Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Making the NSS work for Ghana

By Tehtey

The National Service Scheme has been in existence for a few years but has it benefited the nation and the fresh graduates who served on it? If not, what can be done?
"Yen Ara Y'Asaase ni" is a Ghanaian anthem second in respect only to the National Anthem. Its composer Dr. Ephraim Amu, the world-renown musicologist, might have been composing for the nat- ional service scheme. This anthem high- lights the ideals of the national service scheme and brings into focus its achiev- able goals. Goals which unfortunately have hitherto been quite illusory.

The Youth

In most countries, there is a national service of some sort. Young people of the mean ages between 21 and 26 are required by the laws of their countries to sacrifice a year or two of their heady years, to serve their people in whatever field the state deems necessary; be it on the battlefields of Vietnam or the rice fields of China, the youth the world over must render their services.

National service is by no means a modern day concept. The ancient Spartans had compulsory military service and so did the Zulus under the famous Chaka of Africa. Today, national service is as vital to the welfare of almost every nation just as it was in former times. For several reasons.

Chief among the reasons is the need for a ready and reliable source of manpower. Generally, people between the ages 18 and 32 constitute about 25% of the human population. This is the most energetic of the population which must be effectively mobilised for fruitful labour.

Also very important is the fact that, through national service, the youth of the country is educated on the problems and expectations of the people. By such direct involvement in the lives of their people, the spirit of patriotism is furnaced in them.

National service does not mean service with benefits flowing one way ie. to the nation. The young people in the service also benefit. Right after a stipulated period of education (or after attaining a particular age), the young people are guaranteed jobs. Besides the financial assistance even if inadequate, there is the opportunity for first-hand experience of responsibility and independence.

NRC Decree 1973

National service in Ghana began in earnest under the infamous Acheampong regime. The NRC Decree 1973 which established the national service scheme was however in response to students demand for legislation which makes it obligatory for university students to serve their nation after their period of study.The NUGS agitation for the scheme was primarily based on serious reflection on the huge sum of money the government was spending on education, particularly university education.

There was also the need to correct public opinion that, university education was a mere luxury enjoyed by a privileged few. Even today, it is estimated that less than 1% of those who should be in university ever get the chance to be there. As to whether this public opinion on university education has been corrected with the institution of the national service scheme, is open to debate.

When it was established, the service personnel were being deployed in the civil service and in the educational institutions. Perhaps these were the immediate problem areas of the country. Nevertheless, if national service came into being because students were eager to work on sugar plantations. irrigation sites, (as Service. etc. demonstrated at Dawhenya, Komenda, Asutsuare, etc.), one would have thought the scheme would see to the deployment of some servicemen in such related areas. And so from the very start, the scheme failed to effectively expose graduates to the grassroot problems of the country.

Review of the scheme

In later years a committee had to be set up to examine progress and problems of the national service. It was the recommendations of the committee which led to the extension of the national service from one year to two years. In 1979, parliament enshrined the two-year national service into the state law books and thus forever under-scored the importance of the service scheme. The extension of the service duration was however enforced in 1982 after Rawlings seized power in a coup d'etat.

The NUGS and, indeed, almost the entire student body opposed the enforce- ment. The main reason for the opposition was perhaps the very reason why the Limann government did not enforce the extension. The national service scheme as it existed and exists even today, needs extensive reorganisation structural changes which will ensure real participation of products of Ghanaian higher institutions in the development of the country especially the rural areas where three-quarters of the population live. Aside this fundamental task, there are other relatively minor and yet important problems which have to be attended to.

For instance, there are the proverbial frustrations encountered by a lot of servicemen. At their places of service, they may not be assigned any work at all. Thus for the whole service period, the serviceman idles in the office.

The need for graduates

Ghana has more graduates than she needs, statistics reveal that Ghana must still produce more graduates at least for five more years if she is to meet the annual demand for graduates. Figures available at the National Service Secretariat reveal that, in 1984, public and private institutions in the country requested for 3,166 service personnel.

Meanwhile, the total number of ser- vicemen graduating in 1984 was only 1,188. For this year 1985, similar data could be quoted. An official at the secretariat asserted that, requests by the country's second cycle institutions alone could absorb all the graduates coming out of the three universities. This is even at a time when it is believed that Ghanaian teachers have returned from Nigeria and have re-entered the Ghana Education

In later years a committee had to be set up to examine progress and problems of the national service. It was the recommendations of the committee which led to the extension of the national service from one year to two years

The point about Ghana still needing more graduate teachers especially science teachers can be illustrated further. The Eastern Region of Ghana officially requested for eighteen biology teachers. Products of the University of Cape Coast, the accredited institution for the training of teachers for the second-cycle institutions, included exactly twenty-two biology graduates (in fact exactly half of them were Zoologists). After posting some of them to other vital establishments like the Ministry of Agriculture, the Uni- versities, the remainder was not enough to satisfy the demand of the Eastern Region alone.

Nevertheless, Ghanaian teachers are on contract in Libya and some needy South- ern Africa countries like Botswana. Since most of these teachers are graduates, it is not surprising that there should prevail such a need for graduates even though thousands of sixth formers now do compulsory one-year national service as a prerequisite for gaining admission to any institution of higher learning in Ghana. There are also hundreds of products of Polytechnics and other Diploma-awarding institutions who also do national service. The need for graduates then underscores the importance of university education.


The problem of the serviceman becoming redundant in his place of work is rather ridiculous. Contrary to rumours that Efforts are naturally being made by the PNDC government to restructure the national service scheme. Now the talk centres on CIU - Community Improved Unit. The rally call of CIU is of course development or rural areas. One would have wished that, it is something larger than what it is at the moment; recruitment for 1985 numbered only forty-six service personnel. Obviously, the primary limitation on enlargement of CIU centres on problems of logistics.

The unit itself encompasses a number of groups. There is the fish-farming group, the bee-keeping group, the tree- planting group, the energy unit etc.

Service personnel constituting the CIU are required to rely solely on their own initiative and on local resources available in areas of their deployment to develop the community. In fact were it named the Appropriate Technology Unit, its workers would still have no qualms about their job. The energy unit for instance applies the AT idea of generating energy from biogas.

It is a credit to the National Service Secretariat that they have realised the need for reorientation of the service scheme. But then, it is one thing realising the need for reorientation of the service scheme and another thing effecting the necessary strategies towards achieving the primary goals of the service scheme.

Perhaps the greatest task facing the Secretariat is how to salvage the distorted image of the service scheme in the minds of the service personnel and potential service personnel (the students). It is ironical that the same body which agitated for the institution of the scheme, should now express such indifference and even contempt for it. The thinking is that people do not participate in national ser- vice. They participate in national suffering. With this kind of attitude, how much benefit can the nation derive from the scheme?

The point is that, the rank and file of the student body (which by the NUGS constitution includes all service person- nel) simply feel alienated from the governance of their country. As such they think it is only natural to with-hold their boundless enthusiasm in the development of their country. Whether they are right or not, the present revolutionary government can do much to counter this negative attitude. It is perhaps not necessary to point out how to effect that change.

All the government has to do is to give an ear to student views. It is of course not easy given the fact that student views include resignation of the PNDC govern- ment and reinstitution of parliamentary democracy. Still, a way must be found to urge the students to assume their rights and responsibilities, and to sing along with the entire nation "Yen Ara Y'Asaase Ni" This is Our Land.

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