A story was told of a dying father who gathered all his children and gave them a broom to break. For hours they held on to the broom sweating and frantically trying to break the broom but could not. Their father who watched them struggling and sweating without success in the task he had given, beckoned on them to bring the broom to him. He then loosen the rubber band holding the broom together, gave each of them a stick with the same instruction. Immediately each one of them broke the broomstick they were given. Satisfied, the father asked them to sit down and began to lecture them on the morale of the exercise they had undertaken. He reminded them that united, they could be like the broom, very hard to break no matter the multitude that might attempt to break them. However, if they are divided then it’ll be easy for enemies to attack quickly and destroy them. Of course, his dying wish was for them to be united always so that they can always defeat the challenges that must come their way as a people. This story does not just underscore the importance of family unity but the unity of the entire human race be it at the community, state, national, and even internationally. We can never progress or withstand attacks except we are united with common goals and purpose.
As a multicultural and socially heterogeneous nation, Nigeria’s unity has severally been threatened by aggrieved sections of the country. Regardless of the motto of Nigeria which is Unity and Peace, Nigeria has experienced bouts of disunity right from the time of independence culminating in a civil war in less than 10 years of nationhood. Although the war and several similar upheavals have come and gone, Nigeria has managed to remain a united country through deliberate policies and programs aimed and uniting all sections of the country together. Notable amongst these programs is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC)
, a carefully thought out program that commenced shortly after the Nigerian Civil w
War (1967-1979). The aim was to foster national unity amongst the youth who are leaders of tomorrow through national service. Despite the challenges faced by the scheme, NYSC has remained a lofty endeavour that has acted as a catalyst for national development and cohesion especially under the current Director-General in the person of Brigadier General Ibrahim Shuaibu.
The end of the Civil War did not end the distrust and suspicions of Nigerians towards each other. The fear of reprisals, revenge, and retaliations were rife. More than anything else, the NYSC since its inception in 1973 has done more to unite Nigeria than anything else. It was the NYSC that made it possible for people from one region or state to safely travel to another state and do their national service. This opened up the ‘new world’ to them, they realised the beauty and hospitality of other places. These crops of young Nigerians became great ambassadors to the various states they were deployed to and became harbingers of peace and oneness. The scheme has survived largely because Nigerians came to love what the Corps members were doing. It didn’t take long before the scheme the pride of Nigerians especially the youth. Suddenly everybody wanted to serve the nation in their lifetime. The fear of going to an unknown state or region vanished because Nigerians had embraced the scheme and treated corps members as real heroes and ambassadors.
Through NYSC, intertribal marriages became very popular. It must be noted that before its commencement, intertribal marriages were frowned at by many tribes in Nigeria. It was largely an abomination for one to marry outside their tribes especially in situations of great animosity. There are bizarre reasons why one group must not marry the other. Most tribes looked down on others considering them as inferior or slaves unworthy to engage in marriage with. Grudges held over little disputes were invoked as reasons why feuding parties can never marry. It was like this in most Nigerian cultures until the coming of NYSC. With a special package for Corps members intending to marry each other, each marriage contracted or solemnised among Corps members was sponsored by the scheme to encourage others to also take wives during the scheme amongst themselves. Several marriages took place thereby dousing the tension and insinuation that one will be maltreated if they marry outside their tribes. The fruit of that initiative is what we’re enjoying now as Nigerians no longer care about tribal differences in their choice of a spouse.
Aside from trade relations, Nigerians did not have an interest in speaking another person’s language. With over 250 languages, communication was a challenge. The NYSC realised the challenge and massively produced elaborate and easy-to-understand language pamphlets which helped in no small measure to bridge communication gaps between Corps members and their host communities. The long-term effect of this effort is that Corps members became proficient in the languages of their host communities. Most of them got jobs and stayed back while some started businesses, cashing out on available opportunities. This gradually created heterogeneity in previously homogeneous societies. One thing that could never have been possible without the NYSC scheme. Patriotic Nigerians are not in doubt that the sustenance of this scheme is what Nigeria needs now more than military might and intelligence to keep the country together.
