The imperative of youth participation in nation building: The NYSC Experience

By Emeka Mgbemena

“It is a conventional knowledge that the youth population constitute a dorminant force for national mobilization and growth and as such have a crucial role to play in the all important task of nation building in any part of the world. The youths are the future of any nation; the mantle of leadership is carried by them and throughout history they have played a reliable role in the progress of mankind”.
– Christopher Lot

Accordingly, youthful energy and talent are better harnessed and unreservedly directed to those things which make for the realisation and retention of the ideals which enable a nation to rise above its history and attain heights that would have normally been deemed unattainable.

Under our present peculiar circumstances where Nigerian government is being increasingly considered as a corporate political entity with enormous leadership responsibilities for the continent of Africa, the contributions of our youths in this direction becomes even greater. Indeed, youth participation in nation building hold so much promise for the future of Nigeria.

The works of Morgenthau H.J. (1960) ‘Politics Among Nations” lay credence to the foregoing analysis. The Scholar revealed that “‘the age distribution within a given population is an important element in power calculations. All other things being equal, a nation with relatively large population of maximum potential usefulness for… productive purpose, (roughly between twenty and forty years of age) will have an edge in power over a nation in whose population the older age groups predominate”.

The founding fathers of the NYSC certainly shared the views of Morgenthau in recognising that the future of this country lies in the hands of the youth population. This essentially informed the establishment of the Scheme in 1973 as a deliberate act by Government to create a platform for Nigerian youths to prepare themselves for the onerous task of nation building.

In his remarks during the inauguration of the Directorate of the Scheme in 1973, the founding father of NYSC and former Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Gen (Dr.) Yakubu Gowon informed the nation that…” The idea of a Service Corps for youths is quite unexceptionable… certainly no right thinking and patriotic persons, will query the need for Nigeria to inculcate, as a matter of deliberate public policy the qualities of leadership to her most educated and enlightened youths from among whose ranks leaders in all walks of life are recruited”.

While appreciating the foresight of the founding fathers of the Scheme, it is important to state that the operations of the Scheme has over the years promoted the culture of national consciousness of Corps members, their associates and generality of Nigerians.

The four (4) cardinal programmes of the Scheme; Orientation Course, Primary Assignment, Community Development Service and Winding-up/Passing-out Parade are complementary products of a well thought out and enduring strategy aimed at “developing in the Nigerian Youths the attitude of mind acquired through shared experience and suitable training which will make them more amenable to mobilization in the national interest”.

The mobilization of about 300,000 Corps members annually invariably suggests that the goodwill of their parents, relations and millions of their well wishers are at one time or the other thinking national.

In addition, the activities of the Scheme which focus mostly on national integration and rural development, constantly remind the nation of the need to promote national unity and development. In other words, the policies and programmes of the Scheme prick the conscience of the nation to rise up to its responsibility.

The participation of Nigerian graduate youths in the NYSC programme is known to have established enduring friendship, interethnic marriages, political alliances and business partnerships transcending ethnic and cultural boundaries.

Under the NYSC programme the energies and potentials of our young people are continually being harnessed and directed towards the development of the critical sectors of our national life.

This assurance is demonstrated in the participation of Corps members in the conduct of elections in Nigeria. It is on record that the landmark intervention has been applauded by a number of government and non-governmental organizations within the country. It is equally interesting to note that international organizations such as the European Union (EU) and other members of the international community noted that the participation of Corps members in the conduct of elections in Nigeria remains a commendable initiative worthy of emulation by other African Countries.

In the year 2019, the Head of EU delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Amb. Ketil Karlsen led EU Election Observer Mission to NYSC Orientation Camp Kubwa- Abuja where they presented Computers and other IT facilities to 75 Corps members who performed excellently during the 2019 General Elections.

While presenting the IT facilities to the Corps members, Amb. Karlsen described Corps members as the “backbone of Nigeria’s democracy”. The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu who also attended the ceremony remarked that ” Corps members are the most dedicated, educated, patriotic, committed and most readily available ad-hoc Staff…there cannot be election in Nigeria without NYSC”.

Corps members on national service are indeed neutral and apolitical, as such, their intervention in the conduct of elections underscores the essence of the Scheme which seeks to develop a crop of patriotic, visionary and dynamic leaders. Their exposure to the realities of the leadership questions in Nigeria is expected to enhance their understanding of the diversity of the country as a source of strength that will chart the course of unity, stability and peaceful coexistence among Nigerians.

As a dynamic and self evolving government institution, the NYSC through its Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) programme has carved a niche for itself as a strategic and sustainable national response to the challenge of youth unemployment in Nigeria. The provision of funding options for Corps Entrepreneurs further expands the opportunities available for graduate youths to be so empowered and self reliant.

Corps members are today actively participating in programmes focused towards the realisation of government agenda of food security through their engagements in the NYSC Farms and Ventures located in different parts of the country.

In particular the involvement of Corps members in various Agro-Allied component of the Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) and War Against Poverty programmes of the Scheme is playing a leading role in the realisation of sustainable Development Goal objective of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

Several enduring people oriented Community Development Service projects executed by Corps members dotted the landscape, nooks and crannies of the country and more are unfolding through the creative initiative and ingenuity of youth Corps members as part of their patriotic contributions to national development.

