By Emma Obeni
Two years ago, when government was looking to install a new leadership at Gowon House (NYSC Headquarters), arrays of qualified persons were in contention. The searchlight however was programmed to scan for a personality that can spur radical positive transformation to sustain the relevance of the Scheme, a person with the cognitive ability to understand and appreciate the contemporary challenges of the service corps and with the capacity and courage to tackle same with optimum results. These qualities no doubt were found in Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim. When the fact that he is an ex corps member and is equally endowed with practical experience of the administration of the Scheme (having served as a Military Assistant to a past DG of the Scheme) are factored in, one can rightly conclude that he was indeed readymade for the job. Two years down the line the Nasarawa State born General and scholar, by his strides and copious harvest of successes in his pursuit of the mandate of the Scheme, has not disappointed the stakeholders of the Scheme.An accomplished academic with a PhD in history, Brig Gen Shuaibu Ibrahim is no doubt an apostle of the philosophy that the greatness and success of any organisation lies principally in its ability to re-engineer itself by assessing its substantive position, designing a stronger and clearer visions and evolving sound strategies to implement the new visions. This, he employed to articulate the policy thrust of his administration, a compass with which he is piloting the NYSC to greater heights. With adequate evaluation of the task before him, Ibrahim set to work immediately having decided the path to take the Scheme as capsulated in his five focal areas which include to sustain effective utilisation of the potentials of Corps Members for optimal benefit; Pursue a technologically driven organisation to deepen effective service delivery; improve on the welfare and security of Corps Members and staff; Strengthen existing collaboration with stakeholders; and Reinvigorate NYSC Ventures and Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development programme in line with the NYSC Act for greater impact.
But then he had to first confront the problem of assault on the integrity of the NYSC mobilization process by dubious and desperate individuals with intent to participate in the programme at all cost. Some were procuring fake certificates to achieve their desire. Shuiabu deftly neutralized them. He enhanced data processing and management of the NYSC integrated online system and engaged Corps producing institutions within and outside the country to put in place foolproof measures to check the trend. These among other measures ultimately sanitized the mobilisation process of the Scheme. In fact, Ibrahim’s disposition on this issue is such that some of the foreign institutions are now volunteering to alert NYSC of suspected fraudulent practices by their students.
He has matched words with actions in his bid to reinvigorate the NYSC SAED programme scaling up the training regime and securing collaborations to put up more skills training centres across the country. An instance is the pursuit of completion of the North West Skill Acquisition Centre in Kazaure, Jigawa State, commencement of work on the North Central Skill Acquisition Centre in Keffi, Nasarawa State and securing ongoing research-based collaboration with OAU-NACETEM sponsored by a Canadian Agency, International Development Research Centre to evaluate the impact of the SAED programme with a view to reposition it for greater impact.
The DG also attracted funding for corps members business proposals. Some of the new collaborations in this regard include an enterprise development programme with the Unity Bank tagged Corpreneurship which offers a sandwich training and competition leading to award of business funds as prizes. The British America Tobacco Nigeria America Foundation (BATNF) is also funding a “Farmers for the Future” programme which offers agro-entrepreneurial training and mentoring for corps members and empowerment with money, land, agricultural inputs and services to the tune of N5, 000,000. Others are the Enterprise Development Centre partnership which has benefitted 140 corps members, the Access Bank Lions’ Den partnership which is offering a package of business funding and mentoring totaling N3, 000,000, the Leventis Foundation one year internship in its farm settlements and empowerment to establish afterwards and the NIRSAL MFB special loan package without the encumbrance of collateral. The farms and agricultural ventures of the Scheme have equally been expanded and strengthened under the watch of Ibrahim. The administration keyed into the Government’s policy of diversifying the economy through harnessing opportunities in the agricultural sector. In line with the Federal Government’s policy on rice production, he is upgrading and repositioning NYSC farms for massive production and processing of rice.
