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NYSC, a unifying scheme, under threat

…parents, others decry rising insecurity …Candidates now reject posting …No orientation in Borno since 2011 …Health practitioners issue fake medical report to effect redeployment – CD boss

There was a time many fresh graduates earnestly desired to wear the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) uniform. It was an honour to wear the khaki, serve one’s fatherland then, and the corps members truly served with sincerity and honour.

Well, that seemed to be in the good old days of the 70s and 80s.

Going by realities of today and reports, the NYSC seems to have outlived its usefulness; hence many are calling for its scrapping.

Yakubu Gowon, a former military head of state, who initiated the programme in 1973, can also attest to the defeat of the original purpose of the programme. Instead of fostering national cohesion and peaceful coexistence, especially after the civil war, the NYSC today leaves nothing for the youths to desire.

As at the 2019 posting, less than 30 percent of those mobilised actually served the country, the rest returned to their states of origin, only returning to the areas of their primary assignment during the monthly screening exercise for payment popularly called ‘alawi’.

Moreover, turnout at the various orientation camps by prospective candidates is no longer encouraging.

The situation has continued to worsen, with prospective candidates and their parents increasingly rejecting postings to stations outside their states of residence.

However, a major cause of the negative turn in the programme is growing rate of insecurity across the country, particularly in northern part where Boko Haram insurgency, banditry and kidnapping for ransom are thriving.

According to a May 2018 report of Society for Peace, an international aid organisation, the level of insecurity in Nigeria is rising at an alarming rate, while authorities’ apathy to the sad development puts the country in a dilemma.

The humanitarian organisation blamed the decrease in the volume of business activities, development and social engagements in Nigeria, especially the northern part of the country on the rising insecurity.

In the last 20 years, corps members have been victims of election violence, kidnapping, abduction by terrorist groups and rape, with many being killed while serving their fatherland.

Over the years, security threats to the programme have grown in scope and dimension.

On September 26, 2009, the media was agog with the story of the abduction and raping to death of Grace Adie Ushamg, a female corps member, serving in Maiduguri, Borno State.

The death of the innocent corps member led the National Assembly to join parents in the debate on the NYSC and security of corps members, with many calling for its scrapping. But the programme still thrives, and exposes youths to more danger as insecurity worsen across the country.

The 2011 general elections triggered the flame of political violence in Northern Nigeria, which led to the killing of a number of corps members.

Over 20 corps members, who were mainly from the southern part of the country, lost their lives in the condemnable election violence.

Also, during the 2011 election, over 50 corps members were locked inside the Nigerian Christian Corpers’ Fellowship (NCCF) Secretariat in Minna, Niger State, by some youths protesting the results of the presidential election, and the building was set on fire.

Though all the corps members escaped, that was the end of the service for them, while their families urged their relations who were prospective corps members to go for exemption certificate instead of going to die for a country that did not pay their school fees, and even if they had government scholarships, they should not risk dying for the country in such gruesome manner.

In 2012, the orientation programme for NYSC Batch “C” members across the country was postponed in Bayelsa, Borno and Yobe states because of insecurity as conditions across the three states then could not guarantee the safety of corps members. Hostage taking and killings in Yobe and Borno were high at that time, hence posed great risk to corps members’ safety.

There was also a gory account of how some female corps members on electoral duty were forced to thumbprint for a particular party in Giade Local Government Area of Bauchi State. They were tortured, fondled by the irate protesters, and eleven of them were butchered like animals. Till date, the families of the dead corps members are still mourning their huge losses, as government only promised to “get to the root of the matter”.

The bombing of the NYSC permanent orientation camp in Maiduguri by the Boko Haram sect, some time ago, dealt a heavy blow on the programme, Moreover, in its gruesome bombing shortly after the 2011 presidential election, the Boko Haram sect killed many Nigerians including corps members in a bomb blast, with the Federal Government promising to give N5 million to families of the victims and jobs to corps members who survived the attacks immediately after the mandatory one year service.

Sadly, most of them still roam the streets looking for jobs.

