Corps members need special life insurance for elections – Rep

    A member of the House of Representatives, Ben Igbakpa,  representing Ethiope Federal Constituency in Delta State, who sponsored a bill on the National Youth Service Corps,  in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU, explains the need for a better welfare package for corps members

    Why did you sponsor a bill seeking to make NYSC membership a voluntary one against the current rule?

    How many people parents will agree that their wards be sent to the troubled parts of the country, especially where insecurity is prevalent? Nobody. The moment they send your child to Maiduguri (capital of Borno State), it is like a death sentence. Unless we are deceiving ourselves, I don’t think the NYSC is the only reason or source of our unity and integration.

    One of the arguments against your bill at the second reading on Tuesday were that the merits of the scheme outweigh the demerits. Do you agree?

    The only reason that the promoters of the NYSC scheme, as of then had, was for national integration. The NYSC is (full of) cross-cultural activities: you go to a place you have never been to before, you learn new things, you integrate with them to know their culture and other things. There is really no other reason why NYSC was established as far as I’m concerned, and looking at the law setting it up. Again, if we talk about the fact that there are jobs anywhere, the government introduced N-Power (one of the social investments programmes introduced by the Muhammadu Buhari-led regime). The N-Power does not transfer people (graduate beneficiaries) from one place to another. So, if they are saying NYSC is for empowerment of our graduates, which it is not, I think it can be done without this compulsion that is attached to it. Many corpers members today talk about what is called ‘ghost service’ now. People don’t even go to where they are supposed to serve; they just go there at the end of the month to just do their clearance, in connivance with certain persons. That shows that the very essence of the service has been defeated, with the insecurity and the (failing) economy. Why tie people down. There are people that can leave school and the moment they leave school, they get jobs. Some want to go outside the country for greener pastures. So, this scheme, has become a waste of time. I don’t think we should be talking about the NYSC as the only tool for national integration. Our integration should come from our hearts and mindset; that is the biggest integration we should be thinking about. I don’t see anything wrong if people are given the opportunity to either serve or not to serve.

    Now, the NYSC has engaged in one beautiful programme, creating a kind of empowerment where people are trained in one vocation or the other – skill acquisition. They are doing it and it is good. That can also be done for our teeming youths. Like I said earlier, I understand that we are running a constitutional democracy where the majority will have their way and the minority will have their say. This is my own personal thinking: I think, with our economy, we should direct the energy of our youths to more productive ventures rather than tie them down for one year and nothing will come out of it. Assuming they are allowed to even serve or given a place of primary assignment according to their field of study, it would have been better. There are people that studied Accounting but are working in a factory, doing something that does not concern them. I think the only people that have not been subjected to that kind of treatment are medical doctors because they are few. Every other discipline, they work elsewhere that does not concern them. So, what are they really learning? What is the knowledge that they acquire?

    At a time when ethnic suspicion, tribal and ethno-religious conflicts and division between the North and the South is deep, don’t you think the NYSC is one of the major avenues of orientating the youths across regional lines?

    Where we are today, do you agree with me that these have been resolved? No. They have not been resolved. The issues are still there. If you have a child now who just graduated from school and is transferred to Maiduguri or (anywhere in) the North-East, will you allow him or her to go? Nigerians are good at saying ‘this is the way it should be,’ they don’t look at the realities. The amendment I sought was because of the present realities. Must we really muscle everybody, that ‘you must do this?’ Somebody talked about national service in the United States. It is not compulsory. The compulsory part of it is that you are registered. Your details are with them from birth. When you get to that point, you might be called for that service, maybe there is a war and take you there and back. Not everybody actually goes. So, it is neither here nor there, that in America you must have one-year military service. It is not compulsory. You are registered; where you are called upon or not, it is a different ball game.

    I observed that those who criticised the bill were from the North and they are principal officers of the House. Do you think the bill failed to pass due to regional factors?

    Well, that will be impugning improper motives on my colleagues. I believe it is their own understanding and what they think is right. They are representatives of their people and they have spoken what they thought their people wanted. So, I will not ascribe it to any ethnic colouration. They are only concerned with national unity and the cultural implications. But my own question is: is the NYSC the only tool for national integration? The other one is the fact that, based on experience and what we have seen in this country, and because of the stringent nature of giving them an exemption, they find a fake one. When something is too expensive, you may find a fake one. If you make it easy and flexible, people will not have to fake it.

    How does this bill affect Nigerians who school in the Diaspora?

    It is embarrassing for somebody to live all his or her life abroad acquiring knowledge, only to come into the country and they say because of this NYSC thing … what if somebody is called to come and serve, and the person says ‘I don’t want to get any exemption; I don’t need it?’ Should the person go because we want to respect our laws? I think it should be flexible. That is my take on it.

    Talking about Nigerians who graduated from foreign schools, do you have any examples of how they were negatively affected by the NYSC Act?

    I have not had a case but we had a case of a former Minister of Finance (Kemi Adeosun). She came to this country. She was born abroad, she studied abroad, she came to serve her fatherland but because it was a condition that she must get an (NYSC) exemption certificate, somehow she found herself getting a forged one – a fake one – which was not her making. But it became a big scandal that she had to resign. What if that was not a condition to serve your fatherland? It should not be a condition. We are thinking of how to make our country grow; we are thinking of how to grow our economy. A lot of our youths are now saying they are no longer interested in the service; they want it to be open. If you want to go, you go; if you don’t want to go, you stay.

    It is a consolidated bill that has other proposals sponsored by other members of the House. What are the other proposals?

    A colleague brought the issue of increase in their remuneration, transportation and housing allowances. In my argument (while leading the debate at the second reading), I added the fact that these people are actually graduates and they should be given something commensurate with their certificate.


    You mean it should not be commensurate with the minimum wage?

    No, the minimum wage is too small for them because the threshold of the minimum wage is N30,000 (per month) and as graduates, their colleagues are on (Grade) Level 8. Even if they will not get Level 8, they should be getting Level 7. That will encourage some people. If you make it optional, some people, because of the money, will be encouraged to serve. But when you say N30,000, it further discourages them.

    If you are talking of allowance for corps members, the general one is N30,000. Is the bill now proposing increment of the general allowance and introduction of new allowances – accommodation and transport?

    Yes, what they are getting now is just the allowance of N30,000.

    The  bill failed to pass second reading, what will be its fate now?

    By the time it comes back (to the floor of the House for reconsideration)…as you know, we stepped it down and the Committee on Rules and Business was mandated to look at it, to see what they can come up with. Many people are interested in the increment and the remuneration part of it. So, because of the interests, I know that it will form part of the return of the bill (after it has been reviewed).


    What if the scheme is reviewed and the welfare package is enhanced, including life insurance for corpers?

    We make laws based on the yearnings, aspirations and what the people are crying for. You have just said something different now. That (insurance) can be inculcated in the bill by the time it comes back. Life insurance…yes, it is good because corpers are exposed to a lot of things, especially during elections when they go for special duties.

    So, would that be enough for you to allow the scheme to be compulsory?

    It is not about me, it is about the people that you are giving this (national) assignment. The people, by the time you give them something that encourages and motivates them, I am sure the hues and cries will not be there. A corper that is deployed to Abuja, for instance, to get a bed-sitter is about N300,000 to N500,000 and the person is earning N30,000. The person will have to pay transport to the PPA. How do you expect the person to cope? That is to say the family will still have to get accommodation for them after schooling, because of the compulsion of the service. The family will still be under another type of burden. From your suggestion, it is good. If they make it proper; enhance the welfare and security. They will be encouraged.

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