NYSC’s constrained mobilisation

THE Directorate Headquarters of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has informed the Division of Student Affairs (DSA) of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions to cut down the quota of prospective corps members to be mobilised for the 2016 Batch ‘B’ orientation camp. The implication is that thousands would be kept from the camp despite their eligibility for mobilisation.

The NYSC is being forced to cut down on the number of candidates it is deploying because of financial constraints. In the last couple of months, the management of the NYSC has complained about shortage of funds.  In May 2016, camping for corps members of the 2016 Batch ‘A’ Stream II was stalled for weeks because the management could not raise money to cater for the thousands of prospective corps members, largely because the budgetary allocation to the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development falls short of the requirements to effectively operate the NYSC scheme. In May, Brigadier General Sulyman Kazaure, Director-General of the NYSC, made a plea at the Senate chamber, lamenting that lack of funds might stall mobilising 2016 Batch ‘A’ Stream II prospective corps members for orientation. His plea was obviously inconsequential given the current state of things.

That eligible candidates would be kept waiting for lack of funds is not acceptable. There can be no justification for deploying a few and leaving others out for no fault of theirs. The service is compulsory and eligible graduates who fail to serve cannot secure employment. Neither can they embark on postgraduate studies. It is clearly unfair to keep some eligible candidates waiting while their colleagues are deployed. What criteria will be used to discriminate between those who will be deployed from those who will be asked to wait? How long will this partial deployment be done? When will the backlog that would arise be cleared? These are questions that demand urgent answers. They certainly show that the scheme is in distress and in jeopardy. If the government is no longer able to fund the scheme, then it should consider making it optional. In that case, the law that set up the scheme will have to be amended. Until then, the Federal Government and the NYSC directorate must seek innovative ways to fund the scheme.

It is not only the Federal Government that is neglecting its financial responsibility to the programme. Earlier in February, the then Director-General of the NYSC, Brig. General Johnson Olawumi, announced that some state governments had defaulted in the payment of allowances to corps members. He made the announcement during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Batch ‘A’ Pre-orientation workshop in Katsina, 24 February 2016. According to him, 26 states were yet to pay backlog of allowances to serving and completed youth corps members. Some of these states owed such corps members up to two years of unpaid allowances. Olawumi further lamented the appalling condition of some orientation camps, calling on state governments to pay “more attention to the provision and maintenance” of camps in their states. He declared that camps found to be unsuitable for the orientation exercise would be closed down.

It is disheartening that the NYSC scheme which has come under severe stress in recent times with security challenges across the country, especially in the North East, is now being neglected by both federal and state governments.  Indeed, if the funding of the scheme is to be used as a measure of commitment of governments to the scheme, then it can safely be concluded that they are no longer committed to the scheme. This is unfortunate. The NYSC was established after the civil war to inculcate discipline in Nigerian youth and instill in them a tradition of industry and loyal service to the nation. The orientation process was to develop common ties among Nigerian youths across ethno-linguistic and geographical divides. The scheme was also expected to promote free movement of labour as corps members were to be encouraged to seek employment in their states of primary assignment.

In the past decade, corps members have been critical to the political fortunes of Nigeria.  In the last two general elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the leadership of Attahiru Jega, corps members constituted the core of the ad hoc staff.  During that period, Nigeria witnessed an improvement in the conduct of elections because the corps members performed their functions with patriotism, zeal, competence and uprightness. Before the 2011 elections, INEC had placed a huge portion of the blame for its failures to conduct free and fair elections on the conduct of its ad hoc staff.  Professor Maurice Iwu, a former chairman of INEC, once commented that many of the ad hoc staff were found to be agents of politicians.

The NYSC as a symbolic programme of national integration has faced several obstacles. These include poor management of its resources, poor funding, inadequate remuneration and incentives for both NYSC members and staff and the failure of the state governments to invest in the programme. Its labour mobilisation goal has been frustrated by state governments which reserve positions in their bureaucracies and schools to their indigenes. This has dampened the morale of members and some of them have openly questioned the oneness of the country. The safety cum security of corps members has become the single most challenging threat to the programme. A number of them have lost their lives in the many conflicts that characterize states in Northern Nigeria, especially in places like Jos, Bauchi, Kaduna and Kano. The situation became so bad that parents and prospective corps members prevailed on the NYSC Directorate not to post them to troubled spots. Currently, corps members deployed to flashpoints are redeployed on request.

Given the importance of the scheme and its laudable objectives, therefore, we call on all tiers of government and private sector organisations that utilize the services of corps members to contribute to sustaining the scheme.