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NYSC Not Death But Skills’ Sentence

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BY

Emmanuel Onwubiko

For nearly two weeks now, Japan has been hosting the world to one of the most fascinating Olympics in history.
Predictably, a lot of groundbreaking sporting records have been made mostly by youngsters within the age brackets of 13 to 32. A 13-year-old British teenager won gold medal in her area of specialisation while not fewer than 4 teenagers within age brackets of 15 and 19 won different medals in such classification as Silver and Bronze.

So much media attention has therefore shifted to Japan which is good for a number of reasons including the underlying factor that necessitated this reflection on the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) : the place of talents and skills.

Someone just like me who was thinking about the staying power of Japan wrote as follows: “Japan is an advanced country, not only in terms of technology but society as a whole. They have everything from super-fast bullet trains to talking toilets and robots. An overwhelming number of vending machines are there that contain everything, even clothes and shoes. These advancements can be seen as the results of the modern insatiable hunger for progressiveness that has made Japan what it is today.”

Another observer simply says of Japan thus: “The source of Japan’s technological advancements is undoubtedly from the youth of Japan.”

Japan became so technologically advanced and prosperous not because it has any natural resources but it was built from brain works and the skills of the vast majority of forward-thinking Japanese youngsters. This is one of finest and strongest points to support the sustenance of the National Youth Service Corps scheme in Nigeria moreso when the major aspect of the one year service period is the opportunity for skills acquisition and development by the participants.

Still speaking about Japan,  it is noteworthy to recall that last year, a Nigerian researcher by name Uche Chidera did a fantastic work by listing out about seven nations in the world that became advanced and rich not through any natural resources but basically through human resources.

READ ALSO: Letter To Chief Awolowo

The writer rightly stated: “Due to the nature of their country- a volcanic island and mountainous country- Japan has a very less amount of natural resources to give adequate support to its economic growth and development. The country had to depend on the importation of raw materials to support its large population and growing economy. However, with exports of electronics, automobiles, semiconductors, conductors, steel, iron and copper, Japan was able to sustain economic growth. Other exports include processed foods, textiles, shipbuilding, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, bio-industry, and aerospace.”

These products and services couldn’t have materialised were it not that Japan invested substantially to train her manpower made up essentially of young people.

Interestingly, the writer aforementioned also listed Singapore amongst the nations that got developed through the powers of human resources. The writer stated : “With no natural resources and having a very small population among other countries on this list, Singapore proves to the world how a tiny island can become one of the most prosperous nations across the globe. Aside from becoming prosperous, Singapore also becomes an advanced country raking in $420 billion from the exportation of machinery and equipment, food and beverages, electronics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and refined oil. Singapore has to import everything they needed including water from their neighboring country- Malaysia.”

The man whose political sagacity and leadership acumen led to the evolution of the rapidly advanced Singapore wrote a wonderful book in which he alluded to the fundamental place of talents as the best way for any nation to become developed and advanced.

Hear him-: “On the night of 14 August 1983, I dropped a bombshell in my annual National Day Rally address. Live on both our television channels, with maximum viewership, I said it was stupid for our graduate men to choose less-educated and less-intelligent wives if they wanted their children to do as well as they had done. The press named it the ‘Great Marriage Debate.’ As I had expected, the speech stirred a hornet’s nest. My wife Choo had warned me there were many more women with only O levels (an equivalent to a high school education) than women with university degrees. It caused a drop of 12 percentage points in votes for the PAP in the election the following year, more than I had anticipated.”

He wrote further: “It had taken me some time to see the obvious, that talent is a country’s most  precious asset.”
For a small resource-poor country like Singapore, he had argued, with 2 million people at independence in 1965, it was the defining factor. The Chinese here, he recalled, were mostly the descendants of agricultural laborers from the southern provinces of China, many brought in by labor contractions as indentured workers to do heavy manual work such as loading and unloading cargo and pulling rickshaws.

