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The tool for Unity: NYSC ! Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by akinbo a. a. cornerstone, Nigeria May 7, 2007
Culture , Human Rights , Peace & Conflict   Opinions
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Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country...the heartbeat of the Black continent. Considering the diverse government of the day that has been in power since the inception of independence. We have come a long way till date to stand a ruler taller, considering the toddling democracy we are practicing. Some thing's are better than nothing.
From the records as far back as 1964, the National Youth Council of Nigeria, affiliated with the World Assembly of Youth, was founded to coordinate youth organizations and activities in Nigeria. In 1990, it was estimated there were about 60 private youth clubs and organizations, including the YMCA, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and other religiously based ones. An umbrella organization for Nigerian student unions, the National Association of Nigerian Students, founded in 1954, also has been an important national influence on youth and educational policy. However, these two bodies have failed to represent the Nigerian Youth. The largest youth service organization, to say the least, is the government sponsored one, the National Youth Service Corps.

Nigeria’s national youth service program began 31 years ago, in 1973, and continues today. University graduates who are Nigerian citizens, at home or abroad, are required to spend one year in the government sponsored, co-ed National Youth Service Corps, serving in a Nigerian state other than their home state. The military government at the time created the National Youth Service Corps with the primary purpose of strengthening national unity. Having just emerged from a bloody civil war, the Nigerian government hoped to instill a sense of patriotism and unity in the next generation. Nigeria has always been an ethnically divided country, with problems persisting today. The NYSC was seen as a way to instill a sense of national unity that went beyond ethic or regional identity by having educated citizens undertake service in different areas of the country. Such objectives were:-
-A broad-based understanding of the matrix of Nigeria as a country;
-A national-guard conceptual approach that trained new graduates to be disciplined, understanding of varied cultures and mentally fit to handle the pressures of live;
-An integral but valid service to a nation who then subsidized education for all;
-A foundational experience of the work sector through reasonably balanced work-oriented disciplinary experiences gained; and
-A true sense of patriotism among Nigerian youths.

Because of its beginnings under a military government, the NYSC faced controversy from the start, even sparking riots at the University of Lagos. Financial objections, including students’ need to start earning back the tuition their families had paid and the low initial monthly allowance, along with government corruption were major concerns. Another issue, which has persisted to this day, was the problem of ethnic conflict and safety. Nigeria is about evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, with the majority of Christians in the south, and the Muslim majority in the north. Because of the provision that students must serve in a region not their own, many students had to go to a region with a markedly different religious and ethnic makeup. Christian students required to serve in primarily Muslim states had the most concerns, due to fears of persecution by Muslim extremists.

The NYSC is structured with an orientation course, generally lasting one month, at a ‘service camp’ in the region of service. Orientation is intended to instill in recruits a sense of nationalism and pride, and a sense of duty in regards to their service. Paramilitary drills, leadership training, lectures on the local language and culture, as well as some basic management skills are all part of the orientation program. Participants are then posted to their primary assignments, where the agency to which they have been assigned gives them housing and provides transportation. The federal government also provides them a small monthly allowance for the duration of their service. Corps members have worked in health services, education, agricultural development and general service in government departments. In addition to their primary assignments, corps members also have a community development project, chosen by the NYSC and the host community. Examples of these projects include building classrooms and roads, public literacy campaigns, and public health initiatives. At the end of the year, service members participate in a ‘winding up’ exercise and are released from their service in a formal ceremony, where awards are also given to those participants who showed the most initiative and enthusiasm during their service. The recipients of the most prestigious award, the Presidential Honors Award, are entitled to a cash bonus and guaranteed employment in the civil service. About 25 graduates of the NYSC receive this award each year.

While the concept behind the NYSC of engaging young people in service learning is laudable, the day to day operations of the service are facing many problems. For example, supervision of corps members’ performance is virtually nonexistent, and there is no effective means to evaluate members’ achievements. This lack of oversight also means that corps members are often underutilized, or simply not utilized at all. Corps members can be left without work, or assigned tasks which are both far below their ability and have no connection with their training and background. Continuity from one group of volunteers to the next is also an issue; one report cited an example of a road half-built by one group of service members and never finished.

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Writer Profile
akinbo a. a. cornerstone

A prolific Nigerian writer with a gift for words. Wrote under the pen name of Fad and Quad during the Military Era. Currently uses the "pscornerstone" signature.

An activist with religious inclination and respect for cultural heritage, he grew up streetwise and with great love for his country, Nigeria.

He believes that he who holds the word holds the world.
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