Dapo Alimi*, a graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) and resident of Ogun State, South West Nigeria, is currently undergoing his mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme at Bonny Island area of Rivers State.
Though not familiar with the South-South region, he was mandated to report to the orientation camp within two days.
Like many others, he travelled by road in an 18-passenger bus despite the road being marred with kidnapping and other vices.
“I received my call-up letter on Jan. 25, 2023, and I was required to report to the orientation camp on Jan. 27. Some people helped me with money because I was not financially buoyant for the long-distance journey. In fact, I got to the camp a day late,” he told HumAngle.
The one-year service scheme is mandated by Nigerian law for graduates of universities or polytechnics less than 30 years of age, with the aim of strengthening inter-communal unity and peace.
Most times, corps members are posted far from their hometowns while they receive a monthly stipend from the government.
They usually undergo a compulsory three-week paramilitary and skills acquisition training under the Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Department (SAED), in orientation camps in all states of the country.
After the camp, corps members are posted to their primary place of assignment (PPA) for a year, on a monthly allowance of ₦33,000 ($42.4).
The NYSC law prescribes fines or jail term punishment for those who abscond from the scheme or forge its certificates. According to Section 13 of the law, any eligible graduate who skipped the service is liable to 12 months imprisonment and/or ₦2,000 ($2.57) fine.
However, the penalties in the law are hardly implemented, and some graduates find ways to jump the programme.
However, skipping the programme usually limits the potential of getting job opportunities in the country. This was one of the reasons Alimi took the bold step of taking part in the scheme earlier this year.
While he spent about ₦20,000 ($25.7) to transport himself to the camp, NYSC only reimbursed him with ₦3,200 ($4) being the stipend paid to all corps members as transportation allowance from their hometowns to their respective camps regardless of the distance.
During his three-week stay at the orientation camp, Alimi spent roughly ₦60,000 ($77) on essentials such as bathing soaps, sachet water, detergents, and many others.
He also told HumAngle that he spent part of the money on food because they were served with substandard meals at the camp.
“I was hoping that I would be posted to a good organisation in Port Harcourt, learn new things and seek better job opportunities after my one-year programme but that never happened. So, I proceeded to my primary place of assignment (PPA) at the Government Girls Secondary School in Bonny Island.”
Though he currently works as a basic science teacher in the school, he’s still disappointed that he was posted to a school not conducive enough for learning.
Aside from this, Alimi and his colleagues at the school were subjected to poor living conditions as they were accommodated in a non-befitting apartment.
In a bid to meet their daily needs in the unfamiliar city, the corps members demanded monthly compensation from the school. However, the principal said the school does not have provisions for them.
Alimi added that many corps members have been faced with more economic hardship since President Bola Tinubu announced the removal of subsidy on petrol in May.
Nigeria has since 1973 introduced fuel subsidies to keep petrol cheap for citizens while the government covered part of the cost of importation. However, corrupt officials have lately made the system a burden, forcing the government to use the bulk of its revenue to pay subsidies.
For instance, Nigeria paid ₦4.39 trillion on petrol in 2022 alone.
But on the day he was sworn in as the 16th president of Nigeria, Tinubu removed the subsidy. The price of petrol has since then moved from ₦194 ($0.25) to over ₦600 ($0.76), negatively impacting the whole economy of the country.
HumAngle has extensively reported how the development is causing hardship on citizens including corps members like Alimi.
He explained that the high cost of living in Nigeria has made survival difficult for him as a corps member.
“At Bonny Island, things have become very expensive, especially in the aspect of feeding and transportation. Sometimes, I would sit back and compare the cost of things back home in Ogun State and here, it is nothing to write about. There is a huge margin of difference,” he lamented.
“I usually ponder how I would survive with the ₦33,000 ($42.4) monthly allowance from the federal government. But moving into a new environment can be quite daunting, especially when it relates to adapting to the peculiarities of the new environment. For instance, the amount of money I buy foodstuff here is higher than what is obtainable at home.”
Alimi has made efforts to look for side jobs to complement his NYSC allowance but all his efforts proved abortive.
“Sometimes, I call my parents at home to send me money. There are times I resort to borrowing from my friends.
“When I started NYSC, I thought I would have saved up enough money to sustain myself upon completion of the scheme but that’s impossible.”
Although Alimi has spent over eight months in Rivers State, he cannot wait to return to his hometown where he can always get help from relatives and friends in times of urgent financial need.
Unlike Alimi, Adekeye Olayemi was eager to travel to Kogi State when she received her call-up letter.
“Compared to my other friends who were posted to different states in Nigeria, Kogi didn’t seem that far to me. So, I was grateful for that. However, I was disappointed too,” she told HumAngle.
First, she tried getting a room self-contained apartment close to her PPA but it was unavailable, hence, she settled for a ‘face-me-I-face-you’ apartment, where a group of one apartments have their entrances facing each other along a walkway, which leads to the main entrance of the apartment building.
“I spend a lot of money on transportation. Transportation fare and feeding alone take up all my monthly allowances since things have become really expensive.”
Will NYSC increase corps members’ allowance?
Corps members receive the national minimum wage for Nigerian workers as their monthly allowance.
The increment of their monthly stipend depends on the negotiation between the Federal Government and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
In May, President Tinubu promised to provide a living wage for Nigerian workers because the existing national minimum wage is “not enough”, especially after some economic policies have rendered the current minimum wage inadequate for an average salary earner.
However, NLC National President, Joe Ajaero alleged that President Tinubu’s administration had failed to show cooperation with the organised labour unions on the review of the minimum wage.
The workers’ union has threatened to embark on a nationwide strike from Oct. 2.
The names of NYSC members have been changed to protect them from being sanctioned, as they are not permitted to speak with the media.
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