As well, hostage taking has had its share in the worsening threats for corps members. In 2013, three corps members were kidnapped from the Ogonokom Corper’ Lodge in Rivers State and were released after ten days in captivity by the heartless abductors.

The following year, five corps members, who donated a library project to a school in Omademe community in Nkwere Local Government Area of Rivers State, were abducted while returning from the inspection of the project. The accounts are endless.

But the parents are not just watching again.

Harrison Nwandu, a successful entrepreneur, had long ago stopped his children from participating in the NYSC programme.

“The only reason to participate is to get discharge certificate, usually asked by employers of labour. But I am the one employing my children and I don’t need the certificate”, the church elder said.

According to him, two of his children schooled abroad and are working over there without doing the NYSC, while the other two are working in his companies in Lagos and Port Harcourt.

“I will not allow my children to die serving their fatherland, nobody will grieve with me over their death, and government does not care either”, Nwandu said.

Adesua Ojei, a lawyer and mother of two, decried that the security situation in the country does not warrant reasonable parents to send their children to go and die in the name of youth service.

Citing a statement issued by Abosede Aderibigbe, head of Press and Public Relations Unit in the NYSC Headquarters, Ojei said if NYSC is advising returning corps members not to travel wearing their uniforms, it means parents should do more by stopping their children if possible as corps members have become targets of abductors and terrorists in recent time.

“Sadly, the elites’ children and NYSC staff children do not serve, they stay in the comfort of their homes or abroad, while their discharge certificates will be sent to them. Then, is it my child that is good to die?” the aggrieved lawyer said.

Funmi Fijabi, a mother of three and airport staff, had no regret influencing the posting of her only son, as she insisted that NYSC has become a call-to-death in recent time.

Like Fijabi, many concerned parents have argued that those who influence the posting of their children to safe places are not less patriotic than those who have left NYSC to decide the fate of their children, and later regretted as coffins are returned to them instead of graduates ready for work and impact.

Richard Osime, a retired security personnel, decried that the increasing rate of insecurity is forcing parents to offer huge money to some NYSC staff to influence good postings for their children and the ill-gotten money is part of the reason the programme is still on.

“No elite or director of NYSC will allow his or her child to serve in trouble zones of the country. Why do we pretend the programme is working, in sane countries government would have scrapped NYSC with the high rate of killings of corps members”, Osime said.

Osime advised graduates who wish to become entrepreneurs to go ahead with their dream than wasting the one year and not sure of returning alive and getting a job afterwards.

“If I had joined my university mates who went into business, I would have been richer and able to employ some NYSC corps members today. If you want to do business or go private, there is no need for NYSC because it does not guarantee any job or hope”, he advised.

Toeing same line, Nwandu advised fresh graduates to go for exemption certificate and engage their hands in something no matter how small as the rate of unemployment is alarming and will get worse tomorrow.

But the prospective candidates are also aware of the danger of answering the NYSC call, which has become a ‘call of death’.

Many no longer attend the compulsory 21 days orientation camp, they settle to get their monthly allowance and discharge certificate at the end of the day.

“I am only participating to get small money while prospecting for work. But I will not serve in a place that is not safe, many who absconded from the NYSC camp or who did not serve are doing well, just know your way”, Stanley Eboh, a prospective candidate, said.

While Eboh is strong-willed and plans to maneuver his way, there are many helpless prospective candidates whose parents cannot buy favorable postings, who do not have money to travel to the orientation camp, who do not have any hope of job, and these are the most vulnerable and reason many call for the scraping of the NYSC programme.

“Safety, jobs, national integration and peace are no longer guaranteed”, many concerned citizens have insisted.

BusinessDay SUNDAY findings indicate that many parents have refused to release their children for the service, saying that they would rather miss the service than go to a state where there is bombing and killing every day.

Friday Omodiagbe says the one year spent during the NYSC was a waste of time for him. He said that most of the time, if graduates survive and escape death after service, they end up in the unemployment market which is already saturated.

“For me, the compulsory one year service is nothing but punishment. During my time in Yobe State in 2011, my orientation camp had dirty environment and the food was nothing to write home about. To make matter worse, after the orientation camp, I was unlucky to be posted to a community without electricity and good water,” Omodiagbe said.

