Background to the study
The concept of the youth service program started in the United States in the early 20th century. It can be traced back to the speech given by philosopher William James in a speech at Stanford University. He said, “conscription of the whole youth population should work on the toughest jobs . . . from coal and iron mines to fishing fleets and road building” (A Study of Promising Models in International Development Strategies 2011).
This speech drew attention to a new form of youth development. William James’s call to action was realized by the then United States President, Franklin Roosevelt, who founded a program in 1933 which was targeted at American youths to use their effort for nation-building during the Great Depression. The scheme was called Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It can be said that this program was effective during the period it lasted, such that through this program America was able to build great edifices and create job opportunities.
National Youth Service Corps in other Countries
Youth service corps can be found in different regions, with different reasons underpinning their establishment. It is called different names in different parts of the world.
It is popularly known as civic service in France. According to a definition from the French Ministry of Culture, “Civic service is a voluntary commitment on a general interest mission, which lasts for a period of 6 to 12 months, of 8 months on average, at the rate of at least 24 hours a week” (French Ministry of Culture 2021).
In Mexico, it is called Servicio Social. It was established in 1936 to reconstruct the country after the Mexican revolution. University undergraduates were the target and it focuses on creating citizens who are political, economic and culturally minded. In this period of serving, doctors are deployed from urban to rural areas and also to bridge the gap between the middle class and peasantry class.
In Kenya, it was established in 1964, a year after the country received freedom for self-rule. It focuses more on defence. At its emergence, Kenya was facing insecurity so it was important for the country to engage the youths in a constructive program. It was established to train young Kenyan men and women in various vocational skills and also imbibe in them a culture of nation-building and reconstruction (Were 2019).
A national youth service scheme was established in Ghana in 1976 by military decree 208 to foster a stronger sense of national unity and service among all classes of the Ghanaian society. It was initially limited to high school graduates but later made university and other tertiary institution graduates its focus. The duration of the program was reduced from two years to a year (Langer and Oshodi 2017).
In Chile, it is called Servicio Pais. Young people aged 16 to 25 are usually the target.
Such programs were implemented in the areas which were deemed important in the case of each country, including defence, national cohesion, integration, health, education, culture and leisure, sport, community development, civics, international development and humanitarianism among others. Not all these programs are obligatory as in the case of the Nigerian National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Others are voluntary, such as the United States’ Americorps and Teach for America programs.
The civic service was established to build a chain of developed and self-confident youths. The youths are educated not only to become strong-willed and determined but to be able to relate with people without respect to their social and cultural background. It is important to note that civic service is not a criterion for getting a job. But it gives the participants an edge over others who did not partake in such exercise; that is the skills acquired can be an advantage. It is created with national cohesion and integration in view, but that does not downplay its ability to educate and imbibe new skills into the participants.
The criteria for joining this scheme differ from one state to another. For instance, in Nigeria, it is compulsory for all undergraduates below the age of thirty years old.
National Youth Service Corps in Nigeria
The ethnic and regional politics that created a hostile socio-political atmosphere within a decade after the independence of Nigeria served as a major factor that led to the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1973 through Decree No. 24 under the administration of General Yakubu Gowon. This divisive atmosphere was birthed in the course of colonial rule and groomed by nationalists within a decade after independence. The British carved out the country named Nigeria. “Like many other African nations, Nigeria was an artificial structure initiated by the British which had failed to consider religious, linguistic, and ethnic differences” (Naira Land). Nigeria is made up of various ethnic groups numbered at 290 who spoke different languages but there are three major ethnic groups which include, The Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. The Hausa lived by a traditional autocratic, Islamic hierarchy with emirs and the sultan at the top. The Yoruba, like the North, were governed with traditional but less autocratic Obas (a king in Yorubaland). The Igbo lived in an autonomous, democratic society. Although the Igbos also have kings, decisions made in general meetings were binding. The different systems of government among these people produced divergent sets of customs and values. These and other ethnic groups in their prior semi-independent states, kingdoms and empires were brought together to form colonies and protectorates of the British in the Niger River area.
