EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: NYSC: THREE UNFORGETTABLE YEARS

OPINION

The current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has secured for itself an unforgettable legacy so much so that long after the government reaches its zenith in 2023, the remarkable effort made by the government through the management headed by Major General Suleiman Kazaure will remain evergreen. That it took just three years to cement the legacies of reforms and transformational changes in the administration of the scheme could only have happened because the President took his time to make a choice of a General who is credible, effective and efficient as a manager and also someone who believes in teamwork. The scheme no doubt has an illustrious status in the annals of Nigeria, but the refocusing of the entire scheme towards self-employment through acquisitions of vocational skills that have started yielding dividends of phenomenal scale is what sets apart the current management of NYSC from the rest. A history of NYSC will, therefore, have a rich volume of accomplishments of the current management team.

Specifically, the National Youth Service Corps was established 45 years ago by the government of General Yakubu Gowon with the core mandate to promote the unity and integration of a very diverse country almost torn apart by three years of bitter and destructive civil war. In over four decades of operation, 17 helmsmen including the incumbent have superintended over the affairs of the service Corps. Each of them in their own peculiar way has proved their mettle in the discharge of their responsibilities. The present head, Major General Suleiman Kazaure assumed office on 18th April, 2016 as the 17th chief executive of the Scheme.

While in position of leadership some leaders tend to push beyond the limits, explore new horizons to attain greater heights of achievement by evolving policies that shift the paradigm of administration. Major General Suleiman Kazaure, I believe, is cast in this mould. A humble unassuming officer and gentleman, he was busy, quietly playing his part in building, stabilizing and sustaining the security architecture of the nation as the Commandant, Nigerian Army Language Institute, Ovim in Abia State when his acclaimed anonymity was broken with a call to duty at another front, the National Youth Service Corps.

General Suleiman Kazaure, at the dawn of his stewardship outlined four focal areas to drive his administration on the path of realizing the noble objectives of the Scheme. These include, consolidating the achievements of previous administrations and breaking new grounds, motivating the staff through enhancement of welfare provisions, improving the welfare and security of corps members and expanding the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) progamme through establishment of more skill centres and greater stakeholder involvement for skill and material support. Kazaure’s unique leadership disposition and attributes is evident in the articulation and implementation of the agenda of his administration. He has in the past three years demonstrated these in his strong will, determination and commitment to refocus the NYSC Scheme to play the expected pivotal role in fostering national unity and development as enunciated by the founding fathers.

After a thorough evaluation of the Scheme, Kazaure, who came to the office with an impressive academic credentials and wealth of experience, went to work to tackle the myriad of challenges bedeviling the Scheme. These include poor facilities at NYSC Orientation Camps nationwide, security of Corps members and Staff especially in parts of the country facing security challenges, backlog of prospective corps members yet to be mobilised for service due to paucity of funds and limited capacity of NYSC Camps, amongst others.

In view of the fact that the law that established NYSC placed the responsibility of providing and maintaining Orientation camp facilities under the purview of State governments, Kazaure embarked on advocacy visits to State Governors appealing to them to upgrade facilities in their Orientation Camps. The intensive improvement of facilities in NYSC Orientation Camps across the country in the past three years, sign posts the benefits of these visits. Virtually all Orientation Camps but a few across the Country are operating in Permanent Camps with improved facilities.

While engaging State governments to discharge their statutory responsibilities to the Scheme, Kazaure, through collaborations with relevant MDAs, launched an intervention programme to address infrastructural deficits in the Scheme. Consequently, Zamfara, Enugu, Ondo and many other States that were experiencing perennial water scarcity were provided boreholes while Kano, Kwara, Bayelsa, Benue and Rivers States got power generators for their Orientation Camps. Delta, Bauchi, Niger, Nasarawa, Osun, Kogi and other States have also benefitted from the provision of water tankers, double bunk beds, mattresses, renovation of accommodation facilities and other infrastructural projects. In addition, ambulances, utility vehicles and motor bikes have also been procured and distributed to State Secretariats of NYSC to aid effective supervision and monitoring of Corps members.

In the area of providing welfare needs of Corps members, General Kazaure has been outstanding. As a result of the security challenges in some parts of the country, the NYSC Director General pursued a vigorous interface with security agencies, State Governments, traditional institutions, and other stakeholders for the effective protection of Corps members. This resulted in the safety of Corps Members being placed in the priority list of Security Agencies all over the country and subsequently led to resumption of NYSC Orientation exercises in Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe States that were hitherto severely plagued by security issues.

The NYSC Distress Call Centre has equally been transformed to an information centre under Kazaure’s regime to meet current challenges. The Centre which was established in 2012 and domiciled in the National Directorate Headquarters of the Scheme, is equipped with communication facilities that are manned 24 hours daily to ensure timely and well-coordinated response to calls from corps members who find themselves in distressed situations. With the upgrade, the information centre now with five operational lines in addition to responding to distress calls from corps members, staff and members of the public, now also provide information on the operations of the Scheme to the corps participants and other stakeholders.

