Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Director General, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brigadier-General Shuaibu Ibrahim, is one man who knows where the bones of the scheme are buried, having served as a military assistant to a former DG as a young officer.
In this interview at the scheme’s headquarters in Abuja, the digital DG, as he is fondly called, enumerated the teething challenges confronting the scheme, singling out the menace of mobilising fake corps members and disturbing sustained fake and negative social media reports against the scheme as the worst.
After close to one year on the saddle, will you describe the journey as rough, tough, or smooth so far?
The journey has been quite interesting and just like I keep saying in several fora that it is a great privilege that Mr President gave me this opportunity to serve as the 18th Director General of NYSC.
I was with the scheme as a young officer as a military assistant to a then Director General. I have a good knowledge of the functionality of the scheme and I have tried to leverage on that. I will say that the journey has been so far, so good.
What are those challenges you have encountered?
Well, there are always ups and downs in every human endeavour but one of the challenges confronting the scheme is the issue of unqualified Nigerians seeking mobilisation for service. We have been battling that menace and I can confidently tell Nigerians that we are winning the war and have recorded very huge success.
On resumption, I noticed that the number of foreign-trained graduates seeking mobilisation was increasing astronomically. We decided to look inward to find out what was the problem especially when core employers started writing us to complain that the corps members posted to them were not properly measuring up to expectation.
That was why we adopted mechanism to checkmate the menace and tackle the challenges. Luckily, the measures we put forward yielded a very positive result, which propelled us to tighten our grips on our mobilisation process.
For the first time in the history of the scheme, we had meetings with the Registrars and Student Affairs Officers of these Africa universities responsible for mobilising the fake prospective corps members.
We read riot act to them. We also had the opportunity to address Vice Chancellors, Rectors and Provosts of Colleges of Education on the need to do the right thing so that we can have a seamless mobilisation process.
Only recently, we noticed that out of the over 20,000 foreign trained Nigerians that uploaded online ahead of Batch C, only 3420 showed up for physical verification. It was a confirmation that we are making an inroad into curbing the menace. Let me however, emphasise that the NYSC alone cannot do it; we will require the cooperation of every other stakeholder to completely win the battle.
I want to use this opportunity therefore to appeal to parents and our foreign-trained Nigerians especially in West African sub region with questionable credential, not to make themselves available for Batch A, Stream 1 that will start on March 10 because they will be arrested and prosecuted.
I want to also appeal to them to do the right thing and avoid cutting corners because there is always reward for hard work. We have a committee with the National Universities Commission and the Minister of Youth and Sports has been helping in that regard. I believe that things are getting better.
How have you been handling the issue of corps allowances, which has become a recurring problem?
We have to first thank God for the payment of the increment of the allowance of the corps members. You know that when there is increment in the minimum wage, corps members automatically benefit 10 per cent of the increment and that was what has happened.
You also know that the Federal Government takes the welfare of the corps members very seriously. And that was why it seems the corps members are the first to benefit from the increment.
Their allowance was first to be paid before others, which was an indication and confirmation that Mr President and the Federal Government are really concerned about the welfare of the corps members.
The good thing is that some of the corps members have started well by deploying the resources from the increased allowances productively. Some of them already into skill acquisition have already started boosting their business with the increment. I have told them to be prudent.
At their stage, they don’t need to start business with N10 million. However, the increment, if well utilised, can turn around their future and fortune. All that they require is passion and hard work. They should endeavour to utilize the money properly.
The corps members allowance is captured in the 2020 budget and the commencement month is January and that is what the government has done. I have explained to the corps members on the issue of arrears, informing that the commencement date for the increment in the allowance is January as captured in the 2020 budget.
One other battle confronting the scheme is the fake news in the social media, what is your impression on the one trending recently over payment to deploy corps members to juicy states?
It was quite shocking and unfortunate to see all sorts of reports with phone numbers directing any prospective corps member seeking to be posted to Abuja, Lagos and other so called juicy states to get across to them. They even have the boldness to announce that it is negotiable. Certainly such is not coming from the NYSC because it is fake and false information.