READ ALSO: Why Govt Shouldn’t Scrap NYSC – HURIWA

Early Indian immigrants also came as indentured laborers to work on rubber estates, build roads, and dig trenches and drains. Most were from the lower castes. There were small groups of Indian merchants and clerks. The ablest were Sindhi merchants and Hindu Brahmins, in particular their priests. Their descendants have high ability. Malays as a rule were better in the arts than the sciences, he wrote.

“After several years in government I realized that the more talented people I had as ministers, administrators, and professionals, the more  effective my policies were, and the better the results. My mind flashed back to Prince Sihanouk. He was talented. When he made his films he had to be author, scriptwriter, director, actor, and producer. Cambodia did not have enough educated and talented people and the few they had, Pol Pot later killed. That was one reason for the tragedy in Cambodia.”

“What made me decide to make that Great Marriage Debate speech was a report on my desk analyzing the 1980 census figures. It showed that our brightest women were not marrying and would not be represented in the next generation. The implications were grave. Our best women were not reproducing themselves because men who were their educational equals did not want to marry them.

About half of our university graduates were women; nearly two-thirds of them were unmarried. The Asian man, whether Chinese, Indian, or Malay, preferred to have a wife with less education than himself. Only 38 percent of graduate men were married to graduate women in 1983.” (From Third Wirld To First : (The Singapore Story, 1965-2000 By Lee Kunan Yew ).

READ ALSO: NYSC To Add New Features On Certificate

From all that we have said above, it is therefore logical to argue that the relevance of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) is even much more strategic at these times whereby from every indice of economic development, the Nigerian youths are facing a litany of challenges and the most dominant is youth unemployment. The NYSC provides a 12- month job buffer but inevitably serves as the best opportunity to harness the skills and talents of youths to make them self-reliant thereafter. As Lee Kunan Yew wrote in his classic, in Nigeria,  the NYSC also creates the meeting points for skilled graduates to intermarry thereby increasing the possibility of procreation of more children that are naturally and genetically inclined to skills acquisition and with the passion to develop their innate talents.

Employment statistics about Nigerian youth are not very palatable. This issue of unemployment is addressed when the NYSC gives the participants the opportunities to sharpen their skills and gain practical knowledge on becoming self-reliance economically.
Therefore any call for the abrogation of the NYSC can only add to the worsening of the problems associated with youth unemployment in Nigeria.

As recorded by experts, in 2019, the estimated youth unemployment rate in Nigeria was at almost 17.69 percent. According to the source, the data are estimates from the International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations developing policies to set labor standards.

Importantly, the youth unemployment rate refers to the percentage of the unemployed in the age group of 15 to 24 years as compared to the total labor force. Youth unemployment rates are reportedly often higher than overall unemployment rates, which is true in Nigeria as well: the general rate of unemployment was approximately six percent in 2018. One reason for this contrast is that many of the youth under age 24 are studying full-time and are unavailable for work due to this.

The writer said and truly so that Nigeria’s population has a large percentage of young inhabitants, and there is a high demand for educational opportunities for its young populace.

READ ALSO: Governor Wants NYSC Extended To Two Years

“After severe cuts in governmental aid following a nationwide recession in 2016, Nigeria’s underfunded higher education system became the focus of ongoing student protests and strikes. Other families have taken a different approach: Nigeria is the top country of origin for international students from the continent of Africa. For example, Nigeria sent over 12,600 students to the U.S. in 2017/18, the most of any African country,” the writer concluded.

The good news however is that there is a unique department within the NYSC that makes all the difference and this is the skills acquisition division which I understand is being sustained by the management of the NYSC headed by the educationist Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim.

The department is also known as entrepreneurship and empowerment division. From what has been seen so far from multiple sources including many beneficiaries of the different range of programmes of capacity and skills acquisition initiatives of the NYSC, it is logical to conclude that the NYSC inevitably bridges the skills and talents gaps in Nigeria and this is good for the national aspirations of making Nigeria economically and technologically advanced just like Japan that we discussed earlier.

