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Fresh concerns over cost, relevance of NYSC scheme in lean times




At the estimated cost of N120 billion yearly amid austerity, the ideals of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are in for relevance and sustainability crises, Iyabo Lawal writes.

On monthly stipends of corps members alone, the Federal Government has spent at least N475.2 billion between 2020 and 2023, The Guardian estimates reveal.

Recall that the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari increased the corps members’ monthly allowance from N19,800 to N33,000. The increment took effect in 2020 amidst controversies on the continued government investment in the scheme that critics believe has failed to sustain its aim and outlived its usefulness.

With the number of corps members said to have reached at least 300,000 in the last couple of years (on at least one occasion, reports indicated that the number of corps members called up by NYSC reached 350,000), the Federal Government pays a corps member N396,000 yearly. Each month, 300,000 corps members earned N9.9 billion and 118,800,000,000 per year. Then, a conservative calculation from 2020 till date would amount to N475.2 billion.

Some analysts estimated that the scheme would consume nearly N3 trillion in the next five years. Between 2016 and 2020, the Federal Government said it budgeted over N520 billion for NYSC.

Relatedly, the government increased the monthly allowance paid to corps members from N9,775 to N19,800, in March 2011. As of that time, they earned a monthly stipend of N19,800, N18,000 minimum wage plus 1,800 as transport allowance.

In one year, a corps member earned N237,600 yearly. With an estimated number of 250,000 corps members each year from 2015 to 2019, the Federal Government doled out N59,400,000,000.

These figures exclude the meals and camp kits provided to the corps members. Like the country’s budget and actual releases, the NYSC funding seems shrouded in secrecy.

Excerpts from the agency’s 2017 budget showed that apart from allowances, the NYSC spent N2,491,681,500 for kitting of the 297,293 corps members and N3,272,103,431 for meals for 21 days. Apart from the corps members, the budget for feeding, at N500 per meal, included 74,326 camp officials.

In its 2018 budget, the NYSC revealed it spent N11,651,846,453 on kitting, transport allowances and feeding for 350,000 corps members. It was the same in 2019.

But the budgetary allocation shot up in 2020 as the monthly stipend to corps members was increased to N33,000. The budget was increased by lawmakers from N10.33 trillion, presented by Buhari, to N10.6 trillion to accommodate the new allowances.

In August 2015, the Federal Ministry of Youth Development had disclosed that the annual enrolment of corps members increased from 2,364 at inception in 1974 to 229,016 in 2014, projecting that the number might rise to 300,000 by 2020.

In 2018, it was gathered that N105 billion was budgeted for the allowance of 350,000 corps members. This was to cover the N19,800 monthly allowance and the N3,200 paid to each corps member during the three-week orientation in camps across the country, among other expenditures.

In 2017, NYSC stated it mobilised 297,293 corps members nationwide, spending N67,383,359,602 on allowances. The figures indicate a year-on-year increase in the agency’s budget as the number of corps members increased by about 50 per cent.

Currently, corps members get a N33,000 monthly stipend starting from 2020, in line with the new national minimum wage signed into law by Buhari on April 18, 2019. By 2020, the budget skyrocketed to N161 billion. That is in addition to budgetary provisions made by some state governments to support the programme.

For instance, the Lagos State government budgeted N300 million to support payment for NYSC interns in 2020. Other states also make similar budgetary allocations to cater to corps members serving under their jurisdiction. In 2016, the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development was allocated N75.4 billion, of which N66.8 billion or 86 per cent was for NYSC.

With prices of household items, food, and transport fares hitting the roof following the petrol subsidy removal and unification of the foreign exchange market, corps members appear stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Nigeria spends billions of naira annually to pay the allowances of thousands of graduates enrolled each year by NYSC. Since 1973, the scheme has become an integral part of higher education in Nigeria, following its integration as a compulsory service for graduates.

The 50-year-old programme was created in a bid to “reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country” after the Nigerian Civil War, “with a view to encourage and developcommon ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity,” according to decree No. 24 of May 22, 1973.

Struggling to stay afloat
From time to time, NYSC has been held up for scrutiny as the backlog of prospective corps members lingers. In 2016, a staggering 129,469 graduates’ future hung in the balance.

The agency mobilises at least 300,000 corps members each year for a decade or more, according to reports. Buhari had to request additional funds from the Senate, pointing out that the provision for NYSC in the 2016 budget was inadequate to cater for the number of corps members to be mobilised that year, pressing that an additional N8.5 billion was required to cover the backlog of 129,469 would-be corps members.

Though the NYSC does not publish the number of corps members, its budget, and expenditures, the Federal Government’s spending on the scheme has tripled in the last three years. It is expected to increase further due to economic headwinds stoking inflation. Corps members have continued to lament that the current N33,000 allowance is just a drop in the ocean of their monthly bills.