In recent times but more specifically under the amiable leadership of Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Shuaibu, the NYSC has evolved a posting policy that addresses the shortage of manpower in schools and the health sector. This is a deliberate and proactive step that has helped save the Nigerian educational and health sectors from an imminent collapse. Corps members have become handy in filling the manpower needs of these two great sectors of our national life. A visit to schools and hospitals across the country will convince you that almost 60% of these institutions are staffed by Corps members who work diligently and with pride to contribute their quota to national development. One wonders what would have happened if there were no Corps members. It is even more worrisome that with all these remarkable achievements, some persons are still calling for the scrapping of this noble scheme.
It is not in doubt that the NYSC scheme with all the beautiful achievements highlighted above has experienced a lot of challenges. Notable amongst them is the insecurity that has ravaged the country. It must be noted that these challenges affect all sectors of the Nigerian state and are not just peculiar to the scheme. Calling for the scrapping of NYSC because of the security challenges is unfounded and a clear sign that Nigeria is yielding to miscreants whose aim is to destroy the unity of Nigeria. Security is the general responsibility of the government and not that of NYSC. Nigerians should support the federal government in eradicating insecurity so that the country can enjoy the peace it has always enjoyed and rather than calling for the scrapping of NYSC. The NYSC scheme is not a security outfit and can not secure Corps members. Giving in to the grand plan of those threatening the peace of this country by scrapping NYSC will be tantamount to surrendering to their whims. Nigerians are too wise to allow enemies of the state to win and deprive us of the endless gains of the NYSC scheme.
Although the NYSC does not have the statutory responsibility of carrying arms and securing serving, it has, under the able leadership of Brig. Gen Shuaibu instituted several unprecedented steps in making life for Corps members comfortable and enjoyable. Apart from allowing Corps members to redeploy in situations of perceived security threats, the scheme has also taken internal security measures aimed at reducing the visibility of corps members to kidnappers. Corps members are no longer required to be fully kitted for their weekly community development services as they were easy targets of criminal elements who targeted them for a ransom payment. The greatest and most laudable initiative of the present management of the NYSC is the proposed NYSC Trust Fund. The first of it it’s kind and a sure way of tackling the current challenges faced by Corps members and restoring the dignity of the scheme and its pride.
The NYSC Trust Fund as proposed by the current DG, Brig. Gen. Shuaibu is a replica of the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) but much more. Nobody is in doubt as to the monumental impacts those Trust Funds have had on educational development in Nigeria by allocating special funds for capital projects and research. A similar thing for the NYSC will have a more enduring and widespread effect not just on the youth but the entire country at large. It should be recalled that NYSC under Brig. Gen. Shuaibu has rolled out massive entrepreneurship projects which are mandatory for all Corps members. With the right funding, the NYSC intends to fund state-of-the-art entrepreneurship centers across the country in addition to making available start-up capital to all NYSC members after completing their training and national service. This is not just feasible, it is necessary considering the rate of unemployment in our country and especially youth unemployment.
While commending the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the best DG of NYSC, Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Shuaibu, we call on the national assembly and stakeholders to support the NYSC Trust Fund bill that will soon be presented before it for passage into law. History will never forget the national assembly for performing this great constitutional duty and putting smiles on millions of Nigerians all over the world. This is a clarion call on all civil society organisations, religious organisations, and well-meaning Nigerians that have the nation and her youths at heart to drum support for this bill and ensure its speedy passage into law. There’s no doubt that enemies of the Nigerian youth and the country at large will try to kill this initiative just before it sees the light of the day but goodwill and determination of all stakeholders will surely prevail. This is the best opportunity to reposition the NYSC scheme for greater glory in line with the noble intentions of its current DG and not a time for naysayers to have a field day trying to tear down what has taken over four decades to build.
Funding for the Trust Fund should be sourced from the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian National Petrolatum Corporation, the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas, telecommunication companies in Nigeria, construction firms, all multinational corporations, states, and local governments as well as private donations from philanthropists. This is because government can not do it alone. Aside from funding, partnership, and synergy with such companies and coronations in the area of entrepreneurship training will help give corps members exposure to industry skills needed to survive and make meaningful contributions to the economy after their passing out from the scheme.
May Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Shuaibu succeed and may all the great innovations he has brought into the NYSC scheme should be sustained. Nigerians are courageous people and will not allow the challenges of insecurity to overshadow the gains of the NYSC. Those calling for its scrapping will sure backtrack after getting the facts straight and queue behind the greatest DG NYSC has ever had.
Avese Nyikwagh is a lawyer and serving Corps Member in Bauchi State