To further enhance the welfare of Corps members, the Management of the Scheme under the watch of General Kazaure is collaborating with the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to provide free health services to Corps members. The transport subsidy to corps members as well as the fund appropriated for their feeding at the Orientation Camp has equally been enhanced under Kazaure’s reign.

As earlier mentioned, one of the major challenges of the NYSC on his assumption of office was the backlog of prospective corps members waiting to be mobilized to participate in the Scheme due to scarcity of funds. Through an ingenious interface with government, this has been effectively dealt with as the backlog of graduates have been mobilised and deployed for service leading to the stabilisation of the mobilisation calendar of the Scheme. In fact, in 2018 alone the Scheme executed seven Orientation Courses with over 300,000 Corps Members mobilised to serve in the Scheme’s service year Batches of ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘C’.

It is on record that General Kazaure has further consolidated and expanded the deployment of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the operations of the Scheme. He ensured the nationwide implementation of biometric system of pay-rolling Corps members for their monthly allowance and Community Development Service attendance to check truancy among them. Collaborations with JAMB and WAEC in the Scheme’s mobilization process are unmistakable evidences of the success stories of the current administration in this area. The enhanced efficiency, transparency and ease of doing business between the Scheme and its various publics, on account of this, attracted to the Scheme the 2016 NITDA/NIHILENT award for the best MDA in the innovative application of ICT solutions at the e-Nigeria 2016 e-Governance Dinner and Award Ceremony.

On staff welfare, General Kazaure was quick to understand that he needed a happy workforce with the right capacity to drive the lofty agenda of his administration and the best way to achieve that is through enhancement of welfare of the staff. In this vein, he has consistently pursued initiatives geared towards motivating staff of the Scheme. On assumption of duty he swiftly cleared the backlog of unpaid staff entitlements, restored other statutory staff allowances and increased the tempo of capacity building training for staff to enhance productivity. In the past three years there has been unprecedented increase in staff promotion in the Scheme. For instance, in the 2018 Senior Staff Promotion Exercise, 1,368 out of 1,817 (over seventy percent) officers that sat for the examination were successful and were elevated in accordance with the Public Service Rules and NYSC Conditions of Service. He has also been striving to tackle the problem of stagnation in the Scheme through liaison with relevant government agencies to create more vacancies. Already effort is on going for the expansion of NYSC administrative structure to accommodate the increase in scope and area of operations of the Scheme in tandem with the yearly increase in corps population.

The humane disposition of Kazaure is further highlighted in the numerous interventions he has made to ensure that staff and corps members with health challenges are adequately catered for. It is in this regard that he upgraded the NYSC staff Clinic with the procurement of state of the art equipments and added an optometry unit. The Director-General also instituted a policy that maintains a periodic supply of office furniture to all NYSC formations nationwide in his bid to create conducive work environment for the entire workforce of the Scheme. These and other confidence-building measures which he has relentlessly pursued have raised the morale of the staff to new heights and promoted industrial harmony in the Scheme.

Under General Kazaure’s leadership, sublime achievements have been recorded in the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship programme of the Scheme designed to prepare corps members for self-employment and job creation after their assignment. In line with his agenda to extend the frontiers of the programme, General Kazaure, through a partnership with Access Bank has completed the building and equipping of a 1,000 capacity mega integrated skills acquisition training centre in Gombe State, in addition to that of Ekiti. The Centres, to be established in each of the six geopolitical zones, are to facilitate post Camp skill training of Corps members.

Further to this, the maiden NYSC SAED Festival aimed at creating a platform for Corps members to showcase their business, vocational skills and attract funding was staged under his administration. The invigorated public-private partnership drive also resulted in the training of 40 NYSC staff in 2018 by the giant American multi-national, General Electric, in preparation for the training of Corps members as part of the strategies for effective implementation of the SAED programme. Earlier in 2017, four programme staff and a Corps member benefitted from international capacity building activities in China.

Through the same public-private-partnership strategy, he secured credit facilities for Corps members from financial institutions and has so far been disbursed to 1,077 Corps entrepreneurs as loans through Bank of Industry BOI-NYSC Graduate Empowerment Fund. Similarly, Central Bank of Nigeria through Heritage Bank has also disbursed funds to seven Corps members through the NYSC/CBN Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme (YEDP).

