The NYSC Should Be Scrapped. Here is Why.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - +234 802 343 9098 jide@fi­nan­cial­nige­ Twit­ter: @JSAk­in­tunde

Last month, then-fi­nance min­is­ter, Kemi Adeo­sun, re­signed from her po­si­tion, as she con­firmed that her Na­tional Youth Ser­vice Corps (NYSC) Cer­tifi­cate of Ex­emp­tion was forged. But, in­stead of her res­ig­na­tion pro­vid­ing clo­sure on the cer­tifi­cate scan­dal, it has raised sev­eral ques­tions.

The mother of all the ques­tions is whether the NYSC should be scrapped. This is far from an un­founded ques­tion. The labour mar­ket re­stric­tion in the NYSC law is fun­da­men­tally flawed, not least be­cause it is flat-out dis­crim­i­na­tory against Nige­rian grad­u­ates in their coun­try, com­pared with non­grad­u­ates and, even more un­ten­able, for­eign cit­i­zens.

For in­stance, a lot of the top­most gov­ern­ment func­tionar­ies in Nige­ria, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent, gov­er­nors and mem­bers of both the fed­eral and state leg­is­la­tures, don’t need an NYSC cer­tifi­cate of par­tic­i­pa­tion or ex­emp­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion (as amended), as­pi­rants to these of­fices don’t have to be hold­ers of a uni­ver­sity de­gree or a Higher Na­tional Di­ploma (HND).

In­deed, the Nige­rian pres­i­dent doesn’t have to be a de­gree holder. The United States has pro­duced non-grad­u­ate pres­i­dents. By stip­u­lat­ing 18 years as the min­i­mum age for run­ning for pres­i­dent, France ac­com­mo­dates the pos­si­bil­ity of a non-grad­u­ate pres­i­dent.

But it is manda­tory for Nige­ri­ans who have com­pleted their first uni­ver­sity de­gree or HND pro­gramme be­fore at­tain­ing the age of 30 to serve in the NYSC scheme. With­out an NYSC cer­tifi­cate, Nige­rian grad­u­ates can­not get a job in Nige­ria.

Like the top gov­ern­ment func­tionar­ies, who don’t need the NYSC cer­tifi­cate, all non­de­gree hold­ers don’t have to deal with the NYSC em­ploy­ment re­stric­tion pro­vi­sion. And for­eign cit­i­zens tak­ing up em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in Nige­ria don’t have to bother with the NYSC.

Worse still, Nige­ri­ans who were raised abroad and grad­u­ated from for­eign in­sti­tu­tions have to meet the NYSC labour re­quire­ment, which for­eign­ers don’t have to meet in or­der to get em­ploy­ment in Nige­ria. This makes Nige­ria per­haps the only coun­try in the world where a pol­icy that dis­qual­i­fies its cit­i­zens from labour mar­ket par­tic­i­pa­tion qual­i­fies for­eign­ers.

Those who have worked in the se­cu­rity agen­cies for nine months en­joy au­to­matic ex­emp­tion from NYSC. But this is not jus­ti­fied when jux­ta­posed with the manda­tory youth ser­vice. En­list­ment in the na­tional se­cu­rity sub­sec­tor is en­tirely vol­un­tary.

There are a few other rea­sons to sub­mit that the NYSC’s labour re­stric­tion was in­ad­e­quately thought through. On one hand, a non-grad­u­ate Nige­rian youth can set up a busi­ness, which would em­ploy grad­u­ates, whether or not they have NYSC cer­tifi­cates.

On the other hand, grad­u­ates with­out NYSC cer­tifi­cates can set up busi­nesses. Such busi­ness en­ti­ties can work for the gov­ern­ment as con­sul­tan­cies or con­trac­tors. The busi­nesses can then gen­er­ate far more in­come for the NYSC-de­faulter en­trepreneurs than if they had taken di­rect em­ploy­ments af­ter com­plet­ing their youth ser­vice. Iron­i­cally, or fu­elled by cyn­i­cism, these busi­ness own­ers could in­sist on pos­ses­sion of NYSC cer­tifi­cate be­fore grant­ing em­ploy­ment to fel­low grad­u­ates.

