The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is like a popular television soap opera which is still running after its useful life and urgently needs to end.
The curtain begins to draw on shows when signals emerge that they have become a badly-beaten horse.
When runs are no longer applauded, it is time to have a final season.
The NYSC is a good show that should have ended many years ago.
What’s the value left in Nigeria’s NYSC, have we asked?
Maybe, we should ask.
When I see good careers destroyed by opportunists over the failure to produce the certificate of service under the NYSC, I wonder if in 2020, there is still so much value remaining in the NYSC to endure such calamities, spitefulness and meanness.
Many more careers are yet to be ruined.
Behind the need to prove one’s national service is the idea that those who did not serve did not care about Nigeria and had no patriotism in their veins.
The NYSC is a good show that should have ended many years ago
When the scheme started in 1973, Nigeria needed its brightest stars to contribute to national development.
Service was noble and critical to the nation’s needs.
The country was just coming out of a bloody civil war.
A graduate in any local community was a special asset in any capacity.
The injection of graduate labour was important to the post Biafran-war recovery and nation-building.
There was a good intention and the timing was perfect.
Even those with the National Certificate of Education were needed to serve until the early 1980s, but circumstances have changed.
The NYSC has become typewriter in the age of computers; it has been stuck in the orbit of no purpose and needs to come down.
Until some months ago, the NYSC was a Merchant of Venice, paying poor salaries to an army of disenchanted young graduates.
Its impact in the community waned, having become a dumpster for the children of the poor who will find it difficult to get a job.
Today, the NYSC is archaic and broken.
Many graduates now serve where they want, when they want and how they want if they could pay for the convenience.
The environment of service is no longer what the founders had in mind when they established the NYSC.
Far from its enviable beginnings, the sense of commitment is gone and it is not the fault of the graduates.
Our collective faulty moral character is what broke the NYSC.
A young man in his late 20s shared his story of the youth service early this year.
After he returned from the United Kingdom on studies, he was posted to Ibadan, Oyo State.
Even though he could easily travel to Lagos, where his parents lived, and was happy to serve in Ibadan, there wasn’t much of a service to offer to the community.
He was always bored.
Without asking, the principal of the school he was posted to offered a sweet deal to take half of his NYSC allowance in return for never bothering to serve.
During the youth service, the young lad worked another job in Lagos.
Nigeria no longer needs the NYSC that operates the way it does today
The NYSC is one of the organisations in Nigeria where inequality is pronounced.
When I served more than 30 years ago, and assumedly until now, the children of the privileged either did not serve at all, or served in choice companies and prime government agencies.
After the orientation period, such rich kids just disappear, while the strugglers were deployed to villages and remote corners to survive under harsh conditions. The only graduates who truly serve are the hungry ones.
The NYSC outlived its shelf life a long time ago.
It is an organ that has failed because of the Nigerian factor and is in urgent need of imaginative reconstruction.
Nigeria no longer needs the NYSC that operates the way it does today.
As far back as 1988, when I served, there was probably no further need for the youth service corps.
It had, by then, become an outlet for corrupt civil servants, rotten to the core.
Officials of the NYSC had, by then, devised schemes to sell meat meant for corps members in the local market.
I served briefly as an assistant NYSC information officer.
I saw corruption, immorality, wastage and loss of direction in the system.
I saw from close up, female corps members being served as sex objects to senior military officers, the leadership, when they visited the camps.
Since the law establishing the NYSC grants that no graduate may be employed in a government job without the NYSC certificate, it has suddenly become a tool in the hands of political hackers, willing to pull down those they want to destroy.
The certificate has been used to destroy the potentially successful careers of senior officials and political office holders – among them, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, who was forced to resign as finance minister in 2018.
Mr. Adebayo Shittu, planned to row through the rough weathers as the minister of communications, but was eventually eased out in 2019.
The minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, recently stated the only reason he removed the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development, Joi Nunieh, was the non-submission of the certificate of service.
Although many ordinary graduates could not have escaped service, the children of the rich could.
They had means of escaping service and making it.
They deserve to pay a price, but the price they are paying is not to the benefit of the nation.
The price is being paid to mean-spirited political losers.
Compared to the many other atrocities committed by public officials, not serving in the NYSC should not become a permanent disability.
Failure to serve should be redeemable to the government and people of Nigeria.
There is nothing wrong in forcing erring Nigerians to serve in other ways or pay a penalty.
We would be naïve to conclude the only way Nigerians can contribute to national development is through a forced, corrupt and inflexible government programme that the NYSC has become
We would be naïve to conclude the only way Nigerians can contribute to national development is through a forced, corrupt and inflexible government programme that the NYSC has become.
The army of young Nigerians studying abroad would not even plan to return home, but have key contributions to make to national development, if allowed.
There are many other avenues for the expression of service to the nation and mankind than the one the government has created.
In the United States, anyone with a heart to serve has multiple outlets.
AmeriCorps offers opportunities to volunteers to work in a broad spectrum of public service sectors that includes community development, children and youth, education, environment, health, homelessness, housing, hunger, and eldercare.
Similarly, the Peace Corps, a branch of the US government, engages volunteers in international service projects.
Beyond AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, you can name WorldTeach, Student Conservation Association, the Catholic Volunteer Network, Match Corps, Earth Corps, and Teach for America.
The list is long and nearly endless.
In Canada, Canadian University Service Oversea is a volunteer, non-governmental organisation that sends young Canadians to developing countries.
I am a beneficiary of the programme in the secondary school.
Besides, Canada has many programs in sustainability, social justice, wildlife, human rights, job training and just about any area that Canada needs to improve as a country.
There are many such volunteer services across the world. Except there is a military goal, it is not important to co-opt young men and women into a military-style service.
The Federal Government should not be a monopoly of service to Nigerian graduates, just as it is useless to impose an age-limit on those who want to serve.
By making the NYSC the officially-endorsed and single channel for graduate service, the government has sealed the doors for creative means of rendering service.
What the monopoly and enforcement has created is an avenue for political blackmail, which has no national development reward.
There are many other avenues for the expression of service to the nation and mankind than the one the government has created
The purpose of government in all societies is not to be the sole provider of service, but a catalyst.
The NYSC has served Nigeria very well but it is well past its prime.
It was formed when Nigeria’s needs and challenges were different.
Today’s young graduates need to compete on the world stage. They do not need to be teaching in a remote village when we have produced more graduate teachers than we need.
With Nigeria now facing a massive graduate unemployment, corps members have become a source of cheap labour who compete for the services of post-NYSC graduates badly in need of employment.
Some of those in the labour market would gladly take the 33,000 naira NYSC allowance as salary.
Using the NYSC as a graduate employment agency is counter-productive. If there is an unemployment problem in the nation, the government should fix it!
Just as it took courage and willpower to create the NYSC, it takes courage to end it.
Give our graduates an option to fall in or fall out. Service should be for volunteers.
Things have changed.