Mon May, 02 2011
By Chinua Akukwe, The Times of Nigeria
The Nigeria’s post presidential election violence has sharpened renewed focus on the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program established by the then head of state, General Yakubu Gowon in 1973. The NYSC was established to serve as a bridge between different geographical areas, ethnic groups and religious tendencies in Nigeria by posting young graduates of universities and other higher institutions of learning to states other than that of their origin to serve a period of one year. However, it appears that these young Nigerians have become targets of religious, ethnic and political violence and bloodletting. Horrific and gruesome stories of youth corpers killed or raped by enraged mobs protesting results of the April 16, 2011 presidential election is now widely known.
Is it right for struggling Nigerian parents to train their children from kindergarten to the university level only to get word that their children had been murdered in an orgy of political violence? Should the future leaders of Nigeria be subjected to regular spasm of political bloodletting while on a mandatory one year of national service? Should the Nigerian government continue to tolerate a situation whereby talented young Nigerians providing much needed service are regularly slaughtered due to their ethnic origins or religious inclinations? Specifically, should NYSC members serve in any capacity in the tumultuous, do-or-die politics of Nigeria?
I remember vividly my days as a corps member in the old Bauchi state (present day Bauchi and Gombe states). I remember the giddiness of a long bus ride from Enugu with some of my medical school classmates posted to Bauchi State. I remember the NYSC orientation camp in Toro. I remember the young men and women from different parts of Nigeria that bonded within the four weeks of the orientation camp. I recall the professional courtesy and welcome extended to newly arriving corps members by the then camp inspector, Mike Ejoh who is now reportedly a director at the NYSC headquarters. From the orientation camp where I served as the Chairman of the Camp Medical Clinic to my primary posting at the Bauchi State Specialist Hospital where I served as the head of the Casualty/Emergency Services, I had one of the most important experiences of my life. I remember the cold harmattan days when I came back to Toro during the second batch of NYSC orientation camp for corps members deploying to five neighboring states to run the Camp medical clinic and to serve as liaison to the new corps members. I also noticed that the second batch of corps members were as energetic and full of hope for a better Nigeria as my own set.
My official accommodation in front of the Bauchi State Specialist Hospital that I shared with three of my medical colleagues served as an unofficial resting place for fellow corps members posted outside of Bauchi. These corps members irrespective of ethnic, religious, geographical or even political leanings felt very comfortable staying with us, even without notice. For that one year, corps members worked together as brothers and sisters, often having extended discussion on the great potential of Nigeria.
For my NYSC community service, I visited every hospital, health center and clinic in present day Bauchi and Gombe States to discuss with corps members and other health officials on how to transform health services in the state. By the time I completed my statewide visit, I got know the present day Bauchi and Gombe states more then I will ever know Anambra State, my state of origin. I travelled to all parts of present day Bauchi and Gombe states by any means, possible. Often strangers will offer me a ride when regular transportation was not available. Throughout my trip, I never experienced any form of hostility but only kindness. I got to see first hand life in poor rural communities in Northern Nigeria. Today, nearly 25 years after my NYSC, any news or story about Bauchi or Gombe state catches my immediate attention. I follow developments in the two states, diligently.
The original founders of NYSC had a great idea of forging national unity during the most formative years of life. However, senseless slaughter of innocent young Nigerians is extremely unacceptable. Targeting well educated, almost penniless young Nigerians providing critically needed service in a ritual of senseless bloodletting can never be tolerated. Targeting well educated young Nigerians providing virtually free service is inherently hideous and barbaric. That all sponsors of these bloodletting rituals have gone unpunished in the past and are likely to remain unpunished in this latest bloodletting is nerve wracking.
It is now time to conduct an independent comprehensive review of the NYSC scheme. The review of the NYSC should proceed in three basic steps. First, the Government of Nigeria should conduct an immediate program audit of the NYSC program. Second, a transparent public review of the NYSC should take place. Third, conclusions from the program audit and public review should inform legislative amendments to the NYSC Act. I briefly discuss each step
Conduct a Program Audit of NYSC
Ideally, the Government of Nigeria should conduct an immediate independent program audit of the NYSC to ascertain whether it is fulfilling its mandate. Is the current organizational structure of the NYSC ideal for its mission and mandate? Are NYSC staff members at national and state headquarters utilized maximally in the service of corps members? Are the operations and logistics of NYSC optimal in meeting the needs of 21st Century, well educated youth? Is the NYSC subject to transparent, independently verifiable metrics and benchmarks? If so, what does trend analysis of the metrics and benchmarks reveal about the efficiency and effectiveness of the NYSC program? Since corps members are the primary focus of the program, what are the knowledge, attitude and perception of corps members regarding the one year NYSC program, including specific feedback on orientation camp activities, areas of primary assignment and the role of state and national headquarters? What specific efforts have the NYSC national leadership made to prevent corps members from becoming victims of political, religious or ethnic violence? What are the specific terms of the policy, operations and logistics relationship between the NYSC and host state governments? In the relationship between the NYSC and host state governments, what are the specific agreements regarding the safety and welfare of deployed corps members? The program audit of the NYSC should be completed in short order, providing the Nigerian government with specific information on the current status of the program.