The divergent values were also enhanced by the arrangement of the British colonial government. In the North, it was convenient for the British to rule through the indirect rule system, based on the kind of system of administration they met on the ground. The British colonial government had a far-reaching influence on the degree and direction of Christian missionary penetration. Christianity, whose handmaiden was Western education, was not allowed in the North. This further widened the gap between the North and the South (Ubah 1988).
During the years of British colonial administration, the Northern Emirs were at the helm of affairs; they protected their religious, political and cultural lifestyle, limiting the impact of the Europeans on the South. Thus, the North, at the time of independence in 1960, was the most underdeveloped area in Nigeria, compared with other regions, but it was demographically populous than the other regions thereby having greater political power due to the British amalgamation.
Within the first decade of political independence, there was a power struggle for the economic resources which exacerbated problems of national integration. The other two regions were dissatisfied with this arrangement. The political upheaval that ensued in the regions aroused tension among the people. On January 15, 1966, a coup was staged under the command of Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi in an attempt to save the country from what the Igbos called political disintegration. A few months after this successful coup, widespread suspicion of Igbos provoked the Northerners and the Yorubas into a joint counterattack. This attack on the Igbo people caused them to form their own state called the Republic of Biafra. These events culminated in the Nigeria Civil war.
The Nigerian government stopped the export of food to the Biafran republic. Malnutrition led to the death of an estimated one million Biafran civilians. On January 11, 1970, Nigerian troops prevailed over their opponents and captured their headquarters Owerri. After their leader, Odumegwu Ojukwu fled to Ivory Coast, they had no other option but to surrender.
At the end of the war, it was realized that ethnic and regional politics were salient in Nigeria’s disintegration. Steps were therefore taken to promote national integration in both policymaking and implementation. This effort gave birth to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1973 as an instrument to promote peaceful coexistence among all ethnic groups in Nigeria. The choice of youth for the programme was based on the fact that they are considered as agents of change and also the backbone of every society. A way of achieving this was for the youths to imbibe and nurture a sense of common belonging and national consciousness which would transcend political, social, state and ethnic loyalties. The program aims to enhance reconciliation and restructuring of intergroup relationships between and among the different ethnic groups in Nigeria and also to create common ties among the Nigerian youths. The NYSC is a current scheme for every Nigerian youth who obtains their degree from universities or polytechnics and has not exceeded thirty years old. That is, only university graduates can partake in the Nigerian National Youth Service Corps (compared to other countries where postsecondary school students are the target). Medical students are allowed to defer their program until the completion of their one-year professional apprenticeship.
The reasons for the establishment of the Scheme are presented in its Vision, Mission and Objectives. They are:
To build a pragmatic organisation that is committed to its set objectives with the ultimate goal of producing future leaders with a positive national ethos. Leadership that is vibrant, proud and committed to the unity and even development of the Nigeria State.
To be at the forefront of National development efforts, as well as serving as a profitable platform for imparting in our youths values of nationalism, patriotism, loyalty and accountable leadership.
To raise the moral tone of our youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about high ideals of national achievement, social and cultural improvement.
To develop an attitude of mind acquired through shared experience, and suitable training would make them more amenable to mobilisation in the national interest.
Nigerian youths would acquire the spirit of self-reliance, a reliable source of economic empowerment and effective participation in nation building.
To develop an organisation that lives to its responsibilities and responsive to the needs of the country. (NYSC Inspectors‟ Manual, 1998 pg.7).
In essence, the objective of the National Youth Service Corps in Nigeria is targeted at building complete citizens who can relate with one another without fear or favour and can be called to be a leader at any point in time. “The purpose of the Scheme is primarily to inculcate in Nigerian youths the spirit of selfless service to the community and to emphasise the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social backgrounds” (Onwubiko 2021).
Central to the NYSC’s goals is the assignment of participants to states other than their home states. According to the 1993 decree, this policy is intended to introduce youths to different religions, traditions and cultures, in areas where their skills can contribute to local government (NYSC Decree 1993). In the interviews I conducted with former and current participants of the program, I learnt that the youths are posted even to states where they were not schooled.
