By Modiu Olaguro
They flocked into the ancient state. A routine for a few, first experience for many. The eagerness to wear the crested vest, jackboot and khaki pant was on a high prior to their graduation. On their call-up letter read: “Dear compatriot, I am happy to inform you that by the provisions of NYSC Act Cap N84 of the laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, arrangements have been completed for you to participate in the National Youth Service Corps Scheme for One Calendar Year and you should report as follows:
State of Deployment: Kwara…
To serve their nation, graduate citizens from polytechnics and universities across the nation and beyond are engaged in the one year compulsory national service. The 42 year old scheme which runs on four cardinal programs–orientation course, primary assignment, community development service (CDS) and winding up—centers on the promotion of national unity.
Kwara, a state in the north-central part of the country like its counterparts is a major beneficiary of the services of corps members. From teachers to doctors–both in the public and private sector–young men of varying tongue and custom are seen scattered across the sixteen Local Government Areas’ of the state.
The destination was Yikpata camp in Edu local government whose journey started with verification of credentials at the gate. The camp, a jungle-like space whose environment looked like a lost wilderness welcomed the young volunteers’. After four hours on queue for verification, a fifth has either had their documents touched, soaked or destroyed as the sky could no longer hold. Murphy, a graduate of the University of Jos who travelled from Imo state called the rain a “manner of destruction”. An abode of trees and stones, the young graduate watched as the rain rained razor and fire on his statement of results. “When I got the document, I looked at it and beat my chest for that was the best I’d achieved in my 27 years on earth. Now it’s gone. With this gloomy start, I just hope this service will be worth the sacrifice.”
“There was nowhere to seek shelter as the whole place was full of vegetation,” cried Adisa Joshua. “I watched helplessly as my work of five years whose summary is embedded in a tiny piece of A4 paper got consumed by the anger of the cloud. The service has surely begun.”
By sundown, at least 2,000 Otondos’ as prospective corps members are called had walked through the military barricade.
The sign of what to come reared its head in the three weeks at camp. “They built less than twenty toilet facilities for about 2,500 of us” says Saidat Bashir, a twenty year old graduate of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. “In my first three days in camp, I held back from defecating as it was just impossible. When it got to the fourth day, no one begged me to do it. Fast-forward to a week at Yikpata, I saw the bush as an abode of relief for the sight of solids and flies in the toilets due to lack of water and congestion made toilets an archaic way of relieving myself.”
With the camp atmosphere, the young minds prayed for the nightmare to end.
Service or servitude?
Sited in the 1999 constitution at section 315, the National Youth Service Corps decree 1993 recognises the need for employers to accommodate corps members into their welfare scheme. Section 18, subsection 1 reads: “An employer of corps members shall, in determining the seniority of and salary or other remuneration, pension and gratuity payable to a graduate who has completed a period of service corps and been duly, discharged there from, take account of that period of service and such salary or other remuneration, pension and gratuity shall not be less than that normally due to a graduate in comparable employment for the same period as the duration of the first mentioned graduate’s service in the service corps.”
While most corps members serve in institutions owned and controlled by the Kwara state government,–hence making the NYSC act binding on the governor—neither the state nor any of its local governments compensates the youngsters for filling-in into a civil service that has an acute shortage of manpower. “Everywhere we turn to in this country, the breakdown of law and order steers one right on the faces” complained Gabriel Akpan, a Corps Liaison Officer (CLO) at Ilorin-West LG. “It can be understood if private employers of corps members spit at the constitution, what is unacceptable is the continued indifference and impunity by the government of Kwara to our plight.”
In SS2: “An employer of corps members shall provide the following, that is (a) basic accommodation and where that is not available, pay a minimum sum of N250 per month in lieu of accommodation;
i. All welfare facilities normally provided for the regular staff including medical service.
ii. Transport or where it is not available, pay the minimum sum of N150 per month in lieu of transport.”
“I’ve succumbed to destiny.” says Hannah Emmanuel “In the private school I work, i resume by 7:30 am and leave not until4:00 pm. Within this period, i do everything the teachers’ do from signing of registers to answering roll forms. This is not forgetting the two subjects I teach at least two classes. The fact that we are corps members actually makes the matter worse as my employer pays N3,000. When the school was on break, my colleagues and I were made to take summer classes which we are not sure of payment.”
In Corroboration, Taiwo Enayon, a graduate of mathematics from the University of Ibadan who recently completed the mandatory service finds it difficult reconciling his efforts with pay, at the same time accusing the Local Government Inspectors’ of conniving with private employers to shortchange corps members. “The governor of this state who feeds fat on the sweat of corps members feigns ignorance of the fact that most parents stop handing stipends to their wards on the day they wrote their final exams.” Wrote Hassan Matilda, a corps member serving in a government college in Oyun LG. “Nothing betrays my resilience to teach these kids than the almost poverty situation I find myself or how on earth can a lady sustain herself with N19,700.” She queried.
