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For NASS, a youthful legacy beckons

By News Express on 17/02/2018

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In the last two decades, the last three years has gone down in annals of Nigerian politics as an epochal period whereby the young populations in Nigeria got a heavy dose of attention from the topmost echelon of the national parliament.

The combination of two young Nigerians as President of the Senate, in the person of a United Kingdom-trained medical doctor ‘Bukola Saraki, a Prince of the Ilorin Emirate Council and the Bauchi State-born lawyer, Mr Yakubu Dogara, from Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area,  may have accounted for the significant focus on youth-oriented legislations that have sailed through in both chambers of the National Assembly.

Specifically, the Not-too-young-to-run for political offices legislation has entered the history book, deservedly, as the most remarkable 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 comply with aspects of the Not-too-young-to-run for political offices that abridged the age requirements. 

Expectations are indeed so high that these revolutionary steps would be achieved to create the needed legal frameworks to properly mainstream 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 accountable funding profile of such youth impactful schemes that have the inherent capacity to empower the youth with entrepreneurial skills, to make them self-reliant and wealth creators, even as they serve their fatherland. 

Perhaps the nearest to this piece of legislation – which, incidentally, is the focal point of this article - is the stop-gap 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 speech and advocacy, the offices of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and that of the Senate President have made so much impact in the areas of promoting policy and legal frameworks that mainstreams youth participation in politics. To underscore the foregoing claims, an observer needs to take a quick look at one of the speeches delivered by Dr Bukola Saraki, at an African continental parliamentary youth event, last year September.

His words: “The agitations of young members of the National Assembly, youth groups and civil society organisations 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.”

The Senate president added: “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.

 “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).”

Saraki, who nearly half of his staff are young Nigerians, noted: “Obviously in Africa, the concentration of political leadership must shift from playing ‘politics of perpetuation’ to developing the education sector; building a sustainable, localised and industrialised economy that can create jobs for the teeming population of Africa’s youth. It is shocking to note that according to African Development Bank Report, over 25 per cent of African youth population is still illiterate.”

Speaker of the House of Representatives, 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. He also has immense soft spot for pro-youth legislations, even as he too has a fair share of young aides working to help him realise his legislative agenda. 

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 earlier stated, the current session of the National Assembly has made laws to permit greater participation of 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 operationalisation 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 can bequeath to generations yet unborn. One of such notable schemes as earlier mentioned is the National Youth Service Scheme which started in the early 70s, with the national mandate to properly bring about comprehensive national integration among 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 the scheme, especially at the various 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: “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 Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) programme. 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 director-general, Brig-Gen Kazaure for his zeal in setting up Skill Acquisition Centres in the six geopolitical zones of the country, with two already completed at Gombe and Ekiti states. The programme has gone a very long way in reducing the mad rush in young graduates seeking white collar jobs that are not even there. The scheme should, therefore, be encouraged via its budgetary provisions to sustain the vision 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 organisation last year contacted 45 registered non-governmental organisations which, September last year, attended our civil society media forum at our Abuja office. We brainstormed on the urgency of mounting pressure on the National Assembly to fundamentally improve the feeding allowances of young Nigerians participating in the annual National Youth Service Corps.  

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 Ekweremadu, responded to us in writing. We had also written to both leaderships of the House and Senate to intimate them of efforts we made to make a presentation on the need to enhance the feeding, transportation and general well-being of participants of the NYSC.

Members of this civil society forum, by our letter, wanted to bring to the notice of the National Assembly 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 Corps Scheme. The observations and prayers to the National Assembly were done so that 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 enlisted this year to serve their fatherland under the scheme.

This writer has observed that over the years, the welfare and well-being of the participants in the NYSC scheme are usually not adequately provided for in the yearly budgetary releases. 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, PE shorts, among 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 receive 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 actualise.

It is a fact that Nigeria is so much in need of peace, tranquility and unity. The NYSC scheme was created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Civil War.

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 May 22, 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’”

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 socio-economic infrastructural facilities, housing; water and sewage facilities, road, health-care 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 on the faces of our young citizens, so they are provided balanced nutrition and enhanced welfare while they settle down to provide selfless service to our fatherland, because even the Holy Bible says that “a laborer deserves his wages.”

If Nigerian government is annually spending N10 billion for feeding of prisoners in the country, according to Minister of Interior Abdurahman 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 said to be 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. 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 12 calendar months toil day and night in selfless service of the fatherland. 

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com 

Source News Express

Posted 17/02/2018 8:17:34 PM

 

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