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Nigeria more united when NYSC was established than now –Abiante, sponsor of bill to scrap scheme

The lawmaker representing Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State in the House of Representatives, Awaji-Inombek Abiante, tells Leke Baiyewu about his bill seeking to scrap the National Youth Service Corps and the reasons behind the move

Why did you sponsor this bill and what is the objective?

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The summary of the bill is just to repeal the National Youth Service Act – to repeal it and forget about the scheme because it is no longer yielding the results that we anticipated. A lot of times you find out that corpers are either involved in accidents while travelling from their place of residence to their place of primary assignment or they are being kidnapped or raped. This violence everywhere, this insecurity everywhere is also a challenge to most parents. Parents have become very hypertensive for the fact that they don’t even know what could befall their children after spending so much, putting them through school. You will also find out that most of the employers are no longer interested in granting people permanent employment; they now depend on the usual and regular youth corps members. (You now hear employers say) ‘Don’t worry, corpers are coming.’ This is especially by those who have private businesses, like schools, hospitals, banks, name it. Instead of getting people employed, they depend on youth corpers, year in year out, and it is worsening the unemployment situation. Take out the youth corpers who are involved in this free services and people will be compelled to employ.

But some youth corps members are being retained at their place of primary assignment.

What is the percentage of youth corpers that are retained? (It is) very minimal. Can you really define the criteria used to take that decision? If we are looking at competence, are you very sure that those that are retained are the most competent of all that were posted there? If you are talking about service, are you very sure that they were the most hardworking amongst all? Now in some cases, for corpers to win (national) award, some of them go outside of their mandate. You see them soliciting funds – ‘I want to repair school desks,’ ‘I want to paint’…so that they will be visible. That is not what they have gone there to do. They are supposed to render services based on their capacity. You see youths bothering their parents – ‘I was posted to this place, they don’t have a roof, they don’t have this, they don’t have that.’ Sometimes, they (corpers) literally compel people to support their programmes. That is not the responsibility of a youth corper.

Many former youth corps members have testified that they never had the true picture of other places and cultures until they were posted there. There are also cases of inter-ethnic/tribal marriages. Are these not the positive results of the initial idea of using the scheme to strengthen the unity of the country?

When did the NYSC come into place? 1973. What was the level of unity then and the level of unity now? Can you compare how Nigeria was in 1973 to how Nigeria is today? Has it achieved the purpose, if you talk about unity?

Will scrapping NYSC not worsen disunity in the country?

No. Look at where we are coming from and look at where we are. This programme has been here with us for these decades and it has not achieved this purpose, and you still want us to go through that route? And we complain every time that we don’t have money for infrastructural development. The resources that are put in there (NYSC) can be diverted to make the power sector work. If electricity works, it will guarantee employment for even the youth corpers or fresh graduates.

Are you aware that there are vocational training opportunities for corps members at the orientation camps, which give them entrepreneurial skills and can change their lives?

Is it not shameful that a man will spend six years in primary school, six years in secondary school and (a minimum of) another four years in the university as the case may be – we are talking of about 16 years – then opt for learning tailoring and hairdressing? Haba! If we truly want to give ourselves skills, there are better ways of handling that. In my days when I went to secondary school, I attended a Government Comprehensive Secondary School. There was a segment of our training as secondary school students that was hands-on; that was the vocational aspect of what we were doing. There are technical colleges or there should be technical colleges. There was a time they came up with this 6-3-3-4. They bought machines and all of that. What was the intention? There is Intro Tech (Introductory Technology) in secondary school. What was it intended for? It was intended to teach students how to use their hands and get some of these skills. It is not when you have graduated as a medical doctor that you will then go and learn tailoring and how to press machines. It is not when you have graduated as a lawyer that you will go and learn make-up and how to brush people’s faces. If you want a skill, you can acquire the skill by the side. For how many weeks do they even train corpers at the camps? You go to camp now, with this pandemic, it is two weeks. So, you want to tell me that the things they teach them in two weeks are enough to build vocational skills?

Is it not better to groom people to become employers of labour than leaving them to look for a job for several years?

Who is grooming who? The NYSC camping of two weeks is grooming them to become employers of labour? Haba! Chineke! There are universities today that have this course as part of their training – Entrepreneurship Development. Universities have it. If they cannot get through all of that at the university, is it the two weeks that they stay in camp that they will get the training as entrepreneurs? Of course, that programme has been incorporated in the curricula of most universities. So, if that is our thinking, we should encourage other universities to also be part of it. Teaching students how to manage their own businesses, I think, that will be better than to say because of the two weeks (at the orientation camp), then let us not attend to the issues that have degenerated the employment situation in this country, where people (employers) will just sit every year and say ‘corpers are coming’ and they don’t bother about the welfare of anybody.

If NYSC is scrapped, what will happen to the large number of workers in the corps employ? Will it not add to the unemployment problem that you want to solve?

They are civil servants. And I am sure that when they were being employed – if we are true to the civil service requirements – they were employed as federal civil servants. From that point, they were deployed to the NYSC. So, they still form the bulk of the civil service. They can get placements in other ministries, departments and agencies.

How realistic is that?

The civil service is not like PUNCH or Guardian. If you are a civil servant, you are a civil servant. In their own case, they are federal civil servants. The federal civil service employs and deploys workers to various ministries, departments and agencies. That is how it is done. If their services are not required in Agency A or Ministry A, of course, they can serve in other MDAs.

But there is the belief that many of the MDAs have surplus workforce and some of the workers are literally idle. Should more idle hands be paid for doing little or nothing?

Are people so redundant in the ministries already? It is just a belief. If they are redundant, the government knows what to do.