We want to appeal to Nigerians not to fall victim and prey to these fraudulent scammers. We urge every Nigerian to seek information directly from the NYSC. We are available and our offices are all over the country and we run an open door policy. They can as well visit our functional website to get information. They should make inquiry to get the right information.
We have already written to the DSS, Police and other security agencies to help us track them and as I talk to you, the DSS has already arrested some in Osun State and we are trailing others in other parts of the country. We are determined to get to the root of the matter so that this should be laid to rest completely.
It is shocking the volume of negative reports we see on the social media. I was shocked to read on the social media that a JSS2 student impregnated a corps member. This is not true. We also saw a recycled report of an issue that happened many years ago. Once they recycled it, it will start trending again.
We read recycled report of the corps member involved in accident along Gombe road, but it was an incident that happened in 2016. Instead of allowing the innocent girl rest in peace, they are recycling the report about her death as if it happened recently. They are subjecting the parents to another round of agony.
Again, we have commenced registration for Batch A 2020 only for us to read on the social media that we have suspended the registration process. All these misinformation are from some mischievous elements. We want to appeal to Nigerians again not to fall for the antics of these scammers.
We will also write to the EFCC to also help us along with other security agencies track them down. We are sure that by the time one or two culprits are made the scapegoat, it will serve as deterrent to others that want to involve themselves in such fraudulent activities.
The culprits will face the law and good enough we have Cybercrime law that will be used to prosecute them. Just as we are prosecuting those with fake certificate, we will also prosecute anyone perpetrating circulation of fake news in the social media.
I don’t want to go into the debate whether or not those behind these are ex-corps members we empowered with different types of skill acquisition programme during the service year. Anybody who is a criminal may remain a criminal regardless of the efforts made to empower him.
What I can tell them is that hard work pays and I do emphasise it before my corps members at every forum to avoid any action capable of haunting them in future. I told them they will excel in whatever they do once they are hardworking and committed with passion.
I have always warned them to be very careful with their peer groups. I have also urged them to embrace the various skill acquisition programmes we have. I am happy to announce that over 1.4 million ex-corps members have benefitted from the programme.
Through our partnerships with various agencies like Bank of Industry, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and even the NYSC Foundation, loans have been made available to such corps members. We have monitored many and they are doing very well. Apart from becoming self-reliant, they have also become job creators employing many other Nigerians through their businesses.
What is the situation of the scheme’s mega SAED Centre in Gombe?
We are working hard to see that the Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) Centre gets to its completion. In fact, I visited there about three weeks ago and we have already started discussion with the Minister to see how we can turn it to an institute because we have all that is expected.
We strongly believe that the Minister will help us talk to the Federal Executive Council to upgrade it to an institute instead of training centre for corps members alone. We are looking forward where the indigent persons in that geopolitical zone will equally benefit as our contribution towards improving the security situation in the country.
What are the security arrangements ahead of March mobilisation for another orientation camp to ensure safety of corps members?
You know we have strong partnership with the various security agencies. We take their security report seriously and don’t deploy prospective corps members to areas facing security challenges. Since we adopted the measure, things have been working very well.
We have also told our corps members to be very careful and security conscious so that they don’t put themselves into any harm’s way. We have security tips we usually give them in camp and once they adhere to it, they won’t face any security problem.
We have equally warned them against unauthorised travelling. We don’t want a situation where they will travel to where they are not supposed to that may put them in danger. Every trip outside their area of deployment must be documented and permitted so as to track where a corps member is at any particular time to be able to account for him or her.
We may not know when any of them embarks on unauthorised journey. And most time news may spill in that something happened much later. We have collaboration with National Road Transport Workers through the help of the Federal Road Safety Corps and we have warned the corps members never to join vehicle along the road.
They must board vehicles at designated vehicle parks with well documented details in the manifest. Once they adhered to our advice, the issues about boarding vehicles by the roadside and something happening to them will be sorted out. We are really working together with relevant authorities.
As part of our welfare to the corps members, we just took delivery of the artificial limps produced for one of them involved in an accident. The corps member is currently in Lagos with the company that brought the limps from Dubai, undergoing training on how to use them and I am very sure that in a weeks’ time, he will start walking with the two limps.