THE computerisation of the mobilisation process for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, which began with the current Batch C members, has elicited public outcry following the N4,000 charge attached to it.
Graduates enlisting into the online portal to access their call-up were made to pay the amount, prompting questions from prospective and serving Corp members, despite efforts by the 41-year-old agency to justify the fee. The full computerisation, beginning with the 2014 Batch ‘C’, was endorsed at the 2014 NYSC Annual Management Conference, held in Calabar. Director, Corps Mobilisation, Mr. Anthony Ani, had on a radio programme, disclosed that the scheme would annually rake in about N800 million from printing call-up letters for Nigerian graduates participating in the compulsory programme. The scheme currently mobilises some 100,000 corps members every year.
Ani had stated that the initiative was meant to discard the ‘old system,’ whereby graduates had had to travel to their respective schools to pick up their letters. He, however, did not reveal if the money would be realised from a single batch, since the service runs three batches — A, B and C — yearly. He said the initial cost was put at N835 million in 2012 when the proposal for submission of bids was announced.
Indeed, serving and prospective corps members reacted differently in separate interviews. While some described the process as a welcome development that will bring relief (adding, however, that innovation could still be reviewed further to make it more acceptable), others argued that, just like the Immigration Service recruitment scandal, the online registration by the scheme was another avenue for the government agency to fleece young Nigerians of their parents’ hard-earned money.
According to Amaka Chukwu, a 2014 Batch Corp member, the fee is uncalled for, because there is no indication yet that the Federal Government which initiated the NYSC scheme can no longer fund it.
“Is the government tired of funding the scheme and has therefore directed the management of the NYSC to find ways of raising money to fund the national programme?, she wondered. “If no, then why is the scheme trying to start the process of generating funds? What would the money be used for? These are some of the questions that the management of NYSC needs to answer. We really need to know why NYSC has chosen this path.”
For Peace Joseph, a fresh graduate from the Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT), the policy is not beneficial in anyway. She revealed that students in her school were mandated to pick up their statements of result and could, therefore, collect their call-up letters in that same trip.
“The new policy, whether they try to paint it as not compulsory or whatever, is simply disappointing; it is disappointing that the NYSC could actually conceive the idea of forcing students to pay N4, 000 because of a printed paper. Why task students; what cost does that defray; how much does one pay online to open an email for example? They should not deceive us; this is another cash-minting machine for a federal government agency
Mr. Bayo Olaitan, a Batch A corps member, opined that the decision was taken in bad faith and was wrongly timed. He explained that the fee could have been reduced to some N200 or even less.
Olaitan stated that said some Nigerians were not against the initiative in its entirety but the fee could have been reduced considering the economic situation in the country.
Another corps member, Mr. Stanley Ugwu, remarked that the move by the NYSC management to make online printing of call-up letters possible was laudable, as it would save them the stress of having to travel to their various schools where they would be expected to spend hours before being given their letters.
Miss Chinwe Udeh, a serving corps member, suggested that NYSC should be allowed to sustain the new “innovation.” She urged Nigerians to support the management by accepting the change, adding that some schools charged more than N4, 000 for collection of call-up letters.
But many of the Batch C Corp members actually ditched the newly introduced ‘call-up letter by e-mail,’ preferring to go to their respective schools for their letters.
According to a source at the NYSC Headquarters, over 80 percent of the corps members, who completed the mandatory online registration of data, did not pay for the printing of their letters. All efforts to get further clarification on the matter did not yield positive result, as officials of the scheme refused to make further comments.
However, the NYSC has defended the online registration fee, saying that the amount was intended to cover all information about corps members’ service records that would be accessible for their lifetime. The scheme stressed that the computerisation of the registration for and collection of call up letters by corps members would also enable the NYSC create an IT-database from which every information about corps members could be accessed by organisations, institutions and agencies that may want to make enquiries about participants in the Scheme.
Explaining the process, the Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brig-Gen. Johnson Bamidele Olawumi, explained that the fee was for service and infrastructure to be deployed to collaborating firm, SIDMACH Technologies Nigeria Limited, which would ensure full computerisation of the mobilisation process.
“The N4000 is not just for printing call-up letters; it is for the entire package of online registration, which requires the deployment of IT hardware and software and personnel to orientation camps all over the country, but which also gives those who subscribe to it the advantage of processing their registration online, saving time during registration at the orientation camps and allowing them to use their thumbprints to identify themselves in case they lose or are dispossessed of their call-up letters.
According to him: “In the past, corps members who lose or are dispossessed of their call-up letters had to go through a cumbersome process of swearing affidavits, getting validation from their schools, which takes time and may force them to enlist on another batch.
“With online registration, those who are unfortunate to lose their letters can identify themselves with their fingerprints. So, the N4000 fee is for the entire process and package of benefits.”
“It is not true that corps members are being asked to pay to serve their country. Far from it! The NYSC and the government appreciate the enormous sacrifice that corps members have made, and continue to make, for the unity and the development of this country.
“The Scheme will continue to explore ways to ensure that corps members serve the nation in safety and with ease. This latest initiative was conceived in that spirit.
“Based on feedbacks and requests from past corps members, the initiative were designed to lessen the costs and risks associated with corps members traveling to their schools to pick up call-up letters.”
The Chairman of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Governing Board, Chief Gordon Bazimo said that contrary to false impression, the full computerization of the mobilization process was aimed at improving efficiency and reducing the risk associated with the collection of call-up letters by prospective corps members.
Filing questions from journalist during the launching of four coaster buses donated to the scheme by stakeholders, the Chairman, Governing Board, Chief Godom Bozimo, stated that before now, corps members had to travel back to their respective institutions of graduation to collect their call-up letters with the attendant risks, including incidence of road accidents.
“Ask yourself, how much will it cost you to send you wards from one part of the country to another to collect call-up letter, the fee alone is more than N4000. We all sent our children through school and the NYSC, and I know how much it cost. N4000 is so little compared to what parents spend now; and the federal government doesn’t have a budget for that,” he said.
The chairman noted that, in the past, those who lost their call-up letter, had to present police report and sworn affidavit, and would wait to be mobilised in another batch. He pointed out that, with the online registration, prospective corps members could reprint a lost call-up letter.
Bozimo further explained that, for effective implementation of the project, all the necessary hardware would be deployed in the NYSC Directorate Headquarters, its state secretariats, orientation camps and all its local government offices nationwide.
The DG, however, failed to explain why the online fee was made optional since it is so central to the the operational requirement of the youth Corp member.
On her part, Director of Press and Public Relations in NYSC, Mrs. Bose Aderibigbe, while briefing journalists on the outcome of a recent meeting held between the Director-General and the Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Youth Affairs, Mr. Jude Imagwe, stated that the scheme might review the N4000 fee.
She said: “He (Imagwe) came to find out what is going on about the outcry against the payment of N4,000 online registration by prospective corps members. The DG told him that the N4,000 being paid is not for call-up letters, but just for the operation and provision of infrastructural facilities in all NYSC camps and its 37 secretariats and offices in the 774 local governments nationwide. It is for putting these Internet and manpower facilities to ensure easy operation of prospective corps members.
“The DG has stated that the N4,000 issue might not be reviewed for now, but during subsequent orientation, it might be possible after management and Sidmach Technologies would have sat down to see the possibility of the reduction. So, for now, it might not be possible but (during) subsequent ones, if it is possible, the entire public will know about it.”