When the Civil War ended in 1970, there was no scarcity of ideas as to how Nigeria could fast-track its quest for organic national unity. The idea that won the day was one firmly founded on the youths of Nigeria. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was devised as a scheme that would see young Nigerians who had graduated tertiary institutions, relocate for one year to another part of the country (they aren’t originally from); and whose ways they might find a little strange or quaint. There they would be embedded for the purpose of soaking in its full flavour as well as being active participants in its development. Since General Yakubu Gowon established the scheme via the promulgation of the National Youth Service Corps decree No 24 of 22nd May 1973, the scheme has recorded laudable feats nationwide primarily in the areas of rural development, education and the achievement of national cohesion.
That is not to say that there haven’t been issues along the way. Lots of young people participating in the scheme since it was established 45 years ago have paid the supreme sacrifice under different circumstances. But it needs be said that their sacrifice has not been in vain because the Nigerian nation is still together and forging a common destiny despite challenges that try to threaten our national existence. Under the various leaderships that have held forth, the NYSC has remained bullish in fulfilling its mandate of selfless service to the community and promoting the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians irrespective of cultural or social background. It has acquitted itself so well on this score that the vast majority of young Nigerians look forward to their one-year national service as a rite of passage they must fulfill. Brigadier General Suleiman Kazaure, the current Director-General of the NYSC, now seems determined to up the ante in light of Nigeria’s current realities and the need to maximise the energy and resourcefulness of Nigeria’s young people.
This explains why the new policy for mass posting of youth corps members to farms and other agriculture related ventures has been so well received. This development is a most appropriate response for these times when Nigeria’s revenue base needs diversification away from finite oil and its attendant price volatility. That is aside the environmental impact that comes with oil production. Agriculture, a constantly renewable revenue source and for which Nigeria has comparative advantage must be pursued with sustained vigour.
Brigadier-General Kazaure said the NYSC was “starting with four states for now” while other states would be integrated in the very near future. It is heartening to see that in Bauchi, one of the pilot states, a 145-hectare land has already been acquired for the purpose of cultivating cowpea and maize while modern agricultural equipment have also been deployed to ensure the corps members become familiar with modern ways of farming that ensure optimized yield per hectare. The only thing one would like to add is that although the NYSC DG said only corps members from relevant disciplines would be deployed to the farms, this writer believes that the posting should be more embracing. While those from core agric-related courses should make up the bulk of those on the farms, corps members from other disciplines who signify interest in farming should also be mobilised for the effort. One makes bold to say that farming is not rocket science. And if Nigerians in rural areas can make a success of their own agricultural efforts, it stands to reason that educated young Nigerians of whatever discipline need no more than some basic training and encouragement to enable them to do well in this field.
Let’s not forget that even before the NYSC decided on agriculture, quite a number of young Nigerians had opted for farming or agro-related ventures. It is, if you like, a continuation of the time-honoured passion for the land which Nigerians in every vegetation belt have imbibed from time immemorial. With the deployment of modern agricultural tools and training in how to use them, the possibility is there that more Nigerians will be lifted out of poverty in the same way that China has so successfully done. One clear fallout of this NYSC initiative is that, very soon, crops usually considered food crops will now also become cash crops. Prime examples in this new category being yam, cassava, maize and plantain. With an aggressive approach to the implementation of this policy, young, vibrant Nigerians can be counted on to harvest the possibilities from every point along the agriculture value chain.
The NYSC under the leadership of General Kazaure is commended for this initiative which has potential for becoming much bigger than what was envisaged. It is hoped that other government parastatals that were created to enhance the productivity level of our bourgeoning youth population will come up with commensurate initiatives that help the young people of Nigeria actualize their massive potentials.
Joseph, a writer and communications expert, lives in Abuja.
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