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On May 22nd, 1973, decree No. 24 which gave impetus to the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was enacted. This decree says: “NYSC is being established with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”. Also, NYSC has an anthem for corps members which read: “Youths obey the clarion call, let us lift our nation high, under the sun and in the rain, with dedication and selflessness, Nigeria ours, Nigeria, we serve! However, recent developments suggest that the management of the corps is playing dirty gamble with the collective destinies of Nigerian Youths.

In January this year, the Director General of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) Brigadier-General Nnamdi Okore-Affia, announced to Nigerians that it will no longer mobilize graduates who did not participate in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) for the constitutionally mandated one year compulsory exercise for Nigerian graduates. This is coming at a time when there are increased demands for higher education in a sector with little space for its teeming population. It is because of this high demands that President Good Luck Jonathan ordered for the establishment of more Federal Universities in the country. For example, out of about 1.5 million candidates that sat the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination last year, less than 200,000 students were offered admission to study in our tertiary institutions. The remaining millions of students went back home!

Nonetheless, the new NYSC's policy violates the letter and the spirit of the 1999 constitution as amended. The NYSC Decree of 1973 is upheld by section 315 subsection (5a) of our constitution. It reads: “Nothing in this constitution shall invalidate the following enactments, that is to say—the National Youth Service Corps Decree”. It must also be understood that, the NYSC Decree says, “Every Nigerian below the age of 30 years who has completed his first degree at any university in Nigeria is liable to be called upon to serve in the service corps for a continuous period of one year”. Hence, failure to serve the country is a criminal offense punishable under section 13 of the NYSC Decree. It reads: “A person who refuses to make himself available for service in the service corps continuously for the period specified in subsection (2) of this section is guilty of an offense and liable on conviction to a fine of N2, 000 or to imprisonment for a term of 12 months or to both”

Besides, they were graduates who passed through Direct Entry to the University, others passed through prelims, while some where offered provisional admissions by university authorities and they have all graduated! Also, some graduates had already entered schools before the juxtaposition of both the former university JAMB and polytechnic JAMB in to one body now known as University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), and these modes of admission were duly recognized by the Federal Ministry of Education! Now, the questions are; is NYSC a parastatal under the Ministry of Education or a parastatal under the Ministry of Youths Development? Is NYSC an academic institution that now decides who to offer admission and who not to offer admission? What is the position of the decree establishing the NYSC concerning Nigerian graduates? What business has NYSC, a body whose purpose is to breakdown ethnic and religious barriers which is the major problem facing us as a nation to do Nigerian Graduates other than to mobilize them so that they can fulfill their constitutionally mandated responsibilities? Is NYSC tired of promoting national unity? Or there are no ethnic and religious barriers in Nigeria again? NYSC must understand that it is where their right stops, that the right of Nigerian Graduates begins! Hence, instead of inducing these youths to commit criminal offense against our beloved country, it should appeal to stakeholders in the education sector to review their curriculums so as to produce quality manpower for the nation, and not hanging the future of our graduates in limbo.

Furthermore, I don't want to believe that the management of the NYSC is not aware of the obligatory nature of the service, before the introduction of the current retroactive and retrogressive policy which violates logic and our constitution! In a constitutional democracy like ours, it is only unreserved respect for the rule of law that can guarantee peace, because we can't have peace without justice. Hence, our constitution should be held high above any other consideration. For example, section 1 subsection (1) and (3) of the 1999 constitution as amended reads: “This constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons in the Federal Republic of Nigeria” “If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution, this constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void”.

Since the NYSC decree also says: “There cannot be employment anywhere in the federation for any university graduate except on the production of the discharge certificate or exemption certificate issued by the Directorate of the National Youth Service Corps, the management of the corps should as a matter of constitutionality review the obnoxious policy it used to deny thousands of graduates the opportunity of serving their fatherland during the Batch A mobilization exercise conducted nationwide in the coming Batch B and subsequent mobilization exercises in the country. The new policy can only work when NYSC is made a voluntary exercise by our constitution. I appeal to President Jonathan to intervene in the current illegality being perpetuated against the Nigerian Youths nationwide, because, it is not the brutality of the oppressor that pains, but, it is the silence of the majority. In the same vein, Iam using this opportunity to appeal to every frayed nerve across our campuses to remain calm and maintain peace and tranquility in their various domains. Nobody should allow any enemy of Nigeria to use them to cause confusion in any part of the country, because your cause is being championed in accordance with the rule of law.

Comrade Edwin Ekene is the National President of Young Nigerians for Change.

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Articles by Edwin Uhara