NYSC and the relevance question amid COVID-19 pandemic
There is hardly anything the coronavirus pandemic has not affected. Before the virus could sweep across the various orientation camps of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), its management proactively shut them. While it is putting everything in place for their reopening, NYSC is staring down the barrel of a two-year suspension as proposed by the Federal Government’s ‘wise men and women’. Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL writes.
“To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done,” said General Yakubu Gowon during the 1967 – 1970 civil war that claimed over a million lives in an effort to keep a multi-diverse people together. One scheme he established to achieve that is the NYSC. Over the years, the scheme has survived various onslaughts that threatened its existence. The latest one is proving a hard nut to crack, coupled with a proposal that calls for a two-year suspension.
On June 25, the management of the corps denied claims it planned to reopen camps soon amid rising number of COVID-19 cases, asserting that its orientation camps would reopen when it is safe to do so.
NYSC’s spokesperson, Adenike Adeyemi had dismissed an online report, which alleged that the scheme was set to resume orientation programme. She assured Nigerians that the scheme places a high premium on the lives of corps members, camp officials and other stakeholders, and would not act in any way that will compromise their safety.
The closure of the camps on March 18 disrupted the orientation of the 2020 Batch A Stream 1, across the 37 centres in the country. At that time, the Lagos State NYSC Coordinator, Eddy Megwa, had said, “We have been asked to close down all orientation camps and discharged the corps members to their various places of primary assignment.”
Few months after Megwa’s comment, Adeyemi added that even when it has been sufficiently established it is safe to proceed to the camps for the resumption of normal activities, the corps would only do so when it has received the nod of the Federal Government. She had urged corps members and prospective ones to obtain information concerning the NYSC only from its official sources.
However, on June 16, it was reported that the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC), led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, recommended the suspension of NYSC’s orientation camp exercises for two years.
“The immediate focus in the education sector is to address the disruptions caused by the pandemic and ensuing social distancing measures at all levels of education,” the report submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari explained.
It added, “In a similar context, consideration will be given to suspending the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camp exercises for at least 24 months, while allowing deployment to places of primary assignment. This will ensure that there is no backlog in the national service placement pipeline.”
The report was compiled by a team of ministers – Finance, Budget & National Planning, State, Budget and National Planning, Industry Trade & Investment, Labour and Employment, State, Petroleum Resources, Governor, the Central Bank of Nigeria, Group Managing Director, NNPC and permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office – Secretary and was aimed at recommending changes in different sectors of the country’s economy post-COVID-19.
If approved, the proposal would prevent at least 60,000 graduates due to be mobilised by NYSC for Batch A, Stream Two. With this possible reality, the NYSC Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, recently called on the Federal Government to consider all facts before rushing to suspend the scheme for two years.
The executive secretary, Ventim Bako had however appealed to the government to have a rethink about the proposal. He said it would be wrong to bring out fresh graduates from universities and polytechnics and just unleash them on the society for primary assignments.
While Osinbajo and his wise men and women are concerned about not having a backlog of potential corps members, the NGO is looking at a harsher reality of having a horde of Nigerian graduates being jobless for years without even a momentary reprieve.
Bako added: “To deploy corps members to various places of PPAs without basic tools and the requisite training in an orientation exercise is going to be a great disservice to the capacity of the corps members. This will certainly affect their capacity to deliver and perform efficiently.”
The NGO boss said we have seen the contribution of corps members in managing the coronavirus through the fabrication of tools, production of face masks and sanitisers, while medical corps members are actively engaged in hospitals and medical facilities treating patients after their orientation training in the camps.
In the meantime, the NYSC is carrying on with the registration of prospective corps members. In one of its latest posts on its official website, it said: “This is to inform all foreign-trained graduates who registered online for the 2020 Batch ‘A’ service year, whose credentials and travel documents are yet to be physically verified, that the verification exercise has been scheduled to hold from Monday, 6 to Friday, 17 July 2020.
