With the introduction of access fees for prospective corps members under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), we can safely say that Nigeria has turned full circle in its culture of official extortion. Under the arrangement, fresh graduates, who are meant to undergo compulsory one year of service to fatherland, are now required to access their letter of mobilisation online; to do so, they are forced to pay N4,000 as access fee.
Before you think someone is just making that up to discredit the NYSC, listen to the ‘justification’ coming from the Director General of NYSC, Brig. Gen. Johnson Olawumi: “Benefits associated with the full computerisation of the mobilisation process are unquantifiable when lives of prospective corps members that would be saved from road accidents are taken into account.”
Wow! That must go down in record as one of the most imaginative official explanations for official extortion. In order words, for NYSC so loved the youth that it forced them to pay N4,000; that whosoever of them has to go for youth service shall not be exposed to road accident but be blessed virtually.
It is totally unacceptable to charge prospective corps members a fee for being called upon to serve their country, more so when the service is specified and made compulsory by law. Even if many see the service as a form of employment and therefore financially beneficial to the participants, it is still unconscionable to extort these youths on their way to working for the country or earning their potentially first income.
This bizarre way of doing things didn’t start with the NYSC though. Seven months ago, it was a shocked nation that found out that the Ministry of Interior was extorting N1,000 from each hapless youth desperate to be recruited into the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). At the end of the day, the recruitment was so badly bungled, leading to scores of citizens being trampled to death in various locations across the country. And as it has become standard practice here, nobody was reprimanded, let alone punished, for either the extortion or the deaths of citizens. The dead simply died in vain and a certain Abba Moro, under whose watch the disaster happened, still struts on as minister.
It is even more worrisome to know that fees are also charged for applications into the military forces in Nigeria. In May this year, the Nigerian Army put a fee of N2,500 to access its recruitment application portal.
It would be important for NYSC and other fee-for-employment agencies to tell us which consultancy firms are behind these internet extortions on behalf of the organisations and where the proceeds from these are paid into and accounted for. Do these agencies pay these sums to the coffers of government? Do the sums form part of the revenues of government which, by the provisions of the constitution, must go into the consolidated revenue fund?
As straight-forward a fraud as these extortions seem, many citizens would still not get it that it is the responsibility of the person who wishes to hire someone to serve it to foot the bill for such hiring. But in Nigeria, we have perfected the art of working in reverse order, such that the ridiculous becomes the norm.
But even if some citizens do not appreciate the illegality in this or are weak to resist it, one expects the government, especially the legislature, to know better and put a stop to this.
The truth, though, is that the legislature has made very lame efforts in the past to curb this, but failed to ensure compliance. For instance, in October 2013, the House of Representatives joint committee on Public Service Matters, Employment, Labour and Productivity as well as those of Anti-corruption, National Ethics and Values directed the NIS to refund the illegal amount it charged applicants.
Apparently, the directive was ignored. Even when the disaster with the recruitment occurred five months later, nothing still happened to enforce the directive. The question then is: where is that committee in all these?