We’ve Adopted Measures For Security Of Corps Members

News Introduction: 
Brigadier General Nnamdi Okore-Affia, the director-general of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, lives up to his military training; he has no room for ‘African time.’ As the 24th guest to the Nigerian Newsworld/Nigerian Pilot Leadership Forum, the DG took everybody by surprise when he arrived the venue at exactly 8.45 a.m. for an event scheduled for 9.00 a.m., much earlier than most journalists. Okore-Affia, who assumed leadership of the NYSC last year, took time to explain some of his achievements so far. Excerpts:

Some people have called for a paradigm shift in the running of the National Youth Service Corps, especially in the posting of corps members. Corps members now prefer to serve in urban centres instead of rural areas, which was the philosophy behind the scheme in the first place. As DG of NYSC what are you doing to change this?
The National Youth Service Corps, NYSC is 38 years plus and it was established primarily to foster unity among Nigerians. Thirty-eight years is long enough to pursue the agenda of unity. I joined the service 31 years ago and when I was appointed as the DG of NYSC, I discovered that the NYSC was still running the same programmes that were in place when I was a corps member and I asked why we have not been sticking to the goal of fostering unity.
There was the need for a paradigm shift to reposition NYSC to attain modern day realities. One area that we view very important is the posting of corps members. People think that corps members should be posted to every available place where they need the services of cheap and subsidised labour, but this is not correct. Even if NYSC was established to foster national unity, then corps members should be able to render service to the nation first, before service to self and private organisations or individuals.
For instance, we look at corps members serving in banks and private organisations and we ask, where does national service come in if they are sent to banks? Therefore, I said it is necessary to bring back the actual concept of national service into the NYSC to build on the concept of national unity. If corps members are posted to the rural communities to render service in education, primary health care centres, among others, these communities will not only benefit from the core manpower, but they will begin to appreciate the need for national unity. It is not just the corps members who will be preaching national unity, but also the host communities that will receive young men and women from other communities who render services in their domains. Through this, they will agree that national unity is a worthwhile venture.
Then, we came up with a positive policy designed to address key areas like education, primary healthcare delivery, agriculture and infrastructural development. Our belief is that if corps members are deployed to these four key areas, they will be able to render services directed and focused on national development with the attendant effects on the population. Through this process, of course, there hosts communities will be better for this, because we have been to communities where education and health care delivery programmes survive purely on corps members. It is unfortunately that some of these communities are regarded in Nigeria of today as volatile and insecure. But the truth is that a lot of these communities depend solely on the corps members to run their education and primary health care delivery programmes.
 
Employers of labour see corps members as source of cheap labour. Some no longer bother employing fresh hands since corps members are readily available all year round to serve them. And this is contributing to unemployment. What are you doing to address this?
This is one important area we want to address under the new administration. We have commenced the implementation with the Batch ‘A’ of 2012 and so far, even with the expected opposition and resistance, we are making progress. We have three batches for the service year, that is, batch ‘A’, Batch ‘B’ and batch ‘C’. A lot of organisations are eagerly waiting for these corps members to come on board as replacement for the outgoing ones; they do not bother to go the labour market to employ Nigerians, and we think that if we deprive them of this cheap labour, they will be compelled to meet their manpower needs by employing Nigerians.
Another area we felt is due for review is the concept of orientation course programmes. These have been affected by manual activities and a few lectures on the culture, tradition and history of the host communities. We thought that corps members need something extra, because government jobs are no longer there for the people to come and choose. Therefore, we felt it is necessary to introduce a skill acquisition programme for the corps members to equip them and thereafter have something to build on at the end of their service year. We all know that the labour market is already saturated and jobs are not there. Corps members are skilled in the areas of animal husbandry, fish, snail and grass cutter farming and beekeeping. All these are very good businesses with available markets, especially if you are very good in raising snails and grass cutters. Though these may have nothing to do with what the corps members read in their various schools, surely they are alternative means of livelihood.
 
