Agitations for the scrapping of the National Youth Service Corps scheme appear to have been intensified with the recent deaths of some youth corpers in the course of participating in the scheme, which included a 26-year-old Ifedolapo Oladepo, a First Class Transport Management graduate of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, who died at the NYSC camp in Kano State this month.
The victim was said to have been unattended to when she was allegedly showing symptoms of illness, because the NYSC officials had thought she was merely pretending to be sick in order to avoid taking part in the mandatory physical exercise known as drills. It was learnt that when her situation deteriorated after receiving an injection given to her, she did not improve. At the end, the intervention of the officials at the camp’s clinic became rather too late before the girl passed on even though the Director-General of NYSC, Brig. Gen. Suleiman Kazaure, had announced that Ifedolapo had died of a disease called renal sepsis, commonly caused by urinary tract infection.
Casualty was also recorded for another First Class graduate in Zamfara State camp. Ukeme Monday, who graduated from the Department of Petroleum Engineering, University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, also fell ill and died. Over the years, many corpers have been killed in the course of serving their fatherland. This is a worrisome trend that should be addressed more than ever before.
We recall that the NYSC programme was introduced by the Gen Yakubu Gowon administration in 1973, to promote national integration of the nation’s over 300 ethnic groups. Then, every graduate received the call-up letter and placement without any difficulty. Nowadays, about 400,000 graduates are produced annually by our tertiary institutions, which was not the case in 1973 when the scheme started, when the country had only six universities and churned out an average of about 7,000 graduates, yearly. Today, over 1.8 million applicants struggle for admission placements and the figure is most likely to increase with the establishment of more tertiary institutions across the country.
No doubt, the NYSC scheme has contributed to promoting national unity, increased mobility of labour, assisted public schools, hospitals and private bodies to have a steady pool of cheap skilled labour. Apart from that, they are also engaged during elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission. For the young graduates, the NYSC has been a very good transition from higher institutions to real working life and this has helped them to overcome the uncertainties that our youths often entertain in terms of what happens to them outside their home base; where they are not familiar with. Hence, it remains a well-thought out national programme that needs to be saved and nurtured.
The challenges facing the scheme are many. In a bid to cope with the programme despite the odds, universities and relevant authorities are now made to resort into using different unbecoming criteria for selecting prospective youth corps members, thus subjecting the programme to serious manipulations. What happens is that as the number of graduates rises, the existing structures are not improved upon to accommodate the increase and expansion. A good example of this manifestation is the decision of the NYSC to mobilise only 35 per cent of eligible graduates for the current batch of the orientation exercise due to lack of funds. This is going to be the second time in two years that the NYSC would be financially weak and incapable of mobilising over 300,000 graduates.
The way the scheme is being run appears to be an embarrassment and hence, the persistent call for its scrapping. Federal authorities should go back to the drawing board to design new strategies that would see the scheme through in the current times. Apart from the existing provisions for exempted persons, corps members’ participation in the scheme should, henceforth, be made optional. Candidates should now be allowed to freely choose their participation and that would mean making the scheme voluntary and by enabling the eligible candidates to decide. Also, those who opt for exemption should be issued the relevant certificates. In other words, it should no longer be imposed on all the graduates. When this is done, a reasonable amount of candidates would have been pruned down for effectiveness.
Again, the Federal Government should fund the scheme better and adequately, considering the fact that the youths that are participating are the future leaders of the country. We should all agree that nothing can be too much to invest in the future of any nation. As a way forward, their allowances should be increased and paid promptly. What they receive presently cannot be said to be realistic in view of the high prices of goods and commodities in the country.
Also, the continued adoption of drilling and other military training skills should be discontinued. It is no longer relevant because Nigeria is not on the verge of going into war. It has been realised that the physical stress that the corpers are subjected to is certainly too energy-sapping and strenuous. One really needs to experience of what the corpers go through in the course of embarking on military drills. Some of the trainers are not only harsh, impatient and hostile; they seem to forget easily that the corpers are not recruits that are eager to join the armed forces. They are simply fresh brains that are just trying to learn something new that they are not familiar with.
There is the importance of putting the necessary infrastructure in place to accommodate the need of the corpers. Specifically, there should be a significant improvement in medical facilities in all NYSC orientation camps across the country as well as the deployment of experienced medical personnel to the medical centres. It has been found that experienced medical personnel are not in existence in many orientation camps such that inexperienced medical doctors undergoing national service themselves are deployed to provide medical services for their fellow corpers.
Finally, the security and medical services deployed to the corpers should be improved significantly. This becomes imperative, most especially, during election when corps members are usually targets of violence. If these measures are put in place, the safety of our youth corpers would be better guaranteed, the frequent sad tales coming from our NYSC camps would be greatly minimised and the continued relevance of the scheme would be logically justified.
Therefore, the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari at this critical moment is timely by ordering an independent investigation into the deaths as well as a similar call by the Senate and other concerned Nigerians on the Federal Government to overhaul the scheme. It is only hoped that findings from the outcomes of the fact-finding exercises would not be dumped like the previous ones submitted to the government without acting. Whatever anyone may say, the inevitable fact and reality remain that the NYSC must be restructured!
- Kupoluyi wrote in from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, firstname.lastname@example.org,@AdewaleKupoluyi