Apart from this, a Job Portal and SAED connect platforms which have expanded opportunities and created alternative platforms for training and mentorship of Corps members nationwide were facilitated by the

Kazaure administration. About 15,000 Corps entrepreneurs out of a total of about 1.2 Million Corps members trained in the last three years under the SAED programme are known to have established and are sustaining different types of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Another signature achievement of the Kazaure administration is keying into the present Government’s policy to diversify the economy of the country through harnessing opportunities in the non-oil sector. In line with this and a genuine desire to contribute towards ensuring food security, the present Management has begun resuscitation of moribund NYSC farm settlements across the country. Four of the farms in FCT, Bauchi, Kebbi and Oyo States began full-scale farming activities during the 2017 cropping season. These farms produce various crops including rice, cassava, maize and cowpea as well as poultry. The farm settlements have been provided with modern implements and Corps lodges as they are also serving as training grounds for corps members under the agricultural component of the NYSC Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development programme.

Similarly, the NYSC Cultural and Sports Festival put on hold due to lack of funds were resuscitated by the Jigawa born General. The annual Sports and Cultural fiesta is an avenue deliberately created to enhance and deepen cultural cross-fertilization of ideas to promote national integration, the core mandate of the Scheme. His understanding of the key role of these social events to bonding among Corps members apparently inspired General Kazaure’s decision to make concerted efforts to restore them in the Scheme’s annual calendar of activities.

Under the leadership of Kazaure, the Health Initiative for Rural Dwellers programme of the NYSC has been galvanised. The progamme serves as a platform for contribution towards addressing the health challenges of rural dwellers who mostly experience difficulties accessing regular health centres across the country. Under the programme, an annual nationwide medical outreach is carried out, and usually lasts one week in addition to periodic outreaches conducted by State NYSC formations. Through this intervention, the present Management in conjunction with Grace Projects International has donated over 300 wheelchairs to less privileged/physically challenged members of the public across the country. This has enhanced the impact and visibility of the Scheme nationwide.

In furtherance of his policy initiative to consolidate the achievements of his predecessors and break new grounds, the incumbent NYSC chief executive has reinforced existing porgammes and collaborations of the Scheme with government and nongovernmental bodies and added new ones. The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, for instance, has 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. Some of the new collaborations include the NYSC/COGNITY ADVISORY Partnership. Cognity Advisory is coordinating a group of telecom, banking and other multi-national giants to enhance the SAED entrepreneurship training, mentorship and funding options. The partnership with European Union and the Pan African Institute for Global Affairs and Strategy (PAIGAS) is aimed at checking the wave of dangerous illegal migration by Nigerian youths to Europe and other parts of the world in search of greener pastures, through proper enlightenment. 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.

A man with an uncommon drive for initiatives that not only impact the present but have potentials to unlock the future, General Kazaure has revatilised and improved the Scheme’s image through a robust and cordial engagement with the media. The result is increased positive media coverage and reviews of NYSC activities and immense contributions to national development and growth. The effect of this improved media visibility is increased appreciation of the relevance of the Scheme to the socio-economic development of the nation. This has apparently influenced the high profile support the Scheme is presently enjoying from stakeholders as well as the growing awareness and perception of the NYSC by Nigerians as veritable pivot of national cohesion, worthy of sustenance. In an effort to consolidate the presence of the Scheme in the Media space, Gen Kazaure has already put in place necessary machinery for the take off of the first ever NYSC Community Radio to be domiciled in Abuja.

It is instructive, that Kazaure’s commitment to refocusing the NYSC Scheme towards greater achievements in its core objective of promoting national unity and economic development is not only yielding the desired result but has broken new grounds, accorded more relevance and attracted increased global visibility to the Scheme. Worthy of note is the request to the Scheme by the Sierra-Leonean Government for collaboration in the establishment of the National Youth Service of Sierra-Leone and invitation and active participation of the NYSC Cultural Troupe in the World Youth Festival held in Russia in 2017.

The unique administrative paradigm of General Kazaure has permeated the Scheme as it has encouraged healthy competition among Departmental Directors, State Coordinators, Zonal and Local Government Inspectors and indeed the entire workforce. In particular, a number of State Coordinators have intensified efforts towards execution of critical projects through public private partnerships in their states. These projects include building and renovation of Orientation Camp Hostels, Clinics, fence, Secretariat Office Complex and other Ventures as well as maximizing the utilization of Corps potentials and services.

From the foregoing, in his three years sojourn in NYSC, Major General Sulaiman Kazaure has succeeded in charting a new course for the Scheme towards realizing the dream of the founding fathers to utilize the service corps as a pivot and platform to drive the attainment of a strong, united and prosperous Nigeria. His recent promotion to the rank of a Major General, Fellowship award from Chemical Society of Nigeria, Leadership award from Leadership newspapers, NIPR and the many other laurels he has received are definitive acknowledgement of the incontrovertible lasting legacies he has bequeathed to the Scheme.

When his administration runs its full course, in addition to the many significant firsts he recorded including the first Doctorate degree holder and Major General to head NYSC, he will be leaving fulfilled that during his era as the chief executive, the service corps recorded unprecedented leap in fortunes and achievements.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human rights writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwa@blogspot.com.

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