Today, there is the consensus among Nigerians. that the NYSC is a scheme worthy of preservation and development. Because the entire nation has rallied round the noble ideals of the programme, there is the matter of course proclivity on the part of many, to take this for granted. But that has not always been the case.
In spite of its present national acceptance, the National Youth Service Corps was born in controversy. Either because the military government had failed to properly articulate its intentions, or probably because Nigerians were simply impatient with, and cynical of government motives, the historic initiative was misconstrued in several quarters, and greeted with widespread criticism. Ironically, articulate university students, who had hitherto clamoured for a National Youth Service scheme, were in the vanguard of the opposition.
In the wake of the nation's political crises in 1965, Nigerian Students had prevailed on the Federal Government to initiate a National Youth Service programme, fashioned after Kwame Nkrumah's Young Pioneers in Ghana, to mobilise Nigerian youths into a highly purposeful and productive national service.
Apparently taking a queue from their counterparts at home, some Nigerian students abroad equally recommended such a scheme to the Federal Military Government in Nigeria, one year later. At the end of their meeting held at the University of Montreal, Canada, on 28 July, 1966 (exactly one day before the assassina tion of the then Military Head of State, Major General J. T. U.
Aguiyi-lronsi on July 29th, 1966), the conference of Nigerian Students Union in the Americas, unanimously adopted a resolution, calling on the Military government of Nigeria to establish a National Youth Service programme for students of Nigerian Universities. But when the decree establishing the scheme was promulgated by the Federal Military Government on 22 May, 1973, the most violent opposition against the programme came from the student population.
The students' grouse was predicated on four critical points. First, they believed that participation in the scheme would delay the entry of the new graduates into the labour market, thereby unduly punishing parents who had invested heavily in the education of their children. They therefore argued that the introduction of free university education programme should ideally precede the establish ment of the NYSC.
Unfortunately, it was however conveniently forgotten that university education was already heavily subsidised to the tune of 90 percent by the Federal Military Government, and that education, properly understood, entailed not only pass ing through academic institutions but also equipping the individual for survival and leadership in a complex and competitive environment.
The second point had a fiscal angle as the students opposed what they saw as the less than subsistence level remuneration to be paid to the participants, and described it as puerile and rickety, and completely antithetical to their educational qualification. In the face of very scanty information on the scheme from government, the press had speculated that a monthly allowance of sixty Naira (N60.00) had been approved for each participant.
while in fact the monthly sum of One hundred and Twenty Naira (NI20.00), an amount double the press figure, had been approved by government. Thirdly, students and commentators from the educationally more advanced southern states argued that the scheme was designed with a clan destine notion to solve the acute shortage of high level manpower in the educationally less advanced north.
This argument was buttressed by the fact that the vast majority of the graduates were from the south and the decree which called for participants to serve in states other than their own, meant that most of the service participants would be posted to the northern states. Finally, some parents were reluctant to have their children work in places far from their homes.
Although the Civil War and its attendant hostilities had ended over years earlier, many parents feared the relapse of the brakedown of law and order any time. Added to this were the inter-ethnic prejudices that still prevailed in the nation. The danger of some participants innocently contravening some traditional customs and behaviour, with potentially life threatening reprisals, was also cited as security threat.
The persistence of such prejudices and biases, harboured largely out of ignorance and insularity, convinced the Federal govern ment that the NYSC was indeed laudable, and ought to be implemented and prosecuted with unabated vigour, as encapsulated in the decree enabling the scheme's establishment.