April 18th, 2016 remains a milestone in the history of the National Youth Service Corps as it heralded the assumption of office of the 17th Director General of the Scheme, Brigadier General Sulaiman Zakari Kazaure. He heads an institution with a wonderful institutional memory in the political annals of Nigeria-NYSC
Established in 1973 by the administration of General Yakubu Gowon after the divisive three years civil war to address a specific problem, critical to the continued existence and progress of the nation, the unity and integration of the ethnic nationalities of Nigeria.
It can therefore be affirmed that appointing a personality who is not only qualified but has the right attitude, experience and pedigree to pilot the affairs of the Scheme is imperative.
General Suleiman Kazaure, in this regard, came to the job with an impressive profile. A doctorate degree holder in Chemistry, his sterling academic credentials and accomplishments in various positions in the military establishment put him in good stead for the job.
Those who know him say he is unassuming and devoid of self-adulation eleven as this refined gentleman military General, Kazaure since assumption of office two years ago is quietly, gradually, steadily and surely turning around the fortunes of the 44 years old Service Corps sobsays an insider with considerable knowledge of the scheme.
From inception of his regime, indeed, right from his first day in office Kazaure, after thoroughly evaluating the challenges of his office occasioned by the need to upgrade Camp facilities in NYSC Orientation Camps nationwide, guarantee security of Corps members and Staff in parts of the country facing security challenges, set to work having decided that the way to go as encapsulated in his four focal areas is to consolidate the achievements of previous administrations, motivate the staff through enhancement of welfare provisions, improve the welfare and security of corps members and expand the Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) progamme of the Scheme.
He followed those developmental blueprints with practical steps. Firstly, the NYSC skill acquisition programme which is designed to complement Government’s effort to stem the tide of youth unemployment has become one of his finest legacies.
Corps members are given the opportunity to learn vocational skills of their choice starting from the Orientation Camp and through the service year, to prepare them for self-employment at the end of their national assignment.
The man General Kazaure, through deepening of the existing partnerships between the Scheme and the private sector, expedited the building of integrated skills acquisition centres in the six geopolitical zones of the country to facilitate post-Camp skills training.
Two of them in Ekiti and Gombe States have been completed, while that of Delta State is ongoing.
The DG went ahead to stage the NYSC SAED Festival aimed at creating a platform for Corps members to showcase their business and vocational skills to investors and other stakeholders to attract funding and material support as well as greater networking with the business community.
He further facilitated the provision of credit facilities for Corps members through collaboration with banks and the launching of Job Portal as well as SAED connect platforms which have expanded opportunities and created alternative platforms for training and mentorship of Corps members nationwide.
A good manager of human resource, General Kazaure’s belief that motivation of staff, through enhancement of welfare provisions, is the surest way to get the best out of them apparently informed his unwavering commitment to evolving confidence building measures aimed at engendering industrial harmony. It is on record that on assumption of duty he immediately cleared the backlog of unpaid staff entitlements and restored other statutory staff allowances. In addition, a greater percentage of staff of the Scheme that sat for promotion exam in the past two years was promoted.
Apart from these, Kazaure upgraded the NYSC staff Clinic with the procurement of state of the art equipments, added an optometry unit and gave the Directorate Headquarters a face lift. These measures have raised the morale of the staff to new heights and engendered a harmonious relationship between Management and the staff of the Scheme.
The NYSC has equally fared better in the past two years in the area of infrastructural development. Facilities in many NYSC Camps needed to be upgraded when Kazaure took over the leadership of the Scheme. Cognisance of the fact that it is the statutory responsibility of State Governments to build and maintain Orientation Camps, Kazaure embarked on advocacy visits to State Governors to appeal to them to renovate and upgrade their Orientation Camps. Dividends of these visits are already reflecting in the increased provision and expansion of facilities in NYSC Orientation Camps by a good number of State Governments as enshrined in the NYSC Act.
While courting State Chief Executives to be alive to their responsibilities, Kazaure, despite paucity of funds launched an intervention programme which saw many Camps like Zamfara and Enugu bedeviled by perennial water scarcity getting boreholes while Kano, Kwara, Bayelsa and Benue States got power generators. Many Camps have equally benefitted from the provision of water tankers, double bunk beds, mattresses, renovation of accommodation facilities and other projects aimed at upgrading facilities to make the Camps more conducive for Corps members and Camp officials during Orientation exercises. In addition, ambulances, Hilux vans and 166 motor bikes have also been procured and distributed to State Secretariats of NYSC to aid effective supervision and monitoring of Corps members.
In the same vein, General Kazaure has made giant strides in the deployment of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in solving and addressing not only issues of Corps administration but the entire operations of the Scheme. Kazaure fast tracked the implementation of biometric system of pay-rolling Corps members for their monthly allowance to check truancy and eliminate sharp practices among them. The strategy involves the use of finger prints to confirm the true identity of Corps members appearing for clearance. Also, the success of the NYSC-JAMB collaboration is one of the success stories of the deployment of IT solution in the operation of the Scheme. Indeed the expansion of ICT infrastructure has greatly enhanced efficiency, transparency and accountability in the operations of the Scheme. This development has facilitated the ease of doing business between the Scheme and its various publics. As a result of this, the NYSC recently received award as the best E-Governance compliant Public Organisation during the 2016 NITDA –NIHILENT E-Governance award ceremony.