Are you talking of mass sacking?

If they are redundant, the government knows what to do eventually, with their policies. That alone is not enough to say ‘keep this whole department’ or ‘keep this whole agency.’

Why are you not calling for the reformation of the NYSC instead of outright scrapping?

What reforms are we going to be considering in the NYSC?

But the scheme has its benefits…

What are the benefits? That you take somebody from their village and in one year, you don’t know what happens to the person? Some people cannot even feel free and live like Nigerians in some areas where they are posted to. In some places, people are harassed for the way they dress or even get killed. Is that the benefit? Have you really seen some corpers in certain areas? There have been reported cases of rape in areas where there are security challenges. Who wants to train their daughter through the university and then allow one idiot, one criminal, to defile her in the name of going to serve? We should be talking about the level of protection that the society has even given to these kids. Have you even seen the accommodation? Employers who are supposed to make provision for accommodation; even the government agencies, do they provide for them? How long has this scheme lasted? This is a question we should be asking. If since 1973 till now, we have not been able to reform, we have not been able to improve, each time we look back, we say it was better in the time past than now, then what are we doing?

What is going to happen to education in those communities where corps members constitute the academic staff in their schools?

You are talking about where the corpers have been helping out to teach; the state should employ (teachers) and not wait for when corpers will be posted. It is not even everybody that is qualified to be a teacher. It is not about being a graduate. Being a graduate does not make you a teacher. If we are talking of the quality of education, it should also include the quality of the teachers and quality of the teaching. That is why you have the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria. Those corpers, are they registered as teachers? What are they doing in the classes? It is only a teacher that is qualified to teach in a classroom. It is only a lawyer that is qualified to be in the court to represent clients. So, if you are not qualified as a teacher and they just send you to go and teach because you have graduated from university in the name of your youth service, does it make sense?

What has really gone wrong with Nigeria, so bad that it seems the NYSC can’t manage the division and disunity any longer?

I think we left the purpose. We abandoned who we are. We abandoned what made us Nigeria. What made us Nigeria were the ideals of our founding fathers; the issues that they canvassed, the agreements that they reached. And during that period, a lot of achievements were made. I have said it before: the Ahmadu Bello University, it came to be as a result of the agreement of our forefathers. When they were living by those tenets, they were able to establish the Ahmadu Bello University. There was competition – a healthy one. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, it was the same thing. It was not federal resources that founded and funded those universities. The Cocoa House, the Television House, it was not. So, now, what we do today is that everybody is a beggar. At the end of the month, every state will come and hold their plate and say, ‘Serve me; dish my own food.’ So, it does not give us that pride to say, ‘I am able to do this. I can generate this. In my area, I have abundance.’ It does not also task the intellect of the people around to say, ‘Okay, this is what we have as a challenge, these are the options we have, we can be creative.’ Have you asked yourself about the inventions that happened in the days of need? Why did Nigeria not sustain them? In the days of need, there were inventions. A group of people were refining the crude without recourse to anybody; without looking for any help. Today, Nigeria cannot maintain one refinery – just one; not to build, just to maintain. But as of that time, people were creative. Scientists were there; the professors, they made researches; they made contributions towards this project and it served the purpose. Today, nobody makes any effort. It is now, ‘Have they paid? The month has ended. commissioners will go to Abuja to take (allocation).

Now that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has said revenue has dwindled and there may not be money to share as allocation, what is going to happen to the states?

Maybe when the (oil) wells dry up, and you turn the oil well and nothing is coming out anymore, we would be forced to think.

Will the country not eventually accept restructuring by force?

You and I are talking about restructuring. There are people who pretend like they don’t even understand the meaning of restructuring. There are people who still believe that there is nothing to restructure. A whole lot of people don’t even want to understand what restructuring means. When you talk about true federalism, a whole lot of people don’t even want to understand what it means. So, how do you make progress?

The Committee on True Federalism of the ruling All Progressives Congress chaired by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, in its report, rejected creation of states but approved merger of states that are no more viable. Is the country not heading towards that direction?

Have you allowed the states to run themselves in the first place? States that have solid minerals, have you allowed them to mine those? Is there any part of this country that does not have a resource that it can survive on? You declare states as not viable, how? …Run by a ‘Feeding Bottle Republic?’ You have not allowed these states to use what they have but you are saying they cannot do this or that. How did they manage in the days past? Everywhere that you have comparative advantage, allow people to go their direction and contribute a certain percentage to maintain the centre, reduce the load that you are carrying at the centre and see whether people will not survive. If at that point they don’t survive, then they will go to the next stage of thinking. Even the man that chaired the committee, is he having it easy with all that has happened? Okay, let him merge with Kwara State so that he can pay his workers and not do the drama that they are doing now.

Do you have faith in the on going constitution review by the National Assembly, especially with the disposition of some of the leaders to some current national issues?

If a little component as the electoral reform that the 8th Assembly passed was refused assent (by the President), are there things that are less challenging compared to electoral reform that we are faced with today? We are faced with greater challenges but I believe that if we truly want to get it done, we will get it done. But it is only when we begin to classify people based on whatever considerations, that is when we find it difficult to do the right thing. If we declassify everybody and say see us as same and equals, we will sit down and tell ourselves the honest truth. That is the only time you will have a solution to the hard things that we are faced with. It is not time to do the sweet talk; it is time to discuss the very controversial issues.

The debate is now between revisiting the 2014 confab and convoking another national dialogue. Which is the better way to go?

It simply means that there is a need for discourse; it means there is a need for us to engage. How we will engage is what I cannot say. But there is a need for us to engage. The method of the engagement, I do not have an answer to it.

Source: PUNCH

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