New equipments have been purchased for the NYSC rice farms in Ezillo, Ebonyi State and Saminaka, Kebbi State. He also recently secured 16 hectres of land from the Nasarawa State Government to expand the scope of the Scheme’s farming activities. These are in addition to ensuring optimum operation of the NYSC Bread and water factories in Kubwa, Abuja and the Garment factories in Anambra and Niger States and resuscitating the NYSC Feed mill in Lagos. His efforts are yielding the desired result as the revenue generation profile of the Scheme through its Ventures initiatives has tremendously improved. Apart from expanding the Scheme’s agricultural ventures the DG has engendered partnerships with several agro-based organizations to contribute and boost the Federal Government’s initiative on food security as well train corps members on agro business. They include the IITA, ARMT, NALDA, NCRI and NCAM among others.
Engagement with critical stakeholders is one important strategy adopted by Shuaibu Ibrahim which has been quite effective as it has attracted tremendous increase in stakeholders support for the scheme. The Director-General’s audience with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum led to State Governments making remarkable gestures including Completion of new NYSC permanent Orientation Camps in Anambra and Edo, construction of a 500-capacity’ hostel at the NYSC Orientation Camp, Kaduna, provision of power transformer, 1,500 double-bunk beds, 3,000 mattresses as well as on-going construction of a 5,000-capacity Auditorium and internal roads at the NYSC Camp Rivers State, construction of 250-capacity hostel at the NYSC Camp, in Akwa Ibom State. Others are provision of land for the expansion of the NYSC Secretariat in Dutse, construction of 700-capacity hostels, Camp Clinic, Staff Quarters and sinking of industrial borehole at the NYSC Camp in Delta State, construction of 2,500-capacity multi-purpose hall at the NYSC Camp, Niger State, Construction of internal roads at the NYSC Orientation Camp in Nasarawa State, among others. The impact of the yearly meeting with representatives of State governments (also instituted by the Ibrahim management) has been profound. It is noteworthy that at this year’s meeting in April, the Ekiti and Edo State Governments promptly approved lands for establishment of NYSC Garment factories few minutes after the request was made at the meeting. The Lagos State Government has also put in place modalities to build a 14,000 capacity Orientation Camp while twenty five states have commenced upgrading and rehabilitation of camp facilities and nine are expanding their camp facilities to meet the Scheme’s 5,000 corps members’ capacity need. Other notable gains derived from the meetings include, constitution of functional NYSC State Governing Boards in seventeen states, eighteen states have enhanced payment of state allowance to corps members, provision and upgrading of Corps transit camps in thirty one states, increased partnership with the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) and provision of office and residential accommodation by states hosting the headquarters of the new Area Offices among others.Security and welfare of corps members which are among the key areas of focus of Ibrahim’s administration has equally recorded phenomenal success. As an exemplary demonstration of empathy and commitment to the welfare of Members of the Service Corps, it has become a tradition for him to personally visit and commiserate with parents of corps members whose wards were involved in accidents and other unpleasant incidents. He recently visited and encouraged corps Member, Saidu Mohammed Adamu, who was admitted at the Federal Teaching Hospital, Ado-Ekiti, as a result of gunshot injuries he sustained while on election duties during the bye-election in Ekiti-East Local Government Area of the State in March 2021. These gestures have increased the confidence of corps members and their families in the management of the Scheme and engendered more zeal for patriotic service. The Scheme under his watch has spent millions of naira on critical health interventions for corps members including N32 million spent to procure smart prosthetic limbs for corps member Nurudeen Tahir, who lost his arm in a road traffic accident in Taraba State. He also vigorously and relentlessly pursued the increment of corps members’ allowance in the wake of approval of the National Minimum Wage resulting in the upward review from nineteen thousand, eight hundred naira to thirty-three thousand naira (N33, 000.00) with effect from January, 2020.Given the security challenges in the country in recent times, the NYSC Director General has relentlessly pursued the Scheme’s synergy with security agencies, Governments, traditional