NYSC fee: Time to change the discourse

imageWHEN it comes to commenting on contemporary issues, it would seem some Nigerians have an unwritten “Shoot First” law in place that everyone is tenaciously eager to enforce. The concept of “Shoot first, ask questions later” is same as the “stand your ground” in some states in the United States.

However, figuratively speaking, the concept amounts to taking action then later finding out why you did it. This is apt to describe the way some commentators and critics attacked the digitalization of the call-up process for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), particularly the component that allows willing prospective corps members to pay N4,000 and enables a feature that allows them to print and reprint their call-up letters.

But for the fact that I got the information correctly when the NYSC unveiled the plan, I would have been completely misled into dismissing it as an extortion racket meant to defraud youths who want to serve the fatherland. The openness with which the scheme communicated its computerisation of the call-up process should have dampened any capacity for mischief but it seems some people must criticize without arming themselves with the relevant information.

The sense one gets from this is that the NYSC has become the mascot for public bashing. The hostility that greeted this scheme is apparently in keeping fate with tradition. When the scheme unveiled plans to concentrate its postings of corps members to rural areas where it reasoned they are more needed, the decision was greeted with outrage. Few people factored in the fact that the youths that are meant to develop the nation would have better opportunities to make contributions in the rural areas as opposed to being redundant in urban centres that are already developed in some ways.

In a more recent case, the policy of focusing the posting of corps members to Education, Agriculture, Rural Infrastructure and Health sectors started a firework of criticisms when it was unveiled. In the bedlam of attacks on the policy, there were scant suggestions about how else to address the problems of mass rejection of corps members by establishments to which they are posted with the consequence that a good number of youths roamed the streets of major cities in their uniform seeking places of primary assignment; no alternatives were proffered to the challenge of those who got inhumanely exploited in places where they were accepted to serve nor were many people forthcoming with suggestions on how to stimulate retention of corps members.

In other instances, challenges of national dimensions have been used as excuse to call for the scrapping of the NYSC without recourse to compelling needs that led to its establishment in the first place. Such sentiments equally always dismiss the achievements of the scheme.

It is into this same mould of dismantle without consideration that the computerisation of call up issue was poured into. The attacks on the project were unleashed without examining the underlying issues. First, even the processes of applying, writing examination and gaining admission into tertiary institutions are almost fully digitized, so it is only logical that the end product should also be fully computerised.

Corporate businesses that have fully computerised their operations can attest to the financial outlay needed to deploy IT infrastructure, train staff to man them and maintain same to continue yielding optimum results. In addition to these costs, no serious organisation would leave these assets at the mercy of cyber crooks who strive daily to breach IT infrastructure just to steal data, this implies that cyber security must be paid for particularly when what is at stake here is detailed personal information. Understanding these costs therefore makes it confounding that there are people who criticized the N4,000 fee without offering alternatives as to how to finance all the associated expenses of computerising the call-up process.

Secondly, there seems to be this impression that a prospective corps member simply walks into a cyber café or business centre and print out an email from a friend. The explanation offered by the scheme however showed that the individual must go through an online registration process that will lead up to the option of deciding to print or not to print the call-up letter. These processes are made possible by the IT infrastructure discussed above.

Also, those who condemn the computerisation process and its attendants cost present their arguments in manners that suggest that prospective corps members usually get free rides to their alma maters when they go to physically collect their call up letter. The amount being charged is more than some graduates will spend on return journeys to pick up their letters but it is certainly a fraction of the financial outlay that a lot of them will end up spending before they can collect the letters, return home and before heading to the orientation camps. Space would not permit highlighting the merits and demerits of the new system. However, one has a sense that the merits will apparently outweigh whatever shortcomings, if any.

Promoting arguments that are driven by emotions and sentiments would scarcely bode well for the society. Oftentimes, such views are driven by sentiments and emotions by a tiny but vocal minority. Tragically, there have been times in the past when otherwise sound policies are discarded over the sustained expression of outrage by people who took little time to understand what the issues are. It is akin to the concept of shooting first and asking questions later.

This is why we should endeavour to change the current discourse about the computerisation of the call-up process. Everyone should be free to contribute to the debate but they should do so with facts and not resorting to blackmail or name-calling. When people identify problems, they should come up with solution – when they reject a system that is being introduced, they should offer alternatives. For example, if prospective corps members are not to be charged for using the infrastructure deployed for the computerization, who then bears the cost? Should the operations of the NYSC remain in the stone age because people want to use technology for free?

It is time we are no longer held back by the tyranny of a vocal minority. Let us change this discourse.

• Adedayo wrote from FCT Abuja.

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