As the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) approaches its 41st year of existence this year, the Bauchi state Coordinator of the scheme Nuhu S. Kwaghe in this chat with NAJIB SANI, enumerates the significance, achievements and challenges of the scheme. According to him, the NYSC contributes immensely to national development
Tell us the significance of the NYSC since its 40 years of existence?
Well at the time NYSC started in 1973, the country had population of less than 60 million and the man power availability is less and therefore the idea of NYSC came into being. Then, we had about five universities in Nigeria that produced graduates for mobilization for national service, but later on, HND holders were added to the scheme as well as NCE holders. This scheme was basically to provide skilled man power for distribution within and among the regions of Nigeria to facilitate national development.
What are the achievements in NYSC in Bauchi state?
Well at inception in 1976, Bauchi state couldn’t be better than its sister states of Gongola and Borno at that time. And therefore, the need for man power in schools and hospitals especially from 1975 to 1980 increase because there was increase in schools and hospitals. At that time, some of the states even go beyond the country to India, Pakistan to recruit science teachers and medical Doctors, to complement the work of NYSC, if you go to school without a corp member it means the school has not yet arrived.
General hospitals were principally manned by the NYSC Doctors.
I recall with joy that the natives prefer NYSC Doctors who could speak English and understand their environment than the Pakistan or Indian Doctors could hardly speak English. So from 1976 to date the NYSC has made remarkable achievements in Bauchi state particularly in the educational and health sector. Don’t forget during the Babangida years where many federal government programs came out. The enlightenment process also was developed and organizations like MAMSA and the likes largely depended on corps members’ activities in the Local Government Areas and villages to bring the realities of the programs to the people. So, we can confidently say that in Bauchi state, the NYSC has made great impact in the socio-economic, educational and health sectors of the state.
Why do Corps members have preferences on where to serve considering that the scheme was meant to enhance integration?
I must be frank with you, it is not the corps members that reject posting to a state, as you all know it is as a result of some political grievances from certain quarters. Any corps members I stand to be corrected will want to come to Bauchi, Borno , Yobe, and any other part of the north east. I started being state coordinator in Yobe in June 2009. We were at camp in july when Boko Haram actually started when they burnt the police station, FRSC office in potiskum before the army came from Guru to battled and defeated them.
After their defeat they passed through fika particularly through our camp, and I remember it was corps members that were even trying to help the fleeing people mistaken them for ‘almajiris’ and even offered them food. At that time, Boko Harram was just a set of people that wanted to achieve certain goals, but along the line, the situation was mismanaged and unfortunately they increased in the North-East. I was transferred to Taraba, but Borno and yobe were relatively peaceful places because when I was in Borno from 2010 to 2011, we didn’t lost any corps member to Boko Haram. But as I told you the issue came to the fore when some parents in the south through their politicians particularly starting from Lagos insisted that none of their indigenes should be posted to yobe, Borno and so and so forth.
Some community members are not hospitable to corps members posted to their states, why is that so?
Except out of malice and mischief, there is no community that does not know the value of the corps members. I can assure you since I came here, I received people from almost every part of Bauchi state requesting for corps members. Whatever you hear about hostility of community towards corps members must have arisen from some happenings in the past.
How does NYSC ensure the safety and protection of corps members?
Corps members are usually posted in groups to particular areas with secured accommodation. We also ensure that addresses and locations of those lodges will be made available to SSS, Police, traditional rulers and opinion leaders of society. So in any breach of security, the security men will be contacted. For your information, the Bauchi state Director of SSS official line, that of police commissioner and civil defence commandant is placed at all the corpers lodges, so we have a coordinated community system and we can track down crises easily by telephone.
Once a corps member calls us, don’t forget that each corps member in Bauchi state has my number and that of the PRO, and Local government inspector he is posted to, with these we have been able to reduce security threats to corps members.
Today, most corps members serve in their region Don’t you think the scheme has lost its aim of national integration?
It is not true that corps members are posted to their geographical region. If you go to sokoto or any northern state, you will find that they are yorubas, igbos and other tribes. What happened in the case of north east is that the minimum number of corps members from the south came and basically it was out of this fear and the rest of the other corps members came from other geopolitical zones like north central, northwest and north east. When the minister of youths was addressing the corps members during his last visit, he said that these measures are temporary.
Do Corps members have the right to apply for redeployment?
There are many reasons as you know, marriage, health problem. If a corps member is posted to Bauchi and says he is not comfortable with the security situation here and wants to go. I don’t have any option because I cannot guarantee his or her safety. But what we have done is to educate these corps members enough in the camp. That was why during the last orientation only one third of the corps members applied for relocation and even after that, out of that number a lot have cancelled. I can assure you that by next orientation, the agitation to relocate will be less.
Has the NYSC any plan of increasing corps members allowance?
Don’t mind that statement because this is coming from the people who do not even know economics. I know some people will tell you that the N200 paid to the corps members in the years past is better than the N19, 800 now being paid to corps members. I used to sit them down and economically we analyzed. What was the cost of this in 1980, 1983, 1984 and 1987? You will find out that the corps members today are much better paid than the past because the corps members allowance is paid as the minimum national wage.
Does the NYSC make any effort to secure jobs for corps members upon completion of their service?
We have gone further than that. We have a component in the orientation system that guarantees a corps member to acquire a skill of his or her choice. And eventually he becomes an employer of labour not only employing himself. We have under the job advisory unit a program whereby opportunities for employment are sourced and given to corps members. The truth of the matter is that they are getting the jobs. It is only that some people do not want the jobs because they have other thing in minds.
How would you advice corps members posted to Bauchi state to conduct themselves during their service period?
Incidentally if we are talking of the 40th anniversary of NYSC, we are talking about the people who are doing service now. I think Nigeria is so open now that we know everything about ourselves. Therefore the issue of the life and living mood of the people being alien to them is not true.