NYSC Trust Fund: Supporting The Biggest Employer Of Labour In Nigeria

NYSC Trust Fund: Supporting The Biggest Employer Of Labour In Nigeria

By Fidelis Fater

The South Africa apartheid regime was one of the most tragic events of the 20th century right next to the Second World War (no offence intended for victims of the Nigerian, Congo and Liberia Civil Wars and the Rwandan genocide).

The common denominator in all these crises is that the future of whole generations was truncated. But more specifically, the South African apartheid regime that was headed by the minority Afrikaner population or Boers as they were sometimes called singled out the youth of black South Africa for extermination either through outright shootings or mass prison sentences as a deterrent to civil protests and riots. They did know that the youth had what it takes to fight for their future and if not weakened, will prevail and indeed they prevailed. Aside from these horrible treatments meted out on innocent black populations, there was also a disparity in the quality and availability of education to the black population. The legendary reggae star Lucky Dube cried out that

‘They won’t build no schools anymore
All they’ll build will be prison, prison’

and lamented how that has made the black South Africans prisoner in perpetuity. There was also segregation in job opportunities and renumeration. The impact of that long history of state-sponsored killings, neglect, abandonment, torture, and imprisonment is that South Africa has become a boiling point of youth unemployment and restiveness almost 30 years after the end of the infamous apartheid regime. Whereas there are so many factors that can explain the unrest and xenophobic attacks in South Africa, the fact remains that the sustained and prolonged neglect, abandonment, denial of opportunities for equal treatment, and youth empowerment have given rise to the present tragedy in the diamond and gold-rich nation.

Nigeria has great lessons to learn from the tragedy of South Africa and thank God the leaders of Post-War Nigeria created a viable platform that can elevate and salvage the Nigerian youth from the shackles of poverty and unemployment and years of neglect. A first of its kind in the history of the world, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), a brainchild of General Yakubu Gowon’s post-war reconstruction efforts has lived up to its expectations save for certain recurring challenges and obstacles that seem insurmountable even after almost 50 years since the inception of the scheme. While the scheme has brought about the needed unity and integration of Nigerians with millions of Nigerians passing through the scheme and making their impacts felt across the country. There has been a rising number of inter tribal marriages with many learning new languages and cultures and several other direct and latent benefits that will be examined soon. This noble scheme has however miserably failed in being the bulwark of ex Corps members. Having an exit package in addition to sound and practical entrepreneur training that would solve this problem and empower the ex-Corps members has always been a challenge. This is however going to end shortly as the current Director-General of the scheme, Brigadier General Ibrahim Shuaibu and his team have conceived an NYSC Trust Fund that would solve this problem once and for all if given the necessary and urgent attention by stakeholders.

Being the biggest employer of labour with over 350, 000 Corps members on its payroll currently and more than 50 million Nigerians previously employed by the scheme, the NYSC has employed more youth than any other government agency or parastatals. The scheme has become so popular that many youth counts serving under the scheme as one of the greatest motivations for undergoing their undergraduate studies. No wonder the cry on the lips of youth when Acadsmic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) or Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) strikes linger is so loud. Nobody wants to spend more time than is necessary so as not to miss the scheme. What they do not however envisage is the fate that awaits them after the service year – unemployment. This, the current Director-General of NYSC has vowed to put an end to it by making the youth who pass through it self-employed and employable but he needs the collective support and goodwill of Nigerians.

Supporting the NYSC Trust Fund and indeed the future of Nigerian youths is not just the work of members of the national assembly but all Nigerians and youth groups. This is a national call that must be heeded by all and sundry. No agency has so many responsibilities on its shoulders as the NYSC. Almost every family has a corps member who has served, who is serving, or looking forward to serving. These family members however come back and suffer the psychological trauma of job hunting. Changing this trend and guaranteeing jobs to ex Corps members after service will not only build their self-esteem but guarantee their livelihoods and those of their families. That is one more reason the Trust Fund is more than necessary and beneficial to all Nigerians. An end of unemployment is an end to crime and an increased gross domestic product.

Skill acquisition programs have become an integral part of the NYSC orientation camp and throughout the service year. While this is happening in partnership with trainers, it will be wonderful for the NYSC to float its signature NYSC Skill Acquisition Centers across the country. This can only be possible when the Trust Fund is functional and well-funded by government owned companies like Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria Liguified Natural Gas (NLNG), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and corporate bodies like banks, telecommunication companies, aviation giants, and private donors and philanthropists. A tax system should be put in place to require companies to part with a certain percentage of their annual interests. State and local governments must as a show of good fate donate a certain percentage of their monthly incomes to the Trust Fund. As usual, the support of Nigeria’s ever vibrant and articulate diaspora population will also go a long way. They have never failed to lend their voice and expertise on issues of national interest and they will not fail the Nigerian youths this time around. We thank them in anticipation.

It is public knowledge that many sectors of the Nigerian economy would have collapsed except for the timely intervention of the NYSC. Most hospitals are staffed exclusively by Corps members from doctors to nurses, pharmacists, and lab scientists, same as schools. There are schools in most states across the federation with less than five government staff mostly in the management positions, the rest are Corps members. Some NYSC members go to schools and become acting principals, this is an exaggeration and only serves to underscore the wonderful work the scheme is doing. Not just schools but most local governments and states depend on Corps members in their day-to-day operations. This is the same for most companies and commercial/mechanised farms across the country. Having a running Trust Fund is in order and will multiply the impact of the scheme on the members and the communities they serve and Nigeria at large.

Elections in Nigeria were always marred by a lack of qualified and unbiased staff. This was before the return of democracy and right through the return of democratic rule in Nigeria till NYSC stepped in. The era of electronic voter registration and voting required a crop of youth that are technologically savvy. That is what Corps members have been doing and Nigerians are no longer grumbling about shabby elections and collusion of ad-hoc staff with INEC to rubbish elections. NYSC members are always professional and objective in the discharge of their duties. Now is the turn of Nigerians to pay back the goodwill a favour the NYSC scheme has done to Nigeria by supporting the timely actualisation of the NYSC Trust Fund. This won’t just boost the morale of staff and members of the scheme but also provide a comprehensive life and health insurance cover for Corps members who sometimes pay the supreme price in their patriotic service to the fatherland.

With the heavy reliance on the NYSC scheme by all sectors of the Nigerian economy, there is no gainsaying that without this scheme Nigeria collapse on its knees shamefully. As a matter of utmost urgency and in a bid to enhance the relevance and productivity of the NYSC scheme, a bill should be immediately sponsored by the committees on youth and employment in the two houses of the national assembly to make this Trust Fund a reality as soon as possible. Speedy consideration should be given to the bill bearing in mind that more than 95% of members of the national assembly are ex Corps member and the remaining 5% has children who have served or will eventually serve. This is a win-win for all Nigerians and must be taken seriously especially by the legislatures. Let the ‘Ays’ have it when the bill is introduced for voting and passage into law!

The NYSC scheme has given jobs to Nigerians and the Corps members have also done their best in doing community services in the form of concrete projects, literacy classes, health outreaches, missionary outreaches, and so many things this piece cannot contain. Advocating a Trust Fund that will consolidate the achievements of this noble scheme is not asking for too much. It is not just about the youth alone but about sustaining a scheme that has held the Nigerian economy from collapsing and is the pride of all Nigerians. If youth unemployment is taken care of, the multiplier effect it will have on the economy and the psyche of the nation will be unimaginable. All Nigerians must make it a point of duty to personally reach out to their representatives in the red and green chambers to ensure that the establishment of this Trust Fund becomes a reality as soon as possible.

Fater is public affairs commentator and writes from Abuja.

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