As the issue of backlog of prospective corps members lingers, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is again held up for scrutiny. In this piece, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, examines the causes, implications and solutions to backlogs of thousands of Nigerian students held in limbo on NYSC’s waiting-list to serve their fatherland
Chinedu Joel graduated two years ago. He was not called up to participate in the National Youth Service Corps’ programme until 2018. He was 27 when he graduated. During the two-year interregnum, he was able to find a job. Therefore, he did not look forward to going to serve his fatherland in the mandatory NYSC programme. His employer too will not want him to go.
Joel is fortunate. His situation contrasts with hundreds of prospective corps members who waited at home in vain to be called up for national service. For many of these ones, finding a job while they wait to be called up became ‘mission impossible’. By the time they are finally invited to serve in the scheme, some of them have exceeded the age limit set for the programme.
In 2016, a staggering number – 129,469 – of Nigerian graduates’ future were kept hanging in the balance. It is said that each year, for a decade or more, the NYSC mobilises at least 250,000 corps members.
It was little wonder then when President Muhammadu Buhari wrote to the Senate requesting funds, arguing that at least 129,469 graduates could miss the NYSC mobilisation of students. According to the president, the amount of money appropriated in the 2016 budget for the mobilisation of corps members that year was inadequate.
“This request has risen due to a number of reasons including shortfalls in provisions for personnel costs.... The provision for NYSC in the 2016 budget is inadequate to cater for the number of corpers to be mobilised this year. In fact, an additional N8.5bn is required to cover the backlog of 129,469 corps members who are currently due for call-up but would otherwise be left out till next year due to funding constraints,” Buhari had stated.
From the president’s letter, it is apparent that a major cause of backlogs of prospective corps members is inadequate funding. In the fall of September that year, the NYSC had written to the University of Benin’s vice chancellor that only 715 out of the institution’s 2,000 graduates would be mobilised.
A letter from the NYSC headquarters dated September 30, 2016, with reference number NYSC/DHQ/CMD/35/267, explained: “Taking into cognisance of this situation, in relation to the number of graduates earlier forwarded by your institution, management has, after due consideration of the scheme’s 2016 budget, approved 715 graduates for your institution for mobilisation into the 2016 Batch ‘B’ service year. In view of the above, it is expected that the figure of 715 graduates will cut across all approved academic programmes run by your institution and gender balance as well.”
That year it was the same scenario at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University where only 894 graduates were accepted of the 2,314 ready for mobilisation. A couple of years back, the Kwara State university told its recent graduates who should be part of the year’s NYSC mobilisation exercise that the university has slots for only 500 despite graduating thousands.
Yet, it is interesting to know that the NYSC has increased the number of corps members it will absorb in 2018 by 53,000 graduates bringing the new figure to 350,000. The agency mobilised 297,293 corps members nationwide in 2017 and paid them N67, 383,359,602 as allowances. The corps members are spread across two batches and two streams in 2017, with each stream having about 74,000 corps members.
However, delay in mobilisation of graduates often result in frustration for parents and the students. One source of the frustration is that the students will likely have to wait at home idling away for, perhaps, another one year because without their NYSC discharge certificate, they will not be hired by any potential employers.
There is also the likelihood of some of the students becoming ineligible to serve their fatherland having passed the age limit required to participate in the scheme. Coupled with that is the silent stigma associated with an exemption certificate.
Similarly, during the period that the prospective corps members are held in abeyance, their parents will have to bear the extra burden of catering for their needs if the graduates are not able to find some jobs to do. Besides, it burdens the system even further as once a backlog is created it generates a ripple effect – with Nigeria’s many tertiary institutions churning a record number of graduates every year.
This backlog also puts the young graduates at a great disadvantage when they go in search of employment. Often, the months of one year of delay by NYSC may have them unattractive to potential employers that prefer to hire graduates of certain ages.
In a previous survey by The Guardian, Franklin Uzodinma, who had not been called up for the national service because he had passed the age limit, felt the national programme should be reviewed.
“Much as the Federal Government does not want to scrap the scheme for obvious reasons, it should be sensitive enough to review it since the scheme is made to serve the people and not the other way round. I honestly don’t see the reason the government cannot make the scheme optional, or reduce the age limit to 25 years as against the 30 years limit, which is becoming a big problem. When young people graduate, they want to urgently settle down to face the future. But when government’s lack of funds causes some of them to spend two years at home waiting to be mobilised for youth service, something dies in them. This stresses the need for a second look at the scheme before it becomes completely abhorrent,” Uzodinma had said.
Speaking in a similar breath, Opeyemi Johnson, a graduate of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba (AAUA) noted: “As far as I am concerned, the NYSC scheme has lost its basis and purpose. So, why should it still be made compulsory for young graduates, by a government that cannot offer you a job after delaying you for years?”
Continuing, he argued: “I am one of the lucky few to be mobilised in my school that is after I spent five years for a four-year course because of incessant industrial actions. Unfortunately, those that are not mobilised have no choice than to stay at home till the next mobilisation, which may still not take place because of the poor state of the economy. I ask, why should we be punished when the government fails to get it right?”
Some have called for the scrapping of the National Youth Service Corps. Its critics said the programme had outlived its usefulness. Despite various attacks against the programme, the federal government has continued to fund it though inadequately. The jury is still out to see how much of unity it has achieved and what practical impacts the scheme has had on majority of those that went through the orientation programme.
The NYSC, a one–year compulsory programme for students under 30 years who studied in Nigerian tertiary institutions or Nigerian students abroad but intends to work in Nigeria, was created through decree No. 24 of on May 22, 1973 by the military administration of Gen Yakubu Gowon.
The vision of the scheme is to foster national unity and even development, and describes the scheme as “an organisation that is well motivated and capable of bringing out the best qualities in our youths and imparting in them the right attitude and values for nation-building; an organisation that serves as a catalyst to national development, and a source of pride and fulfillment to its participating graduate youths,” according to a statement on its website.
Among other things, the organisation’s mission is to “be at the fore front of national development efforts, as well as serve as a profitable platform for imparting in our youths values of nationalism, patriotism, loyalty, and accountable leadership.”
So the core objectives of the scheme include discipline, fostering a tradition of work, to teach ideals of national development, develop skills for self employment, remove prejudices and eliminate ignorance and promote national integration. But some say even the decision to continue a scheme set up to fill an immediate need created by the fractious civil war for 45 long years is the clearest indication that the war never ended and that unity remains elusive. Hence, following the killings of corps members in northern Nigeria, many called for the abolition of the scheme.
The arguments against retaining the programme include that it is a waste of funds, leads to loss of lives of corps members in crisis-prone or hostile areas, makes youths engage in illicit behaviour during orientation camps where supervision is minimal and even adds little value to host communities as young graduates with no formal training in teaching are assigned to teach children in rural areas.
But the biggest argument against the scheme is that the current operation does not even help the objectives of the programme. Prospective corps members with people in prominent positions manipulate their postings to states of their choice hence defeating the purpose for which it was established.
It is hard to see in tangible terms, how the success of the NYSC outweighs its failures, education experts have argued. With arguments for and against the scheme, it will take a drastic situation to have a critical review of the exercise. Until then, the federal government – burdened by financial constraints – will ignore the consequences of the backlog of students waiting to be called up for service.
That evidently, stakeholders conclude, is not a wise way out of the conundrum of NYSC backlog.