“This whole scheme is trash. It’s just nonsense,” Tolani Ajayi, a serving corps member lamented as she bumped into this reporter.
Apologetically, she tried to calm herself down realising that she has been shouting and creating a scene.
Subtly, the reporter asked what the outrage was about as well as who it was directed to.
“They’re asking us to pay N1000 for project and another N500 for NYSC annual magazine,” she said.
“I just don’t understand. And they’re even making it compulsory. They refused to let me sign attendance just because I’ve not paid. They’re doing that to so many people there and it’s not just fair.
“After coming as early as 7:30 a.m. and wasting four hours, one ‘human being’ will just come and say you can’t sign attendance because you didn’t pay N1500 for project and magazine; that’s besides the N1000 we ‘dashed’ them for registration,” she lamented as she tried to use her two fingers to write in the air while she stressed the word – “registration.”
Looking around, the reporter observed other corps members complaining and one didn’t need a fortune-teller to indicate that they were angry about the same thing.
On one side were angry, frustrated-looking corps members grumbling and talking about how the whole NYSC should be scrapped. On another side, corps members who had paid struggled to sign the attendance register. Those prepared to pay queued up in the midst of the chaos and literally begged the NYSC executives, or ‘money collector’ as they are referred to, to collect their money, so they can sign and escape the scorching sun.
The NYSC executives, who are equally serving corps members, are elected officials who have the added privilege of administering the affairs of their colleagues during the mandatory one year service.
This was the observation PREMIUM TIMES made when it visited one of the many Community Development Service (CDS) meetings in Abuja.
Despite official proclamations against these illegal charges on corps members, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation shows the practice goes on without check across Nigerian states. Worse of all, no one appears to be doing anything to stop the trend.
Listening to the plight of both serving and ex-corps members, PREMIUM TIMES discovered that the charges being levied on them include payments for community projects, annual magazines, CDS registration, picnics and excursions, among others.
David Onyekachi, an ex-corps member, who served in Kwara State in 2015, told PREMIUM TIMES that the charges had become a trend that corps member get used to.
“First it was CDS registration. That one was compulsory, because without being ‘registered,’ your name won’t even be in the attendance register before you’ll start thinking of signing.
“Few weeks into the service year as well as CDS meetings, EXCOs started making announcements, saying we needed new set of chairs and tables and we were required to make contributions of five hundred naira each to enable us buy them but that it wasn’t compulsory for everyone to pay the same amount. They said you have to give something as donation if you can’t pay the required N500, I paid for that one.
“Not so long after that, they started mentioning community project and annual magazine. When I heard that, I felt it won’t require any payment because they had told us about the magazine in camp and we even submitted passports for it and the funny thing is, officials in camp had warned us not to give a dime to anyone. And then the project, I thought we just needed to brainstorm and suggests ideas for what could be done for the community.
“Not until I started hearing that we were required to pay a thousand naira for the community project and five hundred naira for the annual magazine and this time, it was compulsory.
“After paying for that one, there were subsequent charges like two hundred naira for picnic, fifty naira for late coming and some others that I can’t remember again,” he said.
Agada James, another ex-corps member told PREMIUM TIMES that although charges weren’t much at his CDS group in Abuja, they were compelled to make some payment and were disallowed from signing attendance register when they failed to comply.
“When we started, we paid a thousand naira for registration. For a while, there was no other due after the registration. There were rules or rather punishments for late coming; you get charged pending on how late you arrive at the CDS meeting, if you arrive 30 minutes late, you pay fifty naira; you pay one hundred naira if you arrive an hour late. For every CDS meeting we attended, we paid twenty naira for the chair we sat on, although that payment was not made to the NYSC officials or the EXCOs but the people who owned the chairs.
“Then there was the project we, corps members, agreed to pay for. We paid one thousand naira for it. Payment of magazine was compulsory, at the end of every service year, you pay a thousand naira for the magazine; whether you get to read it or not. That was the rule.
“Then our CDS was made to fund a compulsory project; the renovation of the library of a school somewhere in Abuja although the money was drawn from our general purse, that is, money we got from late comers and for registration, I think. It was a compulsory project.
“And then we paid a thousand naira each for our main project, which was the repainting of a secondary school in Galadimawa, Abuja”, he said.
NYSC OFFICIALS CULPABLE
CDS officials are staff of the NYSC. They, alongside the corps executive, coordinate the affairs of the groups on behalf of the NYSC.
PREMIUM TIMES findings indicate that not all CDS officials are involved in the extortion of corps members. Some openly dissociate themselves from receiving funds from corps members and even go as far as warning the corps members not to make any sort of payment to anyone in the CDS office throughout their service year.
Kingsley Ayeni, an ex-corps member who did his service year in Abuja, told PREMIUM TIMES that the officer in charge of his CDS (Sustainable Development Group) strictly warned against making payments to anyone in the group.
“She even said she didn’t want any contribution of any kind and that the federal government has made provisions for funding any project we might decide to embark on.
“When she found out that we were contributing money to go for outreach in some parts of Abuja, she got angry and asked that each person’s money be returned.
