My attention was drawn last week to the controversy surrounding the introduction, by the National Youth Service Corps, of a N4000 fee for the printing of call-up letters for prospective corps members. The scheme has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, and like most government agencies/programmes, it is in dire of an overhaul. What cannot be denied is that the scheme over the years has helped foster unity and tolerance among Nigerians by exposing young graduates to cultures different from theirs.
One of my nightmares as a serving corps member was the unbelievably archaic manner in which almost all parts of the scheme run. From collection of call-up letters to registration at the orientation camp, to monthly clearance and collection of certificates, I had to queue for, and fill, multiple paper forms at every stage to get anything done. I have since then been an advocate of moving the process online to ease the stress on patriotic young men and women who make themselves available in the service of their fatherland.
I am one of the few fortunate Nigerian graduates to have had my tertiary education close to my town of residence. As an Oshogbo resident, picking up my call-up letter at my alma mater, OAU Ife, was an easy task. Same however couldn’t have been said for my friends who came in from Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, risking their lives and spending several thousands, to collect a document that easily could have been printed online. Graduates from foreign universities are not spared in this tortuous process, as they have to travel to the NYSC headquarters in Abuja to process their call-up letters.
The truth is that many have died in the process of these needless travels to pick up their call-up letters, as confirmed by Mrs Yetunde Ogudo during a tweetchat granted by the DG of NYSC recently. And since corps members become the responsibility of the NYSC and covered by insurance only after completing their registration at the orientation camp, the families of these victims are usually not compensated by the government. According to NYSC officials, it is for the sake of these groups of people that the online registration initiative was introduced. No doubt the risk of life and costs associated with these cross-country journeys, and the stress corps members go through to get registered on camp, make the computerization of the entire NSYC call-up/registration a welcome development.
Information made available by the NYSC show the N4000 charge is not just for printing call-up letters as is being peddled in the media. This payment is for the entire package of online registration, which saves time and reduces stress for registration at the orientation camps and allows corps members use their thumbprints to identify themselves in case they lose or are dispossessed of their call-up letters. This currently is an incredibly cumbersome process that often ends with the victims having to enlist on another batch.
A top NYSC official I spoke to explained that this transitioning of the process of mobilization, call-up and registration process from manual to digital requires the deployment of IT infrastructure and personnel to orientation camps all over the country, which exceeds the current capacity of the NYSC. However, pressure from parents and the realities on ground regarding security and the state of our roads have forced the scheme to jump-start the comprehensive, government-funded, computerization of its operations. This it did by entering into a PPP agreement with Sidmach Technologies Nigeria Limited, the same company handling online registration for WAEC and Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board.
Prospective corps members should not have to spend thousands to travel hundreds of miles to collect call-up letters, or queue for hours at the orientation camp to get registered, in this Internet age. In the same light they shouldn’t have to pay N4000, or any amount, to do these things online. But the reality is that we cannot wait on the Federal Government to fund this process, and the cost of putting this structure in place in the meantime, by the leadership of the NYSC, has to be borne by the end users. In the end, it is a choice between safety and convenience at a cost, and risks, stress and danger at even greater costs.
And perhaps what I applaud most about the online registration initiative is that the NYSC introduced it as an option, while those who want to physically pick up their call-up letters from their schools are still allowed to do so. Now prospective corps members are empowered to make an informed choice based on their assessments of the two options.
Ultimately there is no greater sacrifice for a young Nigerian graduate than making yourself available for the service of the nation, and every avenue must be explored to make that service possible at the least possible risk, cost and burden. The introduction of the online registration no doubt eliminates a great deal of risk to the lives and health of prospective corps members, and if the process is properly monitored by all, greater efficiency can be achieved for less.
Bukola is a digital media strategist based in Lagos. He tweets via @zebbook