Reduce their suffering – The Nation

Time to review upward the allowance for NYSC members

Now, your suffering continues” is a costly corruption of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), referring to the agony of lack of jobs that youth corps members face annually, after completing the mandatory one year national service. They roam the streets in search of non-existent jobs, in some cases for years. But, today, youth corps members’ suffering begins right from their days in their respective higher institutions where, unlike those who attended the same institutions about two decades ago, they suffer all manner of deprivations and indignities.

Only a few weeks ago, students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, were reported to be sleeping in open fields on campus because of bedbugs which had infested their hostels. Those who graduated from the university some years ago cannot believe that this is what their alma mater has become. But OAU is not alone; many Nigerian tertiary institutions are like that; they have become mere shadows of their former state.

The N19,800 monthly stipend paid to the corps members is about the latest of such suffering.

The Yakubu Gowon regime introduced the NYSC scheme in 1973, to foster unity among the various ethnic groups in the country. Coming less than four years after a bitter civil war, the scheme was then welcomed by most Nigerians, not only for its potential to bring together youths from various parts of the country but also, as a means of exposing them, as catalysts of the envisaged unity, to know more about the country instead of seeing everything from their narrow parochial perspectives.

Of course, money was not Nigeria’s problem then. The affluence rubbed off on the scheme as corps members had some of the best of service uniform, from face caps to shirts and trousers, as well as befitting brown canvass shoes, all imported. University graduates for whom the scheme was originally meant looked forward to the day they too would be privileged to wear the resplendent and highly respected uniform.

But all that is gone with the wind. Today, most prospective corps members would opt out if they had the option. As a matter of fact, there have been calls for the scrapping of the scheme because, as many people contend, it has outlived its usefulness. Indeed, the calls gained stridency in the years that Boko Haram insurgents terrorised Nigerians in the north-east. Parents did virtually all they could to ensure their wards were not posted to the ‘hot spots’.

Without doubt, the scheme provides cheap labour for many governments and private concerns, even as corps members had been deployed for electoral duties, despite the attendant risks. Many youth corps members have distinguished themselves in the remotest parts of the country, with some honoured by the host communities.

But then, like most other things in the country, the NYSC too is now becoming less and less attractive due to the many challenges the corps members face. This was why Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State renewed his call for an upward review of their stipend to reflect the prevailing cost of living. The governor bared his mind at the swearing-in and official opening ceremony for the 2017 Batch ‘A’ Stream I of National Youth Service Corps members at the NYSC Orientation Camp, Ise/Orun/Emure Ekiti. He was represented by the secretary to the state government, Dr. (Mrs) Modupe Alade.

We agree with the governor and others who had shared such sentiment and urge the Federal Government to review the allowance upwards. It is sad that our youths who have been posted outside of their home states have to be given peanuts. In the past, some employers augmented the allowance for them; some provided them with free accommodation, among other assistance. These days, most of these are no more. Indeed, some institutions would even reject corps members because they cannot afford to add a dime to what the government is giving them.

If the government is interested in retaining the scheme, it should ensure it is properly funded and corps members given allowances that reflect the present economic situation. The government should not lure the innocent youths into the temptation of engaging in social vices to make ends meet in the ‘strange land’ that they have been posted to.

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