The acrimonious debate is unnecessary. The initiative is for only those who need it
It would be tempting to conclude that the idea is flawed and to advocate that it should be dropped forthwith. Indeed, judging by some of the angry and outraged responses to the introduction of online registration for prospective corps members by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), the policy has been written off more or less as one that should be consigned to the dustbin. Well, such thoughts are tempting but short-sighted. In our view, the NYSC should be supported on the initiative and should be encouraged to strengthen it.
While the initiative has been emotionally classified as fee-for-national-service, we do not see it that way. What the NYSC has introduced is a package through which prospective corps members can process their call-up letters online. True, it is for a fee, but it is optional. This means that instead of prospective corps members travelling to their various institutions to merely collect their letters, they can do that in the comfort of their homes or at business centres close by, if they choose to.
Indeed, as the board of NYSC rightly explained in a statement, given the security challenges in some states and the exasperating process of collection of call-up letters in most institutions, “the idea was conceived to remove all impediments that make the mobilisation process a nightmare for the graduates,” adding: “In this day and age, we saw no need why any graduate should have to travel hundreds of kilometres with all the associated risks, just to collect his/her call-up letter. By registering online, the idea that any unscrupulous official could make the process of collection of call-up letters difficult for corps member will also be eliminated.” In addition, the innovation reportedly would further eliminate forgery and other related crimes and offer opportunity for easy replacements of lost call-up letters. But the service attracts N4000 fee.
Coming on the heels of the recent Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment scandal, many have understandably jumped to the conclusion that the authorities are out to exploit the prospective corps members. “I believe this is another avenue of exploiting the already pauperised Nigerian youths, who are daily being subjected to all forms of exploitations,” remarked Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Women Arise, a view that is representative of those opposed to the policy. Unfortunately these views, in larger parts, beg the issue.
The operative word of this recent policy is “optional,” as no one is compelled to register online. It is a choice available to those who need and can afford it. In that sense it has not in any way tampered with what exists, which, by the way, is not free. There are open and hidden costs to the status quo, as prospective corps members shoulder the responsibility of getting their call-up letters from their various institutions. Of course, these open and hidden costs will not be the same for everyone. That is why the decision to make it optional is very reasonable.
Some of the critics of the initiative have called on NYSC to scrap it or provide the service for free. But scrapping an initiative that aligns with global trend will not only be retrogressive, it will also amount to an unfair abbreviation of the rights of those who prefer it. Since this is optional, the forces of demand and supply should be allowed to determine the viability of the scheme. Also, the service could have been free if solely provided by the government and not through a public-private partnership arrangement occasioned by the limited funding available to the institution.
Therefore, rather than call for the abolition of this optional initiative, we think it is more reasonable to insist that those who subscribe to it get value for their money and those who opt out of it are not penalised in any way.