institutions, and other stakeholders for the effective protection of Corps members. This has seen him visiting heads of security agencies across the country to solicit for improved surveillance and protection of corps members particularly when they are engaged on election duties. General Ibrahim has continually assured parents and members of the public that no corps member will be posted to areas experiencing security challenges. He reiterated this during the just concluded 2021 NYSC Pre-Orientation Workshop in preparation for the Orientation Course commencing on 18th May, 2021. He has in the past promptly withdrawn corps member wherever their safety is threatened in addition to continuous sensitization of corps members on security matters.A man that sees opportunities where others see adversity, the COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to underscore the relevance of the Scheme. Rather than pause the activities of the NYSC and send corps members back to their parents as expected, he harnessed their ingenuity and creativity to contribute towards containment of the pandemic. Through the initiative and directive of Ibrahim, corps members nationwide mass produced and donated face Masks, Antiseptic Liquid soaps, Hand Sanitizers and carried out sensitization campaigns on the safety measures. In addition, they fabricated foot-operated/ automatic water, liquid soap, hand sanitizer, dispensers and through the Scheme’s community development service platform contributed towards mitigating the economic effects of the COVID-19 on the indigent populace through donation of food and other relief items.Being a man with an uncommon drive for initiatives that not only impact the present but have potentials to unlock the future, Gen Ibrahim instituted a Five-Year Strategic Development Plan for the Scheme, caused the review of the NYSC Composite Policy Document and documentation of the activities of the Scheme. It is noteworthy that in the nearly five decades of its existence and operation, the NYSC has made invaluable contributions to national development many of which are not known to Nigerians. In order to properly document these, Ibrahim commissioned the publication of eight books that comprehensively chronicled these achievements. The books are to be unveiled shortly.
Similarly, he spearheaded the production of a movie titled ‘A Call to Service’. The movie is being packaged principally as a tool for public sensitization and better understanding of the role of stakeholders in the Scheme in addition to its entertainment value. The DG had earlier embarked on nationwide sensitization on the NYSC Act. Prior to this, it was clear that many Nigerians were not aware of the provisions of the Act, a situation that had led to avoidable infractions. With the sensitization, which is still on-going, organizations and individuals are now having better understanding of their obligations to the Scheme. In particular, cases of evasion and abscondment from Service, especially by foreign-trained Nigerian graduates, are declining drastically.
Furthermore, the enterprising Director General has moved to reposition the NYSC Community Development (CDS) programme for greater impact. The CDS is one of the four Cardinal programmes of the Scheme in which corps members through systematic prospecting and execution of development projects and programmes contribute positively to the socio-economic development of their host communities. The legacy of corps members in this regard, which have revolutionized our communities in the areas of education, healthcare delivery, agriculture, infrastructure, economic empowerment, poverty eradication, social services among others, dots the nooks and crannies of the nation and testifies to the reach and impact of the service corps. However, the NYSC CDS programme in recent times has been plagued by decline in stakeholders support. To change the narrative, Ibrahim has caused the re-launch of the CDS programmes and activities in order to rekindle interest and attract funding from stakeholders. Other measures in place to shore up the programme include intensification of the Health Initiative for Rural Dwellers programme designed to provide free medical access to the indigent rural populace nationwide by the corps medical personnel, inauguration of the NYSC National Cultural Troupe and the NYSC Film production meant to harness the potentials of corps members for education, sensitisation, advocacy and entertainment as well as the institution of awards for best group CDS, best individual CDS, best CDS officer and best collaborative partners. In the same vein the thematic focus of the this year’s NYSC Management meeting with representatives of State governments was on stemming the declining support for the NYSC CDS programme.
