The acclaimed winner of the June 12 presidential election, Late Chief MKO Abiola was quoted have said “We are sickened to see people who have shown little or no personal achievement, either in building up private businesses, or making success of any tangible thing, being placed in charge of the management of our nation’s economy, by rulers who are not accountable to anyone.”
Twenty six years have gone by since the devastating annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election by the then Military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, supposedly won by Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.
Few would argue that Abiola was one of the greatest advocates of true democracy in his time for Nigeria to remain a united entity. The man spoke as an oracle and his words still ring with life, even in death.
For a man of substance and eminence like Chief MKO Abiola to have spoken these words: “Our youths, in particular, can see no hope on the horizon, and many can only dream of escaping from our shores to join the brain drain” and another, “A scarcity of books and equipment has rendered our schools into desolate deserts of ignorance,” this suggested that he was familiar and empathised with the struggles of the Nigerian youths of his time.
Speaking within the context of Youth Corps Members and the Federal Government, it is indeed sensible to uphold honourable objectives such as embodied by the National Youth Service Corps scheme initiated on the 22nd of May, 1973 by the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon.
What may not be acceptable is seeming attitude of “rulers that are not accountable to anyone,” in the words of the late sage.
This seems to be disposition of the leadership of the country we have found ourselves in, one that points to dereliction of duty so brazenly exhibited. There are thousands across the country who believe it is found in countless other things than the increment of the monthly allowance from N19,800 to N31,800. They couldn’t be blamed.
The Nigerian experience is such that benefits become rare privileges, case in point, the elation the average Nigerian citizen expresses when electricity, having been denied for hours and is then restored, is happily met with delightful squeals of “Up NEPA” in the South West and East, or simply “NEPA” in the North.
Far worse is the anxiety that garrisons the minds of these same citizens when they are generously supplied electricity for a stretch of time than is usual; there is no greater punishment. The result is the helplessness they suffer due to the legitimate scare that they may be using up units of electricity meant for the next days or weeks.
The plight of Maiduguri, Borno state residents in December 2018 is relatable. Many stormed the office of the Yola State Electricity Distribution Company to protest uninterrupted supply of electricity! What a country!
What do we do but find hilarity in such situations that reveal our paralysis and deprivation just to maintain our sanity? The same is true of the pitiful condition Corps members were subjected to as ad-hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC during the recently concluded bout of elections. As though it were not sufficient an evil that they were provided with no beds to cushion the effect of stress on their bodies, the initial instalment of elections were abruptly cancelled, with good reasons. Again, we all found it amusing although Corps members who issued forth grumblings would not have, had most of them the fares to handle their transportation, seeing they had not been “settled” before the elections by the INEC.
Furthermore, while a significant number of these suffering ad-hoc staffs of the INEC during the 2019 elections have been attended to where it concerns their ‘rightful’ remuneration, an equally significant percentage remains as orphans. The situation is so disorganised that while so many were yet to be paid for either the presidential election or the governorship elections, there remain another subset that has received no compensation at all for their efforts in either assignment.
At least, it is comforting that a resolution to this was prescribed by the INEC in that these corps members were required to submit their NYSC Bank Account Statements, so as to determine whether their claims had any verity. However, it would seem this measure has no merit at all when the loopholes are considered. While several Corps members are denied their rightful reward earned through risk to their precious lives in the service of their dear fatherland, there are other Corps members who have allegedly been paid double of what they were entitled to in their capacity as INEC ad-hoc staff. Whether or not this is due to systemic errors on the part of INEC or the NYSC, the fact remains what is done is done and cannot be reversed.
Whose work was it to ensure these payments were made accordingly? Still, there is a uniform experience in the case of those Corps members who have received their entitlements and the reality of potential diversion of funds is alarming. At least, we are left with no option but to believe this because there is no accountability regarding this.
Instead of being paid Thirteen thousand naira (N13, 000) –approximately $36 for each task– there is a great number of Corps members who were paid N500 (about $1.7) less for either the presidential or governorship election. If we do the arithmetic, that is N500 multiplied by say just one thousand (1,000) of the supposed thirteen thousand, six hundred and thirty-seven (13,637) of Corps members who were registered as ad-hoc staff. That is no less than N500, 000 (about $1,385). Where did all that money go? It would seem they gave priority to these because they could get away with it, seeing the powerlessness of these innocent ones.
In addition to the drudgery these young Nigerians endure while fulfilling the demands of the mandatory programme, to what can we attribute the occasional delayed payment of their monthly allowance?
Here they begin to ask questions as touching details of where the bulk stops when they are not paid on time. As for the months of March and April 2019 for which they were paid on the 5th and 4th of the next months respectively, was it the case that the banks which were supposed to dispense the presumed disbursed allowance, invested the money? They begin to ask such questions as this, or set about seeking answers to others like when the Federal Government itself disburses the financial resources meant to be channelled toward the maintenance of their welfare. Indeed, we praise the initiatives of entrepreneurship and individual genius that speak of the fact that the Corps members take ownership of their lives, seeing “nobody owes them anything,” which much is true in the individualistic our society is maturing into. However, shouldn’t the qualities of personal genius and effort be measured meant to augment whatever the Federal Government extends to them in its generosity, and as and when due, especially because it was its idea that they serve their fatherland? Indeed, when eventually many receive their allowance, most of it is already gone, either to the settlement of a debt or two. Other times, it is transferred to a strict budget system regardless of the limited resources available.