The NYSC labour re­stric­tion clause high­lights how poli­cies are made to pre­serve the priv­i­leges of the pol­i­cy­mak­ers. The NYSC was de­signed to in­cul­cate “self­less ser­vice” in the Nige­rian youth. But the mil­i­tary regime that in­tro­duced the scheme ex­empted the mil­i­tary from par­tic­i­pat­ing in it. Why should Nige­rian grad­u­ates work for one year in parts of the coun­try far away from their states of ori­gin and be paid stipends by the gov­ern­ment, while the se­cu­rity op­er­a­tives have to earn full pay from when they were en­listed?

The NYSC labour re­stric­tion clause may be best un­der­stood from the broad mis­man­age­ment of the coun­try’s na­tional re­sources. Af­ter the three-year civil war in 1970, the pop­u­la­tion of the break­away Bi­afra Re­pub­lic was ef­fec­tively re­stored back to Nige­ria. But in­stead of en­act­ing poli­cies to har­ness the pop­u­la­tion of the re-united Nige­ria for eco­nomic pro­duc­tion, the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment of the time came up with a pro­gramme that has an em­ploy­ment re­stric­tion clause that af­fects the best trained man­power in the coun­try.

Sim­i­larly, the oil boom of that era was a big op­por­tu­nity to launch a sov­er­eign wealth fund (SWF) for the coun­try. But a few years af­ter he in­tro­duced the NYSC, and the spend­ing spree of Nige­ria’s oil wind­fall was well un­der­way, then-mil­i­tary Head of State, Gen­eral Yakubu Gowon, grandil­o­quently de­clared: “The prob­lem with Nige­ria is not money but how to spend it.”

In fair­ness to Gowon, part of the ex­pen­di­tures de­liv­ered some es­sen­tial na­tional in­fras­truc­tures. But two of the Gulf States, the United Arab Emi­rates and Kuwait, which started their oil-based SWFs around the time Nige­ria was on a spend­ing binge, now have com­bined over $1.4 tril­lion in sav­ings. The coun­tries also boast bet­ter in­fras­truc­tures than Nige­ria.

Ac­cord­ing to the Sov­er­eign Wealth Funds In­sti­tute, UAE’s SWF, Abu Dhabi In­vest­ment Au­thor­ity (ADIA), now has over $828 bil­lion in as­set un­der man­age­ment. In 2016, ADIA recorded $50 bil­lion in an­nu­alised re­turn on its as­sets over the pre­vi­ous 20 years. In con­tradis­tinc­tion, Nige­ria’s fed­eral bud­get of to­tal $20 bil­lion in 2016 had a deficit of 36%. And the Nige­rian SWF, es­tab­lished in 2011, has less than $2 bil­lion in as­sets.

The NYSC is one of many gov­ern­ment pro­grammes in Nige­ria, which amount to poor eco­nomic pol­icy de­ci­sions, de­spite the good po­lit­i­cal in­ten­tions be­hind them. The NYSC was in­tro­duced in 1973 as a pro­gramme of na­tional in­te­gra­tion af­ter the civil war and to help young grad­u­ates ab­sorb other lo­cal cul­tures. But a well-func­tion­ing na­tional labour mar­ket can help achieve this vol­un­tar­ily.

The in­equity of the NYSC’s labour re­stric­tion can­not be ad­dressed by mak­ing it gen­er­ally ap­pli­ca­ble to all Nige­rian youths, grad­u­ate or oth­er­wise. That would only wi­den the anoma­lous labour eco­nomics of the scheme. In any case, gov­ern­ment pol­icy should seek to ex­pand labour mar­ket par­tic­i­pa­tion and not re­strict it.

Apart from the afore­men­tioned labour flaws of the NYSC, the pro­gramme has been over­taken by vices. The priv­i­leged par­ents do ev­ery­thing they can to en­sure their grad­u­at­ing chil­dren are posted to the safer cities and the ‘juicy’ agen­cies. It is the grad­u­ates who are not so con­nected that are posted to the sub­ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas. Even then, a lot of grad­u­ates bran­dish­ing the NYSC cer­tifi­cates were largely ab­sen­tee par­tic­i­pants in the scheme. A lot of the Corps mem­bers even cede their al­lowances to the NYSC of­fi­cials as prox­ies who fic­ti­tiously mark them present when they are not.

It is high time we stopped the cir­cus. The NYSC should be scrapped. This will re­move its many in­jus­tices and vices from the plethora of ills in the Nige­rian body politic.

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