Complete Transparent Public Examination of the Future of the NYSC Program
The next step should be a public, comprehensive review of findings from the program audit and a public examination of the future of NYSC. This public review should be specifically tailored to obtain feedback from the public sector, the private sector, the civil society, past and present corps members and NYSC staff members at all levels. The public review should also include expert opinions from individuals and organizations with demonstrated expertise and experience in programs similar to the NYSC. The comprehensive review should also include examination of best practices around the world and lessons learned from other countries operating similar programs.
The top-to-bottom review of the NYSC program should include an examination of the original intent and statutes that established the NYSC juxtaposed against present day realities in Nigeria; the central role of providing employment to graduates of institutions of higher learning vis-à-vis the casual, one year “employment” during the NYSC service year; a careful review of the existing policy on posting and deployment of corps members; an examination of the roles and responsibilities of host state governments to deployed corps members; an examination of redeployment and evacuation policies for serving corps members; a review of possible scenarios for corps members to reject postings and deployment to flashpoints of political, religious and ethnic motivated violence; an examination of whether special laws should apply to individuals that target, maim or kill corps members; a delineation of specific commitments by the Federal Government to parents of children deployed for the NYSC, including specific assurances regarding safety of their children while on deployment and indemnification in the event of harm or worse, and; a personal contract between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the young men and women it deploys every year for the NYSC. This contract should stipulate the direct commitment of the government of Nigeria to corps members regarding personal safety, general welfare, stipends and the right of refusal of postings and/or deployment to flashpoints of violence.
Possibly Amend the NYSC Act
The third step, based on conclusions of the comprehensive public review is that the National Assembly should take up potential amendments of key sections of the NYSC Act. Legislative amendments should take into cognizance the need to introduce young educated citizens to various parts and cultures in Nigeria, the critical role of corps members in providing much needed assistance in the provision of education and health services in poor communities around the country and the overarching importance of national unity in a multiethnic, multi religious country such as Nigeria. The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweranmadu reacting to the senseless killings of corps members after the April 16th presidential election promised a surgical legislation to protect corps members before the expiration of the tenure of the current National Assembly. I recommend that the key initial steps of systematic program audit and comprehensive public review be completed before taking up legislative amendments.
The NYSC is too significant to be modified in a hasty legislation. At least two generations of Nigerians have passed through the NYSC program, including the president, the vice president, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the deputy senate president. Undue haste may lead to later hand wringing and recrimination. It is important to state in the strongest possible terms that fundamental reforms of the NYSC cannot be the sole business of the Nigerian government. NYSC can only be reformed through a transparent, multi-sectoral, stakeholder driven process.
Nigeria is now at crossroads. It can either emerge as a nation moving towards greatness or risk sliding into instability. To become a great nation, Nigeria cannot allow a situation whereby on a regular basis its well educated graduates of institutions of higher learning are regularly mowed down in senseless acts of violence during a compulsory one year period of national service. Today, Nigeria has failed its citizens serving in the National Youth Service Corp. Nigeria has a chance to make it right by conducting a sweeping, comprehensive review of the NYSC program, implementing reforms where necessary and refusing to compromise on the personal safety of the thousands of future leaders it deploys to serve the country for one year. The ultimate question is whether the Nigerian Government and its people are prepared to draw a line in the stand and make an enforceable stand: that no political, ethnic or religious differences or disagreement is worth the life of a recent university graduate, or anybody for that matter?
Dr. Chinua Akukwe received the President of Nigeria Honors Award for exemplary service during his National Youth Service Corps program. He is a former Vice Chairman of the National Council for International Health, now known as the Global Health Council, Washington, DC, the largest voluntary global health organization in the world. He is also a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, Washington, DC, one of the highest recognition of public service in the United States.
Selected References for this Article
- See http://www.nysc.gov.ng
- See http://www.punchng.com/Articl.aspx.theartic=Art201104240201250
- See http://www.leadershipeditors.com/ns/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id29533:post-election-crisis-aregbesola-evacuations-70-corps-members&catid=51:cover-stories&itemID=142
- See http://www.sunnewsonline.com/webpages/news/national/2011/apr/24/national-24-04-2011-001.htm
- See http://independentngonline.com/DailyIndependent/Article.aspx?id=32629
- See http://www.weekly.dailytrust.com/index.php?option=com-content&view=article&id=5921:corpers-exodus-insecurity-may-affect-guber-polls&catid=40:cover-stories&itemid=26