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Recession: Reality of corps members’ survival on FG’s N19,800 stipend dicey

•As funding, overstretched facilities, others threaten NYSC scheme survival

By Elizabeth Uwandu

THE joy of 2017 National Youths Service Corps, NYSC, Batch A, Stream one corps members knew no bound as they commence the one year mandatory service of their fathers’ land. To many of them, the thoughts of survival on the N19,800 Federal Government’s allowance seem unrealistic in the face of the present economic recession. This is as some ex-corps members lamented their ordeals in eking a living during their service year.

Swearing-in ceremony of the 2017 Batch ‘A’ (Stream One) Corps members

While some engaged in vocational skills with little or no sponsorship for survival, many turned to social vices to maintain body and soul. Vanguard findings revealed that aside the merits of NYSC that was introduced in 1973 by the then military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, to foster unity, social and economic integration of the different ethnic groups and revamp the country after the wreckage of a three year civil war, many stakeholders, especially corps members are of the opinion that the scheme may not survive long if adequate funding that will replicate the present realities is not put in place.

Statistics has it that there has been decline in the budgetary allocation for NYSC in the past three years. While N74.5bn and N68bn were earmarked for 2014 and 2015 for the scheme respectively, nothing was budgeted for NYSC in 2016 as a result of a shortfall of N13bn in the nation’s budget. This made the leadership of the NYSC, in May 2016 to announce the postponement for Batch ‘A’ stream two via their website and text messages.

Reacting to the postponement, the Director-General of NYSC, Brig.-Gen. Suleman Kazaure, who had earlier informed the Senate Committee on Sports and Youth that lack of funds might stall the mobilization of 2016 Batch A Stream two prospective corps members for orientation, told the

Corps members for orientation

committee that the money required for the exercise was yet to be provided.

His words, “We are presently at a loss in NYSC as there is no money for us to mobilise thousands of prospective corps members in the Batch A Stream two to camp this Friday. This is in spite of efforts made by us to get things done in that direction several weeks ago. The problem staring us in the face arose from the N13 billion shortfall we had in the 2016 budget estimate, which the agency made strong request for its provision during budget defence”.

On his part, Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, said they had foreseen it and had taken steps ahead to address the situation, but to no avail. His words, “We anticipated this national disaster early enough; that’s why we included it in the budget proposal last year but was surprised it was not captured. Where we are now is to see if we can capture the NYSC budget in the supplementary budget proposal later in the year. It’s an emergency that requires urgent attention.”

It was unfortunate that the optimism expressed by Kazaure was jettisoned as the presidency that he was hoping would intervene could not save the day. Consequently, the Directorate Headquarters of the NYSC has to inform the Division of Student Affairs, DSA, of Nigerian tertiary institutions to cut down the quota of prospective corps members to be mobilised for the 2016 Batch B, a move that was vehemently opposed by the Committee of Vice Chancellors.

Following this decision, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors, CVC, released a statement informing their students that due to a paucity of funds, the NYSC has cut the numbers  of prospective corps members eligible from each university by 60 per cent. The slash in corps members was confirmed through a leaked internal memo dated October 4, 2016 and sent to all heads of departments of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University.

The memo signed by Mrs Ifeoma Egboka, office of the Dean of Students Affairs, said NYSC explained that the slash was as a result of “tight budgetary allocation of the Scheme.” It, therefore, asked the HODs to “work out the percentage of the number 894 (total) for each department”, as against the initial 2,314.”

However, the above situation was saved when President Muhammadu Buhari asked that all prospective corps members should be posted. A move that made the NYSC DG, Kazaure to divide 2016 Batch B corps members into two streams. His words, “In the 2016 budget, provision was made for the mobilisation of a total of 210,000 corps members. However, the figure for both 2016 Batch A and Batch B has more than doubled the original projection.

“Like we did before the 2016 Batch A orientation course, we have appealed to government for special intervention grant to mop up excess of this figure. So far, we have received the green light from the relevant government agencies to prepare for the mobilisation of all qualified prospective corps members. However, the limited cumulative capacity of the orientation camps nationwide necessitates a second stream orientation course for the 2016 Batch B which is planned for January 2017,” said Kazaure

Aside the issue of insufficient fund to carter for the teeming corps members yearly that threatened the scheme, another challenge corps members face is the that of survival on the N19,800 meager stipend the government give out for monthly upkeep. This is despite calls from stakeholders to the federal government to increase the monthly allowance of corps members to enable them meet the needs of present day recession that have made prices of goods and services tripled.

