in all, by investing in the programme and strategically adapting it, we can harness its full potential and ensure a brighter future for Nigeria and its emerging leaders. It is therefore Imperative that Nigerians collectively support the hierarchy of the NYSC to continue to provide effective, efficient and credible leadership for this all important scheme.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NIGERIA’S NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION*.