The functions of the department mentioned earlier include: To sensitize and mobilize 200,000 young graduates for skill acquisition annually; to facilitate the training and mentoring of 100, 000 young graduates in skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development for self-reliance annually; to promote public-private partnership for entrepreneurship development and self-reliance amongst Nigerian youths; to promote documentation and sharing of best practices on youth empowerment in Nigeria; to support evidence-driven advocacy efforts for favorable policies on youth empowerment in Nigeria; for the sensitization and mobilization of corps members for enrollment into the skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development programme.

Other roles include: The development of a standard curriculum for the in-camp skill acqusition exercise; identification of organizations at state level to provide training and mentoring in specific skills sets; attachment of the corps members to the various organizations for skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development; ongoing monitoring and supervision of trainee corps members and to facilitate access to available funding opportunities.

Lastly, the NYSC needs all the institutional and funding support that they very much need to be able to expand the scopes of the range of trainings that the youths are exposed to during their engagement in the scheme in their places of primary assignments. This is where the clarion call for the passage of a legislative framework for the institutionalisation of the NYSC Youths Trust Fund comes in. With the passion and soft spot that President Muhammadu Buhari has for the NYSC, it is hoped that the appeal to create this strategic youth endowment fund would be actualized by this present NYSC-friendly administration.

Onwubiko is the head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and was a federal commissioner at the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.
He can be reached @www.huriwa@blogspot.com,  www.thenigerianinsidernews.com.

 

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Opinion

Where Are Secular Lawyers?

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Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State
Dr Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

This question has agitated me over the years, and it persists. At a recent event in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, a participant introduced herself as a member of the Christian Lawyers Association of Nigeria. Christian Lawyers Association? I wondered, Why Christian lawyers? Why should lawyers associate based on faith? Do we have a traditional religious lawyers association? Jehovah Witness Lawyers Association? Bahai Faith lawyers? Hindu Lawyers? I mean, why the religionization of everything in this country?

In northern Nigeria, the Muslim Lawyers Association exists. This organization is active. It features prominently in cases, especially those that concern religion, Sharia, or Islam. I guess there would be Sunni and Shiite Muslim lawyers associations. In 2022, over 30 Muslim lawyers came forward to defend those suspected of murdering Deborah Samuel in Sokoto. Meanwhile, no member helped prosecute the suspects. Muslim lawyers have strongly supported the execution and imprisonment of suspected blasphemers. They constitute the legal wing of Islamic separatism in Nigeria. This religious slant in practice, profession, and association of lawyers is disturbing and needs to be critically examined.

Look, a lawyer is a person trained to offer legal services. A lawyer is trained to represent an individual or organization in legal matters. S/he applies the law to specific cases, religious or nonreligious. The legal profession should be carried out without religious bias or favor. The law should be practiced to further justice, equity, and fairness, not in defense of a particular faith or belief. In practice, the law should be faith/belief blind. Unfortunately, this appears not to be the case in Nigeria. The tendency of lawyers to associate along religious lines is entrenched. As in other sectors of the society, religion has hijacked the legal profession and association. Lawyers practice and are pressured to practice law along religious lines. That is the raison d’etre of the religious (Christian/Muslim) lawyers association. And it is worrisome.

It has become pertinent to ask, where are secular lawyers? Put differently, where are lawyers beyond belief? By secular lawyers, I mean lawyers who are not religious, that is, lawyers who are atheists or agnostics; lawyers who do not take religion seriously. Secular lawyers include those who think that religious and spiritual matters are strictly private affairs and should not be the basis for legal practice, profession, and association.

Nigeria needs secular lawyers for the following reasons. First, based on section 10 of the constitution, Nigeria is a secular state, although not explicitly stated. Nigeria has no state religion. But theocrats often contest Nigeria’s secularity and openly propose that sharia and their religious books are superior to the constitution. The country needs lawyers to defend and uphold its secular character and help prevent the slow undoing of the secular gains and progress that Nigeria has made. Nigeria needs lawyers who can champion secularism. And secular lawyers can fulfill this need.

