Friday, January 02, 2009

Making NYSC relevant

THE National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), slipped to near irrelevance before last November’s killing of three youth corps members in the Jos crisis. The deaths form a new anchor for calls to scrap the NYSC, a case of a wrong, permanent cure for a bad headache.

After 36 years, the NYSC is overdue for a major overhaul to recreate relevance for a great scheme that was left to wither.

The anguish of relations and friends of the corps members, who died in Jos is understandable. We sympathise with them. The sacrifice these youths made should strengthen the foundations of tolerance in our country.

More NYSC members die, through motor accidents, annually than the three, who perished in Jos. Can we stop corps members from travelling by road in order to save their lives? They — like all Nigerians — can benefit from improved roads and saner driving culture. These we encourage.

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua knows that his order for extra security for NYSC members is impracticable. How do you provide special security for more than 200,000 people scattered in as many locations? The practical thing is to make Nigeria safe. The rioters did not target NYSC members. The three, who died were among over 500 people killed in Jos. If rioters were after NYSC members, they would have killed more.

The NYSC ran for 36 years on a limited platform of promoting national unity and understanding. Abuses overtook these aims. Parents invested greatly in ensuring their wards did not serve in rural areas. Preferential posting is the norm for those who can afford it.

On May 22, 1973, General Yakubu Gowon established the scheme with objectives of developing common ties among Nigerian youths, promoting national unity, integration, and similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups.

Among the challenges the scheme faces is explosion in the number of participants. From 2,500 graduates in 1973, over 200,000 graduates qualified for service in 2008. Funding is an issue, but the government can find the money.

The NYSC should be a rural development scheme. It is unacceptable that our schools lack graduate teachers, yet hundreds and thousands of educated youths cannot temporarily fill the vacuum. Instead, we deploy corps members where they reject them.

A major policy shift should result in posting these trained youths to specific rural development programmes in agriculture, health care, education, emergency services, and general improvement of rural Nigeria. We will discover we do not have enough corps members for our 774 local government areas and 90,000 villages.

We should direct more efforts at creating new relevance for the NYSC, in line with changing national needs, than seeing the abrogation of the scheme as solution to the challenges it poses.

In 36 years, no new thinking has gone into the sustenance of a worthy scheme that some countries have copied.