The NYSC’s relevance and heightened insecurity in Nigeria

The lofty objectives of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Nigeria, upon inception in 1973, by the military administration of General Yakubu “Jack” Gowon (Rtd), were to help foster integration, reconciliation and national unity. Those objectives were relevant at the time, given the unique circumstances of the country.

Historically, the politically fragmented Nigerian configuration, barely five and a half years post- Independence on October 1, 1960, resulted in ruinous coup d’états on January 15, 1966 and July 29, 1966, respectively, both of which claimed the lives of political leaders and others from different parts of the country.

The extreme upheavals of that era precipitated the cataclysmic Nigerian vs Biafra Civil War (1967-1970), which claimed over a million lives (BBC). The spirit of national healing, reconciliation, and actualising the prevailing “no victor, no vanquished” cantillation, berthed the NYSC.

1973: Nigeria’s population, circa 59.6 million; GDP $15billion; national debt $1.78billion. 2023: Nigeria’s population circa 223.9 million; GDP $445 billion; national debt $108.2 billion. Because the demographics/debt profiles have ballooned in 50 years, that demands more innovative strategic policies, which address current/emerging realities.

The NYSC sharply bifurcates informed opinions. For some, it is the viable instrument of national integration. For others, it is a monumental disservice to national integration given the extant terrorism, kidnapping, insecurity in Nigeria, and, crucially, the number of deaths of actively serving NYSC participants. Objectivity is vital to critical analysis and this treatise adopts that overarching philosophy.

Since inception, the NYSC has recorded important successes. For example, it has helped enhance cultural integration across Nigeria’s vast 923,768 square kilometres, geographical land mass. Oftentimes, NYSC participants have never travelled outside their geopolitical zones and the opportunity, or depending upon one’s perspective, the compulsion, to travel and undertake national service outside their “comfort zone” is a fantastic boon.

Many participants attest to making lifelong friendships, profitable business networks, developing romantic relationships etc. Equally, skills acquisition, knowledge transfer, capacity building, civic duties and, of course, paid employment. These are unquestionably beneficially quantifiable and intangible outcomes.

Counterbalancing that is the fact that Nigeria is at war with ethno-religious terrorists, coupled with a heightened state of insecurity, which is manifested in murders, rampant kidnappings, ritual killings, high crimes and other felonious acts across the nooks and crannies of the country.

Unacceptably, serving NYSC participants are at times caught up in the toxic cross-fire, lose their lives, which in turn upends the lives of their parents, sponsors, mentors all of whom have oftentimes, spent their entire life savings and investments, educating their children and mentees. How devastating can that be?

The central contention against the NYSC by its principled opponents is that mandating NYSC participation is completely and utterly non-sensical because it is effectively sending graduates to an early grave in the name of “so-called national unity”.

Why should anyone have to die because they are undertaking national service?! One death, it is argued, is inexcusable and ought to elicit the programme’s suspension! More than one death, is a policy disaster! On those grounds, they conscientiously demand the NYSC’s immediate scrappage. 

These divergent positions ought to be contextualised by evaluating the evidence of insecurity in the country. Advancing from first principles, is the necessity to examine section 14 (2) b of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) “the Constitution”: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

This provision raises strikingly pertinent jurisprudential questions. One, if the overriding duty of government is the “security and welfare of the people” and the government, despite the remarkable accomplishments of heroic Nigerian military service personnel; persistently fails to do that, upon what moral justification should anyone compel a Nigerian graduate to undertake the NYSC?

Two, will the average, rational Nigerian parent willingly send his /her child to harm’s way given the insecurity encompassing the country?

Three, will the provisions of the military era NYSC Decree Number 24 of 1973 (which completely negated democratic legitimacy, because neither the public, nor their elected representatives, were ever consulted prior to its enactment; although it is now, majestically recast as the NYSC “Act” Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004); be more honoured in its observance or in its breach?

Four, is there a demonstrable, and evidentially quantifiable correlation, between effectively performing as a Minister or Political appointee in the Federal Executive Council and undertaking, or having undertaken, the NYSC?

Five, in the commanding hierarchy of Nigeria’s statutory frameworks, isn’t the Constitution the fons et origo of the country’s constitutional architecture?

Section 1 (1) of the Constitution clearly establishes that “this Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. The inescapable logically stringent rational corollary therefore, is that where there is a conflict between the provisions of the Constitution, and, in this treatise, the NYSC Act, the Constitution must prevail!

Self-evidently, no parent can be compelled to send his eligible child/ward to NYSC in the absence of security guarantees. That puts such a parent in a quandary as it risks contravening the provisions of section 2 of the NYSC Act and future employability in a government ministry, department or agency.

However, the first law of humanity is the law of survival. Dead people, are by definition, insentient and cannot undertake NYSC!  Ergo, the ethical dilemma of parents sending their children without them rationally weighing the balance of risks and benefits, to dangerous places, which, in reality, is every state in Nigeria, is not only real; but will in all probability, be resolved against the provisions of section 2 of the NYSC Act/ programme. Because, in the natural logical order, no parent wishes to predecease his child.

The legal positivist school of jurisprudence theorizes that the kernel of law is premised upon societal realities and not high ethics (Green, Leslie. 2018, The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy).