In the area of providing adequate security for Corps members, the performance of General Kazaure in the last two years remains outstanding and legendary. Given the daunting security challenges the country is experiencing, the NYSC Director General has vigorously pursued the Scheme’s liaison with security agencies, State Governments, traditional institutions, and other stakeholders for the effective protection of Corps members. This has placed the safety of Corps Members in the front burner of Security Agencies all over the country and led to resumption of Orientation exercises in hitherto security challenged States in the North East part of the Country such as Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe States. Also, the recent collaboration with the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to provide free health services to Corps members is another commendable effort by the Director General to enhance the welfare of Corps members.
Another monumental achievement recorded under Kazaure’s administration; include the resuscitation and revitalization of vital but moribund projects and programmes of the NYSC. In line with the Federal Government agenda to diversify the economy through harnessing the country’s potentials in the non-oil sector, the Scheme under Kazaure’s leadership has begun resuscitating its moribund agricultural projects through the establishment of Integrated Farm Settlements in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country. Four of them located in FCT, Bauchi, Kebbi and Oyo States are already operational, equipped with modern farm implements, Corps lodges, storage and other facilities required to facilitate optimum yield as a strategic support for the food security initiative of the Federal Government. These farm Settlements produce various crops including rice, cassava, maize and cowpea as well as poultry. The farms serve the dual purpose of contributing to Government’s objective of actualizing self-sufficiency in food production and training grounds for corps members interested in the agricultural component of the NYSC Ventures programme.
The resuscitation of the NYSC Cultural and Sports Festival is another plus for the Jigawa born General. The NYSC Sports and Cultural competition is an avenue deliberately created to enhance and deepen cultural intercourse to promote national integration, the core mandate of the Scheme. The annual Sports and Cultural fiesta were put on hold due to lack of funds. His appreciation of the efficacy of these social events to engender bonding among Corps members rightly informed General Kazaure’s decision to make concerted efforts to bring them back on stream.
In order to increase the visibility of the Scheme, the NYSC DG has invigorated the existing programmes and collaborations of the Scheme with many Government and Non-Governmental organisations and brought on board new ones including the partnership with European Union and the Pan African Institute for Global Affairs and Strategy (PAIGAS) aimed at checking, through proper enlightenment, the increasing number of Nigerian youths involved in illegal migration to Europe and other parts of the world in search of greener pastures. The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board has also expanded its partnership with the NYSC to enhance the credibility of her UTME using the services of Corps members for its newly introduced ICT based tests. Other new robust partnerships include NYSC/SDGs Champions programme, Great Green Wall project with the Federal Ministry of Environment, Peer Group Education on Financial inclusion project with the CBN as well as Engaging Nigerian Girls in New Enterprise (ENGINE) collaboration with Mercy Corps. Indeed, the NYSC has become a beautiful bride to many Government and private organisations who fall over themselves to partner with the Scheme as a result of the realization that the active presence of the NYSC in all the Local Governments of the Country puts it in a better position to domesticate any programme or project at the grass root level.
Similarly, the Health Initiative for Rural Dwellers programme of the NYSC has been intensified by General Kazaure. The progamme takes free healthcare delivery on monthly and quarterly basis to rural dwellers that have little or no access to health facilities through the Corps’ health personnel in all the NYSC formations. The Kazaure administration has, through this project, distributed 150 wheel chairs to physically challenged persons across the country. This has further enhanced the impact and visibility of the Scheme nationwide.
In addition to these, General Kazaure has invigorated the Scheme’s engagement with the media to publicise the immense contributions of the Service Corps to national growth and development. The result is that NYSC presently enjoys robust positive reviews and coverage in both the conventional and new media platforms. This development has led to increased appreciation of the positive impact of the NYSC in national affairs and the relevance of the Scheme to the socio-economic development of the nation. Consequently, the increasing relevance and invaluable contribution of the NYSC Scheme in driving critical sectors of Nigeria’s economy is no longer in doubt.
General Kazaure’s strong will, determination and commitment towards refocusing the NYSC Scheme to enable it play a pivotal role in fostering national unity and economic development as envisaged by the founding fathers of the Scheme is not only yielding appreciable success but has started breaking new grounds of influence. Notable is the peculiar interest and formal request to the Scheme by the Sierra-Leonean Government for collaboration in the establishment of the National Youth Service of Sierra-Leone. In addition, the recent active participation of the NYSC Cultural Troupe in the World Youth Festival held in Russia in 2017 has also contributed immensely towards increasing the national and global relevance of the Scheme under the Midas touch of General Kazure.
In all, Brig General Sulaiman Kazaure in his two years sojourn in the NYSC has through a purposeful leadership conceived in vision launched in faith and determination, proved to be a consummate administrator, a good manager of men and resources, indeed an elixir to the Scheme. He has succeeded in charting a course towards rediscovering the optimism of the founding fathers of the NYSC which is to build a united, strong, prosperous and self-reliant nation through the NYSC Scheme. And this has attracted deserved recognition and awards for him including the Fellowship of the Chemical Society of Nigeria and Outstanding Northern Nigeria Alumnus award from Leadership Newspapers.
Even with an amply feathered cap of achievements, General Kazaure is not relenting. He has doggedly continued, albeit silently, to pursue his vision of ‘leaving a legacy of a National Youth Service Corps with deepened relevance in solving the contemporary challenges facing the Country,’ and will only be satisfied when, according to him, he begins to see ‘perpetual smiles on the faces of Corps members and staff as a result of my modest achievements.’ This, unknown to him, has already been achieved as General Kazaure is received in NYSC formations all over the country with not only smiles, but thunderous ovations having earned his ‘epaulettes and appropriate bragging rights’ for positively changing the narrative of the NYSC.
*Onwughalu is a staff of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria.