Percy Ani writes on the absurd errands corps members were sent by bosses at their places of primary assignment during their one-year mandatory service
Many Nigerian graduates mobilised for the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps often look forward to their postings with euphoria laced with anxiety. This is because they get to explore states they have never been to and meet graduates from other institutions who they could build lasting friendships with.
So it was for a graduate of the Delta State University, Abraka, Chioma Obi, when in 2018 she checked the online portal of the NYSC and discovered she had been deployed to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, for the compulsory one-year scheme. She was filled with joy.
Obi told our correspondent that her elation was hinged with the belief that Abuja brims with limitless opportunities.
She added that after the three-week orientation at the Abuja NYSC camp, she was posted to a Federal Government parastatal. She noted that the posting appeared as a feat in itself and seemed too good to be true for her.
Obi stated that she felt that her efforts to leave school with good grades were being rewarded and silent prayers were answered. According to her, where she was posted to is an organisation relevant to the course she studied in the university.
The NYSC noted on its website that the scheme was created to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the 30-month civil war which began in 1967 and ended in 1970.
“The unfortunate antecedents in our national history gave impetus to the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps by decree No.24 of May 22, 1973, which stated that the NYSC is being established “with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youth of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity.”
However, some corps members had noted that after the three-week orientation camp and posting to places of primary assignment otherwise called PPA, their superiors sent them on ridiculous errands instead of them learning skills pertaining to their courses of study.
The corpers are expected to be at their PPA for a year and exhibit selfless service to their country. They are expected to work full-time at their PPA with the exception of one day committed to community development service.
Chioma told our correspondent that things didn’t go as she expected during her first day at work.
She said, “The Human Resources department told me that my department of choice currently had no vacancy, so she would have to deploy me to another department – the archives department. I accepted to work in another department since there was no other choice for me. I took the offer because I reckoned I was still lucky to be in such a prestigious federal institution and many desired to work there. Besides, I already prepared my mind to learn something new.
“On getting to the new department, I was well welcomed and everyone there seemed overly nice. In fact, on my first day, there was nothing assigned to me to do. I spent the entire day observing things in the department while also daydreaming of the things I would learn and improve myself at the organisation.’’
Chioma said that the dreams were punctured the next day, adding that her days of fantasy were short-lived to her surprise. She stated that the next day she was asked by the head of her department to follow another intern to buy him groundnuts.
She stated, “The HoD told me that it was for me to know the place for I would go alone to buy it next time for him. I thought we would buy the groundnuts at a shop nearby, but to my surprise, we trekked a considerable distance.
As if that was not enough punishment, the hawkers were not yet at the spot the intern usually waited to buy from them. We had to wait by the side of the road with no shelter under a scorching mid-day sun in Abuja to buy N200 groundnut.’’
She added that when she complained to the intern about the stress of walking to the place to buy groundnuts in a hot sun for the head of the department, he only laughed and told her it was the beginning for her because his internship ended in a few weeks.
According to her, the intern noted that the department would need someone to fill the gap his departure would create and they would prefer a female.
Chioma said that to her surprise, when the intern left, the head of the HR department told her she would be retained at her current station to replace the departing intern.
She stated, “And that was how my journey into becoming a sales representative and errand girl in an archives department in a federal parastatal began. Another senior official in the department also sold drinks to the other staff members. She would bring them to the office and refrigerate them for sale. The woman asked me to sell the drinks to those who come to the office to buy them. At first, I didn’t consider it a big deal, but eventually, it became something worse.
“First people started making telephone calls to bring packs of drinks to them on the third and fourth floors of the office building. Some would even ask me to bring the drinks to their cars. I almost forgot that I was a corps member that was posted there to work and learn. Instead, I was preoccupied with selling drinks to staff members. I was always tired at work even as early as 10am.”
Chioma said things got to a head when everyone at the office started associating her with the selling of soft drinks.