However, over the years, the benefits of the NYSC scheme have been questioned, especially as it gulps billions of naira in scarce funds annually and has regularly become a source of controversy due to the danger, economic hardship, and insecurity it exposes graduates to.

“On a personal note, I believe that my service year in Enugu was fun-filled and fulfilling in many regards. However, like many other commentators, my fulfilment is drawn from a personal acceptance of the reality, my bold strive for the fulfilment, and a personal decision for positivism,” Paul Adeyeye, a former corps member, wrote in 2020.

Adeyeye said further, “I still remember the hunger that came with the meagre N19,800 allowance in the very ‘expensive’ Enugu city, my deep worries when I fell sick, and the series of uneasy thoughts that came with my road trips from the southwest to the southeast. The most annoying of these was the reality that my life was valued at a ridiculous sum of N1 million in case of eternal liabilities!”

Some Nigerians suggested that the government shouldincrease the monthly allowance to N70,000.

“Transport to Place of Primary Assignment (PPA), feeding and accommodation too, the money isn’t enough,” said Julia Adinnu, a corps member serving in Lagos. To fill the gap, she pleaded that the allowance should be reviewed, “at least to N70,000 monthly, considering the fact that everything is expensive now, buoyed by the rise of dollar and fuel price.”

According to data from the Debt Management Office (DMO), NYSC’s budget spike is expected against the backdrop because of the economic crisis, which has pushed the nation into massive borrowing – shooting its public debt profile up to N49.85 trillion as of March 2023.

Corps members are largely perceived as not adding further value apart from teaching at schools and working with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as ad hoc staff during elections, except for a few with differing views.

“I believe the programme should be sustained 100 per cent,” Chidi Chukwu, who works with the NYSC, said. “Based on my experience, I think the scheme is very useful.”

Chukwu said apart from their involvement in teaching and being election field officers, corps members have become an integral part of community development service.

“The corps members develop their host communities. Some of these build modern-day toilets, either in the markets or the village square in the communities where they serve, were built by corps members. Some even drill boreholes or initiate projects that last a long time,” Chukwu added.

Chukwu said he is not sure the Federal Government wants to expand the benefits of the scheme beyond the Skill and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED), a training programme to empower corps members to become entrepreneurs and create jobs.

According to Dr Emeka Nwinyinya, an expert in educational management from Alex Ekwueme Federal University in Ebonyi, NYSC has declined in its significance.

“The way and manner the scheme is being run shows that it is no longer a scheme,” Nwinyinya pointed out. “The purpose of the exercise has been defeated.”

He added that the “money that should have been used to set participants up after the training is not there.”

But the Director-General, Brig.-Gen Shuaibu Ibrahim, thought otherwise. “Corps members are on reserve. They are part of the national defence policy of this country. So, where there is serious war, our corps members are educated. They are knowledgeable, and they can be trained (for warfront). You see the drill and so on,” Ibrahim said.

Corps members as INEC’s ad hoc staff
In the last general elections, corps members were subjected to violence. Previous years had been the same.

In 2011, the declaration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the winner of the presidential election sparked off riots in some northern parts of the country following disagreements over election results. When the dust finally settled, many Nigerians were left dead, several others were wounded, and property worth several billions of naira was destroyed. Among the dead were 20 corps members answering the call to foster national unity by serving their fatherland outside their states of origin.

The killing of members did provoke outrage and national debate on whether the scheme initiated as a post-civil war healing strategy of the fractured polity had not outlived its usefulness. On September 26, 2010, there were reports of the abduction and raping to death of Grace Adie Ushamg, a female corps member serving in Maiduguri, Borno.
Calls to scrap NYSC heightened.

The notion that the NYSC serves as a vehicle for promoting national unity has been tested for years. Observers said it has failed to live up to expectations, as evidenced by the height of disunity in the country.

For instance, the 2023 general elections were said to have displayed the highest degree of ethnocentric politics in the history of Nigeria. The divisive political campaigns, championed on many fronts by people who passed through the NYSC programme, belied its purpose.

The arguments against retaining the programme include that it is a waste of funds, leads to loss of lives of corps members in crisis-prone or hostile areas, makes youths engage in illicit behaviour during orientation camps where supervision is minimal and even adds little value to host communities as young graduates with no formal training in teaching are assigned to teach children in rural areas.

But the biggest argument against the scheme is that the current operation does not even help the programme’s objectives. Prospective corps members with people in prominent positions manipulate their postings to states of their choice, defeating the purpose for which it was established.

Education experts have argued that it is hard to see in tangible terms how the NYSC’s success outweighs its failures. With arguments for and against the scheme, it will take a drastic situation to review the exercise critically.

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