“The only donations that I think she ever accepted from us was when we were asked to bring some of our clothes and shoes that we were not using anymore so we could give to the less privileged. She actually asked us to bring them and told us that it wasn’t compulsory for everyone. She said it was a very good way of giving back to the society.
“She goes as far as sponsoring our transport to some locations from her own pocket and she is always punctual.”
While not all the CDS officers engage in extorting the fresh graduates, other officials, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, compel corps members to make certain payments thereby by making it compulsory.
A corps member serving in Abuja, who pleaded that her name and that of her CDS Group remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, told PREMIUM TIMES that corps members in her CDS Group were even made to, ”make a payment into an NYSC officer’s private account.”
“In my CDS, each time we paid money, it was not to an NYSC account or exco account but to a private account. And all these payments are compulsory.
“And whenever we needed money for any other thing, we contribute among ourselves because we don’t expect her (officer) to give us any money,” she said.
Another ex-corps member, Reuben Jonathan, leader of his CDS group, told PREMIUM TIMES that whenever they (the EXCOs) collect money from corps members, they hand it over to their CDS officer.
“We were in charge of collecting money from corps members for the different charges. We also paid. And whenever we collect the money, we give it to the CDS officer.
“I can’t really tell what the money is used for, because when we wanted to carry out our project, we still contributed money. Same with when we were asked to pay for the annual magazine. So I don’t know if they get to forward the money to some kind of official account for NYSC but all I can say is, the final bus top of the money, to the best of my knowledge, is the CDS officer.”
‘No PAY NO SIGN’ THREAT
Attendance at CDS meetings is mandatory for corps members. Each attendee is expected to sign a register to show presence at such meetings. It is that register that is often used to blackmail corps members into making the illegal payments, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
“It’s one thing to charge corps members for payment of certain things, it’s another wicked thing to force them to make those payments – to the extent of toying with their attendance, when we all know that’s the main reason we come here,” the corps member, Ms. Ajayi, said.
Chinonso Stanley, an ex-corps member told PREMIUM TIMES how he was not allowed to take attendance for over a month because he was unable to pay the N1000 for community project and N500 for NYSC annual magazine as demanded by the CDS’ officials. He said it almost caused him to repeat some months of service after their Passing Out Parade.
“At first, I didn’t want to pay because I was beginning to get angry over the unnecessary and irrelevant charges.
“When I noticed they were really serious about it and they were not letting me sign, I pleaded with the excos to give me some time because things were really tight for me then, I promised to pay but the excos still won’t let me sign.
“I almost carried over my service year because it was reflecting in the attendance that I had missed CDS meetings for about seven weeks – which was not so. It was just by God’s grace that I was able to pass out and collect my NYSC certificate,” he said.
Phoebe Johnson, a serving corps member in Ogun State said, “When I got posted to my CDS group, I was already prepared to pay for at least a thing or two even though I didn’t know what I will be paying for.
“So when they asked us to pay one thousand naira for registration, I wasn’t surprised. We were then asked to pay another one thousand naira for project and five hundred naira for magazine, which I paid.
“I know before the end of my service year, we’ll be asked to pay for more things, which I’ve gotten accustomed to. Everyone now sees it as a normal, especially if you want to do this whole NYSC thing and pass out peacefully. I mean, they make it compulsory and mark you absent for that day if you fail to pay, so what choice do we have?”
THE NYSC ACT
A study of the NYSC Act shows that not only is the scheme responsible for initiating integrated programs in the various Local Government Areas through CDS, it is also responsible for the provision of funds necessary for the successful execution of such projects and programs.
The NYSC, domiciled in the Ministry of Youth and Sports, gets its funding from the federal government budget.
A close study of budgetary allocations to the NYSC indicate that provisions are made yearly for materials and supplies, recurrent, ‘other expenses’, utilities, magazines and periodicals, publicity and advertisements. In the 2017 budget, over N1 billion was allocated for ‘General Miscellaneous Expenses.”
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the NYSC spokesperson, Adenike Adeyemi, she said the charges imposed on corps members by NYSC officials or other corps executives as the case may be, are illegal.
“No payment of any kind is required of the corps members.
“NYSC officials do not charge corps members for registration,” she said despite evidence to the contrary.
“There is no registration that NYSC officials are doing that any corps member is expected to make payments for, none at all.
“When you look at NYSC policies as well as rules, you’ll find out that there are no payments required. Is it registration? You don’t pay for it. Is it community development activities? You don’t pay for that. Is it for uniforms? You don’t pay.”
She said the NYSC officers deployed to monitor the corps, including the CDS officers, are aware of the rules of engagement.
“So there is no legal fee that any NYSC official will charge and I know the officials on the field, know full well that this is not in line with the policy of NYSC. Of course, there are also sanctions for everything that is done outside the policy.”
She expressed disappointment at the reports of extortion of corps members. She called on corps members who are being asked to make payments, whether compulsory or not, to report such. Such officials will be sanctioned, she said.
“Officially, NYSC does not charge corps members for services rendered,” she said.