Only recently, Nigerians showered commendations on a Corps member; Stephen Teru who came to the rescue of pupils and Students of primary and secondary schools in his host Community Akamkpa LGA of Cross River State. The Corps member utilized his Carpentry skill to address the infrastructure gap in the Schools. He constructed Benches, Chairs, Tables and other relevant furniture that changed the fortunes of the Schools. This and other interventions by Corps members are contributing immensely towards extending the frontiers of development to all parts of the country.

It should be noted that the intervention of Corps members in all levels of education, primary and tertiary healthcare delivery system; including mobile health Clinic outreaches to rural areas, awareness creation campaigns against various public health diseases and other numerous interventions are critical to the growth and development of our country and cannot be quantified in monetary terms.

Indeed, the National Youth Service Corps has no doubt proved to be so pertinent to the corporate existence of the nation. The general consensus among Nigerians has been a suggestion for several reforms that should be carried out to reposition the Scheme in line with contemporary realities so that it’s impact will be more. It is also to be noted that any investment and whatever the energy exerted to reposition the NYSC must be seen as judicious and patriotic.

The prospect of NYSC is quite reassuring. Over the years, the Scheme has proved to be dependable deploying it’s resources to address any national emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country and different parts of the globe today.

Corps members’ contributions in this regard, is legendary as they stood to be counted in supporting the implementation of national strategy against the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. The NYSC Scheme has continued to demonstrate its capacity in deploying Corps members to address national developmental challenges and facilitating the achievement of the objectives of government policies and programmes as well as other issues of national interest.

It is on record that Government and other development oriented non-Governmental and international organisations seek collaboration with NYSC for the deployment of youth Corps members to drive programmes that require wider outreach especially if the project is targeted at rural communities.The result has always been a success story.

Some of these landmark collaborations include the NYSC/UNICEF/ARFH collaboration on Reproductive Health HIV/AIDS Project, NYSC/NPC collaboration in the conduct of National Census, EFCC/ICPC Collaboration on the fight against corruption in Nigeria, NYSC/INEC in the conduct of elections in Nigeria, NYSC/NAPTIP/PAIGAS/EU sensitisation of Nigerians against irregular migration, NYSC/VSO collaboration in addressing educational gaps in basic subjects and capacity building for rural dwellers among other critical interventions in the national interest so numerous to mention.

As a result of this sustained records of achievement, the NYSC Scheme over the years has sufficiently earned the confidence of Nigerians as having the potentials to launch the country into the league of powerful, dynamic, economically buoyant and stable nation.

In the year 2013, when the Scheme celebrated its 40th anniversary, the renowned international Country specific polling service in West Africa; NOI Poll Limited conducted an opinion poll on the relevance of NYSC Scheme and the result of the poll revealed that almost 8 in 10 Nigerians (78%) favoured the continuity of NYSC Scheme.

The outcome of the poll also revealed that Nigerians expressed their desire for increased investments in the Scheme so that the expected positive multiplier effect of its people oriented programmes will be more.

It is also important to stress here that the NYSC experience is a positive work in progress. It will be an overstatement to say that the task of achieving national unity can be accomplished within a defined period of time as the project is a continuous phenomenon.

The Nigerian graduate youths under the NYSC programme should consider themselves very fortunate to be bestowed with the responsibility and honour of belonging to an elitist group of potential leaders for Nigeria and the African continent.

In comparison with other youth services across the globe, the NYSC Scheme is unique in the sense that it was originally designed to take care of socio-economic and political inadequacies bedevilling our quest for nation building.

This also explains the growing interest of other countries in the NYSC model as evidenced in the establishment of the Gambian National Youth Service facilitated by Nigerians; personnel of the Scheme as well as advocacy visits to the NYSC Directorate Headquarters, Abuja by top government officials of Sierra Leone on the possibility of replicating the NYSC model in their country. Other African Countries also expressed their commitments to domesticate the NYSC model in their respective countries.

As the NYSC approaches its fifth decades in a couple of years to come, the objectives of the Scheme are as valid today as they have been 47 years ago. It is expected that the Scheme will begin to break new grounds in addition to its traditional responsibilities of promotion of national unity, self reliance and purposeful development in Nigeria.

As the Scheme looks forward to the future, perhaps Corps potentials will now be effectively harnessed and increasingly channeled towards complementing government policies and programmes in the area of Agricultural revolution and national food security, development of local technology as well as promotion of relevant technological advancements and entrenching the culture of patriotic service to the nation.

In keeping with its vision of becoming “the leading light of youth organizations in Africa”, the NYSC in few years to come, would be expected to begin to explore strategic options that will facilitate the extension of its services to every facet of our national life.

The increasing interest in the NYSC Model by African Countries will in the future justify the replication of the enduring structure among countries that are desirous of a development model of youth service programme in Africa and other parts of the world.

*Mgbemena is Deputy Director at the NYSC and wrote in from Abuja

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