FOR NASS, A Youthful Legacy Beckons
In the last two decades, the last three years has gone down in annals of Nigeria's politics as the epochal period whereby the young populations in Nigeria got a heavy dose of attention from the topmost echelons of the national parliament.
The combination of two young Nigerians as the President of the Senate in the person of a United Kingdom – trained medical doctor Mr. Bukola Saraki, a Prince of the Ilorin Emirate Council and the Tafawa Balewa local government area of Bauchi state- born lawyer Mr. Dogara Yakubu may have accounted for the significant focus to youth-oriented legislations that have sailed through in both chambers of the Nigerian parliament.
Specifically, the not too young to run for political offices legislation has entered the history book deservedly as the most admirable youth- friendly legislation ever made in Nigeria since 1960. The relevant sections of Nigerian Constitution relating to age qualifications for elective offices would soon be altered to bring them up to speed to comply with the aspects of the Not too young to run for political offices that abridged the age requirements.
Expectations are indeed high that these revolutionary steps would be achieved to create the needed legal frameworks to properly mainstream the Nigerian youth's participation in the political leadership of Nigeria in line with global trends. Also the National Assembly is looked up to as they revisit the all important issue of transparent and an accountable funding profile of such youth impactful schemes that have the inherent capacities to empower the youth with enterpreneural skills to make them sekf reliant and wralth creators even as they serve Nigeria their fatherland.
Perhaps the nearest to this piece of legislation which incidentally is the focal point of this reflection is the stop gap after graduation-based scheme known as the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) which has become the most enduring pro-youth legacy ever created by the political authority of Nigeria since Independence.
In both speeches and advocacy activities, the offices of the speaker of parliament and that of the chairman of the National Parliament and Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki have made so much impacts in the areas of promoting policy and legal frameworks that mainstreams youth participation in politics.
To underscore the aforementioned claims, an observer needs to take a quick look at one of the speeches recently delivered by the Senate President at an African continental parliamentary youth event last year September.
This is what Senator Bukola Saraki said about his youth agenda as a leader of the National Parliament.
Hear him: “The agitations of Young Members of the National Assembly, youth groups and Civil Society organizations for the inclusion of young persons in leadership and in the decision making process, is not just one of those instruments adopted by pressure groups to attract attention but a demand for initiating and sustaining good governance and development. Therefore, when these agitations were expressed in form of a request for the reduction in the qualification age for running for Public offices, the leadership of the National Assembly saw it as an opportunity to change the leadership temperament in developing societies, an opportunity to prepare for the future of Africa as a socio-economically and politically developed continent. It gladdens my heart that the National Assembly reduced the age qualification for running for Public offices to as low as 25 years and we believe this will be enshrined in our Constitution after the entire amendment process must have been completed”.
Saraki also said: “Inclusiveness as it relates to the theme of this Conference is a panacea to achieving peaceful societies, however where injustice, poverty and lack of political will for reform are paramount, political engagement and inclusiveness of youth will achieve very little or none at all”.
He continued: “As members of parliaments, we will have to be more committed to enacting legislations and giving legislative backing to policies that will eradicate poverty, exhume and expunge injustice in our society and help in the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.
Dr. Saraki who has nearly half his members of staff as very young Nigerians further stated as follows: “Obviously in Africa, the concentration of political leadership must shift from playing “politics of perpetuation” to developing the education sector, building a sustainable, localized and industrialized economy that can create jobs for the teeming population of Africa’s youth. It is shocking to note that according to the African Development Bank Report, over 25% of African youth population is still illiterate”.
On his own, the speaker of parliament do also have immense soft spots for pro-youth legislations.
He too has a fair share of young aides working to help him realize his packed legislative agenda.
Dogara is also an advocate of the need to set a functional political agenda in Africa so as to avoid what he termed as dire consequences.
His words: “Any nation that fails to set an agenda for its youth must have wittingly or unwittingly outsourced that responsibility to the youth to set one for themselves and that nation should be ready to bear the dire consequences in terms of social and political costs. This is a luxury African nations cannot afford because Africa has the fastest growing and most youthful population in the world at the moment.”
As aforementioned, the current session of the Nigerian parliament has made law to permit greater participation of the young persons in politics.
From all available data, there are glaring evidences that this political epoch is at a vantage position to deepen the scope and the operationalization of national schemes that have over the years been established to cater for the young.
Consolidating the functionality, efficiency and effective administration of the NYSC scheme will be the best legacy both the Senate and House of Representatives' hierarchies can bequeath to generations yet unborn.
One of such notable schemes as earlier mentioned is the National Youth Service Scheme which kickstarted in the early 70’s with the national mandate to properly bring about comprehensive national integration amongst the youthful populace.
But the NYSC scheme has faced challenges especially in the area of ensuring that it gets the enhanced budgetary appropriations to drive the process of youth engagement for national service to greater heights.
Asked how the management has managed to feed the large army of corpers since their budgets are reportedly small, a senior staff stated confidentially thus: "If not for the great managerial ability of the managers of scheme especially at the varoius orientation camps it would have been very difficult to give corps members three square meals a day with N500".
The senior staff with considerable knowledge of the workings of the NYSC further stated that: "The NYSC should be commended in its drive towards making successive participants in the scheme to be self reliant and employers of labour via their Skill Acquisition and Entreprenurship Development programme SAED. This is in recognition of the need to pragmatically tackle youth unemployment in Nigeria. Great commendation should be given to the current leadership of the scheme under the Director General Brig Gen kazaure for his zeal in setting up Skill Acquisition Centres in the six geopolical zones of the country with two already completed at Gombe and Ekiti state. The programme has gone a very long way in reducing the mad rush in young graduates seeking for white colar jobs that are not even there. The scheme should therefore be encouraged via its budgetary provissions to sustain the vission of the scheme as it relates to the present day realities of our nation", he stated but pleaded anonymity.