In line with the agenda of his administration, the Director-General has been pursuing policies that are geared towards not only motivating Staff, but also promoting industrial harmony in the Scheme. This has been aptly demonstrated through prompt payment of entitlements, capacity building as well as timely conduct of promotion examinations. The 2020 and 2021 Promotion interviews conducted under his watch saw a greater percentage of staff that sat for the examination elevated accordingly after meeting the requirements stipulated in the Public Service Rules. He has also ensured the successful take-off of the six approved Area Offices of the Scheme in the six geopolitical zones of the country located in Enugu, Osun, Delta, Niger, Bauchi and Kaduna States. The offices are now fully functional with the deployment of Directors and staff compliments. The establishment of the offices is meant to strengthen the field operations of the Scheme.A scholar of high repute, who has authored, edited, and contributed articles/chapters to numerous books and academic Journals, Ibrahim also introduced inscription of date of birth on the Certificate of National Service and Exclusion Letter beginning with the 2019 Batch “A” Corps members and 2019 Batch “C” respectively. This is in a bid to check the manipulation of date of birth by dubious persons among the citizenry and generally check falsification of records for employment, visa, political appointments and other vital information in national life.To ensure unhindered visibility of the Scheme, the Director-General has since assumption of duty, strived to strengthen the cordial relationship with the Media with regular engagements. This, he kick-started with his parley with Editors, Bureau Chiefs and Youth Correspondents of various Media Organizations. Ibrahim has also paid courtesy visits to media offices, including the Headquarters of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Media Trust limited and Leadership Groups limited among others.Shuaibu has equally put in place necessary machinery for the take off of the first ever NYSC Community Radio to be domiciled in Abuja. The “NYSC Half Hour” on NTA International whish he resuscitated has become a programme many Nigerians look forward to weekly having been turned to a top notch programme by the ever resourceful Director General to adequately drive the publicity platform of the Scheme and showcase its activities to Nigerians and the entire world. His consistent media-friendly posture, has attracted wider publicity for the scheme’s activities. The revatilised and improved image of the Scheme through robust and cordial engagement with the media has also engendered increased positive media reviews of NYSC activities and immense contributions to national development and growth. The effect of this improved media visibility is increased appreciation of the relevance of the Scheme to the socio-economic development of the nation. The uptake in the relevance and recognition of the Scheme in the development efforts of government at all levels has made the NYSC to become a sought after beautiful bride by governmental and Non-governmental organizations for partnership in the implementation of their programmes. Recently, the Scheme was appointed into the Federal Government technical committee on the Mambila hydro-power project in Taraba State and the Presidential Steering committee on Alternate school programme where corps members are expected to play key roles. The Director-General who was recently elevated to Associate Professor has also leveraged on his first love academics to publicise the activities of NYSC while contributing to discussions on important national issues through presentation of public lectures. These include “Life without white collar: Imperatives for Vocational and Entrepreneurial Education- the NYSC Perspective” presented at the 11th Convocation Ceremony of Tai Solarin University of Education, “NYSC in the Service of Promoting Best Practices in Basic and Secondary Education: Current Realities, Prospects and Challenges”, presented at the 23rd Exam Ethics Marshals International Conference; and “Quality Culture: a Necessity for National Development” presented at the fourth edition of Quality is Everybody’s Business (QEB-4) Seminar organized by the Institute of Quality Assurance of Nigeria.The unique administrative paradigm of General Ibrahim has equally permeated the Scheme as it has influenced and encouraged State Coordinators to intensify efforts towards execution of critical projects through internally generated revenues.
Validating Shuaibu’s uncommon strides, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, whose Minstry supervises the Scheme posits “I found the Director General Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim to be a very hardworking person. He has been able to drive the NYSC at a pace we have not seen before, we have seen the skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development programme (SAED) really impactful and expanded. He has worked on the module that strengthens the NYSC Public-Private Partnership with banks and other private sectors in order to enhance critical support for the NYSC. I have also seen the NYSC under the current Director General regain visibility and resonance that was almost fading away before”.From the foregoing, the NYSC under Brig Gen Shuaibu Ibrahim in the last twenty-four months no doubt has attained tremendous height. This is not surprising giving the fact that Gen Ibrahim is a thoroughbred administrator who combines scholarship, emotional intelligence and finesse in his administrative duties. His wealth of experience which cuts across military and civil establishments has accelerated the pace of service rendered by the NYSC. The arrays of awards bestowed on him on the job are indeed definitive testimonies and recognition of his sterling performance.
*Mr. Obeni wrote in from Abuja