Opinion

George Awuse: NYSC Online Fee And The Lynch Mob

People will instinctively kick against change. It is understandable. What would be confounding however is when opposition to change persists even when empirical evidence and facts have been put forward. This is precisely what has been playing out with the efforts by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to facilitate the possibility of prospective corps members to process their call-up letters online.

Under the plan unveiled recently by the NYSC, prospective corps members can log in to a portal to register their details. Upon completion of this online registration, there is the option of further processing and accessing the call-up letter at a fee of N4000. Subscription to this service makes it possible to re-print the letter in the event of loss or be identified with biometrics. NYSC said this option is not mandatory and those who do not opt in can still go to their schools to pick their letters. NYSC went further to state that those who opt out will not be penalised or victimised in anyway.

The opposition to this innovation has however been strident to the point of drowning the views of those who try to hold useful discourse. Interestingly, those kicking against this innovation focus only on the N4000 fees while completely and conveniently ignoring the problems that necessitated this solution. Also, few people bother to interrogate the benefits of the project and fewer people still have offered suggestions on how to make it better.

The larger contribution has been that of condemnation. Unfortunately, the might or number of those attacking the project does not necessarily make condemning it the right thing to do. People have used all manners of uncharitable words to describe the project with demands that the N4000 fee be scrapped. No one has however come up with workable solutions on how to finance the operations of this innovation.

In contrast to the protests against the project and in steps that conform to the need for full disclosure, the NYSC has placed facts in public space to explain the rationale for the fee including its present IT capacity that necessitated entering into a public-private partnership especially in view of the cost of initial set up, which it cannot afford for now. It has explained how two prospective corps members who live in the same city but attended different institutions need not decide alike on whether to process their letters online or not. NYSC also disclosed how the project was the outcome of feedback from past and serving corps members.

Unfortunately, it is apparent that those who are keen on opposing the computerisation of the NYSC have closed their minds to the prospects of reviewing the facts already presented. Even more uncharitable is the fact that otherwise respectable institutions are being dragged to side personal convictions of some of their members in opposing the project. Official statements from such institutions and organisations are barely able to mask the language and choice of words those earlier used in personal capacity to attack the project. When this is allowed to happen there is danger to innovation and those who want to bring change.

The danger is amplified when the House of Representatives is leading the pack. It has already adopted a punitive posture even before getting details of the project by suspending the process without recourse to the disruptions that are inherent in the move. If previous investigations of the House are anything to go by, first there will be delays and then there would be the endless drama that would culminate in a lynch mob. At the end of the exercise not much would have been achieved by way of progress. Progress here is meant in the sense of taking the NYSC to a level that meets international standards and the expectations of the contemporary youths taking part in the scheme.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC ) also joined the fray. This is understandable coming from an organisation that takes decisions from the viewpoint of activism. The union made it clear that its grouse was with the fee while it commended the NYSC for introducing the online registration for the online registration initiative which it recognised as having the potential to save prospective corps members from the risks associated with travel. By this admission, the NLC has basically agreed that the project is worth it. What the union should do in this instance is to further avail itself of the facts and make practical suggestions that will ensure that an online portal with potentials to save lives is not discontinued because of hassles over the fee meant to make it possible.

The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has  equally joined those opposed to the payment of the fee. Like the other bodies that have taken this stand, it is important that members of student unions take time to study what they are opposing. This is by no means asking that they should stop opposing the computerisation of the call-up of corps members, it is rather to request that they equip themselves with facts that will enable them put forward informed arguments.

An initiative that the NLC rightly recognised as lifesaving should not be reduced to becoming the victim of politics and activism but when reputable institutions join the discourse on the basis of sentiments that is exactly what will happen. Opposing the project purely on the basis of sentiments and personal phobia for parting with money could have undesired consequences.
These consequences include the longer term cost, human cost of accidents, failing to blend in with international trend, inability to adequately screening out fake corps members amongst others.

Perhaps, one great consequence not included on the usual list is the injustice that would have been meted on those who need to use the online platform at the prescribed fee chiefly because of the reality of distance.  The House of Representatives, NLC, NANS and other organisations that are throwing their weights behind sentimental critics may be unwittingly giving official backing to lynch mobs that would trample on the rights of those desirous of using the service. This should under no circumstance be allowed to happen. Institutions, particularly reputable ones, should be unbiased in assessing situation. They should allow facts decide this matter.

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* Awuse lives in Gboko, Benue.

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