Judicial Skirts And TRUST Fund For NYSC, BY Emmanuel Onwubiko 

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Emmanuel Onwubiko
The National Youths Service Corp Scheme got off the ground about half a century ago. For the better part of the last fifty years or thereabout,  the NYSC has come under multifaceted externally induced attacks. When the insecurity bedevilling many parts of Nigeria due to the gross incompetence of then president Muhammadu Buhari,  many people called for the abolition of the scheme especially when the postings of corpers to certain flashpoints of the terror attacks were halted so as to safeguard the lives of the youngsters. The management somehow, weathered the storms and sinister attacks.
But the last two years can be considered as some of the most challenging for the scheme with multiple cases of kidnappings of corpers headed for their camps in the North West where terrorists are controlling and holding sway deep into the thick bushes of Zamfara and Katsina State. Many of these corpers who are obviously youngsters from poor and struggling households, were abandoned by government  to languish in the dangerous forests with their abductors who are armed with sophisticated military grade weapons of mass destruction.
Terrorists are also very active in some areas of Sokoto State going by the heightened state of insecurity and kidnappings masterminded by them. The North East is already some of the most terrorism prone places and therefore many Nigerians do not want their young graduates posted to those hostile environments. But wait for it. The NYSC didn’t expect that politicians who ought to protect the scheme would instigate unprecedented attacks through their actions and inactions.
In the last two years too, the NYSC faced some of the fiercest attacks from within the national and state governments with the president appointing a serving youth corper as his minister of culture and creative economy which contravened the enabling Act that set up the scheme.
This was one of the most terrible attacks against the soul of the NYSC and it is such an unmitigated tragedy that both the president and his corper minister disregarded public outcry and stayed on whilst serving as a minister and a youth corper. This show of shame was a crying shame!
The NYSC protested. The members of the public similarly protested especially after the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) exposed this sinister and dangerous decision to violate the law setting up the scheme by making a serving corper a minister. HURIWA it was that divulge the secret that Hanatu Musa Musawa the creative economy minister was a youth corper serving with a law firm in Barnex plaza Wuse two as at the time she was made a cabinet minister. This was the height of governmental profanity which was allowed to slide because the president who committed the anathema was unwilling to listen to the voice of reason. The NYSC couldn’t do so much after the initial official statement confirming the information that was leaked to the media by HURIWA on the corper minister. The NYSC also confronted another kind of fight from a sub-national government official.
As aforementioned, the NYSC also had deep-seated animosity with the Engu state governor Mr. Peter Mbah over questions around the authenticity of the NYSC’s discharge certificate he paraded.
Mr. Peter Mbah went to court and got a favourable judgement which wasn’t appealed against for inexplicable reasons.
The governor even got a N5 million damage awarded against the NYSC. We haven’t been told if the Enugu State governor has received his pay cheque from the NYSC since the NYSC refused to appeal that ‘tyrannical’ judgment overturning their allegation that Peter Mbah forged his NYSC’S discharged certificate. That the Federal High Court is now overruling the issuing authority of the NYSC discharge certificate is to say the least, ludicrous.
Then recently, the NYSC got a court judgment mandating it to let any prospective female corper wishing to wear skirts to do exactly that.
This judgment has counterbalanced the unwise and  contentious decision by the NYSC to let Muslim corpers wear modified type of Hijab on top of their traditional NYSC habit.
When that controversial decision was introduced allowing religious habit to be worn by Myslim corpers,  we warned against it and predicted that legal challenges will emerge that will reshape the dressing modes of the NYSC since the management decided arbitrarily to allow a segment of the corpers to dress in tune with their religious wearing style. Now the harvest of that controversial Hijab order has happened at the Federal High Court and thus the NYSC female corpers can now wear their skirts to render national service to their motherland.
This is precisely because the Federal High Court in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital has declared that it is a human rights violation for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to compel all female corps members to wear trousers as their uniforms.
Justice H.A. Nganjiwa made the declaration while delivering judgment in Suit No: FHC/AI/CS/12/2023 between Miss Ufumaka Glory Ukpanken a corps member with number EΕΒ/Α221514 as an Applicant and the NYSC, Director General of NYSC, and the State Coordinator of NYSC as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Respondents.
In the landmark decision, Justice Nganjiwa ruled that female corps members must be allowed to wear skirts instead of trousers as their uniforms unless the corps members opt for trousers.
The applicant, Miss Ufomaka Ukpanken had sued the NYSC authorities following the harassment and sanction for wearing a skirt instead of the trousers provided as part of her kit.
Miss Ukpanken in an Originating Motion dated January 12, 2023 and filed on January 13, 2023, through her lawyer, I. Ο. Okhidievbie, Esq. sought the enforcement of her fundamental rights, averring that being forced to wear trousers against her religious belief is an infringement of her constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights.
In the judgement delivered on January 31, 2024, a copy of which was was seen on Thursday, Justice Nganjiwa awarded N5 million in favour of the Applicant against all the Respondents as general and exemplary damages for the infringement and violation of her fundamental rights.
The judgement partly read: “That the application is granted as prayed: A DECLARATION is made that the refusal of the Respondent to recognize and allow skirt as part of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) uniform/kit is a breach of the Applicant’s Fundamental Right as contained, guaranteed and protected under Section 38(1) of the 1999 Constitution (As amended) pursuant to the Applicant’s Christian belief, faith and injunction as contained in the Book of Deuteronomy Chapter 22, verse 5 in the Holy Bible (KJV) and, is a misreading of 2nd Schedule, Article 1 (I)(a) of the NYSC Bye Laws, 1999.