“I couldn’t cope and had to arrange my service year to Lagos when the situation became unbearable,” he added.

He said the question of continuity or discontinuity of the Nigerian NYSC scheme should not be based on propaganda. Also, both the strengths and weaknesses of the NYSC scheme should be re-evaluated in the context of logical analysis.

Omodiagbe further said he shares in the sentiment of thousands of other corps members who are of the opinion that being posted to the North was a death sentence, insisting that he, like other graduates, prefer to die in their comfort zone instead of being killed by Boko Haram in the North.

“Serving in the northern parts of Nigeria has become a suicidal adventure. And soon only those with suicidal instincts will opt to serve there. Government has a sacred duty to protect these corps members,” he said.

Stella Okoye, who was posted to Katsina State for her service, said she is already making plans to seek redeployment to a safer state to carry out the NYSC programme.

Okoys said she would make effort to stay for the three weeks to complete the orientation camp before redeploying because of the insecurity in the North

“Most northern states have become a hotbed of banditry and kidnapping as bandits now go into houses to kidnap people in broad daylight,” she said.

Like the prospective corps members, parents and friends of those mobilised to the northern part of the country have also expressed concerns over the safety of their children and wards.

Abosede Moshood, a concerned mother, told BusinessDay SUNDAY that her son had been deployed to Yobe State for NYSC but that she and her husband have no plans to send their only son to Yobe State to serve due to insecurity in the North.

Moshood lampooned the insensitivity of the management of the National Youth Service Corp and questioned the rationale for posting graduates to states that are volatile.

“Is the management of NYSC not aware that insurgency and banditry of unequal proportion has over taken most states in Northern Nigeria? Which parents in their right frame of minds will allow their children to observe NYSC in the North with the current killing,” she asked.

While some section of graduates may be seeking for an end to the scheme, the same cannot be said of some university professors who do not foresee a situation whereby the scheme would be scrapped as a result of loss of interest; they rather called for support for it to further strengthen national unity.

“Scrapping the scheme is not in the best interests of Nigeria. It could be counter-productive. One of the reasons for the scheme is that we interact as a nation. We still need people from different ethnic groups to interact with one another through the NYSC scheme,” said Isaac Adeyemi, a former vice-chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Otta Ogun State.

Kano

Ayo Job, a graduate of Mechanical Engineering from one of the state universities in the Southwest Nigeria, was recently posted to Yobe State, in the North eastern part of the country.

Yobe is one of the states where Boko-Haram and its breakaway faction, Islamic State West Province (ISWAP), are currently plying their evil trade.

The posting has become a source of serious concern to members of his family.

Ayo and his family had been looking forward to the posting since last year, but was delayed by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, but having been posted to Yobe State, where at the moment, there seems to be a mounting insecurity, Ayo and his parent are agitated.

They cited rampant cases of fake security check points which the terrorist groups have been mounting on the Damaturu-Maiduguri Highway, which most times result in the kidnapping, and eventual killing of victims.

Currently, Ayo’s parents are looking at working his posting back to Ado, the capital of Ekiti State, where their son schooled.

Ali Yusuf, who recently graduated from the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano (BUK), and had just been posted to Ebonyi State in Southeast Nigeria, is also facing similar, challenge.

Yusuf, who is an indigene of Jigawa State, told BusinessDay SUNDAY that he did not want to go to Ebonyi State for his service for two reasons.

He said his first reason was the news about the activities of IPOB, a separatist group, demanding for a separation of southeast geo-political zone from Nigeria.

He is feeling that he will be unsafe, being a Northerner, if he is to do his NYSC, in the state.

The second reason Yusuf gave was what he described as the high cost of living in most of the states down south.

He disclosed that on receiving his posting letter and discovered that he was posted to Ebonyi State, he approached one of his uncles, who served in the state, some years ago, who told him about the difficulty which corpers, serving in the state, usually face.

Yusuf further disclosed that his uncle explained that unlike, in Jigawa State, where organisations, where corps members served in most cases usually offer free accommodation, the situation in Ebonyi is different.

