The Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps, Major General Shuaibu Ibrahim, speaks to FRIDAY OLOKOR about his stewardship
You’re been three years in office as the Director-General of the NYSC. What have been the challenges and your best moments in office?
We thank God for His grace and all I will say is that I want to thank the management of the NYSC and my corps members because I wouldn’t have been able to do it alone without their support. We have worked so closely together and it has made us transform the NYSC into what it is today and, of course, you all know what we have done. The corps members played a very critical role in the fight against COVID-19 when in 2020, precisely on March 8, we shut our camps and directed our corps members to go back home. We had taught them various skills and we wanted them to bring the skills to bear on society, because that was the time Nigeria needed them most.
They went into production of sanitizers, face masks, disinfectants, soap, etc. Some of these items they produced were donated to state governments, marketplaces, places of worship and so on. They were also educating Nigerians on safety measures against the deadly virus. Also, they developed an app, which they were using to teach pupils in JSS3 and SS3 free of charge during the lockdown. They did this nationwide. The corps members also raised funds for the increment that was approved by Mr President in 2020; they bought food items, which they distributed as palliatives to indigent Nigerians. Their contributions to both the public and private sectors are immense and they have continued to do so.
You know we carry our health outreach to rural dwellers on a quarterly basis, whereby corps members provide free medical care to Nigerians. Flowing from that exercise, letters were forwarded to the state ministries of health to inform them about the diseases found to be prevalent in the communities, so that the government can take steps to tackle such diseases. Furthermore, our corps members are involved in the creative industry. They produce movies, the first of which was titled, ‘A Call to Service’, which is an advocacy film for the NYSC. And of course, we have nine books on the NYSC, which have enabled Nigerians to know more about the activities of the NYSC.
We have also established our own museum. Anyone who visits our museum will know that it is the NYSC history in action. Then, we have also established the NYSC Radio and Television. The corps members now have a voice; the NYSC now has a voice and the interesting part of it is that the radio and television stations are all run by corps members as broadcasters, technicians and so on. So, the successes we have recorded so far are immense.
What major challenges did you encounter?
One was the impact of COVID-19 on our operations; it was quite a trying moment but we thank the Federal Government, the Presidential Steering Committee and the National Centre for Disease Control for their tremendous support, which enabled us to resume our orientation camps after shutting down. When I came on board in 2019, I said we had to think of how to be self-sustaining because I felt we could not continue to be 100 per cent dependent on the government. So, I said we needed to do certain things that could bring revenue to the table and I am happy that we revived our ventures and we generated money to the tune of about N1.2bn for 2020 and 2021. The money was remitted to the Federal Government and that was the first time the NYSC would be doing such.
Now, we have expanded our operations; we have established a garment factory, table water factory, a bakery and so on. So, the revenue base will continue to soar. Though we are not a revenue-generating agency, some of these ventures are basically for the training of corps members in the various ventures, such as bakery operation, fashion design, etc.
Is the NYSC’s annual budget adequate?
Well, we cannot say it is adequate; the challenges are many. I know, of course, that the global economic downturn is taking its toll on the country and the NYSC is not the only establishment of government. And that was why I said we had to put on our thinking cap and see how to start generating revenue internally. And you know, the NYSC rests on three tripods – the federal, state and the local governments. While the Federal Government is playing its role, we have challenges with the two others. And that is why when we had a meeting with representatives of the states in 2021, we came up with the idea of establishing what we call the NYSC Trust Fund and I want to thank the National Assembly members, civil societies, students and so on, who followed the process through and the trust fund is now waiting for concurrence from the Senate, from where it will go to Mr President for assent.
Once this thing comes on board, we will scale up the skills acquisition programme for corps members; they will get the best of training as they exit the service year; they will get a certificate and they will be properly funded by giving them start-up capital. With this, none of them will come out of service searching for white-collar jobs. I can assure you that if we are able to mobilise over 350,000 corps members with start-up capital, the multiplier effect in terms of jobs creation will be massive. That is the way I look at it and that is our vision.
If you watch our NYSC half hour on NTA International every Wednesday at 7.30pm, you will see those that have benefited from this start-up capital, they have established big businesses. Apart from being self-reliant and creators of wealth, they have employed thousands of Nigerians working under them and they appreciate what the NYSC has done to them. During our in-camp training, they come to give back to the other corps members. The initiative has also promoted national integration because most of these corps members, who benefited from the scheme, established their businesses in the state where they serve rather than their states of origin.
What does it take to kit one corps member?
It is quite tough, especially with the inflationary trend now. And that was why the trust fund will be very handy for the running of the NYSC scheme. The state governments have the responsibility of providing camps, expanding them and maintaining them. The camps were established more than 15 years ago but, with the increasing number of corps members every year, the camps need to be expanded commensurate with the population. With the trust fund, we can expand, we can build new ones and with the vision around it, we can even build hospitals, we can build schools and so on, and this will make it very reasonable and cheap, and free for indigent Nigerians.
Are there places that the NYSC does not post corps members to at the moment due to security challenges?
You know security is not something we discuss in the public. We are guided accordingly by the advice we get from security agencies; we deploy base on advice; where there are challenges, of course, we won’t take corps members there and that is why some of our camps are moved if we discover there is a challenge because the safety of corps members is very critical to the Federal Government. I want to thank the security agencies, because they do respond whenever we have issues; they see the corps members as their children; they provide accommodation for them in the barracks even when they are not serving with the Army.
