Although conceived as a scheme for national integration, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is facing one of its toughest challenges since it was established by Decree No.24 of May 22, 1973 in the light of the security challenges in the country, writes Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
In the last one week, the directorate of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has come under fire following its decision to deploy corps Members in states contending with intense security challenges namely Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau, Kano and Kaduna.
The decision had generated uproar amongst stakeholders and this was given prominence by the Lagos State House of Assembly, which last Tuesday, decided that it would send a resolution to the NYSC and the National Assembly notifying them of its rejection of postings of Lagos indigenes to troubled states. Similarly, the Synod of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has also asked the Federal Government to allow the corps members serve in their geo-political zones until the North becomes safe again.
But the Federal Government and the NYSC insisted that Corps Members should report at the troubled zones while assuring them of the safety of their lives and properties. This did nothing, however, to appease the concerned stakeholders and affected Corps Members, many of whom declined to report to the camps.
At this juncture, the House of Representatives stepped in and asked the NYSC to suspend the controversial deployments. And indeed, the management of the scheme bowed to public pressure and announced a change of orientation venue for Corps Members who had been deployed to Yobe and Borno- two states that are currently under the siege of terrorists’ activities. Instead, Yobe and Borno Corps Members have been asked to report to Nasarawa and Benue camps in three weeks time.
It also directed all those posted to Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe and Bauchi but who are yet to report to the orientation camps to go to the National Headquarters for redeployment to other states. Concessions would also be granted to those who request to be deployed to any of the affected states. The response to the latest directive has been slow because information is yet to circulate sufficiently.
Ironically, this development has again raised the question on the relevance or otherwise of the scheme which was initially conceived as a tool for national integration in the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war. Although, there had always been muffled queries on whether or not the initiative should be, critics of the NYSC seemed to have gained a voice in the aftermath of the murder of the Bauchi 10 in the post election violence that erupted in the state and other parts of the North.
Corps Members who were used as ad hoc staff by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during the 2011 general elections came under severe attacks. Several were also injured in the pre-election bomb blast at INEC office in Suleja, Niger State. Many quickly called for the scrapping of the scheme but others said the security situation was a failure of the country as an entity and the NYSC should not be blamed. A Federal High Court in Ibadan later dismissed a suit to invalidate the scheme.
Management of the NYSC led by its then Director-General, Brig. Gen. Maharazu Tsiga had to go to many of the states under heavy security to evacuate Corps Members. Tsiga quickly redeployed all those serving in Bauchi except those who requested to stay on marital and health grounds or because Bauchi is their states of origin. He also announced a ban on the deployment of Corps Members to the state.
These developments had also led to the NYSC announcing that it would reconsider the use of Corps Members in future elections if their security cannot be guaranteed.
Shortly after his appointment, the new DG, Brig. General Nnamdi Okore-Affia said the lives of the Corps Members cannot be sacrificed on the platform of national integration after the sacrifices that saw them through school.
Discussions were thereafter opened up with state governments that are the greatest beneficiaries of the scheme to live up to their responsibilities by providing suitable camps, decent allowances and adequate security for the corps members.
Consequently, lectures on safety practices have been included in the curriculum of the orientation process. Help lines were open for Corps Members in cases of emergency with direct telephone access to the DG and State Co-ordinations when they perceive that they are endangered in any way.
The scheme has also introduced a business development program to train Corps Members on entrepreneurship for self-employment at the end of the service year. Business training and loans have been provided as start-up capital for those who excelled in the training process.
While the steps appeared to have temporarily calmed Frayed tempers even as stakeholders called on the government to work to ensure security of all Nigerians, then came an upsurge in the activities of Boko Haram which has forcefully relocated many Nigerians from the volatile states.
It was also generally assumed that the NYSC would not post to those places considered as flashpoints since it had in many instances carried out emergency evacuation to save the lives of Corps Members.
This would later provoke a heated debate and stoked verbal venoms hurled at the NYSC management when it announced postings to the volatile states. While many of the Corps Members reported to camps across the country, others converged on the National Headquarters in Abuja last Monday to protest their deployment to troubled zones.
This confusion had also raised concerns on the essence of the scheme and as a sheer waste of time for young graduates. This is because some employers of labour especially in the private sector tend to see Corps Members as a source of cheap labour that can be replaced annually. There have been reports of banks that use Corps Members as tellers and in operations department only to ‘announce a freeze on employment’ at the end of the service year and replace them with new ones. And in the season where massive sacks have continued in the banking sector, Corps Members are made to pick up the slack in most departments except those where the services of core professionals cannot be compromised.
Also, in some private schools, the essence of the scheme has been abused. Many of the schools no longer employ qualified teachers but use Corps Members as substitutes and pay them peanuts which they see as complimentary to the N19,500 allowance already being paid by the Federal Government.
Thus, the image of the NYSC has remained on the decline much as its public relations managers have been striving to redeem this image in the eyes of a cynical public.