The National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, recently announced a new fee for intending corps members, with a stipulation that newly enlisted graduates pay N4, 000 for online call-up letters in what the agency has termed “computerised mobilisation”. That novel process, enabled by a private firm, SIDMACH Technologies Nigeria Limited, in a Public Private Partnership, PPP, no doubt will eliminate the rigour of travel to schools for letters, a point duly highlighted by Anthony Ani, NYSC’s director, Corps Mobilisation.

The NYSC’s explanation—most recently by its director general, Johnson Olawumi — that the payment is optional, has not turned off a wave of criticisms from Nigerians who understandably view the policy exploitative. Widespread concerns have found fillip in the agency’s conflicting explanations on what purpose the new charge will exactly serve.

While Mr. Ani and the DG said the amount defrays the cost of printing the call-up letters, Olubunmi Aderibigbe, NYSC’s director, Press and Public Relation, told Nigerians the amount would enhance the “operation and provision of infrastructural facilities in all NYSC camps and its 37 secretariats and offices in the 774 local governments nationwide”.

The decision to computerize the mobilization procedure, a supposedly simple process tangled for years by needless bureaucracy, should no doubt be encouraged. Yet, as promising as it appears, a N4, 000 price tag pricks not a few in a country where poverty remains prevalent and income is fleeting and difficult to come by. The claim by the NYSC that the policy will remove the risk in travelling long distances for call-up letters, is scrappy at best. This is so because corps members will still be saddled with traveling even longer and more perilous distances to their orientation camps across the country.

If military and paramilitary interns are not billed to maintain their training camps, why should NYSC members be asked to do so? And, speaking of infrastructure at the camps, what exactly does that entail? The NYSC has also claimed the money would be used in providing internet access at the camps. Great idea! But at what cost would that be relative to the charge per corps member. For an agency with capital budget outlay less than a single percent of its entire spending plan, NYSC should seek innovative ways to raise more funding if it ever finds vital programmes to pursue. It should refrain from imposing irrelevant charges on young graduates and their suffering sponsors.

In a nation where scandals compete to outflank another, there is a likelihood of promoters of this policy holding back for criticisms to abate only to forge on. What is clear regardless, is that NYSC will find no justification for this new drive, not even its so-called Public Private Partnership. The idea of PPP in Nigeria, as with other innovative models-gone-awry, has become a bogus cover for dubious government officials who attempt to trump common sense when caught in questionable deals. Suffice here is the fatal Immigration recruitment overseen early this year by the Interior Minister, Patrick Abba Moro. As it became clear, Mr. Moro singlehandedly engineered the tragically flawed process of employing more than half a million unemployed Nigerians by charging each applicant a thousand naira each even when he knew there were no jobs to offer. The minister claimed PPP with a company called Drexel Nigeria Limited. The company pocketed nearly a billion naira while at least 15 of the applicants died in avoidable stampedes across the country.

Mr. Moro has remained a key cabinet member despite the outrage that followed. Worse, he has been accused in a recent PREMIUM TIMES’ report of conniving with a private firm, Greater Washington Limited, in a phoney National Passport delivery service designed to defraud unsuspecting passport applicants. Again, the minister rehashed the well-known theme of “cutting edge technology and Public Private Partnership”.

The investigations by the House of Representatives into this new fee, is welcome. The House should clearly establish the essence of the N4, 000. Overall, whatever new plans there is should not disregard the primary aim of the NYSC created in 1973 by the Gowon regime, which was to promote cultural exchange and inter-ethnic reintegration after the civil war. If the agency has outlived this purpose, let its establishment law be reviewed.

A new NYSC should present young graduates yet another opportunity to skim off some value and marketable skill for themselves after passing through a scruffy university system. Instead of expecting pecuniary gains, NYSC should seek to complement the formal education system by helping in transforming youth in their care into entrepreneurs instead of job seekers.