It must be an agonising moment for framers of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme when they saw fresh graduates awaiting posting staged a public demonstration recently to protest deployment to states in the North.
The students' action sharply contradicts the spirit of national service, the very essence of the NYSC.
Prospective corps members of southern origin staged the protest at the NYSC secretariat to reject letters posting them to areas that in recent months have been wracked by violence and communal conflicts. This is particularly true of states like Borno and Yobe, where the Boko Haram sect has been most active in its bloody campaigns of bombings and issuing threats against Christian and southern interests.
The protesters expressed fears for their safety if they were posted to those areas. The House of Representatives has also joined in, calling on the NYSC management to cancel the posting of corps members to states that have serious security challenges until normalcy returned to them. The legislators asked the NYSC to post only those who chose to serve in crises-prone areas.
It was perhaps in response to these developments that the Director-General of the NYSC, Brigadier - General Nnamdi Okorie Affia announced that all 2012 Batch 'B' prospective corps members already deployed to Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau, Kano and Kaduna States, and who have collected their call-up letters but are yet to report to camp, should report at the NYSC headquarters in Abuja for redeployment. The NYSC has also shifted the orientation camps for prospective corps members posted to Yobe and Borno states. They are now to report at the Nasarawa and Benue state camps respectively for the 2012 Batch "B" orientation course.
Under normal conditions, and until recently, the only consideration for redeployment of prospective corps members from their original posting was on marital and health grounds. But these are not normal times for the country.
However, the security situation is an aberration that should not derail the core values of the NYSC scheme, which was set up after the civil war to break cultural and social barriers among the diverse Nigerian communities and facilitate national integration and strengthen unity. To realize these objectives, service by young Nigerian graduates in any part of the country other than their state of origin is mandatory. For several decades that the scheme has existed, young graduates eagerly looked forward to serve the nation, experiencing new cultures and making new acquaintances.
At some point, some state governments offered financial and other incentive to encourage members to get married to a native of the community they served in. They were not only warmly received but treated as indigenes of the areas they served in.
It is therefore something to lament that the situation has changed so radically.
The otherwise laudable programme witnessed a major setback when youth corps members mainly from the south were targeted and killed in some states in the north during the 2011 postelection violence. Since the sad development, the public particularly parents have continued to express fears about the safety of their wards serving in other parts of the country. There have also been calls for the outright abrogation of the scheme; some families want their offspring to be posted only to their states of origin.
However, considering the current circumstances, the NYSC directorate's decision to modify postings of certain corps members is a wise one. This should be a temporary measure until normalcy returns to these troubled areas. Parents should be aware of the necessity of the scheme, and understand that posting to corps member's hometown does not serve the purpose; there are several parts of the country that do not face the comparatively serious challenges that some states in the North do. This should be considered a temporary alternative for now. The sad development in parts of the north is temporary, and there is expectation that it would soon be over so that those in the rural areas would again begin to benefit from the professional services of these young graduates. The NYSC has proved to be a worthwhile programme that should not only be preserved but protected and enhanced as well.