Corps members to get Lagos Employment Trust Fund

Meanwhile, to cushion the effect of the economy on corps members, the Lagos State Government is set to disbursed fund to the 2017 Batch ‘A’ Stream one corps members posted to the State. This was disclosed by the NYSC state Coordinator, Prince Mohammed Momoh during the orientation camp held at its orientation camp, Iyana Ipaja, Lagos.

Seed capital to set up their business

He said that the gesture will enable corps members posted to the State to establish themselves in various business that will further boost the economy of the State.

Momoh said: “The partnership is to ensure corps members get the much needed seed capital to set up their business and make their stay in Lagos permanent.” This, according to him is aimed at encouraging mobility of Labour and promoting National integration, a major objective of the NYSC. He, therefore said that during the SAED training of the orientation course, the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund will be on campus to sensitize corps members on the facilities it has in place for youths in Lagos and corps members.

NYSC tasks youths on national integration, capacity building

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has urged corps members to engage the scheme as a tool for national integration and capacity building in the area of career development. The Ogun NYSC State Coordinator, Mrs Ejiaka Mbachi who made the appeal during the swearing-in of the NYSC Batch ‘A’ Stream I corps members at the NYSC Permanent Orientation Camp, Sagamu, said the NYSC had drawn up programmes to develop the corps members skills and talents both during the orientation exercise and the service year while at their places of primary assignments.

She said,“For the serious minded ones, we have so many programmes to keep them busy and forge their career paths objectively. Their is the Skills and Empowerment Programme (SAED) which is now fully integrated for the entire service year as well as various sporting activities they can choose from. My advice to them is that they must endeavour to listen and try to develop their potentials during the lectures because those things most of them ignore may end up being the most important ones.”

For Ifeyinwa Ibekwe, a Batch B Stream 2 member currently serving in Lagos, the reality of N19,800 on feeding and maintenance is a far cry as the money could barely sustain her, coupled with that fact that she alleged that Lagos state do not pay state allowance. Her words,”The money is too small for corps members but we just have to manage it. This is because life as a corps member is not easy despite our complain to government to increase the allowance. Banks still pay us N19, 600 instead 19,800.”

Corroborating Ibekwe’s claim of corps members’ suffering, Glory Nwokolo, who is serving in Oyo, said, the Federal Government stipend is way too little to manage, much less to save for the rainy day. “The N19,800 is not sufficient at all to meet our basic needs. This is why most of us come out of service worse than what we were before we went in. The reason being that we neither work to earn a living for a whole year and the stipend given for serviing our fathers’s land barely sufficed us less to safe for the rainy day,” intoned Nwokolo.

On ways to improve the scheme

When Vanguard sought the views of corps members as to whether or not the scheme should be scrapped or not owing to the challenges facing the body. Some called for the outright scrapping of the scheme, while many wanted the scheme to continue. But on the condition that there should better improvements welfare packages.

Ibekwe told our reporter “I am against government scrapping of NYSC. What should be done is that aside increasing corps members allowance, the scheme should reduce the three weeks orientation camp to two weeks based on the fact that the activities in the camp are too stressful and we exercise practically on empty stomach as sometimes the work is of the poor quality and the little ratio are given to us. This make some of us to starve. Government should come to the rescue of corps members in these areas.” Suggested the serving corps member.

Calling for the scrap of NYSC, Prince Obi, who served in Kaduna said the scheme has outlived its usefulness and as such, should be scrapped. “I feel it is better NYSC be scrapped as it has lost it worth and value a long time ago. Again, when you look at this economic recession, I think it should be discontinued. If not, many corps members will resort to other unpleasant means to survive. For instance, I had to manage because there was no other source of income.”

On her part, Nwokolo, said the scheme should not be scrapped based on programmes such as Nigeria Christian Corpers Fellowship, NCCF, and Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneur Development, SAED introduced in 2014 that empowered corps members on vocational skills.

“For the sake of Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneur Development, SAED and the Nigeria Christian Corpers Fellowship, NCCF, NYSC should not be scrapped. These two functions are the things that made service worthwhile. The only thing is for Federal government to increase the allowance to enable efficiency of corpers at work. “ suggested the Batch B Stream 2 corps member.


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