Alas, reason finally prevailed. We are talking of the tension that ensued in the course of the latest deployment of fresh graduates for the compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, programme. Thousands of graduates posted to some northern states had rejected their postings. They had the strong backing of their parents and millions of sympathetic Nigerians. The states detested by the corps members are Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi and Plateau. These are places where anarchy has been walking on four legs, courtesy of the militant sect, Boko Haram. And not a few corps members had lost their lives in the violence. For instance, in the post-election violence that engulfed Bauchi State in 2011, nine youth corps members were killed by hoodlums. And in Jos in 2010, three youth corps members who were about completing their service were cold-bloodedly murdered by rioters. Many others had fallen victims to miscreants in their areas of primary deployment in other parts of the North. Their death brought anguish to members of their families.
There are some families that are yet to come to grip with the cruel fate that became the lot of these young men and women. Thus it was surprising, against the backdrop of the carnage unleashed on the nation of late by the Boko Haram, that NYSC posted nearly 15,000 fresh graduates to these embattled states in its latest deployment. And when the new corps members and their parents protested, the officials remained adamant. They only soft-pedalled when the House of Representatives asked the NYSC directorate to suspend deployment of corps members to the embattled states. It was a saving grace for the scheme, because the Lagos House of Assembly was about to initiate a move, asking Lagos indigenes posted to these troubled states to ignore the deployment. That step would sure have had a spiral effect, the end of which no one could foretell. After all, many of the fresh graduates remarked sarcastically, asking what is the worth of a certificate of national service that guarantees no job at the end of one year? Many of them equally dismissed the plan by the NYSC, as announced by Gen. Nnamdi Okore-Affia, the director general, to train female corps members in martial art for self-defence. So, how is martial art an effective antidote to bombs and AK-47?
On the heels of the latest controversy comes the issue of what relevance the one-year service still has for the nation. There have been calls in the past to rejig the scheme’s modus operandi, while others have even called for an outright cancellation. Surely, many Nigerians who served in the scheme in its early years still cherish the experience. The tale is different today, however. Thus many of the youths who participate in the scheme, initiated by the Gen. Yakubu Gowon-led government in the 1970s, now tag it as Now Your Suffering Continues. How would Gowon now feel? That is sure a label for a dying institution. For it to attract the youths, the scheme needs a radical restructuring that would breathe fresh air into its operations. The indifference with which many of the corps members serve the nation today is akin to millions of naira being poured down the drain every year and systematically killing the scheme which is already in its 39th year of existence.