He intends to work his redeployment back to either Kano or Jigawa.

Unconfirmed reports say that an estimated 40 percent of those posted to Kano, and other northern states have been seeking redeployment, on security ground.

A staff of the Kano Office of the NYSC, who did not want his name in print, because he was not authorised to speak to the press, confirmed the development.

Taraba

A graduate of Political Science of the Taraba State University, Ishaku Hassan told our correspondent in Jalingo that as a prospective corps member he should not be compelled to serve in states or zones considered dangerous, security-wise.

Hassan urged the management of the NYSC to review the posting of prospective corps members to states that are not safe.

“We expect all prospective corps members to reject posting to where they think they are not safe; we urge government to have a second look at the policy,” he said.

A serving corps member in Ardo Kola Local Government Area of Taraba State, Terungwa Tyo said he received his posting letter with shock when he saw Taraba as a place of his assignment.

According to him, the present security challenges in the country make it practically impossible to send graduates to some states that have remained the battlefields for Islamic religious fundamentalists and bandits.

“It is only those who are alive that can serve the country. Security of corps members should be very paramount in the mind of the government and the NYSC.

“Only those willing to go to volatile states should be posted there, those who do not want to go should reject their posting to such states,” Tyo said.

In March 2020, Sunday John, then 28, who was serving at Benue State, was kidnapped on March 4 at about 8.30 p.m. when the vehicle he was travelling in on from Ukum in Benue State to Jalingo in Taraba State ran into a check point mounted by gunmen.

He was thereafter blind folded and taken into the bush on a motorcycle from where the kidnappers established contact with his father who they requested to pay the sum of N5million as ransom to secure his release.

Narrating his ordeal to journalists, he said he was denied food for several days and was beaten mercilessly by his abductors who stripped him of his NYSC uniform and left him naked for days.

According to him, “On March 4, I was travelling from Ukum to Jalingo after getting clearance to go for medical treatment because I am asthmatic. At about 8.30 p.m., our vehicle ran into a supposedly police checkpoint mounted by the kidnappers.

“Our vehicle was flagged down and everybody on the vehicle was ordered to alight from the vehicle and forced to lie down on the road. They collected all our money, including my own N22,000, before they eventually blindfolded me and dragged me into the bush.”

“They asked me to call the NYSC to bring money but I told them NYSC doesn’t give money. So I eventually gave them my father’s number whom they told to bring N5million or I will be killed.

“After several days of negotiation, and after my dad insisted that he didn’t have the money, they eventually agreed to collect N300,000 which they later collected. After collecting the money, they blindfolded me again and took me through the bush before dropping me off,” he said.

An official of the corps who spoke to our correspondent in Jalingo on ground of anonymity said: “Here in Taraba, we don’t post corps members to flash areas. NYSC scheme should not be scrapped but modalities should be put in place to end insecurity in the country. However with the insecurity in the country the scheme has almost lost its glory”.

Borno

Since 2009, the Boko Haram insurgency and subsequent responses to it have ravaged Borno State and the border regions of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. It has led to over 25,000 civilian deaths, displacement of 2.1 million people, 5.1 million people facing acute food insecurity, the crippling of the local economy cannot be over-emphasised.

Several sectors have severely been crippled as a result of the insecurity of lives and property, The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Borno State Chapter could no longer perform orientation exercises in the state since July 2011 due to safety of the corps members. It was moved to Benue, Jigawa and Kastina States.

Before the advent of insurgency, Borno State used to receive a huge number of corps members but the story has changed, as many of the corps members now get redeployed to other states due to fear of sudden attacks.

An official of NYSC told our Correspondent that the headquarters usually post over 1200 members to Borno, but more than 60 percent of go back without touching the soil of Borno. He said that kidnapping, banditry and insurgency were the major obstacles facing the scheme in the state.

“Apart from general insecurity in northern states, most of the highways are not safe. Since 2011, we have not held an orientation exercise in Borno State due to insecurity challenges, we used to rotate it.