She said, “The day I decided I had had enough was when I was passing through a department at the office and someone called me the ‘drinks girl.’ I decided to do something about my job description. Eventually, after a few months of running errands as a ‘sales girl,’ I found ways to interact with staff members in my initial department of choice. Luckily for me, the head of the department observed my potential and asked that I should be transferred to his department. I was lucky to have been noticed by the head of that department, otherwise, I probably would have spent the whole year running errands and selling drinks to staff members.”
The ex-corpers, who requested pseudonyms for identification, also refused to disclose the names of where the NYSC deployed to for PPA during the one-year mandatory service.
Another ex-corper, Dayo Olawale, said she recalled her time in service with so much anger considering how helpless she felt all through the one-year service.
She said in 2016 she was posted to Lagos state for the NYSC and her place of primary assignment was an advertising firm. Olawale added that it was an ideal place for her since she was a graduate of mass communication.
The graduate of the Lagos State University, said, “I didn’t know there was another thing in stock for me. Trouble started when one of the directors in the office started making advances at me and when I refused him, he turned hostile and started making life difficult for me. From the day he knew he could not have his way, he would send me on errands that were naturally handled by the cleaners and others in the office. There were days he would even order me to go to the Laundromat to pick up his laundry. Other times, he would ask me to mop his office just to exert his power over me.’’
Olawale said eventually when it was time to retain some corpers at the firm she was dropped. She stated, “Even with all the insulting errands I had put up with just to earn a place there, I wasn’t retained. It was so bad that some corps members who were not half as smart as I am were retained.”
For Ifeanyi Egbo, being posted to one of the top radio stations in Lagos State as corps member in 2017 gladdened his heart.
Egbo, who studied Theatre Arts at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, noted that at the time he felt that his dreams of getting the requisite experience and connections to become an on-air personality were about to be realised.
He stated, “But the happy times I envisaged to experience at the radio station were aborted. From my first day at the office, I was sent on an errand to buy food for some staff members. After one week of running various debasing errands for many of the members of staff every day, I was forced to ask the HR department if my job description was only to run errands.’’
He said to his dismay, the head of HR told him he had to get used to working that way for he was not the only one who had experienced that.
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“The lady told me other corps members had put up with running errands at the radio station and I had to do the same too. But if I could not handle the stress, she would gladly sign a letter so I could be reassigned to some other place,’’ he said.
A graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Tola Ikehide, also had a funny experience at her place of primary assignment in 2018. Ikehide who was posted to a secondary school in Ogun State to teach Biology, said she was surprisingly told that her task not only included teaching the students Biology but also running some errands for staff members.
She said she learnt that some of her daily tasks included helping some teachers make school runs to pick their kids from school. Other times, she added that she was sent to the market to buy foodstuff for the teachers when they wanted to cook.
Ikehide said trouble started when a pregnant teacher asked her to cook for her, adding that when she refused, the teacher made so much fuss about it leading to an exchange of words. She further stated that when she complained to the school principal concerning the issue his response saddened her.
The ex-corper said, “The principal said to me thus: The problem with young people these days is that they complain at the slightest sign of physical labour and act like they are carrying the weight of the world.”
She stated that after the statement, she resolved to bear whatever came her way during the service year and leave immediately after she completed her service.
Like Ikehide, Boma Peters, ran into trouble at her place of primary assignment because she refused to cook for a teacher in the school where she served. The graduate of the Rivers State University of Technology said she was posted to a private secondary school in Lagos State in 2017 and was enjoying the experience of teaching young students English.
She said everything was going smoothly for her in the school until one of the teachers started asking her to run some errands for her. Peters added, “At first, they were minor errands- ‘help me buy a bottle of coke or help me buy food down the street.’ Then one day, she asked me to prepare moimoi for her. When I refused, she got angry and told me that I was rude and poorly raised and that she would deal with me.”
She said to her surprise, instead of the other staff members calling the teacher to order, they scolded her for being lazy and advised her to do better next time. “Eventually, to avoid any problems during my service year, I agreed to cook for her. I was turned into a cook for some of the teachers during the remainder of my time there,” Peters stated.
