Editor’s note: Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari said he believes in the good that the NYSC scheme brings to Nigeria and promised to support the program. The NYSC senior officials, however, do not conceal the difficulties they are faced with: growing number of participants and decreasing funds. In a recent interview, actress, singer and activist Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde was straightforward about the scheme, saying it is useless and should be scrapped.
The Naij.com columnist ‘Yomi Kazeem holds similar views about NYSC. Not downplaying the importance of the 40-year-old initiative, he, nevertheless, is of the opinion that today, there are more arguments against continuing the practice.
Every year, thousands of Nigerian universities graduates participate in the year-long engagement, joining the the National Youth Service Corps. The scheme was established in 1973 by the General Yakubu Gowon administration as part of a reconciliatory process after the Civil War which had pushed the country to the brink of secession. The underlying objective of the NYSC scheme was to develop and foster national unity and encourage the development of common ties among young Nigerians.
At the time, there appeared to be a real need for the program, but perhaps it is time to start talking about scrapping the NYSC scheme or at least reshaping it — despite President Buhari’s insistence that it will remain.
Pros and cons: which outweighs which?
The benefits of the NYSC service year range from discovering new places, finding a new home and learning a lot more about the country to developing lifelong friendships or even meeting a future partner. Strategically, it also offers the corps members a year to figure out career choices and the labour market while being on the government’s payroll.
Critically, though, it is a very expensive scheme, and given the cash crunch which has seen Nigeria borrow money to pay salaries, it is necessary to question the need for the NYSC from a fiscal perspective.
Too much money for too few people
In 2014, the total budgetary allocation for the ministry of youth development, under which the NYSC scheme is housed, was N80.9 billion. Of that amount, N74.5 billion, which amounts to 92 percent, was allocated to the NYSC scheme while the leftovers were split between the ministry headquarters and the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre. In total, 229,016 corpers participated in the NYSC scheme in 2014. That means that essentially, the Nigerian Youth Development Ministry spent 92 percent of its budget servicing a tiny percentage of the country’s youth population while the remaining majority deals with serious unemployment problems.
Similarly, in the approved 2015 budget, N71.85 billion (the eighth highest allocation) has been earmarked for the ministry. With a staggering 98.4 percent budgeted for recurrent expenditure, a very significant amount of the ministry’s budget will once again be taken up by the NYSC scheme.
Where there is yam, there might be goats
Former president, Goodluck Jonathan, will forever be credited with adding a small extension to Nigerian dictionaries and parlance as, when answering questions on corruption during his tenure, he alluded to an analogy about goats (people) continually eating (stealing) yams (money). Nigeria has a well-documented history of public services and agencies becoming black holes into which critical funds vanish, and the NYSC could easily be another one of those — given how much money and how little supervision is involved.
While the huge cost of running the NYSC is one issue, accountability is another as there have been several claims of corrupt practices around the scheme. With the 2014 budget listing amounts like N2.6 billion for “kitting” corps members, and N394 million for “security services”, an audit of the NYSC’s books might be as revealing as the recent PwC audit of NNPC.
In a period where the new government will be seeking to cut spending and plug as many leaks as it can, questions must be asked of a scheme which, it can be said, is more famous for its novelty than for its actual measurable benefits and impact. At the cost of billions of naira, the NYSC is an expensive experiment that has to be reviewed.