Since announcing the plan to computerise the call-up process of the National Youth Service Corps, the authorities of the scheme have come under scathing criticism, less for the lack of merit in the idea than for its underlying exploitative motive. Dubbed “online registration of corps members”, the process that is expected to attract N4,000 as charges from a prospective participant is nothing but a means of fleecing the corps members.
Among other benefits, the NYSC has said that the step would reduce the inconvenience and dangers of travelling long distances to collect call-up letters. “Sometimes, corps members have died while travelling to get their call-up letters, and most times school officials may not be there (at the school to attend to them),” the Director of Corps Mobilisation, Anthony Ani, was quoted as saying.
Ideally, the introduction of changes in a 41-year-old organisation such as the NYSC, that is sorely in need of overhauling, should be applauded; but not on this score. Instead of being hailed as a product of innovative thinking, the idea is being vilified as another of the several devices by crooked public officials to take advantage of helpless young Nigerians.
But before hastily accusing the doubters of undue cynicism, it is instructive to recall that, in recent times, some government agencies have become notorious for making tons of money out of jobless young Nigerians in the name of providing them employment. A good example is the recent Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment interview, organised by the Minister of the Interior, Abba Moro, where over 500,000 applicants turned up to vie for less than 5,000 jobs. The massive turnout created a crowd management problem, leading to the death of about 19 people from stampede and exhaustion. But from the tragic incident, the organisers allegedly went away with more than N500 million, as each applicant was required to part with a processing fee of N1,000.
The Nigeria Police, the Nigeria Customs Service, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps have also been associated with a similar practice. A governor in one of the South-East states also fleeced the teeming unemployed youths in his state under the guise of providing them employment. He reportedly asked indigenes of the state that churns out arguably the largest number of graduates every year to apply for nonexistent jobs with a non-refundable sum of N2,000 each. This brazen extortionist practice must end.
Although, in response to the harsh reactions so far, the NYSC has said that keying into the process is optional, people have still not been completely persuaded that money-making has not overshadowed the good intentions behind the new concept. Their suspicion is further fuelled by the amount of money the project is likely to yield upon implementation.
Ani, in his interaction with journalists, reportedly said, “Every year, the NYSC mobilises over 300,000 corps members, including those who went on part time, even though they don’t serve.” Relying on that number, those involved in executing the scheme will rake in a staggering N1.2 billion. That, surely, is too hefty a price to pay for rendering service to one’s country.
Again, if the NYSC, together with its partners, did not see the window of opportunity to make easy money here, perhaps, there would have been no need to invest the whopping N830 million it claimed went into the venture. The agency explained that it entered into a Public Private Partnership, where the partner was picked after a competitive bidding that attracted proposals from 48 other companies. If it was indeed acting in the interest of the corps members, the NYSC would possibly have thought of setting up an Information and Communications Technology unit within its system that could handle it. This would not only reduce the cost considerably, it would save youth corps members any additional financial burden.
The whole defence is gratuitous and invalid. There is no big deal in accessing call-up letters from the internet. The Director-General, Brig.-Gen. Johnson Olawunmi, should not think he has done something out of this world in implementing a simple ICT task. The argument that NYSC cannot bear the costs of putting the technology in place casts a gloomy doubt on the continued relevance of the scheme.
The scheme is a call to service and indeed, many corps members have been killed in the course of serving the nation. That young Nigerians are offering themselves for service to their fatherland is sacrifice enough; they do not have to pay a dime to do that. If the government does not have the resources to fund the scheme, it should be scrapped. We should not continue to exploit our youths.
After the election of 2011, many NYSC members were targeted and killed by those who were supposed to be their hosts, for reasons best known to them. Those who ran to police stations failed to get the necessary protection. Yet they continue to lay down their lives for their country in the name of national service. In Bauchi State alone, 11 corps members were reportedly killed while a few others were murdered in a bomb explosion that rocked the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Suleja, Niger State. Last July, prospective corps members were the targets of a deranged 14-year-old female suicide bomber who succeeded in killing three people and injuring 21 others. Many of these promising youths also lose their lives through ghastly road accidents during the service year.
There is no doubt that the NYSC is a scheme badly in need of surgical operation to put it back on its feet. The way the programme has been run in recent times has tended to suggest that the government has lost interest in the organisation set up in 1973 to, among other things, support “the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youth of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity.”
More than 40 years after, the country, rather than be united, has become more fractured and the people more fractious. If the government feels it can no longer afford to run it, then it should be promptly scrapped.