MALACHY UZENDU, Deputy Editor and ONYINYECHI UDEMEZUE, Abuja
UNNECESSARY controversy; just that Nigerians find it difficult to drop old habit, whether for positive or negative reasons. In most cases, those who benefit from a wrongful old order instigate discontent and often, outright rejection of innovations.
Such was the case with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which, thinking their innovative e-corps mobilisation efforts would be greeted with pomp, met stiff resistance, even, outright castigation by university administrators.
For some months now, there have been agitations in some quarters regarding the newly-introduced N4, 000 fees being charged prospective corps members for their mobilisation for national service through the on-line process. Those opposed to the new process failed to put into account, the huge benefits associated with the full computerization of the process. It is significant to know that while some persons opposed the new era, many people have lauded the project because of the benefits. Majority of the people who applaud the idea say the benefits are unquantifiable when lives of prospective corps members that would be saved from road and associated accidents are taken into consideration.
The Director General, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brigadier General Johnson Olawumi, has explained that the fee was justifiable especially when compared to the stress and lack of integrity of the analogue process. He further explained that the fee was for services and infrastructure to be deployed by the collaborating firm, and not for the NYSC or the Corps Producing Institutions (CPIs) as being alleged in some quarters.
While urging Nigerians and staff of the scheme to embrace the newly introduced policy as it would help curb irregularities in the scheme, the NYSC boss however noted that the policy was optional for the 2014 Batch ‘C’ corps members but would become compulsory probaby as from next year with the Batch ‘A’ set.
According to him, “Complications like mobilization of unqualified persons into national service, sharp practices in the mobilization process by students and their institutions, lack of proper record of mobilized persons, strenuous registration by corps members in camp and service evasion by ‘unscrupulous’ corps members will be eliminated”. Olawumi last Wednesday in Abuja listed the several merits of the deployment of ICT in NYSC mobilisation, pointing out that it was to eliminate fraud, avoidable deaths and guarantee seamless NYSC process.
While addressing an NYSC Stakeholders meeting which took place at Hotel De Bently in Utako, Abuja, he explained further that the increasing number of prospective Corps members which rose from 2,364 at inception in 1973 to the current figure of over 750,000 made ICT deployment inevitable as manual processing had become obsolete. He added that in a technology-driven world, it becomes antithetical for the NYSC to have retained the antiquated and traditional manual mobilisation processess with the attendant shortcomings and associated problems, rather than embracing a global phenomenon that eliminates errors and saves time.
According to him, “the prospective corps members have equally faced the treachery of fraudsters who extort money from them in the name of NYSC without remorse, frustration in collection of call-up letters, cloning of lost call-up letters for the purpose of fake camps and stealing of call-up letters from schools”. He also listed problems such as “loss of lives of prospective corps members as a result of travelling, undue suffering of corps members in payment of allowances after relocation, to mention a few”, emphasising that these problems forced the NYSC to introduce the ICT mobilisation process.
The NYSC boss expressed joy that “the ICT have drastically reduced registration process at orientation camps on arrival, problems faced by corps members from camp officials, problems of obtaining Police Report, Court Affidavit and other items needed for re-mobilisation”, adding that such stressful processes have been eliminated by the ICT deployment.
Said Olawumi: “During the last Batch ‘C’ Mobilisation and Orientation exercise, we tested the project and it was a huge departure from the past as prospective corps members went online to register, while Corps Producing Institutions simply sent the Senate approved results which were uploaded. Those who qualified for mobilisation and chose the option of accessing the infrastructure, were promptly notified by e-mail and immediately received Call-up numbers online instead of traveling to their schools. They also printed their call-up letters online and at the camps, it was stress-free as they avoided the ardous and frustrating manual registration processes for a one-minute biometric registration.
“Those who lost their call-up letters before going to camp re-printed online instead of swearing affidavits, getting Police reports and waiting for the next batch. Those who applied for relocation simply printed online instead of traveling for Pink Cards. With this result, the whole world has seen that contrary to the very unkind and unguarded remarks from certain sections accusing NYSC of being fraudulent, the NYSC is not fraudulent, but providing solutions to the challenges of our times”.