There were calls last year for the scrapping of the scheme because of the risks the corps members are often subjected to. What measures have you taken to address the security challenges corps members face in their areas of primary assignment?
We have also decided to introduce some elements of martial arts training in our orientation programme, targeted primarily for our female corps members. Prior to my coming on board, we had issues of female corps members being molested by ‘okada’ riders; some by the traditional rulers. The thinking is that if these young ladies have some forms of self defence training, they would be able to say no in more ways than one. The main aim is to give these young ladies a fighting chance so that they would be able to defend themselves before the deed is done. They will probably not be helpless victims, but been able to fight for themselves rather than crying for help.
At the concluded orientation for batch ‘A’ 2012, I was actually amazed at the reception the martial art training for the female corps members received. It was interesting to see some level of enthusiasm and we are building on it. Like I always tell corps members, sometimes it is better to possess a skill and really not need it than to desperately need it and not have it. We have also taken some steps in addressing security concerns of corps members, parents and guardians, especially with the level of insecurity in some parts of the country, and building on the sad event of April 2011. 
Also, we set up a distress call centre at the national headquarters in Abuja here. The way it is configured to work is that every corps member who is mobilised is required to provide a functional GSM number registered to him or her. When that corps member completes orientation and is deployed for primary assignment, the place of that assignment is captured and details of security agencies in that locality are all captured. If any corps member calls the centre with the registered number, every detail of that person will be displayed on the screen for its operator to relay back to any security agency within the place of primary assignment of the corps member making the distress call for prompt rescue.
The aim of this is primarily to reduce as much as possible the reaction time between when a corps member or groups give some form of distress and when they get help. We are assuring the general public that as long as they are with their registered GSM number within the service areas, corps member can reach the call centre and tell us what is amiss if any. So far, we have not received call for any help under distress rather than call for financial help.
Also in addressing the security concerns, we have intensified and increased our collaborations with the security agencies. As it is known, the National Youth Service Corps is not a security agency and that is why we need collaboration with those that are empowered to provide physical security, since we care about the security of our corps members. We have reached out to the Nigeria Police, State Security Service, SSS and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, and they have been very responsive.
At the last orientation, we had increased deployment of manpower from these organisations and of course also from the Nigerian Army, all which provided security for the corps members. Thereafter when they were deployed for their primary assignment, we have also compiled addresses of all existing lodges where the corps members usually reside while serving and given the same to security agencies within those areas for them to know the direction of the corps members in time of need for help whenever the need arises. 
Nigeria has 36 states plus one Federal Capital Territory. By our mandate, we must post corps members to every state of the federation good or bad. However, because some areas have been described as volatile, for one reason or the other, we have reduced the number of corps members posted to those states such that at the end of orientation, they are deployable within the state capitals and maybe one or two local government areas where they can be easily reached by the state coordinator, the commissioner of police or state director of SSS so that you don’t have them in far flung areas where help will not get to them. But the truth is that each state deserves corps members. Like I said earlier there are 36 states and the FCT that make up the federal republic of Nigeria. We will not deliberately send people to violence prone areas but at least to state capitals.
 
Often time the focus has been for the service year and no effort has been spared to prepare corps members after the national service. Isn’t it necessary to prepare the corps for life after service because this will help in employment generation?
We also have what we call War Against Poverty Initiative. This was derived from the Millennium Development Goals, MDG 1 which centres on the eradication of poverty. Corps members who partake in our skills acquisition training, and who at the end of their service year, are desirous of establishing their businesses are given interest-free loans to start such businesses. The main requirement is to have a workable memorandum of understanding, MoU with a guarantor and the only collateral required is the certificate of national service, which will be released to the corps member at the end of completion of the loan facility.
So far, about 2, 000 to 3, 000 corps members have accessed the facility. The loan ranges from N150, 000 to N250, 000 per individuals for small scale enterprises. That these loans are being repaid by the first set of beneficiaries is an indication that their businesses are thriving. It is not only the corps members that are building successful businesses, but also the labour market is beginning to find answers to the large scale unemployment in the country, because for every business that succeeds, one or two members of the communities where the business is located will also gain employment from the corps members.  
It is our hope that for every 10 corps members, if nine succeed and each employ five local hands, we will go a long way in addressing the issue of youth unemployment in the country.
This is how far we have gone and we hope to build on this and take NYSC to the next level by making NYSC contribute positively to the socio-economic development of the nation.
 
Considering the short nature of the orientation period, how do you crystallise some of the programmes and the intensive nature of some of the skills acquisition for the corps members to understand what is expected of them?
The orientation period is short but we use it mainly to sensitise corps members and thereafter those that are interested in acquiring these skills will be put through a proper skills acquisition programme throughout the service year. It is only after that that they are required to write a MoU and a business plan and submit. We know that the orientation is too short to acquire the rudiments of these skills but it is meant to sensitise, because out of say 3, 000 corps members posted to a state maybe just about 500 might be interested in maybe say agro-based skills. We consider the willingness of young men and women to get their hands dirty in the name of skill acquisition and will take the duration of the orientation into consideration and stretch it out through the entire service year.
 