The interviews were conducted with Mr. Abdul Malik Semiu and Miss Adedokun Funmilayo. Mr. Semiu Abdul Malik is from Lagos State. He studied at Olabisi Onabanjo University, in Ogun state. As per the rules of the NYSC, he was deployed to Kano state, in Northern Nigeria to serve for a year. He had not been there before this period; consequently, he didn’t not understand the Hausa language spoken in the region. Because many of the students did not really understand the English language, during his period of serving in the school, there were communication errors until he was able to grasp a little knowledge of Hausas language. He said,
“But the one I won’t forget to share was when I was asked to teach the English language. Problem started when I discovered that my students don’t understand English and I, their teacher, doesn’t understand their language either.”
Miss Adedokun Funmilayo graduated from the University of Ibadan in 2019. She is from Oyo state. Like Abdul Malik, she had not been to the area where she was deployed. She commented,
“I have not been to Edo state before my service year, but I love the atmosphere. Even the people there are welcoming and hospitable”
Considering the NYSC’s Effectiveness
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, effectiveness is the quality of being successful in achieving what is wanted or intended. “Effectiveness is a measure of the extent to which a specific intervention, procedure, regimen, or service, when deployed in the field in routine circumstances, does what it is intended to do for a specified population” ( Wojtczak 2002). The effectiveness of the NYSC can be examined in relation to how it has been able to achieve its aims and objectives.
The National Youth Service Corps is divided into four segments, which include Orientation Courses, Primary Assignment, Community Development Service, and winding out or passing out.
The orientation is a 3-week program in a camp. Corps members are divided into platoons. They are mandated to join physical drills and man o’ war activities through which they are trained by military officers. This allows for competitions such as ‘tug of war’ between different platoons. Lectures and language studies are organized to equip the Corps members with necessary knowledge of the program and also of the host states and corps health. They also partake in dances, dramas and other social activities which facilitates unity amongst the participants. It also created an avenue for the participants to display their expertise in sporting activities such as football, tennis, volleyball and other games.
Following the orientation program, Corps members are sent to their place of primary assignments. The NYSC posting officials place on the specialization of each individual and post such to where his/her skill is needed. In most cases, they are posted to rural areas where they either be in the education, health or agricultural sector.
At their place of primary assignments, the Corps members are expected to identify the needs of their host states and employ their skills to meet them. This segment is called the Community Development Service (CDS). Through this, Corps members of different states were able to create some projects such as building bridges, health centers, classrooms and others. Some have also served as officials in the elections process.
The winding up or passing out occurs at the end of the program, usually in the twelfth month. Members are expected to submit their final clearance and also present to their zonal inspectors. Some who had served meritoriously and had outstanding performance in the other three stages are given state honours awards.
In the early days of the NYSC, the program was effective to some extent. University graduates were posted to states different from their home states, where they were exposed to cultures and traditions distinct from theirs. They were able to interact with new people and also get acquainted with new languages and cultures. Some during their service year were able to secure jobs and also meet their future wife or husband. The bills of such weddings were footed by the Nigerian government if both were Corps members. Some Corps members also found their place of primary assignments conducive and settled there. This in a way encouraged inter-ethnic marriages, thereby fostering unity among the people of Nigeria.
People who were posted to a certain region were expected to go there. That is, any Corps member must report to his/her place of primary assignments. But in modern times, most participants detest going to other regions. Some may likely redeploy due to insecurity. Others were rejected by their employers in the place of primary assignments mostly due to unavailability of work. While some are tasked beyond their qualifications, some remain idle and are not able to acquire the skills intended. In some cases, participants prefer to stay in their states of birth by using medical problems or other factors as excuses, thereby rendering the program ineffective.
After each year, thousands of graduates were released from National Youth Service Corps without a hope of a job or when they would secure one. This factor discourages many university graduates from partaking in the exercise. The level of unemployed graduates is becoming alarming and this is working against the objectives of the program. This can be explained in the light of the economic climate of the country. Because the country has not been able to create more employment, the job opportunities are limited leaving a huge number of people looking for jobs. Some in their place of primary assignments were not given work to do, making them idle not because they lack the skills but the ravaging economic imbalance.