Insisting there was no underhand deals in the choice of SIDMACH Technologies Ltd for the ICP infrastructure, the NYSC boss noted that 49 companies applied after the advertisement as required by law, while the final choice was made by the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) and additional certification by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) which issued full Business Case Compliance Certificate to the NYSC.
Olawumi also added that the Ministry of Youth Development, the Institute of Purchasing and Supply Management, Computer Professionals Association as well as the media participated in the entire bidding processes.
In his welcome address, the Director of Corps Mobilisation, Mr. A. C. Ani added that the Public Private Partnership (PPP) option arose not just to eliminate the problems but because government was unable to provide the funds for the project. He also dismissed insinuations that prospective corps members paid N4,000 for the benefit of the NYSC, adding that nothing can be further from the truth.
Ani added that the stakeholders meeting involving Registrars of Nigerian universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, NANS, civil society organisation, corps members and the media were aimed at confronting noticeable challenges, stressing that in an ICT-driven world, Nigeria cannot be left behind.
Also speaking at the meeting, the Chairman, Association of Registrars of Nigerian Universities (ARNU), who spoke on behalf of Corps producing institutions nationwide, applauded the decision of the NYSC to go digital in their mobilisation processes, especially as they liaise with JAMB for synergy. She added that the inovation was a wake-up call, which has finally pushed the universities to successfully pursue the digitalisation of their processes.
According to her, “A student that registers and take JAMB examinations on-line, there is something wrong if he comes back to do NYSC mobilisation in analogue pattern. If you don’t try something new, don’t cry for success. I believe that with the successes recorded, by the next mobilisation, we will get more than 26 per cent. I have to tell you that from our experiences, prospective corps members pay more than N4,000 because they come to school, they move around, eat, transport themselves, share ‘pure’ water, etc, and face several challenges in the Student Affairs Office and in the end, spend so much money and everybody sweats it out.
“We find out that with this wake up call, if we all digitise, we know that the easiest way to come out of fraud is to digitise, all you are telling us is wake up, take off from your Senate, and make sure that all you are giving us is to clinically ensure that what we push out is something that can stand the test of time. What this means is that it will eliminate “sorting” and so, for the students, it is no longer business as usual.
“When you sort and you skip one level, by the time you come back after you have been thrown out, you face the consequences: gross misconduct that should attract dismissal both for the student and staff collaborators. This project is laudable; I can’t see it failing. I only ask for a reduction in the amount needed to buy into this programme so that with time, almost everybody, except the indigent ones will buy into this programme, if you do this, even your waiting period will be reduced and you recoup your investment”, she noted.
Also on his part, the president of the Civil Society Groups, Mr. Femi Osabinu, applauded the system, emphasising that most importantly, lives lost through avoidable accidents by students shuttling up and down trying to collect their call-up letters, would have been eliminated. Citing example with what happened in the Ministry of Interior, he urged the NYSC management to brace up to further conscentising the public so that they would understand there was nothing corrupt in the process.
In his words: “After this forum, the NYSC should engage the students body, the parents body and other stakeholders, call it a village conference so that everybody can be taken along in this laudable project. Let’s make efforts for the Students Union Governments (SUGs) to adopt this process formally in their congresses and if it is done, I believe it will be a successful project”.
On their part, the Association of past NYSC President Honours Award Winners, represented by Miss Erdoo Mongol noted that since the choice is optional, it makes it a fantastic idea for it to be supported. She recounted her experiences while in school and noted that if they had the experience, she would have been delighted.
Also, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Comrade Tijani Usman, he explained that it is a welcome development and recounted how he stopped the SUG of the University of Abuja from a planned protest against the process.
He added that since students all over the country raised an eye brow, he had been on constant touch with the DG-NYSC on ways of resolving the issues. The NANS President also stated that he had written to the NYSC asking for dialogue, which he believed culminated in the day’s stakeholders meeting. The online registration for NYSC 2014 Batch ‘C’ service commenced on the August 20 and ended on October 12, 2014.
