Nigeria’s international award-winning musician, Davido, has begun the mandatory post-university national service program known in Nigeria as the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC. A 2015 graduate of Babcock University after studying Music, the singer is “tying up loose ends” and if Tonto Dike’s comments and the singer’s insistent release of new songs every week are anything to go by, his intention is to rule, indisputably.
The 25-year-old whose full name is David Adedeji Adeleke, posted a photo of him in full NYSC gear on social media with the caption “Otondo OBO”. Otondo, a term meaning one who knows nothing which would have been synonymous for Game of Thrones’ star Jon Snow if he were Nigerian.
But Davido is not your typical Otondo. A household name across Africa, and halfway close to having $30 billion in his account, NYSC would probably be for him, not the typical NYSC. The year-long mandatory service for Nigerian graduates below the age of 30 is needed to qualify for gainful employment in the country. But despite the novelty of visiting a new locality, more people are finding it to be challenging, especially when one is already gainfully employed.
A controversy reported by local paper Premium Times had involved Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, who allegedly did not participate in the national youth service scheme and instead, forged an exemption certificate many years after graduation.
In addition to being a requirement for government and private sector jobs in Nigeria, the enabling law prescribes punishment for anyone who absconds from the scheme or forges its certificates. Eligible Nigerians who skipped the service are liable to be sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and/or N2,000 fine. The law also prescribes three-year jail term or option of N5,000 fine for anyone who contravenes provision of the law.
According to the paper, having graduated from the Polytechnic of East London at 22 in 1989, Adeosun did not return to Nigeria and instead pursued a fast-paced career in the British public and private sectors, eventually returning to Nigeria at 35 in 2002. She set off to continue her career, allegedly procuring a fake exemption certificate in 2009.
The NYSC does not issue exemption certificate to anyone who graduates before turning 30, top officials of the scheme said to the Premium Times. But little is said about the realities that more students and professionals are opting to leave the country due to the declining education system and lack of basic infrastructure.
After her return, the Ogun State Government and the Federal Government of Nigeria employed her at various times. Adeosun was later sworn in as finance minister in 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari. When interviewed on the alleged scandal, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Itse Sagay, had said, “This woman is a brilliant and extremely valuable member of this government. We cannot afford to lose [her]. Who cares about youth service?… It’s irrelevant as far as I am concerned. If I were President Buhari, I would never, ever touch that woman because she’s damn good,” he concluded.
Buhari himself has not commented on the issue, but spent the Eid-el-adah celebrations speaking on the benefits of the NYSC. “I think the NYSC is one of the best things that has happened to Nigeria, because of the opportunity it gives young Nigerians to see and know different parts of the country,” the president had said in a tweet.
The President had observed that many of the corps members posted to his hometown Daura in the northern state of Katsina are from southern Nigeria and had never lived in the north. “For them to be brought to the desert or near the Sahel region is a difficult thing, but I have no doubt it will make a positive impact on Nigeria,” he said. “Regardless of where they’re from, Daura is also their home, and I hope that in the years to come they will look back to this time with fond memories.”
But asides from the lack of security which has been plaguing Nigeria’s north eastern region and in violent electoral processes where corps members are required, there is much in the way of the grand idea that the NYSC had hoped to achieve following its inauguration in the early ’70s. With the desire to avoid volatile regions plagued by insurgent group Boko Haram, the NYSC was forced to give potential corpers a choice of three states they would wish to be posted to, increasing the already rampant practise of “sorting” where most graduates pay money to make sure they land in one of the ‘good’ states: Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt. Some go as far as the national headquarters of the NYSC to see officials who can guarantee them postings to their desired states.
Brig. Gen. Suleiman Kazaure, the Director General of NYSC, said in August at an orientation camp in Katsina that 95 percent of deaths recorded by serving Corps members was due to accidents on poor roads. This is not to mention the inadequate compensation in the event of any unfortunate circumstances. A pittance of N19,800 ($55) is a month’s wage. And all of this while undertaking social projects such as the construction of school blocks, toilet facilities, and boreholes which are left undone by respective governments, not to mention—despite most being unqualified, being the majority of teaching staff in locations that lack sufficient staff.
When it comes to music, Davido has been working hard to be king. The artiste has flown across the continent and around the world selling out concerts with his hit songs. However, after registering for the second stream of the second batch of the orientation Course at the Lagos NYSC Camp, Iyana Ipaja, Agege, I doubt the celebrity will be holding a chalk to a blackboard teaching a course that probably has nothing to do with music, while surviving on less than $2 a day and living in less-than-stellar conditions. He probably won’t even stay the length of the three-week long orientation as he has an already sold-out show to attend in Boston, Massachusetts on 31 August, part of his The Locked Up U.S Tour. The music star is booked for the most part, his Made In America feature with Tidal boss, Jay Z is also in view.
As photographs that could easily pass for parade ceremony out of the nation’s youth service continue to be circulated, it shows not so many, including officials themselves, may care for the double standards and the recycled questions of relevance after all.