Moreover, what shall we say to our slavish adherence to the old that creates pointless hindrance to the new which we so ardently profess to covet? We would hardly condemn our society for its conservative outlook on life. Every nation, even the most conservative, reviews the documents upon which its unity is founded and remains secured, from time to time and as novel circumstances arise which necessitate that their constitution be updated to address such matters of importance. But need we suffer paradigms that in the long run,shorten the usefulness of our virile youth?
Perhaps we consent to fulfil this inescapable part of our socio-political existence at the superficial level. Our failure to go beyond the apparent is much obvious at this time and certain might agree that whatever minimal efforts we invest in this are ineffective at best. The result of this is the widely believed claim that no efforts are being made at all, suggestive of hypocrisy of our leadership in that they refuse to relinquish the ideology that our youths must be pummelled by poverty and necessarily grope in the darkness to find their way in life. So quick are they to make reference to the philosophy that “That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.” Before we wax overtly philosophical, let us put things plainly.
This is what we do where the benefits attached to the National Youth Service Corps are concerned. Forty-six years after the noble scheme was established, Corps members are still being paid the paltry sum of N1, 400 and N1, 800 for their bicycle and transport allowances respectively, when about to leave the orientation camps in the respective states of deployment. While they are quick to appreciate these provisions made aforehand, and in order to restrain the entitlement compulsion of the millennial spirit, questions spring up nevertheless. Are these allowances put together sufficient to handle the
transportation of these young patriotic Nigerians straight to their Places of Primary Assignment, assuming that most of them actually report to those places immediately upon leaving their orientation camps? Let us examine the plight of a youth corps member who may even wish to purchase a bicycle, though most would rather do without one. Would not the price allotted to this constitute only a meagre ten per cent of an adult-size vehicle of this sort? Furthermore, do we consider the dangers that may befall Corps members that ride bicycles on roads designed for cars and buses? What about the common practice where Corps members are not paid allowances for a month, without explanation, but with the promise that double that amount would be paid upon the approach of their final Passing out Parades (POP) at the end of their service year?
Yet, a myriad other issues face the youth which already has enough viciousness to confront. Have we considered the fact that sometimes, the very Places of Primary Assignment these innocent citizens are posted to have no system either of accommodation or of reasonable remuneration, if at all there is? It is trite that about 80 per cent of Corps members, who try to escape the village-teacher destiny anyway, are unfortunately posted to schools that depend solely on their state governments for staff, leveraging the N-Power or NYSC for this purpose and are so milked dry that the remuneration (if at all there is) pales in comparison to the efforts invested in students who by the way, possess a gross natural inadequacy owing to lack of proper tutoring that results from a broken arrangement of succession between Corps member-teachers?
More, some of these schools or companies these suffering but intelligent young Nigerians are posted to, do not even exist and with this, some officials who work within the scheme are so devoid of empathy that they transfer their assignment to seal the posting of Corps members to the same Corps members who are not expected to know anyone in the strange land they are deployed to, though it be in the same country. The conclusion we are left with, is that these issues stream from a lack of comprehensive deliberation upon the consequences of demanding or upholding the demands that the youth of this nation serve their fatherland.
The resulting dispositions suggest a low level of thoughtlessness, lack of initiative which ultimately point to redundancy of our structures, the NYSC included. Perhaps this dereliction of duty is deliberate, just so our government is set up to ignore the current realities that would demand more of them and so stick to the old that have lost relevance.
In conclusion, were we assured to possess the listening ears of our leadership, instead of witnessing the ostensible double standards and inconsistency between speech and action, we would arise to our duty and take our place in national participation and nation building. Yet shall we marshal our energies towards this, in spite of the current situation of things, proffering antidotes to our crises so we may practice these, beginning from our circles of influence. Against this backdrop, let us examine the words of Margie Warrell, a Forbes contributor, “Much has changed since then, including the rules for getting ahead. To succeed today you must be in a constant state of adaptation – continually unlearning old ‘rules’ and relearning new ones. That requires continually questioning assumptions about how things work, challenging old paradigms, and ‘relearning’ what is now relevant in your job, your industry, your career and your life.”
Much is also true concerning the running of the affairs of a nation. Therefore, we must attain consciousness of root of issues that plague us, whose fruits manifest as unyielding problems so that whenever we make moves at resolving them, we would not be executing quick fixes which will only guarantee instant relief but set us up for greater damage to the inner fabric of our being as a country where it concerns the youth, the future of our dear Nigeria.
In other words, the necessity for constant evaluation of our systems cannot be overemphasised. More so, we must probe deep, beyond the surface issues, the resolution of which will quickly cement the allegiance of the people for the time being. In plain terms, it is not just about an increment in monthly allowance, it is the need for a complete overhaul of the structures upon which the systems of the National Youth Service Corps stands.
Again do we remember the precious words of the late Chief MKO Abiola, “From this day, show to the world that anyone who takes the people of Nigeria for fools is deceiving himself and will have the people to answer to.”
Oluwanifemi Babalola is a corps member serving in Kano State.