Meanwhile, with effect from 2015 Batch ‘A’ all prospective Corps members have to print their Call-up letters online, according to NYSC. Adding fillip to the call for full computerisation of the process, the Registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Dibu Ojerinde exposed a huge scam pervading the nation’s higher institutions, saying they were involved in several under-hand deals, all of which contribute to the nation’s lowered educational standards.
When he threw the bomb-shell, there was pin-drop silence in the conference hall of Hotel De Bently, Abuja venue of the 2015 Batch ‘A’ pre-Orientation Workshop. According to Prof. Ojerinde, the management of tertiary institutions were sending names of “groundnut sellers” to JAMB for regularization.
This was as the management of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) also accused the management of tertiary institutions of frustrating full deployment of ICT in NYSC youth corps mobilisation process.
Prof. Ojerinde disclosed that JAMB experienced some frustration from higher institutions due to undue pressure they mount in violation of the rules. Speaking specifically on the deployment of ICT in mobilisation of corps members, Ojerinde commended the NYSC for fully deploying ICT in its mobilisation process. He added that most of the Corps Producing Institutions (CPIs) “should be ashamed of themselves for resisting the noble change and sanity which NYSC is bringing to the system”. He stressed that some the CPIs had been sending names of “groundnut sellers to JAMB for regularization, even when JAMB had instisted that it was done with regularization”.
He maintained that the cost of accessing the NYSC ICT infrastructure was a million times better than the risks which prospective Corps members faced shuttling to their schools for mobilisation.
When all the contending issues are juxtaposed, it would become clear that those opposed to the deployment of ICT in JAMB operations have ulterior motive and only the determination to break this ugly mafia attitude would suffice. Can Brig-Gen Olawumi beace up to the challenges? Time shall tell.
At the GSG Grand Rally in Abuja penultimate Tuesday, Prof. Alkali stated: “This rally is an opportunity for Nigerians across the country to strengthen the bonds of unity and publicly showcase those time honoured values that bind us together. In spite of some challenges in some parts of the country today, the larger framework of Nigeria being a united, strong and prosperous country remains unshaken. The presence here today of Nigerians from all walks of life, the young and the old, men and women, from the North and from the South, across the ethnic and religious divides and across the economic strata is an overwhelming vote of confidence in the unparalleled quality of leadership of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
“Mr. President has, in his leadership style, encouraged the integration of the entire country in order to instill the philosophy of “Nigeria first”. This summit has, therefore, been organized to promote a pan-Nigerian approach as individual groups go out to canvass support him. President Goodluck Jonathan is a nationwide icon. He is at home in every single community across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
“The presence here of participants from every nook and cranny of the country bears ample testimony to this fact. I wish to commend all the support groups for the tempo of activities we have seen everywhere. They have indeed taken the Goodluck Jonathan brand beyond the level of ordinary political adventurism. I salute all of you for the enthusiasm you have displayed. Your visible presence on the ground, in the print and electronic media and in the social media, has not gone unnoticed. We are confident that the people of Nigeria through your activities have become owners of this project.
“To all the participants, while I appeal to you to conduct yourself in the spirit of the exemplary character of our Leader, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in whose name we are all gathered here today, I want to also call on all Support Groups, NGOs and all Nigerians to unite as one indivisible entity. Our project is Nigeria, let’s all join our hands together to build the Nigeria of our dreams”.
The efforts climaxed to rallies and midnight meetings by various segments of top stakeholders in the PDP family came to the fore two days after the SGS summit. Precisely on Thursday, September 18, at the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the PDP, all the agitations came to a dead end with only Jonathan emerging as the constant factor, the compromise and the winner without a contest.
At the meeting, “NEC in its wisdom considered and approved a motion for the adoption of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as the sole candidate of the PDP for the 2015 Presidential election”. The meting was unique in the sense that though several agenda were rolled over the meeting, the only item that took the longest time in deciding, and curiously, in the presence of the media, to avoid speculation or misrepresentation was the Jonathan candidacy agenda. Again, Alkali was visibly there moving from seat to seat, whispering messages to select opinion moulders. The outcome of the NEC revealed the content of the Alkali mouth-to-ear message.
