Purging NYSC scheme of sharp practices
In the third quarter of last year, August to be precise, the Federal Government announced implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA). TSA was not a new strategic concept. It was just not implemented under the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. This noble policy was a fiscal strategy aimed at blocking financial leakages, promoting transparency and preventing mismanagement of public till, as widely witnessed in Jonathan’s haphazard government. This no doubt, was one message of intent syndicated through the President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade.
The TSA, as we all know, has yielded results in many Nigerian institutions that had been perforated with corruption in the past. This is evident in institutions like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in the military, police and other para-military agencies, federal ministries and government parastatals and even the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme at the opportunity cost of Nigeria’s youth.
It is unfortunate that the NYSC scheme is still harbouring a variety of sharp practices. These sharp practices are common knowledge. This time, unlike before, I expect that urgent attention be given by the Federal Government to rebranding, redefining and repositioning or perhaps even removing the mess and waste that is the bungling NYSC scheme.
It is on record that between 1967 and 1970, Nigeria witnessed a bloody civil war. In that war, millions of Nigerians received the hard knocks of death in an utterly gruesome manner. The traumatic after-effects of that 30-months-old war led to mass illiteracy, acute shortage of manpower (a national delinquent that the NYSC scheme was poised to address), inadequate socio-economic infrastructural facilities, and many more.
However, at the end of that war, there was a dire need for thorough rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction programmes because of the after war effects aforementioned. Goals and objectives were set as a roadmap to ensure a dynamic economy, a democratic society and a united, strong and self-reliant nation. There and then, as a way of looking beyond the trauma of the time and focusing on a future which would largely depend on the youth, the mobilisation of a certain category of the youth through the NYSC scheme started.
The NYSC was then established by a Decree No 24 of May 22, 1973 by General Yakubu Gowon (which now repealed and replaced by the National Youth Service Corps Act, Cap. N84 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004). The scheme at its inception had some sorts of pros and prestige, I must say. Now, it is total deviation from the memorable past. Of course, many Nigerians as observed know and believe the NYSC has evidently exceeded its erstwhile usefulness.
The NYSC scheme is wont to boast of four cardinal programmes. They are: Orientation Course, Primary Assignment, Community Development Service (CDS) and Winding-Up or Passing Out Ceremony. The NYSC expects every corps member to participate in all these programmes mentioned before they are NYSC certified.
Corps members’ welfare in orientation camps is nothing to write home about. Many of the NYSC orientation camps are not equipped with necessary and sufficient camping facilities. Some of the camps have no potable water. Hostels are in dilapidated or dilapidating state. Health care facilities are not properly funded. It should administer first aid treatment but sorry to say, still grapple with inadequate first aid materials. Yet still, camp clinics lack clinical materials or equipment to meet up with camp casualty demands.
Rest rooms and bathrooms, most times are not convenient and conducive for use. They are for many months left in a state of smell and litter for prospective corps members to clean up for use. In fact, due to the unhealthy state of some of the toilet facilities, ladies are mostly (guys inclusive) susceptible to toilet infections. Going by the state of the NYSC Orientation Camps and the body language of some of the state governors to the scheme, one is compelled to ask why a State of Emergency has not been declared on the NYSC scheme in general.
According to credible sources in the NYSC and most importantly, serving corps members, the feeding of Corps members (confirmed graduates from various academes) which is part of their welfare package is nothing of worth. It is equivalent of what is given to condemned prisoners in their cells. It is public knowledge- I think, that the feeding cost per corps member is N1,500 per day. By design or default, every corps member is entitled to three full square meals per day at the rate of N500 per one-meal.
This meal ratio directive was obeyed on camp but with some level of impunity and corruption. It is unfortunate that no corps member ate an aggregate meal of N1,500 per day or a fractional meal of N500. Don’t many of us eat in all these local restaurants and eateries and spend less than N500 for a satisfying dish?