Arguendo, the NYSC legislation de facto, appertains to legal positivism given the post-Civil war dynamics supra. Notwithstanding, laws and policies don’t exist in silos. They exist in the context of adaptiveness to socio-economic, socio-legal and socio-political evolution. The NYSC Act and programme, cannot be static ad infinitum. Society is not static: it is dynamic! So, good laws in progressive societies must be nimble to development, changing circumstances and existential threats.

It is counter-intuitive to rigidly insist upon a law, which does not command the freewill of the people in a democratic society, which is loathed because it fails to consistently and meaningfully adjust to the extant security crisis and which fails to keep up with modernity.

How then is the Nigerian insecurity and war against ethno-religious terrorists characterised and what is the adverse impact on serving NYSC participants?  

Only on Tuesday, August 22, 2023, eight graduates travelling from Akwa Ibom State to Sokoto State, were kidnapped by terrorists en route the NYSC orientation camp at the latter state. Some of the kidnap victims are Emmanuel Esudue, an Agricultural and Environmental Engineering graduate from Akwa Ibom State University and Victoria Udoka, a Mass Communication graduate, from University of Uyo (Nigerian Eye).

On August 14, 2023, 22 gallant military officers and soldiers of the Nigerian armed forces were killed by terrorists in the Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger state.

On April 14, 2022, Stephanie Se-ember Terungwa, a microbiology graduate from the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, disappeared. Exactly a fortnight later on April 28, 2022, the NYSC issued a statement viz “the remains were that of a missing corps member Stephanie Se-ember Terungwa with State Code Number FC/21B/5807”

Eight NYSC serving participants were killed in 2011.  According to the Director General of the NYSC, Brigadier-General YushauDogara Ahmed, “the Corps members we’ve lost were in Baku in Bauchi. That was in 2011…” (Daily Post, 30 January 2023). In November 2008, terrorist attacks resulted in the deaths of over 700 people in Jos. Some of these included three NYSC participants, Messrs Olalekan Akande, Oluwatosin Akinjogbin and Oluwole Odusote. One NYSC serving participant, Samuel Makene, died in December 2018, in Nasarawa state as did another one Fortune Ihechukwu, at the NYSC orientation camp in Sokoto state on April 14, 2019 (The Guardian, April 30, 2019).  

To further illustrate, between December 2020 and March 2021 alone, terrorists kidnapped over 760 students from various educational institutions traversing northern Nigeria in at least 5 separate incidents. In 2014, terrorists kidnapped 276 school girls in the north eastern district of Chibok in Nigeria’s north eastern region.

According to SB Morgen Intelligence, not less than $18.34 million was paid to terrorists as ransom by victims’ families and government between June 2011 and March 2020. The same organisation in its report entitled “The Economics of Nigeria’s Kidnap Industry” affirmed that approximately N653.7 million was paid in ransom in Nigeria between July 2021 and June 2022. 

As if those were perverse statistics were not bad enough, between January 2018 and September 2022 40 NYSC serving participants lost their lives in road crashes whilst 52 were injured within the same period (Sunday Punch, September 25, 2022).  These ruinous statistics represent only a proportion of the state of insecurity in Nigeria.

Should the NYSC remain unchanged, unreformed and untouchable given these abhorrent factors, in the cape of national integration and de-facto political correctness?

Any loss of an innocent life is one too many! As the foregoing illustrates, objectively, the NYSC should not, on balance, proceed in its current format. How many more NYSC participants should be killed or kidnapped by terrorists before innovative and strategic thinking prevails? Emotional arguments about national integration and national reconciliation are scarcely compelling, because there are several public institutions which, already foster national unity and integration. Like, the 50 Federal Universities; the 100 plus Federal Government “Unity” Colleges, criss-crossing the country.

Accordingly, it is recommended that the NYSC programme should be scrapped on the grounds of its enduring inability to consistently safeguard and/or facilitate the security and welfare of participants in various parts of the country.

Tinkering will not do, upon the evidence of Nigerian youths fleeing the country in droves in the “japa” wave to Canada, Europe and the USA! What is urgently required is innovation, strategic and joined-up thinking plus, the political will to act in the overriding riding interests of safety.

Yet, nothing in the foregoing implies discarding the proverbial baby and bath water. Quite the opposite in fact, with these additional recommendations:

*Each state should be constitutionally empowered to develop a paid youth empowerment programme for all graduates with credible Private-led sector participation.
*The Private Sector should be incentivised with tax holidays to contribute to a hypothecated budget with state governments strictly for youth empowerment and skills acquisition on an optional basis.
 *Subject to psychological and security checks, three months military training should be incorporated into the youth empowerment programme with the armed forces encompassing kinetics, military-intelligence, map reading, self-defence, weapons handling skills, on a strictly optional basis; with operational readiness for call up in national crisis.
*Symbolically, recast NYSC as the Youth Development and Military Service (YDAMS), embed optional participation and decentralize administrations to states.
*There should be no veto on appointments to the public sector because there is no evidence whatsoever of a nexus between NYSC completion and effective performance in any government or other employment.
*Implementation timeline: Six months.
*Immediate moratorium on NYSC deployment to all states pending a comprehensive policy and security review with Nigeria’s brightest minds.
Ojumu is the Principal Partner at Balliol Myers LP, a firm of legal practitioners and strategy consultants in Lagos, Nigeria.

BY: Femi D. Ojumo

SOURCE: The Guardian

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