“A DECLARATION is made that the use of skirt as her official dressing, uniform/kit by the Applicant forms part of her Fundamental Rights to the Freedom of Religion and Freedom to manifest same in practice observance as CC guaranteed and protect 3/6 Section 38(1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended).
“A DECLARATION is made that the harassment, embarrassment, humiliation and instituted proceedings to “discipline” the Applicant, to which she is currently subjected to in the hands of the agents of the Respondents is a clear infringement on the Fundamental Rights of the Applicant to Freedom of Religion and Freedom to manifest same in her fundamental right to dignity of the human person and from degrading treatment.
Well, the decision of the Court on the skirts is unassailable because the entire fiasco was self inflicted when the NYSC decided to let Religion to fundamentally determine how certain corpers should dress.
These judicial skirts are a welcome development and we look forward to seeing some sexy looking female corpers adorning sweet skirts to serve our fatherland or is it motherland?
Anyway, those aside,  the NYSC also got a gift from the parliament when the long sought after NYSC youths Trust Fund was approved by the Senate awaiting the President’s signature to become a law of the Federation.
The immediate past President, MuhammadubBuhari, a man whose WAECH certificate was allegedly forged failed to sign a similar legislation that was submitted to his desk and departed office in spectacular shame. By the way, when questions surrounding Muhammadu Buhari’s academic qualifications came up, the Supreme Court gave a politically shameful judgement stating that Secondary school certificate can as well be validated by mere evidence of a group photograph produced by the defendant. So Buhari who had no certificate literally,  refused to sign the NYSC’S YOUTH TRUST FUND into law before he exited office.
This is why most people are of the view that the current President should by now be reading the proposed law setting up the NYSC Trust Fund and it is hoped that he wouldn’t spend a day to endorse the law since he was so large-hearted to name two ministers both senior and junior for the small ministry of youths which supervises the NYSC.
The following lines will dwell on what transpired at the Senate led by one of the most lousy president GodswillAkpabio.
The Senate had said the NYSC Trust Fund Bill would address the issue of unemployment currently being experienced by graduates.It noted that the fund was meant to empower corps members with necessary skills during their one year mandatory service.The red chamber also said each of the corps members would be encouraged to access loans  from the Trust Fund for the purpose of establishing small scale businesses based on the skills they’ve acquired at the camps.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Adeyemi Adaramodu, who sponsored the bill, stated this in an interview with journalists in Abuja.He expressed the hope that if signed into law, the NYSC Trust Fund would also not be subjected to abuse like the other existing  social interventions programmes.
“The structure of the Fund does not give room for that kind of sleaze so to say. It can never  give room for it because there is strata and apart from having that strata, there is going to be checks and balances.“Not only that, this is a scheme for young adults of Nigerians and in fact, part of the young adults will be represented on the Board of Trustees that will be formed when it comes into practice.
“So definitely, it’s not going to be, then the structure of the NYSC as it is now there is little changes only for trustees  members and then even procurement.”
Exactly two years ago, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) had reiterated that the idea for the establishment of its Trust Fund is Purposed towards addressing the challenges confronting the scheme including infrastructural deficit across the orientation camps.
NYSC director, press and public relations, Eddy Megwa stated this while debunking a media publication titled “How Nigerian Top Military Officers Secretary Push For Establishment Of NYSC Trust Fund To Steal As Their Retirement Package.”
He urged writers to clarify issues pertaining to the Scheme with the managers before rushing to publish, in order to guard against misleading the  public.
The statement reads in parts, “The attention of NYSC Management has been drawn to a story with the above caption, making the rounds in the social media.
The decision to establish NYSC Trust Fund was conceived during a meeting held with some of the Scheme’s stakeholders; notably: the thirty-six State Governments and FCT Administration; and thereafter strongly supported by civil societies, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as well as Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON).
“Primarily, the Fund is purposed to address the infrastructural deficit besetting the Scheme in the area of camp renovation and maintenance; upgrading, building and maintenance of Corps Members’ Lodges, among others.
“Statutorily, the Scheme as it were, has a tripartite funding arrangement – the Federal, State and Local Governments, with each having varying degree of responsibilities.
“Over the years, the Scheme has equally partnered governmental and non-governmental institutions in the area of providing start-up capitals to Corps Members to fund their business initiatives under the NYSC Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development programme which is a direct answer to the often asked rhetorical question: After the NYSC what next?.
“The Trust Fund will provide funds to a greater percentage of Corps Members trained under the NYSC Skill Acquisition programme to start-up their businesses.
“It is appropriate to clarify that the Fund which passed public hearing, with civil societies, the academia, among others, fully represented is not a pool of slush fund meant to gratify the financial cravings of top military officers as erroneously stated by the writer of the story,” he added.
As someone whose life revolves around defending human rights and also has a unique passion for the NYSC, I think the Trust Fund is an idea whose time has come.
The ball is now in the court of president Tinubu to do the needful so the Fund can roll out and for the benefits to trickle down to the Nigerian youths who have passed through the scheme. We must warn that bureaucratic bottle necks must be kept far from this noble interventionist idea of a Trust Fund for NYSC. The fund is not the POS of anyone in government and we expect the fund to be administered by persons of unimpeachable character.
Emmanuel Onwubiko Writes From Abuja.

 

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