The Corps members are given an allowance at the end of each month for a period of eleven months. The allowance was enough to cater for their needs at the inception because of the economic situation at that period. Although it was increased in 2018, it still is not enough to cater for the needs of the Corps members. This is a turn off for some Corps members .
The ineffectiveness of the NYSC can also be explained by the low supervision by the Corps inspectors. After the Corps members have been posted to their place of primary assignments, little or no inspection is done in order to follow up on their efficiency. The Corps inspectorate body was to ensure that the Corps members report at their place of primary assignments, and are given work to do. But due to lack of human resources and the growth of the program, there is negligence in monitoring of the Corps members.
Insecurity in the country has also played a role in undermining the effectiveness of the program. Many Corps members redeploy to other states due to upheaval and instability in the area where they are posted. In the April 2011 elections, the NYSC was faced with a serious insecurity issue when about ten Corps members were murdered in Bauchi. It made many stakeholders call for the abolition of the scheme while parents wanted their children to redeploy from northern Nigeria. The upsurge made the Senate pass a bill that urged the Federal Government to review and restructure the scheme (Elemure, 2015).
This is evident in the words of Abdul Malik:
“The rate of unemployment coupled with insecurity and instability in the country has made the scheme lose its value, perhaps. People are doing it because it is compulsory. It would be great if participants can serve in their geopolitical zone to curb insecurity although the program may lose the aim of national integration.”
Other factors advanced for the ineffectiveness of the program include age, gender and also inadequate funding.
Age and gender plays a great role in the program’s effectiveness and can also limit the NYSC from achieving its aim. For example, there are some activities in the orientation camp that some females may not be able to do and some may not be efficient and effective in their place of primary assignments due to their age.
Since the inception of the program,no fewer than two million Nigerian graduates have passed through the NYSC. At its inception in 1973, it started with 2,364 graduates. But in present times,about 250,000 graduates pass through the program. But even with the current state of the program,the participants have not reduced but increased.
Although there are loopholes in the program, it has helped to create a sense of togetherness, oneness and brotherhood in the youths of Nigeria irrespective of culture or social background. A critical study of the history of the NYSC shows that almost all aspects of Nigeria affairs have been affected by the contributions of the participants ranging from the economic, education, social, cultural and even psychological lives. It has been able to instill discipline and foster patriotism in Nigerian youths particularly those also build the spirit of selfless service to the community through the community development service (CDS).
But lately, the impact of the scheme seems to be dwindling and its objectives, though still relevant, have witnessed some challenges that have questioned its relevance. My research demonstrates that the program would regain its relevance if the aim of the scheme can be reviewed to focus on transformation of the nation. Corps members can be posted to various parts of the country where there is demand which would lead to stable labour supply and equal development across the nation. And also giving utmost importance to value systems that would expose Corps members to new cultures and experiences which would expand their perspectives and create opportunities ,which may transcend jobs and to instill discipline and societal values in youths, thereby building people of integrity, discipline and reducing strain of corruption. Although most of these are part of the objectives of the current program, the reason for its establishment can be changed from national integration to national transformation. The scheme could also give rise to economic development by employing and gearing the power of youths towards national competitiveness and increase in rural growth and development. The youth should be used for the development of rural areas. All this would be realistic and achievable if consideration is given to security issues, adequate funding and allowance , age and gender roles, accommodation challenges, uniformity in school academic calendars, ethnic trust, motor accidents due to bad roads.
Onwubiko, Emmanuel. 2021. “NYSC and suicidal proposition. “ The Guardian. https://guardian.ng/opinion/nysc-and-suicidal-proposition/.
Ubah. 1988. “Christian missionary penetration of the Nigerian Emirates: The Village school Approach,” Transafrican Journal of History, vol 17, 108-122.
Were. 2019. “Rethinking the Relevance of the National Youth Service Scheme in Emerging Democratic States Evidence.” Journal of Global South Studies, Volume 36, Number 2, pp. 399-421.