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Understanding NYSC reforms

Besides the obvious misrepresentation of facts, a national newspaper’s (not The Nation) editorial of September 29, 2011 appears ill-motivated and in bad taste. Its tone was unnecessarily harsh; the choice of words incredibly impolite and inappropriate. And it was indeed unprofessional for the editorial writers to substitute cold analysis for name calling and cheap insults.

The temper of the leader indeed fuels suspicion that its authors have an axe to grind with the Minister of Youth Development, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi. But even then the offensive piece disguised as editorial would have been pardonable if it had an iota of truth in it. It did not.

It is quite unfortunate that a newspaper with that kind of age and experience would base its editorial on an issue it obviously had no knowledge about and did not bother to find out. It is therefore not surprising that it had nothing to say about the wholesome plan to reform the National Youth Service Corps other than to describe it as ‘an inexcusable banditry of the worst kind.’ Apart from the fact that the paper drew its conclusion from the wrong premise, pray, what has banditry got to do with the proposal to reform the NYSC?

The minister only proposed reforms that will bring value to corps members and the society at large. Is this banditry?

This raises the question about the quality of the paper’s editorial writers. Are they rookie reporters who need to be schooled in the fine art of writing and the meaning of words? Do they need to take classes in elementary logic and learn that ad hominem, personal attack, is one of the oldest fallacies in logic and argument?

But to set the records straight, there is need to explain what the Minister actually said during the Media Briefing to mark the 100 Days of the Administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Among other intervention programmes, the Minister explained that time was ripe for the overhaul of the NYSC, from that of national integration to that of national transformation. This, according to him, meant that national integration was not enough justification for the existence of the scheme today; that in addition, the NYSC should address the concerns and challenges of today.

Mallam Abdullahi disclosed that to make the scheme more relevant, he was considering several proposal, which will emphasize the S (service) in the NYSC. The central idea is that corps members should serve where the nation has critical needs such as education, health, infrastructure and agriculture. For instance, young graduates could learn and participate in large scale mechanized farming during service year and later encouraged to become agro-entrepreneurs. The thinking is that with the presence of rich arable land in all parts of the country, the corps members would be contributing to feeding the nation and meet the gap in our food production cycle.

Another idea is to use the NYSC as a finishing school, where corps members would spend considerable time of the service year learning valuable life and enterprise skills. This would ideally bridge whatever educational gap they might have and provide them with market-ready skills. It is in line with this, that the Minister mentioned in passing that if this idea takes off, corps members would not be posted to banks and other private institutions, except there is a commitment by such companies to absorb the corps members after service.

At the briefing in Abuja, the Minister decried the current situation in which private institutions go ‘round tripping’ by engaging numerous corps members, pay them peanuts and not retain them after service. They do this year in, year out since there is no short supply of ‘cheap corpers’. Banks mostly use corps members as marketers to mobilize resources for them, if they are pretty girls; and as tellers if they are young males. This situation unwittingly contributes to high youth unemployment as these companies lack the incentive to employ real workers. This situation must change; the NYSC must add value to corps members and to the society. It should not be a source of cheap labour to companies that can afford to engage full time workers.

The Ministry is consulting widely and has not decided on a specific plan or action regarding the scheme. When we are ready, the public can be sure of getting good returns on the huge funds invested in the NYSC.

Finally, the Minister is not afraid of being criticized but expects this to be done with decorum based on facts and reason. As a former Commissioner of Education in Kwara State the minister understands the value and gains of constructive feedback. But said editorial displayed malice and ignorance. We hope this will set the records straight.

Julius Ogunro, Special Assistant on Media to the Minister of Youth Development, wrote from Abuja.


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