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Nigerian project: NYSC’s unity ideals still relevant

There is no doubt that Nigeria is passing through a difficult phase in its nationhood, given the torrent of agitations for restructuring of the polity. The move with which the National Assembly, the House of Representatives, is angling for the scrapping of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, has demonstrated the feebleness of Nigeria’s oneness as a nation.

The Reps action at this material time may seem inconsequential in the agitation for the restructure of the country, as it were; this should go farther in the conscious sublimity of the people in the troubled hegemony in the face of heightened insecurity and the attendant wonton killing and abduction of innocent children serving their father land for ransom. A member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Awaji-Inombek Abiante, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmaker, representing Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State in the Green Chamber, had few weeks ago, sponsored a bill, the Constitution Alteration Bill, seeking to repeal Section 315 (5) (a) of the 1999 Constitution which establishes the NYSC and its enabling Act.

The NYSC scheme, as it were, was established in 1973 during the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon, three years after the end of Nigeria’s 30-month Civil War as a way of reconciling, reuniting and rebuilding a broken nation of already polarised people, resulting from the war.

In the bill, the lawmaker had further argued that the NYSC “has failed to address the essence of its establishment while several reform efforts have also not yielded desired results.” The document also cited the incessant killing of innocent corps members in some parts of the country due to banditry, religious extremism and ethnic violence; persistent kidnapping and death of corps members across the country at their places of primary assignment or while in transit as reasons. Though critical stakeholders, who are challenging the bill, which has passed the second reading on the floor of the House, and the motive behind the call for scrapping the scheme have denounced the move.

Indeed, stating their position, the stakeholders strongly argued that NYSC had remained, for that matter, the only unifying factor holding the country together through youth participation in the scheme. To them, the bill is ill-timed, ill-advised and uncalled for, unpatriotic and unwarranted especially at this crucial period of threat to Nigeria’s nationhood, and should be discarded without much fuss.

“NYSC is to promote unity, cohesion and integration of the county even now more than before. And, the rationale of establishing the scheme in 1973 is still germane and laudable in the cause of achieving the objectives of oneness, unity, integration and co-existence among Nigerian people. Again, this cannot be more relevant than now that Nigeria is pigeonholed by disunity and dysfunctional institutions,” they further argued. In the context of recent happenings across the nation where corps members are killed or abducted for ransom due to the state of insecurity pervading the land, the fear being expressed in every intent and purpose, is in tandem to provoke concern about the safety and security of these young Nigerians.

But, as Distinguished Professor Peter Okebukola, former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and others succinctly put it, despite the insecurity challenges in the country the call for scrapping of the NYSC will akin to throwing away the baby with the bath water. In as much as the consequences of the Reps’ call or bill cannot be ignored, the salient objectives of the NYSC scheme needs to be interrogated at this juncture with a view to correcting any perceived anomalies, shortcomings setting aback the scheme, or where the 48-year-old programme has failed to meet national expectations.

Rather than the call for a wholesale cancellation or scrapping of the scheme, as argued in some quarters, the entire Nigeria project, which appears to be unravelling at the seams, should have been scrapped instead. We therefore feel it is naive for the House of Representatives or National Assembly to tout plans to single out the NYSC scheme for scrapping, when there is general apathy about high level of corruption in government institutions, as well as the heightened insecurity situation across the land where the country has been buffeted by Boko Haram terrorists, bandits and other insurgents.

Given the fact that the achievements of NYSC since its existence have so far outweighed its shortcomings, what is expected in view of the current situation of the country, is for the National Assembly to torchlight the aspects or the totality of the scheme, as the case may be, in order to rejig, modify, remodel and reconfigure them in line with the realities of the day. Doing so will be more gratifying other than seeking a blanket scuffling of the scheme because of the security challenges confronting the nation randomly.

Without prejudice, it is apposite that the government, most especially at the centre, should consciously rise up to its constitutional obligation as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution to fix the security architecture of the country to guarantee the protection, security and safety of lives and property of the citizenry.

We want to remind the lawmakers that since there is no system or programme that is 100 percent perfect, and because fundamentally, the NYSC was created to foster national unity and cohesion, thus any move to scrap the scheme would only further make the already fragile unity even more difficult to achieve. And, no one, who craves for a one indivisible Nigeria, can support this bill.

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