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NYSC: We might yet save it

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The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), set up in 1973, some three years after the Civil War, to imbue the youth with patriotism and a strong commitment to strengthening the nation’s threatened unity, has been confronted with challenges not foreseen by its founders. These include rejection by prospective employers and insecurity. The latter first reared its head in the communal conflict in Plateau in 2008 when a number of corps members were hunted down and murdered. It got worse after last year’s presidential election when over a dozen “corpers” were killed in their hostels allegedly by supporters of candidates that lost the election in Bauchi, Kaduna and Kano states.  As a result, parents of prospective corps members from the southern part of the country have called for either a stop to the posting of their university graduating wards to serve in the North or the abolition of the scheme altogether.
The controversy has hardly been resolved either way when the NYSC authorities and security agencies began to report certain unwholesome developments directly affecting the scheme. Late last month, 87 persons were caught and paraded before journalists for allegedly operating an illegal NYSC orientation camp in Nasarawa Toto, Nasarawa state. That was the second year running. The 87 were subsequently taken to a magistrate’s court on a charge of conspiracy, forgery and impersonation. Eighty-five got away with a light sentence of a year’s imprisonment or a N21, 000 fine because they were first-time offenders. The other two, who did not enter a guilty plea, were remanded in prison custody.
Not long afterwards, two young men were fished out from an NYSC camp in Kogi state, purporting to have been called up for participation in the scheme.  An investigation, however, revealed that the degree certificates they presented were forged and they were promptly handed over to the police for prosecution. This kind of fraud is not a latter day discovery; in fact, it dates back to 2006 when 4,000 “fake university graduands” were called up only for an inter-ministerial audit committee to find them out and they were demobilized. The following year, 400 young men and women were presented by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu Campus and Benue state Polytechnic, Ogbokolo, as qualified to participate in the programme. Recently, a fraudulent website was discovered advertising job placements for participants in the 2009 batch A of the scheme upon the payment of a N3,000 fee.
Clearly, we see desperation as a root cause of the problem. Young men and women who cannot find jobs in our depressed economy will go for anything offered by equally desperate fraudsters, who themselves must have willing helpers in the universities and polytechnics as well as staff of the NYSC  national directorate.  This is where the fight to end the fraud must start. It is not enough to threaten to publish the names of the conniving institutions, which is what the NYSC authorities have said they would do.  They should also be blacklisted and stopped from presenting participants in the scheme for a year or two until it is verified that they have learnt their lesson.
We also urge that the prosecution of fakers of NYSC call-up letters and their collaborators must continue. However, the penalty must match the severity of the offence. If it is serious enough there should be no mitigating grounds.
However, we feel that the cure for this malaise lies ultimately in creating jobs for our teeming youth and taking the fight against corruption closer to the people at the very top. We have known for some time now that the morass of corruption in the society would sooner than later infect every aspect of our national life. We have seen it our politics, our economy, our social life; it is now crippling vital national institutions including the NYSC.

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