NYSC: We could all actually love it!

Posted: June 26, 2012 in POLITICS, YOUTH ISSUES
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Young Nigerians have visions and aspirations that may seem unattainable, yet they make an essential contribution to today’s societies and the future that awaits coming generations. In all parts of the world, young people live in countries at various stages of development and within differing socio-economic situations, where they generally aspire to live full lives as members of the societies to which they belong. Today’s young people are also considerably more educated and much more aware of global opportunities than was the case a decade or so ago, giving them high expectations of a better life. Gainful employment, is regarded as a major access point towards this better life.

The large youth population in Nigeria can be seen as an asset for development if appropriate human capital investment measures are taken. Decisions therefore, to invest in Nigeria youth should be among other things, based on the type of skills that young people are attaining in preparation for the labor market. Better prepared young people mean better fits for the job market, and in turn both the person and the country at large, benefit.

The Government has used the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to provide young people with skills and instill in them a sense of service to the nation. Established in 1973 to engage Nigerian youths in the development process and foster integration among the estimated 250 ethnic groups in the country through the cross posting of university and polytechnic graduates for national service away from their home States and regions. The program is compulsory for all citizens aged 30 and under on completion of their first degree. Recruitment usually takes place three times a year, and Corps participants (popularly called “corpers”) earn a monthly allowance slightly above the national minimum wage while in the program.

Internationally, NYSC is considered as one of the best practices in strengthening youth education (formal and informal), to harness the employment benefits of globalization. This, according to the African Youth Report (AYR) of 2011, is based on the fact that NYSC is an effort to increase skilled young labor force, in the short term and help the ploy to diversify national economy in the long term. NYSC, is thus regarded as a pillar towards providing apprenticeship that integrates theoretical learning with working experience. A similar system (providing apprenticeship that integrates theoretical learning with working experience) is lauded to have contributed to the economic success of the East Asian countries, according to the Economic Report on Africa 2012 and the AYR 2011. Quite clearly, the International Community sees NYSC as a national strategy to harness resources and include young people in ways, which create specific production capacities that are globally competitive.

The description of NYSC in a number of international reports, sounds really amazing, until you ask the chap in khakis and white shirt coming home from Community Development Service (CDS) or the kid who just got posted to Borno state, in light of today’s Boko Haram menace.

There is a huge disconnect between what the NYSC is supposed to be, what it is and what it could be in terms of economic and well being benefits for a country.

Many in the upper echelons, insist that NYSC provides mentoring, provides a possibility of employment in an institution right after service, helps under-developed sectors across the country and increases cultural awareness, among other socioeconomic developments. A number of young people who have served, are serving and have intentions of serving have a completely different perspective.

The average young graduate, who opts to serve, does so either because (s)he is not sure of getting a good job soon or because he does not want to be held back from a job opportunity or government appointment in the future because (s)he has no service completion certificate. This stems largely from the imbibed perspective of the average person, on what NYSC really is.

A large number of people, across this country, old and young alike see NYSC as a tool of increasing cultural awareness, a source of cheap labor for government and private institutions, a source of government exploitation to staff choice sectors at minimal cost, easy employment if you can not find a better job or just another form of totemism. You can spot a number of the touted socioeconomic benefits of NYSC within these views, except that it is all shrouded in gloom and decay.

The key questions then are, can NYSC really be a tool of socioeconomic development? Can NYSC be devoid of exploitation and made to concretely benefit young people? My answer is, a conditional yes!

After examining the dynamics of NYSC and considering the integral services that it should provide our young people and our country, there are a few aspects that must be overhauled.

National Service must be re-oriented to focus on functioning as a half way house for young people. It must focus on supplementing for vocational skills that are not acquired during the formal education process. It must also be allowed to cater to those young people, who do not or are not capable of pursuing tertiary education and still need to be made viable for the job market. Considering that 16% of the Forbes 400 most influential Americans, do not have a college degree, our post-secondary school young people, need as much an enabling environment, as the next person. The aims here, being to indeed create specific production capacities within majority of our young people, which make them globally competitive in all fields.

In emphasizing the need for skills acquisition, NYSC should be designed to allow corpers work in two different institutions, in two different capacities, done over two six-month postings. This diversifies the scope of experience and responsibility taken on throughout the service year.

Some of our graduates, feel mentored enough to step into the job market. These few, consider a service year, as a hindrance to their abilities to take on the world. It would feel unfair to mandate them to serve, at meager salaries and with barely any promise of retention, under the shrouds of patriotism. An opt-out scheme for National Service maintains the mandate, while allowing you the option of deciding against serving. This differs from an opt-in scheme, where no one is asked to serve and you will have to make a request, before taking up service. An opt-out must indeed be the next direction for NYSC.

The need for cultural awareness seems to have taken over the service scheme, and needs to be reconsidered. The added expenses of relocation, pegged to NYSC postings, render the monthly stipend redundant, as settling into a new state, generally costs more than the total annual stipend from the service year. If the new emphasis is on skills acquisition for young people, then the postings need not be an issue. Alas, there have been some improvements in the posting system and in time, we will see where this gets us.

In line with the much-needed paradigm shift about the role of NYSC, private institutions, who take up corpers, must be seen to contribute to the corpers development. An evaluation of the skills acquired by a corper are most relevant, be it in the form of surveys, oral evaluation, skills fairs or dissertations on an issue. A mentoring program cannot be deemed successful, if there is no form of monitoring and evaluation. As well, exploitation of cheap labor must be minimized, by mandating private institutions to keep a percentage of the corpers they take on every year (For example, retention of 5% or at least one person, where 5% is less than one, of all corpers taken during one year). It will be a huge strain on these companies, but it will also limit companies from taking on a lot of corpers, every year at minimum wage, and not employ permanent staff, which cost more.

Lastly, NYSC cannot be run to develop weaker sectors across the nation. Mandating all corpers to teach, as seen in Rivers State for example, boosts the education sector with staff, whilst ensuring that the students are being taught by “quacks” who often dislike the job, do not know enough and do not give enough. This in turn, collapses the quality of education and ruins the sector, which we are supposedly developing. Postings to sectors must as such, be based on qualification and knowledge of the auspices of that sector.

The most important thing to point out here, is that NYSC can be reformed, to focus on providing benefits for young people, increasing their vocational skills and in turn chances of employment, with all attendant socioeconomic implications. A scheme for young people must have young people as the winners and the scheme at the present, is not maximizing its potential to achieve this.

  1. Roli says:

    I wish you could totally propose this to the FG directly. It makes all kinds of sense. Well done CJ.

  2. twoondei says:

    I’m particularly excited someone is looking deep and far enough into the “would have been” or “could be” of the NYSC. Sometime ago, after extensive inquiry on possibilities after med school, I began to question the reason for the scheme. Practically everyone I asked about the NYSC experience made one similar statement; “waste of time”. So much money is allocated to this program and so little is spent. It’s a complete scam at the moment and I hope the brighter side will be explored if this cry reaches the right ears. Fantastic piece CJ.

  3. daredean says:

    I sincerely believe the views are overtly utopian, an I’m not being pessimistic… I agree with the fact that it could be and in fact should be… Buh it’s utopian! The present operators of the scheme are obviously oblivious (no pun intended) of the intents and aims of the scheme at inception… I think an overall redefinition of the scheme would be apt than recent embellishments that are being suggests in recent times.
    Good piece. Thanks

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