Second, Nigeria needs secular lawyers to professionally and constitutionally handle cases linked to faith or belief, such as witchcraft, blasphemy, and apostasy allegations. Lawyers who practice or associate on grounds of faith cannot be trusted to handle these cases because they are likely to compromise. They are likely to sacrifice their profession on the altar of their faith. For instance, it is a challenge to find lawyers to defend victims of witchcraft accusations because most lawyers, as people of faith, believe in the reality of witches and demons. Even though witchcraft accusations are against the law. Religious lawyers cannot be trusted to render professional services to victims of witchcraft branding. The same thing applies to cases of blasphemy and apostasy accusations. These accusations are linked to religious beliefs. Many lawyers do not want to profess law in ways that violate their faith. So, faith is a factor in hiring an attorney or getting a reliable solicitor.

In cases where Christians are accused of blaspheming Islam or insulting the prophet of Islam, Christian lawyers volunteer. They offer to help. Religious (Christian or Muslim) lawyers consider it a duty to defend their members. Christian lawyers defended Rhoda in Bauchi or the Christian barber, Elijah, in Kano. Muslim lawyers defended the suspected murderers of Deborah Samuel. But it is more challenging when the accused is a nonbeliever, an atheist, or a nonreligious person. Religious lawyers are reluctant to take up the cases. Religious lawyers cannot be trusted or entrusted with these cases because of concerns over religious bias.  Christian lawyers are guided by their christian faith and muslim lawyers are guided by their Islamic faith in their legal practice and representation.
So secular lawyers are needed. They can be trusted to represent in these cases because, in principle, they are free from the faith baggage that encumber legal representations by christian/muslim lawyers. Nigeria needs secular lawyers to keep church, mosque and state separate, and to ensure state neutrality on religious matters. It needs secular lawyers to tackle religious oppression, persecution and tyranny. Nigeria needs secular lawyers to uphold the rule of law and defend the freedom of religion or belief of all.
 Igwe, PhD,  is a board member of the Humanist Association of Nigeria.

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Minister Dangiwa Versus Cement Cabals

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Felix Oboagwina

By Felix Oboagwina

Wednesday, 31st October 2023, CEO of BUA Cement, Abdul Samad Rabiu, paid a visit to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in Aso Rock. As he walked out of the President’s office, journalists swarmed round Rabiu. To cut this narrative short, the billionaire businessman said he had come to assure the President that by March 2024, a bag of BUA Cement would start selling at N3,500 instead of N4,500 for which it then sold. The market leader, Dangote Cement, retailed for between N5,000 and N7,000 per bag. The hike not only alarmed but frustrated users because just two months earlier, Dangote Cement sold for a lower price of N3,500 max. The jump in price annoyed Nigerians. Thus, when the media went to town with Rabiu’s assurance of crashing the price, the news provoked much happiness nationwide.

Easier said than done, however, Rabiu’s optimism quickly evaporated into thin air. Mysteriously, thereafter, the price of cement went crazy and bizarre. The popular 50kg bag of cement flew to N10,000, then N12,000 and landed at N15,000. This year, Dangote Cement PLC reported a profit of N166 billion for first quarter of 2024.

In Nigeria, the dominant cement brands are Dangote, BUA, Lafarge and Elephant. For a country of 250 million, being serviced by four brands sounds like a monopoly or oligopoly, when a few companies exert significant control over a given market and together control prices by colluding with each other to promote uncompetitive prices. Today, manufacturers blame the skyrocketing rates on the falling value of the Naira. From the N700 per dollar pre-May 2023, the Naira had gone to exchange for N1,600 to the dollar, although it has now dropped to about N1,200. In addition to using the unhealthy Naira as scapegoat, cement makers blame the high cost on expensive gas and manufacturing equipment.

However, in the midst of the darkness, a silver lining appeared to appear from the midst of Tinubu’s cabinet ministers.

There are 46 ministers, although 13 of them wear the title of Junior Minister or Minister of State and 33 substantive ones. Suddenly, two substantive ministers called cement manufacturers to a meeting. The meeting by Dave Umahi, Works Minister, took place first on Monday, February 19, 2024. At that meeting, the minister and manufacturers fixed the price of cement at between N7,000 and N8,000 max.

