THE National Youth Service Corps’ funding crisis, which has compelled it to drastically scale down the number of graduates mobilised for the programme in recent years, may be its swan song if the Federal Government that set up the scheme over four decades ago does not respond swiftly to the challenge.
Nobody could have appraised the situation better than the NYSC Director-General, Sule Kazaure, who told the Senate early this year that several letters to the authorities had not yielded the desired response just yet. He said, “We are presently at a loss in the NYSC as there is no more money for us to mobilise thousands of prospective corps members in the Batch A Stream 2 to the camp.”
The House of Representatives, which waded into the matter on October 10, stressed that a circular to tertiary institutions had directed them to reduce their quota by almost 70 per cent. According to the lawmakers, a shortfall in the 2016 budgetary provision means that about 50,000 graduates will not be mobilised, thereby elongating the queue of those waiting to serve. Reports indicate that only 35 per cent of eligible participants are mobilised because of the biting economic conditions, which have reduced government’s revenue.
But the NYSC quagmire was not a bolt from the blue. The explosion in the number of graduates for the scheme and the absence of enduring reforms have helped to put the programme in dire straits. These shortcomings had led to the adoption of a three-batch mobilisation strategy, which was discarded in 2015 for the two-layer model that has also been abandoned this year for the former.
About 400,000 graduates are churned out from our tertiary institutions annually, which was not the case in 1973 when the scheme took off. The country then had only six universities, which could barely produce 7,000 graduates annually.
On the contrary, there are now 143 universities, out of which 40 belong to the Federal Government; 42 are owned by the states; and 61 are privately owned. Besides, Colleges of Education running degree programmes and Higher National Diploma graduates contribute to the pool of participants. Over 1.8 million people jostle for admission placements annually, and the figure may increase with time as new universities continue to sprout.
According to reports from various universities, the authorities are using different criteria for selecting prospective youth corps members from a list that comprises the fresh and the older graduates in the queue for about three years. With corruption already gangrenous in every facet of our national life, fanning its embers with such a system that is open to abuse is overkill. It will be a game for the highest bidder, in which case, only the children of the well-connected will be favoured.
Therefore, the NYSC and the federal authorities should go back to the drawing board to design strategies that would see the scheme through in these austere economic times. Barring part-time graduates, members of the Armed Forces and those aged 30 and above from participating has proved not to be enough.
In the meantime, the programme could be amended to make it voluntary. We believe there are thousands of graduates who may want to continue with their higher education, begin early to explore the varied opportunities their respective professions could offer or try their hands on entrepreneurship amid the present job scarcity. Better still, the scheme could be narrowed to only graduates with special skills such as medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists, teachers and engineers. There are manpower shortages in these areas in virtually all the 36 states of the federation.
Undoubtedly, these are cost-cutting measures, which, if adopted, could save the NYSC from total collapse. The scheme should continue to exist, but not in the present form. It remains a laudable legacy of the Yakubu Gowon administration, going by its objectives: a vehicle for national integration, unity, removal of prejudices and pulling down the walls of ethnicity and religious bigotry – all challenges that continue to gnaw at Nigeria’s nation-building efforts. Between then and now, the country has changed dramatically, making a root and branch reform of the scheme inevitable.
Apart from the services that corps members discharge in their states of primary assignments, the country has always utilised them maximally during elections as ad hoc electoral staff, for which many have made the supreme sacrifice. In Bauchi State, for instance, 10 of them were slain in the post-2011 presidential election violence that seized the area.
Beyond the exigencies of the moment, the future of the NYSC could be safeguarded if the National Universities Commission ensures that universities do not admit beyond their carrying capacities. Some medical schools have run into troubled waters as a result, just as 300 students are often found in some classes that ought not to be more than 50. Equally troubling is the penchant for running unaccredited programmes. A total of 150 of such courses covering the arts, sciences, education, law and engineering were discovered recently in 37 institutions.
These aberrations create a reservoir of burden, which the NYSC scheme inherits annually at its peril. Regard for rules and university tradition have, therefore, become imperative for the programme to survive.
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