Seeing a corps member wear a uniform to the market is unusual due to a misconception that they are governments’ children. In a number of the local governments’ where markets are close to the places where the weekly CDS meeting holds, Charles Agwu, says “no one need remind me to wear something on my crested vest to the market if it falls on a CDS day.”
Bala Mallam takes his ground pepper to an evening market somewhere at Ifelodun LG. To him, the corps members are gold mines ready to the mined. “I do inflate the prices of my goods if I recognise a customer as a corps member. Especially in this Buhari’s administration, everyone in this market is aware that they now earn a lot.”
Would you believe if I tell you I’ve not been paid in a long time? Asked Banji Olayemi who serves in a private hospital at Moro LG. “That’s by the way. The most unfortunate experience here in Kwara is that one is not safe from the traders unless they do not know that you’re a corps member.”
Akande Adebayo corroborates this assertion: “I was at a market here in Ilorin-East LG where a trader insisted on selling four sticks of plantain for N600 – an action I saw not only as an extortion but evil. I never understood what was happening until she told me that she also has to enjoy the national cake. What saved me was that i showed her the text message of my bank alert where she saw that I actually receive a monthly stipend of N19,700. If this trend continues, I doubt if corps members would not fall within the preying eyes of kidnappers.”
While many spoke on what many calls “market forces”, a Corps Liaison Officer whose home was ransacked queried why the Director General would bring him to “suffer” in the state. “Just last week while at CDS, my home was broke into and my clothes and money were stolen. These are the same people we teach their children pro bono.”
Nna Adaobi who has been an official for fifteen years calls the situation “pathetic”. “Let me be frank with you” she says, “The government of Kwara does not care about corps members. The situation is made worse by the fact that this is a one man state belonging to Bukola Saraki. The advice I give my Corpers is to do their best and leave these men to their ways.”
“When people open their mouths to say payments by any other than the federal government is a privilege, I see such persons as being mischievous. Who is supposed to pay these gallant youths’ if not the government of Kwara where NYSC supplies them with men to serve amidst unmotivated and mostly lazy workers?” She continued.
A Zonal Inspector who retired in Kwara state after 23 years of service spanning across Ogun, Taraba and Ebonyi states says a state that is notorious for bad governance who saw no reason to pay when oil was selling would hold on to the not-too-good economy as an excuse if the issue is brought to fore. “I think it is criminal to bring corps members here and leave them stranded. As a father of four, I dare not give my last child N19,800 as a pocket money in a month. The corps members need to push the state and local government to play their parts.”
According to section 7, SS 5 (ii) of the NYSC act, “The Governor of a State and the Chairman of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall be required to give to the State Governing Board a minimum annual subvention of N500,000 to enable it cater adequately for the welfare needs of corps members deployed to the State and such minimum subvention shall be provided before the commencement of the service year for which it is intended.”
Speaking on this, an aide of the state coordinator, Mr. Moisudi Amusa who craved anonymity berated the state government on why it finds it difficult to make the scheme worthwhile. “Can you believe that some states even in this time of cash crunch go out of their way to grant this scheme as much as N3m, some, N5m while Kwara state denies us the minimum N500,000 to augment for the running of the orientation camp? If there is a state that disgraces this scheme, it’s this one.”
A few among the corps members in one of the local governments’ got N5000 for a month when the chairman realized that their threat to stage a protest was garnering momentum. Although frowned at, the 2014 Batch B Corpers had already begun move to cause a stir in the community in what they termed “extreme economic conditions.”
According to one of the mobilizers who likened the scenario to the case of monkey de work, baboon de chop, “corps members will continue to work while the baboons will keep eating until they make the Kwara state government realize that they constitute a sizeable proportion of the workforce.” The way to go, he says, “is to drop their tools in order to make a statement that Nigerian youths’ can no longer be taken for a ride.”
“Each time I go for the monthly clearance,” says Ifeanyi Ibe “the offices in the local government secretariat are always locked as the compound looks like a graveyard yet, the workers lay claim to their salaries. Everyone, as long as you render public service is on national service, we are working underground to ring that into the ear of the governor.”
“We will begin where the outgone batch stopped,” vowed Adamu Mohammed who teaches English, Literature-in-English and Government at a public secondary school in Offa LG. “I’m here to serve, not to starve.”
Modiu Olaguro writes from Jebba
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