The word that rushed through my subconscious is anomie when I remember the critical state of high unemployment amongst the Nigerian youngsters.
The predominance of social anomie in Nigeria has, more or less, come to be symbolized by the younger aspect of the population. Yet, this axiom is occasionally challenged by some significant actions of youth citizenship. Such actions throw up theoretical and practical challenges for the project of national cohesion, (solidarity, unity and growth).
While the potential role of service in addressing the violations of the idea and space of “the social” in postcolonial polities is often idealized and shared by many, the almost complete erosion of the same also tempers expectations that such actions that are capable of reconstructing the social space as the first condition of repairing the political space would, in actuality, be honored or performed, if at all, by youths.
Perhaps, when the National Youth Service Scheme was established in 1973, it was not envisaged that a country that just survived a civil war was going to experience population eruption in the nearest future. From about 60 million in the early 1970s, the nation’s population is today above 200million; as such there has been a steady rise in the demand for formal education across all zones of the country.
Also, considering the immense job opportunities available for graduates at the time, none ever dreamt that graduate unemployment will assume its present proportion. But almost 48 years down the line, the NYSC scheme, established to unite the people through socio-cultural instruments has broadened in scope and vision.
As youth unemployment continues to soar, the scheme, which, in recent times, has been churning out over 350,000 corps members annually, is equally confronted with designing strategies for mitigating youth unemployment and its attendant consequences.
One of such introductions is the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED), aimed at preparing corps members for post-service life. However, as lofty as the initiative is, provision of start-up fund for small businesses is crucial to its success.
Thus, for proper funding of activities of the scheme, Director General of the scheme; Brig General Shuaibu Ibrahim, proposed an establishment of a trust fund to be called NYSC Youths Trust Fund, and in recognition of the prevailing socio-economic challenges confronting the country, Nigerians have come to embrace the idea.
The good news is that the objectives of the Proposed Bill for an Act to establish the NYSC Trust Fund (NYSCTF) among other things, provides insight into what is expected, which includes sustainable source of funds for the NYSC for Skill acquisition training and provision of startup capital for corps members; train and retrain the personnel of the NYSC; develop camps and NYSC formations and provide facilities; improve the general welfare of corps members and personnel of the scheme.
Relatedly, a core mandate of the National Youth Service Corp scheme as enshrined in the NYSC Act is to: S. 1(2)(c)The development of the Nigerian Youth and Nigeria into a great and dynamic economy; S.1(3)(d) to enable Nigerian youths to acquire the spirit of self-reliance by encouraging them to develop skills for self-employment; S.1(3)(e) contribute to the accelerated growth of the national economy; S1(4)(f) to induce employers, partly through their experience with members of the service corps, to employ more readily qualified Nigerians irrespective of their states of origin.
Therefore, apart from the positive, transformational and constructive social impacts the youth trust fund would bring, the initiative is about the surest remedy to youth’s involvement in social crimes. This is because “the idle mind” they say, “is the devil’s workshop”.
Incidentally, the current global trends on capacity building and manpower development of younger members of any given population when viewed side by side with the fundamental objectives for Nigeria putting up a sustainable platform from which creative minded and entrepreneurial youngsters that have had their one year compulsory National Service (NYSC), has global roots though every nation creates its own national values and institutions in which its core national interests are reflected and to which its citizens are committed.
For instance, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, adopted by ILO constituents on the occasion of the Centenary of the International Labour Organization (June 2019), calls upon the ILO to direct its efforts to, inter alia, “developing effective policies aimed at generating full, productive and freely chosen employment and decent work opportunities for all, and in particular facilitating the transition from education and training to work, with an emphasis on the effective integration of young people into the world of work”.
Additionally, the 2020 edition of the Global Employment Trends for Youth seeks to inform the design and implementation of such policies based on an update of key youth labour market indicators and in-depth assessments of trends and issues in the world of work facing young women and men.
The NYSC Youth Trust Fund comes at a critical juncture. This is because, as part of efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 8 to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”, the international community was called upon to, by 2020, (i) substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET); and (ii) develop and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment.
As the report showed, at the start of a new decade, the target to meaningfully reduce the proportion of youth NEET will be missed, highlighting the need to redouble efforts to generate decent jobs for the next generation of workers.