The following day Tuesday in Abuja, Ahmed Dangiwa, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, also met representatives of the Cement Manufacturer Association of Nigeria (CEMAN). And there things exploded. Dangiwa displayed uncommon knowledge of all the tricks and shenanigans. He told the producers the implication of their pricing: “This is a crisis for housing delivery. An increase in essential building materials means an increase in the prices of houses.”

For Dangiwa, the reasons for the price hike were insufficient to justify such outrageous pricing. He confronted them with the bare facts, that the government stopped cement importation to enable local companies to increase output and lower prices.

Then he dropped the banger: “Government can open the borders for mass importation of cement, the price will crash, but you will have no business to do.”

When CEMAN said the association “does not interfere with the pricing of cement,” Dangiwa hit back with, “One person cannot be selling at N3,500 per bag and another selling at N7,000 per bag and you cannot call them to order. The association is expected to monitor price control; otherwise, the association has no need to exist.”

Where the President and the Works Minister pacified and appeared to have lost touch with reality, Dangiwa spoke to manufacturers in the language they understood. He threatened them. Government, Dangiwa said, could fling open the borders to tame prices.

He told them: “We know that some of the key components of producing building materials, especially cement, are locally sourced, so the recurring disproportionate increase in the price of cement is unacceptable and unreasonable. Key input materials such as limestone, clay, silica sand, and gypsum within our borders should not be dollar-rated.

“You cannot continue to give excuses and blame it on the dollar all the time. The worst part is that other building materials manufacturers take a cue from cement manufacturers, and once they see that you increase your price, they do the same. Recently, this is happening almost every week, and it has to stop.”

Fact is Nigeria has been hijacked by cartels. They have the country by the jugular mercilessly. Like cartels the world over, the Nigerian business profiteers nurse the motive of profiteering at all costs. Governments have been unwilling to confront them and break that hold today. Past pro-people regimes behaved otherwise.

General Murtala Mohammed imported Argentinean beef to force down the price of meat in the market.

General Gowon goes down in history for the Cement Armada. Ships upon ships upon ships of cement harboured at the Apapa Lagos port and crashed the price of the product.

In his own time, when the price of cement rose astronomically and the country complained, Goodluck Jonathan, in May 16, 2011, invited producers to Aso Rock and gave Dangote, BUA and others 30 days to crash cement price to N1,000. They succumbed.

While that drama played out, four cement manufacturers in February 2013 wrote to Jonathan to demand import licences, calling themselves “Cement New Entrants Stakeholders.” They each wanted to be granted papers by Jonathan to import 5 million metric tons of cement. According to them, granting import licences was a sure way of forcing down cement price to between N500 and N1,000 per bag and breaking the current monopoly of the “cartel” in the industry.

There is much to learn from this engagement. Monopolistic profiteering dictates cement pricing in Nigeria. The monopoly flaunts every excuse to justify the high price, which the proposed independent importers told Jonathan was “making Nigeria to be classified as the country with the highest price of cement in the world” with the ex-factory price then fixed between N1,400 and N1,800 per bag.

That is the way to go. Good history ought to repeat itself. Open the borders. Grant licences to import. Create competition. It will amount to a win-win for Nigerians because cement imports will create a new line of businesses as well as jobs through the value chain of importation, ports, clearing, re-bagging, warehousing, marketing, advertising, distribution and retailing. This the Housing Minister Dangiwa knows as a professional architect, a player in the building industry and a politician who wants to deliver pocket-friendly housing to the masses.

He had similarly maintained this humane stance when, as Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN, 2015–2022), he packed several human-faced, pro-people policies into his tenure. He processed N39.5 billion worth of refunds to 247,521 retired Federal housing contributors. Under him, FMBN made available NHF mortgage loans to 5,900 beneficiaries as well as home renovation loans to 77,500 people. He, also, led efforts to develop the Diaspora mortgage loan. This innovative scheme specifically aimed at assisting Nigerians living abroad to own homes without the weeping tales of getting duped by relatives or friends in Nigeria.

