Conceived some 47 years ago with the noble idea of fast tracking the integration and further unifying the nation in the wake of the devastating 30-month Civil War, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was seen as the best way to achieve this.
Then Head of State General Yakubu Gown had given birth to the programme through Decree Nº 24 of May 22, 1973, which said that the NYSC was being established with a view to the proper encouragement and development of communities through the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity. A month later, the ruling military government then came up with Decree Nº 51 of June 16, 1973, which outlined the objectives of the scheme thus: To inculcate discipline in Nigerian youths by instilling in them a tradition of industry at work and patriotic as well as loyal service to Nigeria in any situation they may find themselves. *To raise their morale tone by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievements, social and cultural improvement.
*To develop in them attitudes of mind, acquired through shared experience and suitable training, which will make them more amenable to mobilization in the national interest. * To develop common ties among them and promote national unity by ensuring that: I.As far as possible, youths are assigned to jobs in states other than their states of origin.
II .Each group, assigned to work together, is as representative of the country as possible. III. The youths are exposed to the modes of living of the people in different parts of the country with a view to removing prejudices, eliminating ignorance and confirming at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups.
By now, anyone born in 1973 has become a “middle age” citizen of the country and should ideally have imbibed the ideals of the scheme, through their thought processes and actions. But sadly, recent events have once again raised big questions marks over what exactly the scheme has achieved in its almost five decades of existence. And incidentally, those that have once again thrown this question up are not the average crude common man, but graduates for whom the scheme has been the main target.
Penultimate Thursday, officials of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) met and afterwards decided to withdraw the invitation given to the Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai to address their annual conference, which kicked off Wednesday (virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic) following a petition against him by some lawyers, who cited his poor handling of killings in Southern Kaduna. Predictably, the association’s action generated a firestorm of reactions with the governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Communications, Mr Muyiwa Adekeye, in a statement saying “it was as one-sided”.
In the statement titled: ‘Mallam El-Rufai will continue to contribute to the national conversation,’ Adekeye said the NBA took the decision without listening to the other side. The Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria also faulted the NBA, saying the association’s decision was irresponsible. Also as to be expected, the Kaduna State branch of the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN) called for all Muslim lawyers to withdraw from the conference because of the NBA’s action against their state Governor, Nasir El-Rufai.
They found support in the branch of the association in Bauchi which insisted on its position that it would not attend the conference if the NBA failed to rescind its decision to withdraw El-Rufai’s invitation. However, of even more worrying was the position espoused by Professor Ishaq Akintola of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), who said the decision of the NBA to withdraw an invitation to el-Rufai to speak “was a declaration of war”! But groups, including the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, lauded the NBA for standing on the side of justice. On Sunday, branches of the NBA differed on the call by MULAN for the boycott of the conference. The NBA in Katsina said the branch would attend the association’s annual national conference, adding that there were other people that could be invited. Chairman of the Osogbo branch of the NBA, Abdulraman Okunade, said personally, he was opposed to the decision of the NEC, but he would attend the conference. Also, the Kano branch of the association said it would attend the conference. The state’s NBA Chairman, Aminu Gadanya said: “Even though we are part of the minority, we are participating in the conference because it is binding on us.”
Reacting, the Chairman of NBA, Port Harcourt branch, Prince Nyekwere said his branch would attend the meeting. Also, the Chairman of the Ikeja NBA, Mr Dele Oloke, said the branch had no other option but to abide by the decision of the association’s NEC on El-Rufai. “For us, when NEC decides, under our constitution, only another NEC of the NBA can change it.
Those who want us to re-invite Nasir El-Rufai should forget about it. Naturally, every lawyer should abide by the decision of NEC, if your wig and gown are worth the cloth with which they were sewn. And it doesn’t matter your tribe,” he said.
Despondently, this is happing amongst people who benefited from the NYSC scheme and going by its set up should not be engaging in such brickbats having spent one year in the system “with a view to removing prejudices, eliminating ignorance and confirming at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups”. But the cleavage in the NBA clearly shows the manifestations of old prejudices built up over the years in the positions that our learned gentlemen took which the one year of National Service has failed to gloss over. For instance although I had my Youth Service in Cross River State where I did come across a lot of wonderful people, but the truth is that the time I spent at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) left a more lasting impression undoubtedly because I spent a longer time there – four years to the one year NYSC (which in reality is not even up to that if one considers the one month spent in camp). And considering that back then, there were hardly any specialist schools which meant that Christians and Muslims went to the same institutions and we still ended up having issues; one can imagine the present situation where it is possible for both religions not to mix till they meet at the NYSC camp. Now we have nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary schools all dedicated to the main religions in the country. So even from a young age the kids are separated and grow up not really understanding children from the other side of the religious divide. Please do not get me wrong; I am not saying the current disquiet in the NBA is purely caused by religion, but the fact that it even cropped up at all leaves a sour taste in the mouth. So if after 47 years of the NYSC, this is happening one can only imagine what the situation in the country would have been like if General Gowon hadn’t conceived the noble idea in the first instance.