Thousands of corps members were left stranded after the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) abruptly shut down camping activities. The closure, made on March 18, was a response to the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
However, very poor thoughts were given to the welfare and safety of the corps members. Ironically, protection and concern for the graduates’ safety were one of the reasons the NYSC gave for the suspension of the first orientation camp for 2020.
While the logic behind the closure was evident, the off-boarding process put the corps members at increased risks. Most of them were clueless about what to do next as they only got information about the suspension of camps that morning.
At about half-past five that morning, the ‘Batch A Stream I’ corps members were addressed by their respective state directors who declared the shutdown. Hours later, the NYSC headquarters released a press statement announcing that “the corps members shall be posted to commence their primary assignments forthwith, while they shall be invited back to the Orientation Camps when the situation improves.”
Although tests were not carried out, the scheme claimed that no corps member or camp official had contracted the virus ― despite the fact that they had only been camped for a week and symptoms could take up to 14 days before appearing.
The orientation exercise, which commenced on March 10, camped tens of thousands of corps members in 37 locations across Nigeria, with at least 2,000 in each camp. 2,100 graduates were, for instance, deployed to Kwara State while 2,300 were deployed to Plateau. As at this time, two persons in Nigeria had already tested positive for the coronavirus.
Corps members, who spoke to HumAngle, said that the abrupt shutdown of the camps on March 18 further compromised their safety. The scheme expected all members to proceed from the camps directly to their Places of Primary Assignment (PPAs), but not everyone was assigned to organisations where they could work and which are under obligation to provide lodging facilities.
Some corps members were only posted to local government areas. Others had their applications turned down by their assigned PPAs. Lawal (full name withheld to protect identity) who participated in the orientation exercise at Yikpata, Kwara State, fell into the former group.
“We were not assigned to any local industries or whatnot. We got a temporary posting just so we could leave camp. It was after we got to the local government we discovered we did not have a PPA yet,” he said.
When they complained to the Corper’s Liaison Officer (CLO) and asked to travel home because they had no place to stay, he told them they could not leave, adding that anyone who does so would be punished.
The option of staying back in Kwara, however, was “really tough” because they did not have enough cash to lodge at a hotel or buy food for several days. The transport fare and bicycle allowances totalling N3,200 were given to all corps members at the camps but this was not nearly enough to cater for their needs. Some had, in fact, started spending out of it before the shutdown to complement meals provided during the camp.
Although Nigeria’s youth and sports minister who oversees the scheme, Sunday Dare, promised that corps members would be paid before they were evacuated, only the fare allowance was provided. Corps members are yet to receive their first monthly payment of N33,000, which is traditionally given before the end of the orientation camp.
Lawal and some of the other corps members had to visit one religious NYSC lodge after the other, including those owned by the National Association of Catholic Corps members (NACC), Winners’ Chapel and Anglican Corpers’ Fellowship in search of vacant spaces.
HumAngle reports that the lodges are crammed. The Kwara corps member also explained that he currently stays with about 12 others from the same stream and at least 10 people share the same room.
“You have people sleeping in close proximity, which was what the NYSC, according to them, were trying to avoid,” he narrated.
“It has got me thinking about the purpose of sending us away. The camp would have been the best option because it was almost like a quarantined area where you could know those coming in and those going out and check them at the gate for symptoms.
“But now, by sending us out, they don’t even bother to know where corpers are staying, where they are living, or how they are feeding.” The corps members have no idea when they will eventually be posted.
“It could be today,” Lawal said. “It could be Monday. It could be next Friday. It could be in two weeks time.”
“We are in the dark and we are overstaying our welcome in the lodge, though they won’t come out openly to complain. It is inconveniencing them too,” he added, referring to the original occupants.
Lawal, like others, prefers life in camp to what he is having to go through. He explained that, at least, at the camp, he was sure to eat three meals in a day, he had a mattress to himself, and the environment was fumigated.
Every morning, the corps members staying at the lodge go to their various local governments, Ilorin West, Ilorin South, and Ilorin East, to make enquiries. But, fed up that there are no encouraging updates from the NYSC, many of them are returning to their home states.
Some corps members are not as lucky as Lawal to have nearby lodges for corpers. One corps member in Anambra said, since the orientation camp was closed, he has been staying with “senior corpers.”
Another corps member, who was posted to Gusau Local Government, Zamfara State, told HumAngle he has been sleeping inside a church for several, alongside seven others from the camp, because his PPA could not provide accommodation.
“The church provided breakfast and dinner for the first three days, but we have been sourcing for ourselves since then,” he said. He hopes to return to his state, Osun, as soon as he is able to raise enough money for his fare before “everything goes out of hand.”
“Some of the others are also planning to travel tomorrow or by Wednesday. Everybody is just sourcing for fares to travel back home even though NYSC insists we remain here. We can’t cope any longer.”
Some stranded corps members approached by HumAngle declined to share their experiences because of fear of sanctions. The 1993 NYSC Bye-Laws prohibits corps members from addressing the press without the state director’s written consent.
The penalty for violating this rule is an “extension of service for at least 30 days on half pay”. But some corps members seem to have discovered a way to circumvent this rule: the social media.
Many have taken to Twitter to share their frustration with the NYSC’s poor management of the situation.
“Most of the corps members are stranded. A girl I know just followed a random guy she met in camp to his self contained accommodation. If NYSC can distribute the remaining funds amongst the corps members, it will help them at least feed until their allowance is paid,” Nnamdi Onu tweeted on Thursday.
Another Twitter user, Lawal Olabisi, wrote the following day, “So so annoying… We are just stranded in a strange land. No food, no accommodation, no N33,000 payment. How do they want us to survive?”
According to Akinosun Abeeb, who said he is from Lagos and was deployed to Anambra, his PPA is located in a very remote area, his colleagues have all gone home, but he is stranded without food or place to stay.
About the unpaid March allowances, the NYSC Director-General, Brigadier-General Shuaibu Ibrahim has said corps members will get them “when it is time for payment”. Based on past reports, this is not likely to happen until sometime in the first week of April. 4