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NYSC: Why we must celebrate Gowon’s vision

By Godfrey AKON

The National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, has remained a unifying force, binding Nigerians of various shades of religion, culture, ethnicity and ideological creeds. 
Despite existential threats by some unpatriotic Nigerians, the youth, for which  it was established, love the clarion call to the service of their fatherland.
NYSC is one of the best programmes that happen to Nigerians of all regional, cultural and religious backgrounds. For this, Nigerians owe General Yakubu Gowon immeasurable thankfulness.  His vision after the civil war, led to the establishment of the scheme in 1973, which has become relevant like the sun, in Nigeria in all levels of development.
The scheme mobilises young Nigerian graduates of tertiary institutions of learning from different cultural and religious backgrounds in order to give them national orientation for three weeks before they go into the world of responsibility.
In the camp, corps members mingle together and identify with cultures other than their own. After the orientation course, corps members usually relish the experiences they have had in the camp with nostalgia. In the camp, future lives of young Nigerians are shaped. 
No wonder political alignments, cultural assimilations and intercultural marriages are the results. Thus, misconceptions, prejudices and superstitions held against other regions naturally die off in the camp and at places of primary assignment.
In orientation camps and places of primary assignment, the youths acquire leadership qualities that help them to relate freely and peacefully with host communities and the larger societies later in life. Apart from leadership training, the scheme, through its Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development, SAED, gives life-longtraining to the youths to become self-reliant after the service year,instead of looking for jobs that are not easily available.  Testimonies of individuals who availed themselves of the opportunities provided by SAED programme come every week on NYSC Half Hour on NTA.
The hitherto jobseekers, now equipped with relevant skills, became job providers. It is hoped that the corps members’ trust fund which the Director-General of NYSC, Brig-General Shuaibu Ibrahim is pursuing will be approved by the federal government so that youths will be sure of loans to float their businesses after service. Through this, after five to ten years, Nigeria’s Gross National Product, GNP, will experience a remarkable increase.This will also mop up excess jobless youths in the labour market by reducing unemployment rate. 
Gainful employment of this reserved army will invariable reduce youth restiveness and criminal tendencies in the society.In June of this year, the respected coordinator of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, Emmanuel Onwubiko, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari no to listen to those calling for the scrapping of the NYSC, but to reposition it better for the realisation of its mandates.
Onwubiko said that rather than scrapping the scheme, it should be repositioned, in order to sustain many of its noble values.  He said the scheme had provided the opportunity for Nigerian youths to acquire the spirit of self-reliance by developing skills for self-employment; contribute to accelerated growth of national economy and develop common ties to promote national unity and integration.
One interesting thing is that opinion polls conducted by HURIWA  shows that Nigerians want the scheme preserved, because it has been a source of inspiration for young persons to attain higher education.Onwubiko, angry with the detractors of NYSC, said,  “One of such distractions is the proposed law for the scrapping of NYSC scheme, which has been copied by many other countries. One wonders what example Nigeria would be showing such countries by scrapping the scheme it sold the idea to them?”
After the well-conducted opinion poll by HURIWA, the unanimous response by Nigerians was that President Buhari should preserve the legacies NYSC represents.Fortunately for Nigerian youths, Buhari responded, “I feel stronglyabout NYSC,” when he hosted corps members in Daura as part of their Sallah visit, thus halting the malevolent intention of the scheme’s detractors.
In September the management of NYSC said efforts were in top gear to establish corps members’ trust fund, to provide start-up capital for graduates after their service years.Brig-General Ibrahim said this in Abuja, during his nationwide virtual address to the 2021, Batch ‘B’, Stream II set of corps members.The DG  in one of his speeches to corps members said NYSC was working relentlessly to get approval for the  establishment of the NYSC Youth Trust Fund which will pull millions of Nigerians out of poverty. The DG said that the fund, if eventually established, will help actualise president Buhari’s vision of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of unemployment before the next decade. 
He also disclosed that the scheme had trained over 500,000 corps members in different agro-allied, skill development and vocational programmes. What more do citizens want other than peaceful coexistence, sound health and financial prosperity?  All young Nigerians, are indebted to General Gowon’s vision. Nigerians want NYSC despite attacks from people who are afraid of Brig-General Ibrahim’s reforms.
In the Sunday Trust of October 3, 2021, was a feature with terror-inducing headline, “Unsafe and uncertain: Inside Nigeria’s Mandatory youth corps”, originally done by Al-Jazeera. The report however, has so many spurious claims, outright misinformation and erroneous facts; deliberately put together to discredit the scheme, which for years, remains the darling of Nigerian youths.
The issue of insecurity conspicuously highlighted by the Al-Jazeera reporter showed that he was struggling between falsehood and truth. It was heartwarming that the report noted, “While there have been cases of corps members being killed or kidnapped, there is no data to suggest they were targeted because they were part of the NYSC.”
As a move towards guaranteeing corps members’ safety, the NYSC management has partnered with relevant security agencies. It has also unveiled measures and issued stern directives that will prevent corps members from becoming objects of violent attacks by daredevil criminals or auto crashes.
The NYSC management, being responsive to public outcry, has in the past promptly withdrawn corps members wherever their safety was threatened, in addition to embarking on continuous sensitisation of corps members on security matters.
Again, here goes another quote in the report, “Although some graduates find ways to skip the programme, many working-class Nigerians – whose job prospects are already limited – cannot sacrifice the potential opportunities that come with an NYSC certification.” If NYSC is solving unemployment threats, why do people want it discontinued?Isn’t their motive driven by mischief?
The deplorable state of NYSC orientation camps in some states is now history in a spate of two years under the visionary, dedicated, purposeful and transformational leadership of Brig-General Shuaibu Ibrahim at the helm of affairs.
So far, efforts have been intensified by many state governments and the federal government, to complete landmark rehabilitation works at some of the camps. Engagement with critical stakeholders is one important strategy adopted by General Ibrahim to attract goodwill for the NYSC.
An audience he once had with the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF,facilitated the rehabilitation of old permanent orientation camps and the completion of new ones across Nigeria.
The irrefutable fact is that the streams of achievements recorded by the Nasarawa state-born senior military officer and a professor ofHistory, together with the novel policies introduced by him are too innumerable for any writer to chronicle in a single article.
It was funny to learn in the Al Jazeera story from one corps member that she did not learn anything while participating in  the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development, SAED, programme at the orientation camp, where she and others were trained on photography. But the fact that Margaret, the female corps member in question, could not have learnt anything does not mean others did not.
It also does not puncture the reality that many corps members who were once trained in various vocational skills courtesy of the SAED programme, graduated to become self-employed, while several of them, also assisted with funds by the NYSC management, are now doing amazingly great as young entrepreneurs who have also offered jobs to many unemployed youths.
The fact that corps members are deployed to public schools as teachers was necessitated by the need to bridge the shortfall of teachers in public schools across the federation. And, the fact that several calls had been made in some quarters, demanding the scrapping of the NYSC Act, makes the Al-Jazeera report a hatchet job.

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