When Bidemi Eniafe graduated from the University of Lagos in 2015, he envisaged that the one-year of the scheme would be a period to learn and improve on himself while gaining valuable work experience. However, he said to his surprise, it turned out to be one of the worst periods of his adult life.
Eniafe said he was posted to a state government parastatal in Kogi State and assigned to the administrative department. He said, “I believed I would be carrying out real administrative tasks, but as it turned out, all the administration they needed from me was to run errands.”
He said every day he was sent on various errands by the staff members that kept him busy and on his feet all day.
He added, “At some point, I started believing that the sole reason they wanted corps members at the parastatal was to send them on errands because I was sent on every errand within and outside the office premises almost on a daily basis -I was the photocopier boy, the lunch boy for everyone at the office and also the one who washed the dirty dishes afterwards. After my service year, I left quickly because I spent 11 months learning nothing significant. It was a sad time for me.”
Move to scrap the scheme
A member of the House of Representatives representing Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro constituency, Rivers State, Awaji-Inombek Abiante, proposed a bill for the discontinuation of the NYSC.
One of the reasons Abiante gave for sponsoring the bill was that public and private agencies/departments no longer recruit qualified Nigerian youths. He added that they now rely on the availability of corps members who are not well remunerated and disengaged at the end of their service year without any hope of being gainfully employed.
Egbo stated that it was sad that corpers were made to run errands at their places of primary assignment. He stated, “It is left to see how far the bill will go- whether it will eventually be thrown out or be passed into law.’’
On her part, Peters said that the NYSC still had diverse uses in the country, noting that some areas needed to be looked into such as the exploitation of corpers by benefitting institutions. She added, “Maybe the NYSC can set up a means of punishing organisations who use corps members for tasks other than what they were posted there for.’’
Commenting on the development, a Professor at the Faculty of Education, Department of Community Development/Community Education at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Isaac Abiona, said when someone was supposed to work in a place and perform certain tasks but denied the opportunity of doing that, it usually had psychological effects on them later in life.
Abiona said, “It has many other implications – boredom, lack of job satisfaction.’’
The lecturer who is also the institution’s Dean of Students’ Affairs, added that knowing the effect of redundancy on the mind, the university’s administration made sure that all corps members working with them were fully engaged. He said, “We ensure that all corps members sent to us are fully engaged and not made redundant.’’
In his comment, a lecturer in the Department of Commercial and Property Law, Delta State University, Abraka, Dr Edward Okumagba, said that many corps members were not well utilised in their places of primary assignment because they worked their way to private firms.
He noted that corps members didn’t suffer any redundancy, especially the ones who serve in government parastatals.
Okumagba stated, “The problem is that some corps members during their service year worked their way to certain private organisations and when they start sending them on errands in those places, they begin to complain. I find it ridiculous that many corps members start what they obviously cannot finish by lobbying their way into certain private firms and then turn around to complain about how they are being mistreated.’’
Efforts to get the reaction of the NYSC through the Director, Press and Public Relations, Mrs Adenike Adeyemi, were not successful for she neither picked calls nor replied to a text message sent to her mobile.
When contacted, the NYSC coordinator for Lagos State, Eddy Megwa, said that the management of the NYSC usually conducted a careful and critical examination of every organisation before posting corps members there.
He added that the corps conducts a routine check on the organisations to ensure they were imparting valuable skills to the corps members posted to the firms.
Megwa said, “The reason the NYSC has local government inspectors and zonal inspectors usually visit corps members in their places of primary assignment to inquire on their welfare and ascertain whether they are doing the jobs that they should. All their complaints are recorded and addressed immediately.”
He explained further that whenever corps members complained about their places of primary assignment, they would be immediately re-posted to other organisations where they would be properly utilised to learn and grow.
The NYSC coordinator stated, “When corps members call our attention to any form of underutilisation or mistreatment, we first carry out an investigation and if we find the complaint to be true, we send the corper to a new place for their primary assignment and afterwards, we blacklist organisations found wanting.”
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