As a prominent civil right group, our organization last year contacted 45 registered Non-governmental organizations which attended last year September our civil society media forum at our Abuja office which brainstormed on the urgency of mounting pressure on the National Assembly to fundamentally improve the feeding allowances of our young Nigerians participating in the annual National Youth Service Corp (NYSC).
Our forum thereafter made an “URGENT CALL TO REDRESS THE POOR FEEDING/TRANSPORTATION AND KITTING OF PARTICIPANTS OF NYSC SCHEME" directed at the holders of key offices at the National Assembly. Incidentally, only the Deputy Senate President Dr Ike Ekwerenadu responded to us in writing.
We had also written to both the leaderships of the House and Senate to intimate the National Assembly of effort we made to make a presentation of the need to enhance the feeding, transportations and general logistical well-being of yearly participants of THE NYSC.
The members of this Civil Society forum by our letter wanted to bring to the notice of the National Assembly of the most pressing need to improve the relevant sub-heads of the 2018 appropriation with regards to the provision of welfare for the participants of the National Youth Service Corp Scheme.
Those sets of observations and prayers to the National Assembly was done so the Appropriation committees of both chambers would urgently incorporate these salient observations with the overall objective of significantly improving the living conditions of the hundreds-of-thousands of young Nigerians who would enroll this year to serve their fatherland under the scheme.
This writer has observed that over the years that the welfare and wellbeing of the participants in the NYSC scheme are usually not adequately provided for in the yearly budgetary releases and therefore we are appealing for comprehensive adjustments in the provisions made in the proposed 2018 Appropriation so these young Nigerians are guaranteed the enabling environment to serve in good shape.
We note that the last time these subheads were adjusted was over a decade ago and you would agree with us that the current budgetary provisions are grossly inadequate. (1) May you kindly adjust the allowance provided for the feeding of corps members from the paltry N500 to the proposed N1, 500 per day;
(2) That you increase the transportation allowance which is N4, 500 to the proposed N11, 000 which includes transportation to and from camp and the bicycle allowance; (3) We urge you to increase the approval for the Kitting of Corps members from the N10, 500 to the proposed N20, 000.
The National Assembly must note that the above kitting covers Khaki, Jungle boot, belt, crested NYSC vests, Canvas, Plain vest, Belt, P.E. Shorts amongst others making all together nine items.
This writer as head of Nigeria's foremost civil society group is compelled to approach the National Assembly through this open letter because of the avalanche of complaints that we received on daily basis from NYSC participants who virtually starve whilst serving our fatherland.
This ill treatment of the young citizens who are sacrificing their Youth, precious time, talents and gifts to serve Nigeria for a year must be reversed especially because of the prevailing economic recession.
We are of the firm belief that the National Assembly needs to provide enhanced funding support for the NYSC scheme because of the noble objectives that the scheme is set to actualize.
It is a fact that Nigeria is so much in need of peace, tranquility and unity and the NYSC scheme was created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil war.
We must collectively recall that: "the unfortunate antecedents in our national history gave impetus to the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps by decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973 which stated that the NYSC is being established "with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity".
Let’s recall also that: "as a developing country, Nigeria is further plagued by the problems attendant upon a condition of under development, namely; poverty, Mass illiteracy, acute shortage of high skilled manpower (coupled with most uneven distribution of the skilled people that are available), woefully inadequate socioeconomic infrastructural facilities, housing. Water and sewage facilities, road, healthcare services, and effective communication system. "
It is therefore an indisputable fact that: "faced with these almost intractable problems, which were further compounded by the burden of reconstruction after the civil war, the government and people of Nigeria set for the country, fresh goals, and objectives aimed at establishing Nigeria as: A united, strong and self-reliant nation; a great and dynamic economy; and as a land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens", ( www.nysc.gov.ng ).
As vibrant young men heading both chambers we hope that you will use your good offices to put smiles in the faces of our young citizens so they are provided balanced nutrition’s and enhanced welfare whilst they settle down to provide selfless service to our fatherland because even the holy writ says that 'a laborer deserves his wages'.
It is the considered thinking of this writer and the organization that are partnering with us that participants of the NYSC scheme deserve qualitative care as patriots that they are.
If Nigerian government is annually spending N10billion for feeding of prisoners in the country, according to minister of Interior AbdurRahman Dambazau, we do not see why NYSC participants shouldn’t have a better deal.
With the country’s estimated prison population of 57,000, the government is roughly spending N14,000 for a three-square meal of each prisoner per day.
However, while defending the 2018 budget, before the members of the Senate Committee on Interior, the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Prisons Service, Ahmed Ja’afaru, stated that N17 billion was allocated for feeding which is to spread across 244 prisons.
In a reaction, Senator Chukwuka Utazi decried the little budgetary allocation given to prisoners in the country which he had noticed over time.
Senator Utazi noted that the treatment given to the prison inmates “would make them gradually become a menace” when they are eventually released into the society.
We expect the youthful hierarchies of the National Assembly to build up the legacy of being the very set that significantly boosted the conditions of service of our young patriots who for twelve calender months toils day and night in the selfless services of the Fatherland.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.huriwanigeria.com ; www.emmanuelonwubiko.com ; www.huriwa.blogspot.com .