Is NYSC redeemable or is it a lost cause?

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth – Muhammad Ali

The latest saga with the former Minister of Finance Mrs Kemi Adeosun created a lot of  uproar about the NYSC scheme and it caused a lot of rethinking about the program itself.

In a virtual group of educational reformers- a lot of deliberations on what the scheme entailed and what it could be ensued over a couple of days. These reformers spanned from various spheres- private sector, public sector; various ages and it was an interesting discussion.

What is the current state of the NYSC scheme?

NYSC is included in the Nigerian constitution so any modification will need a constitutional change process. It may be easier to scrap current one and then set up another that is not included in the constitution but a standing act so it becomes easier to review and update in future

A SAN wrote: “It is one of the few ordinarily normal laws that found itself into the Nation’s Supreme Law. See section 315(5)(a)of the Nigerian Constitution which gives it a pride of place such that the law cannot be tampered with , modified or altered without amending the nation’s Constitution. But even more relevant in ordinary terms when you break any part of the NYSC Act ; you have broken the Constitution.

A lot of people feel that it has a lot of rules prevent Nigerians in the diaspora from returning back to serve. In comparison, thirty-two countries have compulsory military service terms longer than 18 months. North Korea is 11 years for men and 7 years for women.

We have a challenge in building and maintaining institutions; institutions that stay true to the mandate that they were created for. Unfortunately, we have a long litany of failed visions and worthy national causes. One cringes when reading the plans that are documented for most of the programs in Nigeria’s; well written objectives and vision clearly articulated and yet fail woefully.

From experience usually, incompetence and corruption are catalyzed by placing the wrong people to run these institutions. The NYSC is run by military personnel who have no tertiary education and loathe university graduates. Cleaning this mismatch by getting the right people on the right bus would be a step in the right direction.

Has NYSC achieved what it was designed for? What were its objectives?

The objectives of the National Youth Service Corps Scheme are clearly spelt out in Decree No.51 of 16th June 1993 were as follows (to mention a salient number- there are a total of 15 objectives, but we will skip listing them all here).

1) To inculcate discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work, and of patriotic and loyal service to Nigeria in any situation they may find themselves.

2) To raise the moral tone of the Nigerian youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvement

3) To develop in Nigerian youth, the attitudes of mind, acquired through shared experience and suitable training. which will make them more amenable to mobilization in the national interest

4) To enable Nigerian youth, acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self employment

5) To contribute to the accelerated growth of the national economy

6) To develop common ties among the Nigerian youths and promote national unity and integration.

These are laudable goals where viewed in the context of nationalism and building their sense of patriotism and service. The fundamental purpose of the NYSC is to bring different parts of Nigeria together. It is aimed primarily at young people after all and is a way to orient them about the nation of Nigeria.

There are towns, villages where NYSC members are their only link to professional services. female corpers serving as teachers encourage girl child education in rural areas. There are areas in the north that the only pharmacists that they have are corps members.

What are the implications of this current state?

A report issued by the World Economic Forum and the Census for the United States; the population of Nigeria will reach 402 million people by the year 2050. Going by these numbers. With those numbers, Nigeria will become one of the most populated nations in the world; easily the 3rd or 4th in the world, surpassing the United States soon.

The implication of this is that we are projected to add 250 million new persons in the next 32 years. Nigeria is a teeming time bomb with it’s youth explosion in the next couple of decades.

Due to this crisis, there a lot of people who think it is time to scrap the NYSC and put the divert that resource to Small Business Development scheme for our youth to ensure we can effectively deploy and engage our massive population.

Especially around improving education; vocational training to be specific. To derive the true cost/benefit of the scheme comes up to close to 70 billion naira per annum for the close to 700,000 corpers that pass through it on a yearly basis.

There is the argument that we don’t need the costs of NYSC which are 70 billion plus other hidden costs to promote national integration. Internal Tourism could perform this same task better and also foster the Tourism industry and bolster Nigeria’s economic separation from total dependence on oil.