Recall that PDP-NEC was usually held behind close doors. But, owing to analysis and programme said to have been nurtured by Prof. Alkali, the item for Jonathan’s sole candidacy was taken immediately after the opening prayers and even before the national chairman of the party, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, made his opening remarks. Chief Olisa Metuh, the national publicity secretary, who usually anchors the open segments of NEC, took journalists by storm when he announced, after taking the protocol list, called on Governor Babangida Aliyu to give NEC the special message from the PDP Governors’ Forum.
Governor Aliyu, who looked every inch resplendent, stated: “The PDP Governors met yesterday and have decided to endorse Mr. President as the sole candidate for the 2015 Presidential election. It was without reservation and unanimous. He beckoned on the governor of Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido, who was with him in New-PDP, to confirm the true position and he did. Aliyu continued: “We will go into this election more invigorated and to recover the states we lost to defections to APC including Zamfara State. My colleagues, I convey our decision and I thank you very much”.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees (BoT), Metuh called on Alhaji Shuaibu Oyedokun, to speak and he stated their position going down memory lane on the problems the party faced leading to the reforms in the party. When he was through with that, he stated that the Transformation Agenda of the President has radically changed the face of Nigeria which made the BoT to decide on the need to further consolidate the giant strides and so, “the Board unanimously moved a motion to adopt Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as the sole candidate of the party. This goes on with the decision of the Governors as earlier announced and we give God the glory”.
On behalf of the PDP Caucus in the National Assembly, Senate President David Mark was also called upon to brief the party’s NEC. But, being a Military tactician, he took cognisance of the fact that Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who have not been participating in any public activity of the PDP was also absent at the meeting. Even though Tambuwas led the House member to declare Jonathan’s sole candidacy to him (Jonathan) before any other group, but the fact that it was done in-camera and that Tambuwal was not at that 66th NEC, Mark decided not commit the House to the decision without necessarily removing them from being part of the decision.
Senator Mark said: “On behalf of the legislature, if there is any arm that believes in stability and continuity, it is the legislature. The PDP caucus in Senate met to leave a legacy that should outlive all of them. If a sitting president is performing, he should be allowed to complete his tenure. So, we decided that Jonathan be adopted and we so adopt him for the 2015 elections”. Mark congratulated the Governors and the BoT who had earlier adopted him.
Metuh did not stop at him; he called on Ambassador Justina Eze to speak on behalf of the PDP Women. She said: “We have totally resolved that for what our President has done for women in this country, we endorse him. We say there is no vacancy in Aso Rock; carry go”.
When Metuh was done, he asked the Mu’azu to take over from there and he (Mu’azu) asked the former national chairman of PDP, Dr. Bello Halliru Mohammed, to move a motion for the consideration of NEC of PDP of all the appeals made.
Haliru said: “We have come to the time we have to make decisions. We have done it before, we have never made mistakes; we cannot change a winning formula we entrenched since 1999. In view of the fact that we have been queuing behind the winners; that President GEJ has been doing well to the satisfaction of all the strata of the party and we have made decisions in the past and won fair and square; I move that the decisions of the Governors, that of the BoT, the Caucus, the National Assembly and the women and in view that we have accepted that the President is performing very well and in view of the fact that PDP is the only party that can lead us to the Promised Land and because PDP can do it, I would like to move that this House, NEC of PDP endorse, as have been endorsed by other bodies of the party, that we hereby adopt Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as the sole candidate to be presented. This is to avoid acrimony, this house should endorse GEJ as the sole candidate of the party for 2015 and I so move”.
The chairman also called on the former governor of old Anambra State, Senator Jim Nwobodo, to second the motion. He said: “Seconding this motion ably moved by the former national chairman of our party, I have said it before, you don’t change a winning team. I think it is appropriate I second the motion that GEJ be our sole candidate, I so second”.
M’uazu, the national chairman of the party, called for a voice vote to determine the level of acceptability of the motion and it was unanimously adopted. Thus came to an end, agitations for PDP presidential candidacy for 2015.