What are you doing to extend the skill acquisition to other areas of endeavours apart from agro-base to areas like Information and Communication Technology?
I want us to understand that the NYSC scheme is not an internship programme; it is not meant to prepare people for positions in banks and private organisations. It is meant to address service to the nation first after which each individual is now at liberty to either go NNPC to a bank or whatever. The agro-based skills we introduced are meant to address immediate needs, eradication of hunger and poverty MDG goal 1. We have also introduced some other complimentary skills like ICT, computer repairs, beads and hat making for ladies; we are not restricting ourselves to agro-skills only. We will expand our scope based primarily on the level of funding that we receive to enable us increase the loan facility. There are some skills for instance, N250, 000 loan cannot build any meaningful business and so right now we are constrained to operate within the approved loan facilities. 
 
What is the NYSC doing to ensure the continuity of corps members’ community development projects after they have passed out from the scheme?
It is expected that when a corps member decides to embark on a community development project in his or her place of primary assignment, that project should be within the scope that the corps member can easily handle and complete within the service year. No corps member is expected to go half way for another corps member to come and complete the project. The reason being that the presidential award given to deserving corps members at the end of each service year is actually based on a corps member’s performance and impact on his/her host community. The corps member who initiates a project that is meant to put him or her in contention for the award and if that project is not completed the aim will be defeated. Therefore no corps member goes out to start a project that cannot be completed within the duration of his service year and of course if a project is abandoned over one reason or the other the next set of corps members are not duty bound to complete the project.  However what we usually tell our corps members is that you don’t go to a place and decide what your CD project should be rather the host community tells you what they would want you to do for them. You being the educated expert they now pool their resources and the manpower to execute the project. 
 
I am aware that about two months of outstanding arrears of corps members’ allowance have not been paid and why is this so? And why don’t you consider insuring corps members instead of relying on donations from the public when an incident occurs? 
I can tell you here and now that the allowance of April and May have been paid in full; there is no outstanding allowance. However, the delay was occasioned by some error between the ministry of finance, the office of the accountant general and the office of the director general budget of the federation. There is this migration of civil servants emoluments to a platform called IPPIS. It is meant to address salaries and not corps member’s allowances; apparently both were lumped together and that caused that delay. Unfortunately the AIE for April was signed only on May 14 and the accountant general did not release funds even for April until May 17. We are working to ensure that funds for June and July are released on time so that corps members do not pass through that same harrowing experience. 
However, there is another category of corps members who have not collected some outstanding allowances. These are corps members who have relocated from violence prone areas to some other states. In their hurry to run away, they did not go through some administrated procedures. Therefore their allowances are still being sent to their original state of redeployment while the corps members have gone to either the new state of deployment or is relaxing somewhere. I will tell you here and now that a large percentage of redeployment requests are not actually initiated by corps members but by people who are senior to the DG. When a corps member does not directly apply, the losing state will not know until well after that redeployment has been done; so the losing state will continue to account for this corps member and will continue to receive his or her allowance. Until that corps member goes back to do some administrative procedure and now transfer his or her documents to the new state the allowances will continue to be domicile in the old state of deployment. The money will be there not that the money won’t be there. That is the second categories of corps members who are complaining that they have not been paid. 
We have a life assurance policy for corps members; it pays N100, 000 per corps member and it is managed by Capital Express Insurance. We also have health insurance for corps members and we have health management organisations covering the six geo-political zones; we have gone beyond looking for donations for corps members.
 
Is there any way you can get the NYSC Act amended in the National Assembly and secondly, what are the assurances that corps members will be protected during the forthcoming elections in Edo State?
On the NYSC Act, there is a call for memoranda not just the NYSC Act but other Acts or decrees that there are proposals to be amended or removed entirely from the constitution. Because the NYSC is a national programme and we still believe that the NYSC has a lot to do with not only fostering national unity and integration but assisting in the transformation agenda and helping to build and develop socio-economic advancement. We are canvassing that the NYSC Act remain part of the national constitution as much as possible because if it is removed from the constitution it means it will be amendable to all manner of abuse. First instance when the Bauchi incident happened, there were calls for the scheme to be scraped entirely. When those calls were not heeded other calls came up that the NYSC Act should be amended especially in the areas of posting and deployment so that corps members are posted only to their areas of origin. But you will agree with me that that totally negates the concept of national unity and integration. Take for instant a child who grows up in the southwest, he goes to primary school in Oyo State goes to secondary school in Ogun State and comes back to the University of Ibadan and then serves in Osun State. There is no level of integration that child can impact on any host community. So as much as possible we would want to canvass that the NYSC remains part and parcel of the federal republic of Nigeria.
On the Edo State elections, we are working with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and we want to as much as possible get INEC to commit that security cover will be provided for corps members in July will be such that will have verifiable guarantees of security of corps members who INEC will want to use as ad hoc staff. However, if we are unable to get such guarantee, we may prevail on INEC to give us a waiver and not use corps members for the Edo election of July that is option B.

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