Mises Wire

The Nigerian People vs. NYSC Decree No. 24 of 1973: An Austro-libertarian Review

Every year, thousands of Nigerian youths who are below the age of thirty and who’ve completed their undergraduate studies—whether in Nigeria or abroad—are compelled by law to give up one year of their working time in active duty to the country under the auspices of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), an agency of the government.

It has now been fifty years since the establishment of the NYSC mandatory program under Decree No. 24 of May 22, 1973 by the then–military regime led by General Yakubu Gowon (retired). Among other stated social objectives of the NYSC as written in the decree is “to raise the moral tone of the Nigerian youths by giving them the opportunity to learn about higher ideals of national achievements, social and cultural improvements.” Whether these social objectives have been reached is a different matter. However, looking back on these past years, and upon subsequent review of this enactment from an Austrolibertarian perspective, one cannot help but question the net impact of this decree in the lives of Nigerians.

It is then the purpose of this article to briefly show from the perspective of Austrian economic theory and libertarian law how the continuity of the mandatory service program sabotages the economic well-being of Nigerian citizens and occasions the violation of the property rights of Nigerians.

The Economic Implications of the NYSC Decree for Individual Nigerians

To quote Murray Rothbard in Man, Economy, and State: “The major function of praxeology—of economics—is to bring to the world the knowledge of these indirect, these hidden, consequences of different forms of human action.”

Austrian economic theory shows that coercive actions toward the unhampered market produce unintended consequences, which are the inevitable outcomes of the impairment of the market’s existing allocative efficiency—as well as its smooth social coordination—in the satisfaction of the most urgent wants of individuals. It also predicts that violent intervention, by means of the state apparatus, leads to contrary outcomes, which always prove unsatisfactory, even from the point of view of the initiators of such interventions.

As mandated by section 9 of the NYSC decree,

The Directorate [of NYSC] shall register each member of the service corps and shall deploy him for national service in the following undertakings and project, that is, in:

  1. hospitals
  2. road construction
  3. farming
  4. wafer schemes
  5. surveying and mapping
  6. social and economic services
  7. teaching
  8. food storage and eradication of pest
  9. rehabilitation of destitute and the disabled
  10. development of sports
  11. all government departments and statutory corporations suitable for new graduates
  12. development project of local councils
  13. the private sector of the Nigerian economy
  14. such other undertakings and projects as the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces may, by order, determine.

From the lens of Austrian theory, the Nigerian government’s protracted decree of mandatory one-year service by a proportion of the country’s educated, youthful labor force—in pursuit of social objectives other than those dictated by the market—diverts labor, qua a higher-order good, from those lines of production that aim at the satisfaction of the most urgent wants. In other words, the yearly intervention by the government in allocating a given proportion of the country’s labor force, without the guidance of the price system as a tool of economic decision-making, would inevitably result in a misallocation of labor as a productive and scarce resource. The virtue of the unhampered market lies in its capacity to allocate scarce resources the most efficiently, in accordance with the most urgent wants of consumers.

Individuals, in order to maximize utility, usually grade their wants according to an ordinal scale of importance and expect to employ available resources at their command in the most economically advantageous ways—that is, toward the satisfaction of their urgent wants. When productive resources are restricted in supply due to the coercive actions of the state or are diverted from those lines of production that furnish the lower-order goods that aid in the want of satisfaction, the utility maximization goals of individuals are impinged.

More so, the decree erects barriers to entry into the labor market by the population of educated Nigerian youths who do not currently hold the NYSC certificate usually issued at the end of the mandatory service. This tends to deprive these individuals of the opportunity to integrate themselves into the social division of labor. In regard to employment considerations, the decree states:

For the purposes of employment anywhere in the Federation and before employment, it shall be the duty of every prospective employer to demand and obtain from any person who claims to have obtained his first degree at the end of the academic year 1973–74 or, as the case may be, at the end of any subsequent academic year the following –

  1. a copy of the Certificate of National Service of such person issued pursuant to section 11 of this Decree.

Furthermore, the maintenance of the NYSC program imposes fiscal burdens on the public treasury, which is itself maintained by taxes supplied by the Nigerian people. The government’s increased spending on the NYSC initiative has been decried amid the economic hardships faced by Nigerian taxpayers, together with the fact of the dwindling oil revenues that finance the program.

Legitimacy of the NYSC Decree of 1973 from the Perspective of Libertarian Theory

In reviewing the legality of the NYSC Decree from the point of view of natural law, from which the libertarian theory of property rights is derived and upon which the larger libertarian society is organized, we can categorically judge the legislation as a gross violation of the individual’s right to self-ownership. In compelling service to the nation through the state apparatus, the NYSC decree negates the right of the individual to freely choose where, when, and with whom to exchange his labor services.

While we may deem it moral to cultivate the spirit of patriotism in the youth, it is not the function of the law to enforce moral values. Using legal violence to enforce social and moral values necessarily violates the rights of individuals in society—especially the rights of those who may not currently share the patriotic sentiments of the lawmaker.

Clearly, liberty and compulsory service are incompatible and indeed diametrically opposed to each other. Compulsory service, regardless of the duration, is a form of slavery.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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