Nigerian youths’ service charge

(By Mustafa Yusuf-Adebola)

A call-up letter is a letter which ‘invites’ a graduate to come and serve the country for a period of one year in any of the 36 states including the FCT, Abuja. Normally, prospective corps members go to their various higher institutions to obtain this letter and now the service corps wants to charge a N4, 000 as fee for introducing an online alternative to this. Though not compulsory, the ‘clarion call’ is one which Nigerian youth swear to serve and defend their country – if need be, the corps members can also be called to defend the sovereignty of the nation at any point in time.

THE recent move by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to, as from next year, introduce a compulsory fee of N4, 000 for the mobilisation of prospective corps members is a serious cause for concern. It is a continuation of successful and unsuccessful effronteries by public institutions to financially burden the citizenry of this great country especially under this current political dispensation. As each month passes by, it appears that more public institutions want to choke Nigerians with burdensome ‘ideas’ and policies – their usual approach is to first ‘test the waters’ to see our reactions.

  We had earlier witnessed the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) force a change of number plates on Nigerians citing reasons such as the need for a better-managed database and added security features. The Nigerian Police Force brought about the BMCR (biometric car registration) fees for car owners; the Ministry of Power had also increased electricity tariffs for services not commensurate with consumers’ utility. Not to be left out, the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS) succeeded in charging unemployed youths an application fee for seeking employment opportunities into the agency earlier this year.

  Perhaps learning from this (NIS) experience, the Director-General of NYSC said that this fee was a service cost to the consultant handling the project and not for the scheme or higher institutions. So, this begs the simple question; if the NYSC had the plan to “improve its operations in line with global cutting-edge technology,” what did it take to present this proposal (to the Ministry of Youth Development) for scrutiny by the National Assembly, the supposed representatives of the people? After all, the NYSC Act provides for the directorate to ‘‘prepare and submit to the minister not later than December 31 in every year, an estimate of its expenditure and income during the next succeeding year.’’

  To whomsoever ox could be gored, NYSC has reminded us that the scheme is not compulsory, so it is a matter of choice. However, in the reality of our times and to avoid breaking the law, the NYSC certificate (of exemption) is a prerequisite for employment. Certain people are exempt from partaking in the scheme including those who are over the age of 30, those who have been conferred upon national honours and members of staff of certain security agencies. Consequently, people find one way or the other to ‘comply’ with the law thereby creating avenues for abuse of the scheme.

  A call-up letter is a letter which ‘invites’ a graduate to come and serve the country for a period of one year in any of the 36 states including the FCT, Abuja. Normally, prospective corps members go to their various higher institutions to obtain this letter and now the service corps wants to charge a N4, 000 as fee for introducing an online alternative to this. Though not compulsory, the ‘clarion call’ is one which Nigerian youth swear to serve and defend their country – if need be, the corps members can also be called to defend the sovereignty of the nation at any point in time.

  Not to be overly critical, the initiative is a good development, save for the unnecessary service charge. Most Nigerian institutions have online portals where each student has a profile – all that is needed is a synchronisation of data collated by the universities with NYSC to replace the manual system that previously obtained. Hence, the student can check his or her university’s profile for the call-up letter instead of using a third-party provider as is at present considered. A better option is to let a consultant implement, train staff and transfer the modalities of this transmission to NYSC in which case, it serves the public interest.

   The service corps must be informed that while ‘lives of prospective corps members would be saved from road accidents’ through this initiative, it must not be unduly seen as a favour; rather, it is in line with its duty to ‘assess and review, from time to time, the progress of the service corps’. Nigerian youths need not pay for things that will make the service corps perform better, instead, it is the government’s responsibility to provide for and support the service corps with adequate infrastructure. The service year should not attract any fee whatsoever as it is the youth that are offering their services for the period to the nation.

   This financial burden is insensitive as even the transport/bicycle allowance (which inflation has made it of less value) given to corps members during their orientation has been enveloped by this N4, 000 fee. There is a lot for the service corps authority to do administratively when it comes to ‘saving lives’ of corps members during the service year much more than just providing an online platform for checking or viewing call-up letters. Moreover, there is no statistics to prove that the number of people who are involved in road accidents when travelling to their orientation camps or place of primary assignment (after the orientation) is more or less than those who visit their higher institutions to obtain the call-up letters.

  It is not stated how long the consultant for this project would be handling it but bearing in mind the primary aim of business is to make profit, one cannot but question how much profit it will make in such a short period when one multiplies the number of graduates produced yearly by the N4,000 fee. While the President can intervene by ‘specifying the procedure for call-up and the manner in which notification of call-up shall be made to members and prospective members thereof’, the National Assembly is similarly urged to check the excesses of our public institutions in the interest of the citizens.

• Mustafa Yusuf-Adebola, a risk consultant in Lagos.

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