Minister Dangiwa knows that ONLY the cartels’ insatiable greed propels the price of cement sky-high. Exorcising this evil begins with taming the profiteers and making them sell cement to Nigerians at the N3,500 per bag that CEO of BUA Cement, Abdul Samad Rabiu, promised Tinubu at Aso Rock.

Oboagwina is an author, journalist and publisher, reachable via foboagwina@gmail.com

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Opinion

Money Without Family Relationship: A Time Bomb!

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The Futility Of A Marital Chase
Dr Hope Nwawolo

Money Without Family Relationship: A Time Bomb!

By Hope Nwawolo

Recently, l came across a trending post of a 72-year-old pensioner, who was said to have worked all his life to raise his kids. The writer of the post claimed the man was abandoned by his children whom he trained in expensive schools, at home and abroad.  It was further disclosed that his 65-year-old wife, had relocated to live with her children abroad, on the excuse of taking care of their grandchildren. The writer went on to paint the gloomy picture of the man as a bachelor once again and battling with high blood pressure and other old age ailments. He cautioned men that women love their children more than their husbands, so they should plan for their future. He erroneously put the number of such women at 97%.

This piece is in response to the above biased claim which is also capable of causing friction in homes striving for unity and togetherness. He may just succeed to plant a negative seed of distrust and discord in the minds of fickle-minded men, who before reading the article were enjoying a blissful relationship with their wives. It may also be possible that the writer is a disgruntled person who did not succeed in marriage or relationship and believes the same must be for all men.

When we see people like the writer portrayed, we should ask a pertinent question. What was the man’s relationship with his wife and children when he was ‘struggling’ to fend for them? Unfortunately, some men fail to realize that there is so much more in family life than money. In as much as money ‘answereth’ all things, it cannot be exchanged for lasting family relationship. 

Some men literally shove their wives aside while making the money without realizing the children see the treatment of their mothers. When some of these children become independent and financially stable, they feel obligated to compensate their mothers for the loveless treatment received from their fathers. In other cases, some men do not value family time, no matter how short, and would not understand the emotional craving of the wives and children when they really need it. Often, it is these women, that stay in the  gap in their absence, making the children bond more with  them. And instead of appreciating such women for filling in their physical vacuum, some men rather get jealous of the bond and further drift away from the children, while blaming the wife. 

Today, wise men make out time to pray, discuss, and have family outings with their families. This is called relationship building, which cannot be broken by distance in the future. The children from these homes grow up with memories of fun and family laughter. The women from such homes, have strong relationship with their husbands and will not stay more than one month when they go to visit their children. You will hear them say to the children, “Please, l want to go back to my husband.”  Why is nobody talking about them?

There are also couples who travel together to visit their children from time to time. So what stops a man from also going to visit his children whom he struggled to train? Is it that they did not invite him, and why? Perhaps they have no relationship! 

The claim of 97% women who abandon their husbands for their children is not empirical, cannot be scientifically proven, and is unfair to women. It also has the tendency to put fears into innocent men who are building strong relationships with their wives and children. I pray such men do not abandon their effort after reading such a biased write-up…for their own good! Every marriage and family is unique and should have values and principles that will bind its members together today, tomorrow, and in the future. This should override the quest for money if it cannot be combined with building lasting relationships with every member of the family.

Nowadays, while many men believe their provision of money for the home is the answer to family issues, the women sacrifice key factors that cannot be monetized, and build lasting relationships with the children. These vital factors are their tears and worries, emotional support, and constant prayers, among many others. Observably too,  some women are also contributing financially to feeding and sometimes, schools fees, as well as other necessities of the families. Despite these, they  find time to ensure that the family bond is maintained as best as possible. Unfortunately, the ego rather than complex of some men will not allow them acknowledge or appreciate the effort of these women and which the children obviously witness as they grow into independence and financial stability.

Therefore, instead of blaming women for the unpalatable fruit of old age loneliness as a result of early years of family emotional neglect, men should attempt to juggle their quest for money with building relationships that will see them through the evening of their lives, with members of the families. 

 Nwawolo, PhD, writes via 

hopenwawolo@yahoo.com

 

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