It has become the practice for corps members to be used as ad hoc staff by the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct elections. Are the lives of these corps members insured given that elections sometimes come with violence?
They have insurance cover; the Independent National Electoral Commission provides insurance cover for corps members on election duties, just as they provide for other ad hoc staff members.
Is it life insurance?
Yes, they (INEC) provide for them. Where there are issues, they come and take over, and, of course, you know that participation is voluntary. However, corps members don’t joke with these things. You know we work closely with the security agencies and INEC, because the security of corps members is very paramount to us.
The 2023 election is gathering steam and whenever there is an election, people fear that there may be violence. What else are you doing apart from insurance to make sure that corps members are shielded?
Just as I said, it still boils down to the last question you asked me. We work closely with the security agencies because the welfare of corps members is very paramount to the Federal Government, the security agencies and the NYSC. So, we work according to their dictates; nobody will see fire and push their children into it.
What is your response to those who say the NYSC has outlived its usefulness?
The NYSC, as I said, has contributed immensely to our national development. Anybody who has served this country as a corps member and served diligently, when they look back they will see the value they have added to our country and community, and they will not say the NYSC should be scrapped. In the NYSC, we face some constructive criticisms; they ginger us to perform better and make certain corrections. We get calls from Nigerians every time and we make corrections where necessary, but there are those who have issues with the NYSC.
Why do you think so?
There are people who have issues with the NYSC and will say, ‘Scrap the NYSC’ or something like that. But there are people with genuine concern about how we operate. They talk to us; sometimes, we invite them for discussions. That is why I am appealing to Nigerians; we have published nine books on the NYSC covering all our areas of operations, please read them; where you have issues, come and we will sit down and look at it. Some people talk about rejection of corps members and so on. Of course, you know, for instance in the FCT, corps members posted to the FCT believe that their place of primary assignment is only Maitama, not knowing that Bwari, Kuje, Abaji and Gwagwalada are also part of the FCT. So if you find yourself in Abuja, know that you can serve in any of these places.
Some of them will go and induce rejection, but we have told corps members that if you go and induce this thing and they write to us and we document it in your file…I tell them, ‘Don’t allow your action of today haunt you tomorrow’. The NYSC is mandatory and we are very good in documentation, so let only positive things enter your file, because the NYSC is a platform for those who are serious. Millions of Nigerians trace their success to the NYSC, including in the area of marriage, because they met their spouses during the service year. We have issues and there is no organisation that does not have challenges; the challenges toughen us to do more. We mobilised 350,000 corps members and one or two issues happened and for that you say the NYSC should be scrapped! I think that it is not the best.
From your experience in office, in which way do you think the NYSC can be improved?
We need to ginger our operation in the area of technology, because most of our activities involve a lot of travelling, and just as corps members sometimes have challenges of road traffic accidents, our staff members are also paying the price. That is why I thank God for the innovations that were introduced during the COVID-19 lockdown. I can now address corps members nationwide from my table; sometimes I also hold meetings nationwide. But you know technology has its own disadvantages too. Somebody can join a Zoom meeting somewhere and you’d think the person is on the ground. We need to monitor the corps members and because we monitor them effectively, the rate of movement here and there is reduced, thereby reducing accidents, because road accidents account for most of the deaths recorded during the service year and most corps members embark on journeys without authorisation.
Of course, there are those normal sicknesses, but you know corps members are young and they want to explore. But we do tell them even in their call-up letter, ‘Don’t travel at night’. Gone are those days when you want to take or accept free rides because you are in uniform. You must be security conscious; don’t put yourself in harm’s way, and if you are going to travel, you must seek permission so that we can account for you at any point in time. A situation where a corps member wants to travel by 9pm is bad. So, the press should continue to help us to sensitise them because I do tell them that their parents have invested so much in them and they want returns on their investments. As they come to us hale and hearty, we want them to finish the service and go back to their parents hale and hearty.
The PUNCH published a news report about a graduate who was stranded because the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin, and the NYSC mobilised an impostor for service. What happened?
Since I came on board, we have fought those who are not qualified to be in service; we have arrested some and we have already prosecuted some.
How many have you prosecuted since you came on board?
I can’t give the exact number now, but we have prosecuted many and there are cases still ongoing in court. I remember that over 60 were arrested sometime in 2020 in Taraba, Imo and so on; they were fake corps members or those who were not qualified at all. They come to the camp with fake certificates, people who are not qualified at all, so we normally investigate and once we get them, we hand them over to the security agencies for prosecution.
So what happened in this current situation?
You know, sometimes things happen because these people can play smart and they collude with insiders. But I can assure you that there are ways we will get them and that is why it has happened. And I also thank The PUNCH for that report. I was briefed about it and I said we are going to follow through and ensure that the culprit faces justice.
You’re about bowing out of office, what do you expect your successor to immediately pay attention to?
We are all officers and we are posted accordingly. So, all I can say is that whoever comes, he is from the same constituency and we will continue to give him the support; the staff members will also continue to give him the support, because the NYSC is always a family and we have always supported one another. When there is success, we celebrate together; and if there is failure, we sit together to review the situation and fashion out a solution. So, we are going to work closely with our successor, the management and where the need arises, I will give them advice accordingly. The NYSC is a family; I am a lucky man because when I came here, I was the youngest military assistant. I came to the NYSC as a Lieutenant and I left as a young Captain and the Lord brought me back as a Brigadier General and I am leaving again as a Major General. I cannot thank God, the Federal Government and the Nigerian Army enough for this privilege.
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