NYSC@50: An enduring legacy of Yakubu Gowon, By Chris Adetayo

Many don’t rate Yakubu Gowon as Head of State. He gets short shrift from a section of the country for his role before and during the Civil War. Others loathe him for frittering away the financial windfall that landed on the country’s laps from the huge jump in crude prices in the early 1970s. While I have a nuanced view of the former, I generally accept the latter charge is well made.

Yet it is instructive that his administration is responsible for 2 of our most enduring national programmes; programmes that many Nigerians have participated in and benefited from.

This week, social media has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Youth Service Corps scheme. The #nyscchallenge has taken many down the memory lane, reliving their experiences. Most of these were in parts of the country they would ordinarily never have visited, much less lived for a full year. Not a few have settled in such far flung places – building and impacting lives far away from the safety of their “homes”.

There is also the Unity Schools he initiated – a federal government-owned school systems designed to bring children of diverse backgrounds together in secondary schools. Again, teenagers have found themselves sharing classrooms and dormitories with their mates from different states etc, an experience only Lagos hitherto offered.

For both programmes, the need for national unity, better cross-ethnic understanding, and greater sense of nationhood are driving forces. Have these objectives been achieved? A fair assessment will have to coalesce somewhere down the middle.

What is not in dispute is the enduring values that these 2 programmes have. Do they need tweaking? Yes. Should they be disbanded? Hell, no!!!

In comparison, few if any programmes endure from the tenures of OBJ1, Shagari, MB1, IBB, and Abacha. Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, WAI, DFRRI etc, all are long dead and buried.

In time, I believe that history will be kinder to Yakubu Gowon, a callow 32 year old saddled with leading and saving a nation riven by mistrust of the most devilish type. Right now, I am sure he is smiling at the celebrations of one of the most significant initiatives of his tenure as Head of State.

Here’s to another half century of the NYSC.

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