“We move from one state to another many parents would not want to allow their children to serve in Borno State, although few do allow them; more than 60 percent of them usually redeploy to other states,” the official who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed.

Civil Servant Umaru Aliyu, said Boko Haram activities in the northeast region has posed a serious threat to national unity and development.

“Insecurity has greatly affected our day to day activity; people can no longer travel with the aim to reach their destination. I can’t allow my children to go and serve, especially in the north-west due to bandit; I can’t remember when last we had camped in Maiduguri. So, insecurity has been a threat to this beautiful scheme,” Aliyu said.

According to him, “The way NYSC was carefully designed meant well for the unity of this country but no responsible parent will allow his/her son or daughter to go and serve where they would not come back to them again. We need to do more to ensure that NYSC scheme is sustained and the Federal Government needs to do more in the area of security.”

Kaduna

The National President, Campaign for Democracy (CD), Bako Abdul Usman asserted that the intense insecurity in the country has played a greater role on the reason prospective NYSC candidates are now seek redeployment.

He also blamed the increase in the call for redeployment on false medical reports that mostly the candidates present at their respective NYSC camps, adding that the health sector has aided to defeat the purpose upon which the NYSC scheme was established.

Bako advised that Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, rejig the scheme to meet the objectives for which it was founded, as it appears that request for redeployment is fast defeating the very essence of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.

Speaking on whether the scheme will in future be scrapped due to loss of interest, he said, despite the fact that the scheme is facing challenges of redeployment as a result of insecurity, among other factors, “I am not in support of calls for scrapping of any institution, but all necessary and adequate security must be given to these NYSC Corps members”.

A parent who pleaded anonymity also said, no reasonable parent would allow his or her child to go for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in an unsecured environment, calling on government at all levels to look into the security situation in the country.

“As we all know, the scheme is to unite people of different cultures, backgrounds, among others, but now, with the level of insecurity in the country you cannot expect any parent to allow his or her child that they have spent a lot of money to sponsor to University to go and be wasted by some criminal elements,” the parent said, on condition of anonymity.

Akwa Ibom

Although the NYSC scheme has been in the news in Akwa Ibom State for the wrong reason recently when a serving member, Princess Odume allegedly stabbed her lover to death in Uyo, many of the members have served diligently during the one year mandatory compulsory primary assignment of the scheme.

Odume, a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka has since been arrested and is said to be a stable mental condition to help to the police in the investigation.

According to those who spoke with our reporter, NYSC has remained a platform for unifying the youths and contributing to social integration by bringing youths from different parts of the country to get to know about the diverse culture of the people.

Anietie Etteyit, deputy Registrar, Planning, Research and Statistics, Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua whose school contributes a good number of students to the scheme, believes that the idea of scrapping “should not be contemplated at all” adding that that what the government should do is to work on improving the security in the country for all Nigerians.

“It was a well-thought out programme whose purpose and objective are still relevant especially now when the unity of the country is being assailed by forces bent on dividing the country along ethnic, tribal and cultural cleavages,” he said.

In the same vein, Charles Obot, Associate Professor of Mass Communication, University of Uyo says though the scheme might have lost its original vision of contribution to national integration, it should be refocused on providing employment to the youths in the country maintaining that its original purpose of the scheme has been rendered useless apparently due to the threat of insecurity in the country.

“When I was serving as a member of the scheme, I used to oppose influencing the posting of corps members to certain parts of the country, I wanted everyone to experience the country, then there was no ethno-religious crisis in the country, it was a scheme to make the corps members to know the country,” Obot said.

According to him, “To address the growing unemployment in the country, the scheme should be turned into a paramilitary programme. It should be refocused to deal with unemployment as its original vision of contributing to national integration has been rendered ineffective due to the insecurity in the country.”

Expressing worry as a parent, Harry Udoh, chairman of Civil Society Organisations in Akwa Ibom State said the purpose of the scheme has been defeated with the deteriorating security situation in the country coupled with the deepening ethnicity and religious intolerance in the country.

“With the escalation of the rampaging variant of the coronavirus, it becomes really worrisome to have the children exposed as they would,” he said.

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