Furthermore, youth labour markets around the world face a number of important challenges: the global economy remains sluggish as geopolitical tensions, social unrest and global trade barriers have dragged on growth.
Recent epidemics carry the potential to further slow economic activity. These developments are particularly detrimental to youth as their employment prospects, relative to older workers, are more sensitive to economic downturns.
Hence, the necessity to recalibrate the NYSC for these 21st Century nation building challenges justifies the call for the establishment of an NYSC’s Youth Trust Fund by President Buhari.
To underscore the desirability and functional necessity of what is called NYSC Youth Trust Fund, academics and stakeholders from diverse disciplines and backgrounds converged in Abuja not too long ago to participate in a two-day symposium in collaboration with the scheme.
The symposium, which had the theme, “Consolidating the Gains of the NYSC in Youth Empowerment and National Development in the Face of Current Economic Realities: The Imperatives of a Trust Fund” was held from October 25 to October 26.
Those who spoke highlighted the necessity of the NYSC Trust Fund in the face of economic realities occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic. A development expert, stated that the establishment of the NYSC Trust Fund would serve as a critical interventionist vehicle to harness the vast potentials of youths in the country.
The Minister of the FCT; Mohammed Bello corroborated this much. He stated that the establishment of the NYSC Trust Fund could not have come at a better time in cognizance that the NYSC can drive Nigeria’s economic recovery process, through the empowerment of its teeming youth, given the budding talents at its disposal.
Dr. Ifeuko Amadi; a civil society organization representative at the symposium, stated that the NYSC Trust Fund is as exciting and interesting because of the positives that would accrue to the country.
“We must begin to think outside the box in efforts at addressing the myriads of socio-economic challenges in the country. This is no doubt a laudable initiative that could not have come at a better time than now. The prospects are unimaginable, and if properly implemented, it could serve as a model for sustainable growth and development, not just in Nigeria, but across the African continent.”
This view was supported by the vast majority of stakeholders, who commended the NYSC Management for the initiative to propel the economic recovery process in Nigeria. Mr. Stanly Anene; a representative of the Youth Empowerment and Development Initiative, stated that the NYSC Trust Fund could bridge the gap in youths’ contributions to national development.
“The youths are always referred to as the leaders of tomorrow. The youths can be referred to as the nation’s backbone and have a higher success rate to change the dynamics to have a new model modification in the society. The youths are needed to serve as the lubricants for wheels of change and the NYSC Trust Fund presents us that unique opportunity to turn things around in the country.”
This was the general view of other stakeholders at the symposium. They opined that the NYSC Trust if established, would add bite to the Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development initiative of the NYSC through adequate provision of training facilities and required funds for startups.
The visibly elated stakeholders further emphasized the need for the government to expedite action towards establishing the NYSC Trust Fund. They stated that the benefits of the NYSC Trust Fund could not be overemphasized. Emmanuel Bwala; a youth empowerment advocate, noted that the NYSC Trust Fund is long overdue given the strategic importance of the NYSC in national development.
“The NYSC as a scheme has contributed to nation-building over the years, aside from serving as that vehicle for national integration. Therefore, establishing the NYSC Trust Fund would make the scheme robust in delivery to the national development. It is indeed a well thought out initiative that the government must accord all necessary seriousness.”
It would be recalled that the DG of the NYSC, Brig Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, had advocated for the establishment of the NYSC Trust Fund to cater for the financial empowerment of corps members as they pass out of service.
He has over time emphasized that the NYSC Trust Fund would help them establish their vocational businesses with the skills they acquired from the NYSC Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development Programme in service.
Also, some stakeholders had lent their support, stating that the establishment of the NYSC Trust Fund would reduce unemployment amongst youths and curb the crime rate in the country.
Given the identified objectives and benefits, Nigeria could be said to be standing at a threshold of history that would see millions of youths getting involved in wealth creation if the TRUST FUND is established and transparently administered. The wait is long over due.
President Muhammadu Buhari stands at the thresholds of momentous history and if he inks his approval to the project called NYSC YOUTHS TRUST FUND, he will enter the pantheon of global history as one of the most recognizable creators of wealth for the younger population in the Black World. We await the birth of this NYSC YOUTH TRUST FUND.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and blogs @www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com.