The need to focus on the ability to earn an income as a valuable member of society by all our youth is critical. One year of employment which culminates to a chronic state of unemployment and a sense of desperation when it is over is unacceptable.

What is the way forward / suggestions or options to address our educational issues? I.e. skills development, programs delivered in the scheme.

We have the proponents of scrapping the NYSC scheme stating that there are meaningful ways to engage the youth including SME creation and venture funding. They paint a vivid picture of a 70 billion venture fund for SMEs each year. How much could be achieved with it; how this would lead to a lot of innovation (We would be almost as great as China by now.)

Following up with this; most of our youth would be gainfully employed. Take the SME statistics that over 37 million SME businesses employ up 84% employment in Nigeria (on a ratio that one of each such business employee 1.6 people.) Imagine these businesses being able to employ 3 to 4 persons on average that would lead to 148 million being employed.

On the other side, the supporters of NYSC remind us that redoing away of NYSC or rebranding the NYSC with a new program won’t suddenly make the Nigerian factor disappear.

A suggestion that was formulated with some restructuring was that the focus of NYSC  should be tweaked to focus on Education and utilized more effectively. Corpers should be offered rigorous training during the 3 week camp period and sent to schools. Such schools should be around wherever they live, this curtails expenditure by NYSC.

Those who volunteer to go the interior areas should be offered adequate compensation for their sacrifice. These Corpers during the one year of service must be subjected to professional training and mentoring programs. This will certainly help with raising the quality of teachers in the public schools. It will also help alleviate the issue of shortage of teachers.

In Cuba under Fidel Castro, it was the equivalent of NYSC that delivered 90% national literacy within a decade. The corps members went into communities that professionals wouldn’t in remote areas and lived there with the people

Overall recommendation

One of the reformers in our group did the calculations; N473,760,000,000 is spent annually to cover just uniforms at N90000 each and a monthly allowance of N48900 for 700, 000 Corp members annually. This does not include camp cost feeding salaries of all NYSC staff. So the budget for NYSC of 70 billion must be monthly. When we factor our projected population growth; the expense for NYSC will be a trillion per annum in the nearest future.

Continuing in that same vein of reform, this budget could be slashed by 60% and the scheme would still be intact. Ridiculous charges like corpers paying 4,000 for a scratch card to access and print their Call Up Letters. That adds up to 3 billion annually. That should be abolished Let’s talk about the uniforms; 90,000 for the uniforms is absurd. A full fire-retardant, three layered fireman’s suit in the Unites States about $200 or 73,000 each; yet our corpers are given khaki tunics and tee shirts.

 Call to action.

The 50,000 monthly allowance is not an unfair wage to beginner teachers or healthcare workers. Which leads us to what our summary about what NYSC should embody. It should focus strictly on Health and Education. This conclusion was reached when the impact of those two spheres was taken into account with everything else in a nation. Through NYSC; 750,000 tertiary graduates being mobilized into these sectors annually would create a tremendous effect on the nation.

This is the plan outlined by one of the reformers to drive this transformed scheme:

(1) Add primary health care and education curriculum like Pedagogy to General Studies as a compulsory credit for each year in university. This would ensure that graduates would be entry level axillary ‘teachers’

(2) Assign corpers to schools and health care centers/hospitals exclusively for 5yrs and offer education credits to them as part of the service which could be either monetized or go towards tuition for post-graduate

(3) Extend the NYSC by a year for outstanding performers guaranteeing them a soft landing in the job market, creating an opportunity to make our educational sector reach global standards and transform health care in one stroke.

These steps;

  1. i)Restructuring the General studies curriculum across all tertiary institutions,
  2. ii)Refocusing the NYSC on 2 spheres conclusively,

iii)           Utilizing the corpers in these spheres to drive reformation across the nation locally.

  1. iv)Singling out performers for an extension of service
  2. v)Making the NYSC service 5 years instead of 1 year to be able to build and maintain long lasting improvement.
  3. vi)Offering the corpers professional credits in the sectors that they chose to build their content capacities for free.

These steps would go a long way in building Nigeria to the nation that we desire to live and be a part of.

Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator

She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.

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