• Friday, June 21, 2024
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National youth service corps: In search of relevance


“Youth obey the clarion call.  Let us lift our nation high. Under the sun or in the rain. With dedication and selflessness, Nigeria is ours, Nigeria we serve”. This  National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, anthem still fresh in my memory, 20 years after completing my service to the nation. It is an anthem which every graduate is spiritually and physically committed to in the process of service to the nation.

The NYSC scheme, a once in a lifetime experience which every young graduate yearns for, was established on 22nd May, 1973 by decree 24  to promote unity and develop ethnic ties among youth in their various states of the Federation.  The thrills, frills and funfair usually associated with the programme, most especially the orientation part of it, make it enjoyable and inspiring for participating graduates from all parts of the country.

There have been divergent interests for the scheme among young graduates. While some see it as avenue to explore other people’s culture and tradition outside theirs, others see it as opportunity to recreate, catch fun and make some savings for future use. In fact the desperation of some young graduates concerning NYSC makes one wonders what is actually in it for them. There have been instances where some generate fake call-up letters while some others falsify their age just to be enlisted for the scheme.

However, away from the glorious and storied past of the scheme, presently the programme is searching for relevance. It has actually deviated from the original purpose and intention it meant to serve. It is now almost of little or no relevance to the economic aspirations of the country. Of late, the interests of corps members are not adequately protected, as it was in the past. Many public/private businesses enterprises that used to patronize the services of corps members have either close business or downsize due to insecurity and general state of the nation’s economy.

Whether the large turnout of fresh graduates are overwhelming or not, facilities for orientation are sometimes inadequate for the population this scheme caters for each year. Political and religious insecurity have equally exposed many corps members to needless death. There have been instances where some states had to send rescue team to bring back their indigenes during political or religious crisis. To this end, many parents have resisted posting of their wards to states on red alert.

To say the scheme needs an overhaul or speedy review is like citing the obvious. Like most of our national projects, the scheme id fast declining in value and usefulness. It is no longer shocking that the scheme is broke with fund barely sufficient to cater for the young graduates presented for national youth service. Food/structural facilities, essential for the up keep of corps members are grossly deficient in some orientation camps.

Against the glorious past of secured primary places of assignment, corps members now struggle with the problem of rejection. In desperate attempt to secure the few available ‘juicy’ placements, many now use personal influence such as letters from well connected ‘powerful’ individuals to secure favourable postings. It is, of course, sad to note that the crop of corps members that are to reconstruct and rebuild the nation economy are idle with unutilized potentials.

Massive influence of posting to highly density places like Lagos, Ibadan, Porthacourt and Abuja puts pressure on already saturated associated environment with accommodation problem of corps members, at the detriment of the scheme. So bad is the situation now that some people are calling for outright scrapping of the scheme, arguing that it has outlived its purpose and outgrown its usefulness. Must we then throw away the baby with the bath water?

With 923,768km land mass and over 80% of arable land, with less than 40% of its cultivation, tropical climate, lots of rainfall and aquatic splendour, nothing stops Nigeria from being the food basket of entire Africa, if serious attention is given to agriculture. In the years of regional government, Nigeria did not only feed herself from her rich and vast agricultural  interests, but also generated employment as well as earned enough foreign exchange for development of each region. Then, revenue from agriculture produce helped the federating units to develop in their own pace without depending on the centre for any bail out.

The discovery of oil, however, has ridiculously turned things upside down for us as the federating units now wholly depend on the centre for bail outs and hand outs. Unsurprisingly, young graduates have equally developed job-seeking mentality. The youth that are supposed to drive agriculture with technology and renewed vigour would rather prefer to go job hunting for years, even when it is obvious that the jobs aren’t just there.

United Nation statistics estimates Nigeria’s population for 2015 to be 178,841,235 with growth rate of 1.94%, making the population182, 307,178 by 2016, all things being equal. Yet, the population, especially of youth, did not reflect on the nation’s agricultural production. We import $4billion worth of rice annually to supplement domestic shortfall, despite the suitability of our land for local rice production. Nigeria tops the list of importing nation, growing other nations’ economy at the detriment of hers. With an annual bill of N1.3trillion, you may wonder where the money spent on importation of food comes from, in view of agricultural potentials of the nation.  Of course, Proceeds, from crude oil settle the bill.

Now that the price crude oil price has dropped in the international market coupled with the instability at the Niger Delta, there is dire need to look inward and diversify our economy. The time is the time to move away from a mono-economy. It is high time the government of Nigeria looked at the strength the nation has in her pool of labour, most especially in the manpower being released every year into the National Youth Service Scheme.

Each state of the federation has comparative advantage in specific areas of agriculture. The capacity of the various states to boost food production can be enhanced by the National Youth Service scheme with adequate structure and remuneration for corps members. The power, vigour, dynamism and adventurism of youth, the strength of the youth could be directed towards boosting the agriculture sector to address the twain issues of food security and unemployment.

Hence, the clarion call today is for our nation to rekindle youth’s interest in agriculture. It is a call geared towards making the National Youth Service scheme become very relevance by transforming into a scheme that enhances food security in the country, thus supporting the growth of the national economy. It is a worthy call.


  Bolaji Odumade