In view of the economic team’s proposal for a two-year suspension of the programme, it may be one step backward, too many for the national integration scheme.
Over the years, the call for the scrapping of the NYSC has been an issue. Even at a time, the Federal Government contemplated suspending it. It was in 2016 when a staggering number – 129,469 – of Nigerian graduates’ future were kept hanging in the balance. It is said that each year, for a decade or more, the NYSC mobilises at least 250,000 corps members.
President Mohammadu Buhari had written to the Senate requesting funds, arguing that at least 129,469 graduates could miss the NYSC mobilisation of graduates. According to the president, the amount of money appropriated in the 2016 budget for the mobilisation of corps members was inadequate.
“This request has risen due to a number of reasons, including shortfalls in provisions for personnel costs …. The provision for NYSC in the 2016 budget is inadequate to cater for the number of corpers to be mobilised this year. In fact, an additional N8.5 billion is required to cover the backlog of 129,469 corps members who are currently due for call-up but would otherwise be left out till next year due to funding constraints,” Buhari had stated.
From the president’s letter, it is apparent that a major cause of backlogs of prospective corps members is inadequate funding. In the fall of September that year, the NYSC had written to the University of Benin’s Vice Chancellor that only 715 out of the institution’s 2,000 graduates would be mobilised.
In 2018, however, the 250,000 intakes rose to 350,000. The agency mobilised 297,293 corps members nationwide in 2017 and paid them N67,383,359,602 as allowances. The corps members were spread across two batches and two streams in 2017, with each stream having about 74,000 corps members.
The arguments against the continuity of the programme include scarcity of funds for development. The scheme is viewed as a waste of funds, leading to loss of lives of corps members in crisis-prone or hostile areas, making youths engage in illicit behaviour during orientation camps where supervision is minimal. It is also argued that the scheme adds little value to host communities as young graduates with no formal training in teaching are assigned to teach children in rural areas.
But the biggest argument against the scheme is that the current operation does not even help the objectives of the programme. Prospective corps members with people in prominent positions manipulate their postings to states of their choices, hence defeating the purpose for which it was established.
It is hard to see in tangible terms how the success of the NYSC outweighs its failures, education experts have argued. With arguments for and against the scheme, the NYSC requires a drastic and critical review.
However, the scheme has provided seasonal job opportunities for entrepreneurs across the nation: from tailors to food vendors. In the likelihood that orientation camps’ activities are out of the way, that could mean bad business for the entrepreneurs who take advantage of the market opportunities offered by the NYSC camps.
A public analyst, Tunji Bamgbose, while insisting that the scheme has outlived its usefulness said, “Corps members now get transferred to places of their choice. After the NYSC posting, those unsatisfied simply grease a few palms to get themselves re-posted, most times to their home states which defeats the intent of the entire process.”
Bamgbose added, “In the last eight years alone, roughly N500 billion was spent on the scheme. The larger slice goes to pay the monthly allowance of corps members while another huge part oils the bureaucracy running it. We all remember how the scheme was almost grounded some time ago when its budget was downsized by N13 billion, a small fraction of the total figure. If the NYSC scheme is discontinued, part of this huge sum could be used as seed capital for fresh graduates who wish to be entrepreneurs and job creators as it will be of greater benefit to them and the Nigerian society.”
But an educationist, Dr Kunle Edun maintained that the scheme has continued to be relevant by uniting Nigerians and bringing youths with diverse cultures and traditons together.
He said, “The way they are received in various communities other than theirs should be an advantage for us to appreciate what we all need to bring to the table. Our forefathers, so to say, initiated the scheme after the civil war, but you will agree with me that there have been other events in the country that made it important to continue to have a programme like the NYSC.
“It helps in appreciating the various cultures and traditions across the country and promote oneness.”
Edun said the idea behind the state Honours Award for corps members was not only to appreciate those who had excelled, but also to motivate incoming ones. It is yet to be seen whether or not the government will suspend the scheme for two years.