Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s recent Economic Sustainability Committee report suggested that all camps where the National Youth Service Youth Corps (NYSC) orientation exercises are usually undertaken should be closed for 24 months because of the COVID-19 protocol, which demands social distancing.
The suggestion contained in the committee’s report has continued to generate reactions from stakeholders who have pleaded with the Federal Government not to accept the suggestion as it portends greater danger for the country.
As a follow-up, Laolu Akande, spokesman to the Vice President had painstakingly explained in a series of tweets what his principal meant.
The tweets read in part, “Contrary to reports circulating in the mainstream media, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo did not call for the suspension of the National Youth Service Corps.
“It’s the paramilitary orientation camping that is being considered to be suspended for at least 24 months, not deployment to primary assignment, i.e. the longer part of NYSC programme would not be affected in case this idea is okayed.”
The report compiled by a team of ministers – Finance, Budget and National Planning, State, Budget and National Planning, Industry Trade & Investment, Labour and Employment, State, Petroleum Resources, Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Group Managing Director, NNPC and permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office – Secretary is aimed at proffering changes in different sectors of the country’s economy post-COVID-19.
Membership of the committee includes Ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo; Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq; and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva.
Others include the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari; the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele and the Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babatunde Lawal who is the secretary of the committee.
A stakeholder and public commentator, Femi Subair, who is opposed to the idea, said nothing is wrong in the Presidency coming up with economic sustainability plan to identify fiscal and monetary measures to enhance oil and non-oil revenues.
According to him, the NYSC scheme and orientation programmes should be further modified rather than an outright suggestion for a disorder of an integral aspect of the service years for Nigerian born young graduates.
“I have had direct interaction with some of the graduates that are mobilised for the service as they arrive in camp fresh from school. Many though are sound academically, but their understanding of the country and social mix is nil. They are completely blank about events and happenings outside of where they schooled or grew up.
Subair, who enumerated Orientation Course, Primary Assignment, Community Development and Winding Up/Passing-Out as the different stages serving corps members must pass through argued that a dislocation of one is a disruption of all.
Referring to the outstanding performances of corps members in the fight against the spread of the deadly Coronavirus in the production of face masks and sanitisers for the citizens, he said the foundation and training of corps member in fashion designs were sown at orientation campground as they are mobilised to take up a skill as entrenched in the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) Programme.
“As the first stage, the orientation programme is critical because it is designed to equip the Corps members adequately for the challenges of the service year. It is the stage corps members are prepared for the entire one-year national assignment. Its objective, among others, is to give the corps members a better understanding and appreciation of the scheme and familiarize with the new environment they are deployed.
“Sending corps members straight to Places of Primary Assignment (PPA) could spell doom for the scheme. It is like sending recruits to the war front without good preparation and knowledge of warfare,” he argued.
He said lectures on camp are meant to equip corps members with the adequate knowledge needed for the year, saying such mandatory exposure was never a waste of time as it enriches the terse knowledge of corps members with necessary information.
Emphasising that much as he was not opposed to the government salvaging the battered economy, he suggested that the government should look into other sectors like the huge vote for the renovation of the national assembly, humongous allowances and payments made to members of the national assembly, saying if it becomes imperative to revitalise the economy, the government should search elsewhere without further strangulation of the few privileges enjoyed by the youths.
“Why is it that youth and education sector are always the prey to strangulate and starve of funds for development and growth? No provision is too large to advance the education of Nigerian children,” he cautioned.
Speaking on maintaining social distancing as part of the reasons put forward by the Federal Government Economic Sustainability Committee, he suggested that the period of orientation be staggered such that camps will not be crowded.
“If NYSC is mobilising 2,000 for Delta State, for instance in a stream, the batch could be divided into two groups of 1,000 corps members and reduce orientation to 15 days apiece without military drills with all necessary COVID-19 protocols put in place.
“One, this will address crowding at the orientation camp and secondly two corps member have enough spaces in the camps. I am sure no orientation is less than 2500 capacity,” he added.
In its contribution, the NYSC Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), had in a report appealed to the Federal Government (FG) to have a rethink before it endorses the proposal put forward by the economic committee to suspend the orientation programme for 24 months.
Mr. Ventim Bako, the Foundation’s Executive Secretary, in the report, maintained that such action is fraught with ‘grave’ danger, which can affect the capacity of corps members at their various Places of Primary Assignments (PPAs).
Founded by former corps members who felt there is a need to provide support for the continued healthy existence of NYSC Scheme and by extension, giving back to the society, the foundation said the VP and members of the committee had good intention to protect lives of the young graduates and contain the spread of COVID-19 but urged the government to have a rethink.
Corroborating the position of Subair, the NYSC Foundation ES said for anyone to deploy fresh graduates to PPAs without basic tools and the requisite training in an orientation exercise is going to be a great disservice to the capacity of the corps members.
He argued that unleashing the fresh graduates on the society could be counterproductive to the objective of the scheme to promote unity among Nigerians from all parts of the country and their counterparts from the Diaspora.
A group, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in a chat said it condemned the proposal for whatever reasons for making the pronouncement.
Comrade Hassan Taiwo-Soweto, National Coordinator of ERC said, “We are for outright opposition to this decision. We make this point because in the absence of unemployment benefits or any form of social security, the National Youth Service has been serving an important purpose in stabilising young people as soon as they graduate, helping them to earn an income for a year while looking for jobs and other opportunities.
“Taking it away alongside the income that the beneficiaries earn for a year will worsen the suffering of young people and provoke a social crisis. Especially at this period when the prospect for employment is much reduced because of the unfolding economic crisis, together with a demanding continuation of the NYSC,” ERC said.
Besides, the group also demands the provision of an expanded and public-funded unemployment benefits programme under the democratic management of a committee or board composed by elected representatives of trade unions, student unions and pro-masses organisations.
The group added, “Such should be payable to all graduates of higher institutions and all unemployed people in the country until such a time they are able to get gainful employment.”