This is another case of corruption. They make the corps members not even half satisfied with food, making them depend on the camp market for more food at higher costs. Why must they reduce the estimated food ration (especially during this 2016 Batch A, Stream I camp programme)? Why must Nigerians steal all the time? Doesn’t the conscience prick Nigerians sometimes? Why must Nigerians continue to be the only clog in the wheel of our national progress? Why should we continue to undermine the effort of the Federal Government so that it could be subjected to public scrutiny for an offence it didn’t commit? Why can’t we for once do things the way they should be done, spend money appropriately and accordingly-without any form of thieving- for the purpose it was meant? Shall we continue to toe this immoral and debauched path and claim all is well with the NYSC scheme?
Primary assignment is one of the four cardinal programmes of the NYSC. In fact, Primary assignment + CDS = N19,800. This goes to show the importance of Place of Primary Assignment, PPA. Yet, the NYSC when it concerns PPAs, is very insensitive, corrupt and dishonest ab initio. Primary assignment is the major task of corps members after their orientation course. This is a period during which corps members are posted to work in various government establishments and private organisations to render service to the nation. After all, the motto of NYSC is service and humility.
Nevertheless, the service guide states clearly that: “At the close of the orientation course, corps members are posted to places of primary assignments relevant to their discipline.” Let me add a euphemistic phrase for emphasis. Corps members are posted to the places “relevant to their specific discipline and training.” The clause is: “Where their services are mostly needed.” The catchphrase, “relevant to their discipline” should be the precondition for posting or reposting.
Why should some corps members be posted to a non-existent establishment? Also, for instance, what business do engineering graduates have with teaching in schools when there are enough trained graduate teachers? What business do first-class graduates have to do with secondary schools or technical colleges when their domain should be a university or other higher institutions of learning? Inappropriately, some second class upper graduates are posted to universities at the expense of first class graduates from reputable and accredited institutions. To do what? This is contrary to the statement credited to a former Director General of the NYSC when he said all first-class graduates were going to be posted to institutions of higher learning in 2015. Well, from my interview with many that have passed through the scheme in recent years and are at present corpers, the reverse has been the experience.
The impression the NYSC has created is that the scheme does not encourage career development and it is killing the national sense of self-employment, the imperative to curbing unemployment. Entrepreneurial development and career development are not the same. Take it or leave it, not all corps members can be entrepreneurs and vice-versa. Some are better-placed as career persons and vice-versa. The NYSC scheme must as a matter of urgency be redefined. This is the time we purge the NYSC scheme of its corrupt practices like cheating, prejudicial justice, lobbying, bribery, etc. These sharp practices are gradually subjecting the scheme to a fuss.
Professional bodies are organisations whose members are individual professionals. They have roles even though not all have regulatory functions. One of the roles of professional bodies is to provide career support and opportunities for students, graduates and other working class citizens.
The posting of the recent corps members (Batch A, Stream I, 2016) has showed that many professional bodies are disinterested. Take for instance, the Nigeria Society of Engineers, NSE, which is the professional body of engineers in Nigeria. What is the essence of a professional body if the interest of registered members or potential members cannot be protected under any circumstance? The NSE leadership must enter a legal social contract with NYSC and complete modalities that will ultimately ensure that engineers are posted to places relevant “only” to their discipline and their career development. Even so, discretion in line with professional ethics could be applied as deemed fit depending on the circumstance.
Buhari once said: “I firmly believe in (the) NYSC and I think it should remain a national programme to promote integration.” The President must therefore know that the present state of the NYSC scheme cannot bring his desired results to fruition. The President must radically change the status-quo of the NYSC if he truly believes in this youth scheme. What good does a nation derive from celebrating mediocrity at the expense of excellence? As it stands, we must collectively stand against the unfair activities of some highly hypocritical NYSC state coordinators, as well as against zonal and local officials. Sharp practices in the scheme have made a mockery of the scheme both at local and international levels.
However, we still entrust the daunting task of cleaning up the NYSC mess to Buhari, the Federal Executive Council and the inept National Assembly. The President should know that history prefers legends to men. It prefers nobility to cruelty. It prefers soaring speeches to quiet deeds. Buhari must know that this present NYSC scheme intended to drive his administration’s change mantra is terribly sick and a vehicle with serious defects is vulnerable to an accident anytime of the day. In view of this, necessary actions must (sooner rather than later) be taken to sustain the programme which according to him is still relevant for national integration and unity.
•Jotalo is a graduate engineer. He wrote from Kwara State.