National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) Members and Elections in Nigeria.
The National Youth Service Corps stems from the spirit of the 3R (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration) instituted by General Gowon. Although this policy was principally concerned with undoing the ills of the Civil War. The Scheme went a long way to integrate the nation between 1973 and to date. The Scheme significantly contributed to the nation’s integration between 1973 and the present. Aside from its integrative rating, the Scheme significantly contributed to the uneven distribution of skilled labor across the nation. Towards the tail end of the 1980s for instance, the majority of the rural dwellers in the country became exposed to many of the social derivatives that were associated with the Scheme. The Scheme has over the years assisted many of the states and rural villages with deficient manpower in filling the void.
According to Ejela Emenako, both the urban and rural areas in the country have benefitted considerably from the contributions of Corps members at the places of primary assignment and the entire host communities right from its year of establishment. It is important to note that the broad objective of the Scheme aims at ensuring the equitable distribution of members of the Service Corps and the effective utilization of their skills in areas of national need. As a result of this background, it was thought worthy to utilize the availability of Corps members in virtually every part of Nigeria in election-related matters in 2011 to forestall the reoccurrence of the shortcomings of the 2007 General election.
An Overview of Elections in Nigeria.
Election is one of the critical issues that are central to most of the crises in Nigeria since independence. Historically, since 1959, questions have been asked about election integrity in Nigeria. Both the Regional and Federal elections of 1964 and 1965 were reportedly associated with allegations of widespread irregularities and rigging, molestation of electoral officials, abduction of candidates, and use of security agents to intimidate voters and facilitate election malpractices in most parts of the country. The political instability and cracks that followed, were partially responsible for the 13 years of military intervention in the country between 1966 and 1979. The struggle to transition to civil rule continued until 1999. lt was observed that the standard and conduct of the election process kept getting compromised and bastardized.
There were also reports of heavy manipulation of election results between 1999 and 2007. It was sequel to the above that the country in conjunction with the National Youth Service Corps and the Independent National Electoral Commission decided to incorporate Corps members in the conduct and management of the country’s electoral process in 2011.
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and the Electoral Process in Nigeria, 2011 – 2019:
The 2011 election presented the country with the opportunity to test-run its new approach to the conduct of free and fair elections. To improve the accuracy and credibility of the voter register, INEC prior to the election, re-registered all voters using a biometric data system that included a photograph and complete set of fingerprints using the trained members of the National Youth Service Corps.
In pursuance of the above, the utilization of the members of the National Youth Service Corps as Registration Officer I and Il in different Local Government Areas (LGAs) as a matter of fact, in the anal of elections in Nigeria, marked the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria that over 90 percent of the ad hoc staff recruited by the electoral commission were drawn from a pool of university graduates performing their one year of mandatory national service with the NYSC. These Corps members demonstrated patriotism, commitment to democracy, and at times heroism during the electoral process and they maintained positive attitudes and dedication despite enormous obstacles. Most Corps members were exhausted from overseeing the elections within the space of four weeks in a row and sleeping in polling stations overnight before and after each election day and paying out of their pockets for their transportation and food when their stipends were delayed. Be that as it may, it should be noted that the NYSC members increased public confidence through their roles as poll workers and voter registration officials, as they were seen as more neutral than past officials. they had become a strong component of all the subsequent elections that were held between 2011 and 2019.
To appreciate the effort of the corps members, the INEC Chairman, declared in a statement; “there cannot be any elections in Nigeria without the NYSC. I have said it before, I want to say it again and I will not be tired of saying it, that the youth Corps members are the most dedicated, educated, patriotic, willing, able, readily available, and the most committed election duty staff in Nigeria “
The Corps members’ role goes beyond the election. It is a lot more focused on the election process. This is tied to the fact that Corps members are always available for voter education, registration, display of voters register, and election day duty. As presiding officers, they count votes, record, and take results to collation centers throughout the different locations in the country through the land and sea.
Challenges of The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and the Electoral Process in Nigeria
The successes recorded in the country’s electoral process through the involvement of Corps members were not without serious challenges.
- Lack of proper provisions for transportation and other logistics arrangements
Starting with the 2011 election for instance, most Corps members were stranded in the various polling units due to the absence of a working arrangement to transport both the Corps members and the electoral materials to and from the polling units. The situation as witnessed in some parts of Ibadan, Oyo State became very challenging after the election because the Corps members found it difficult to transport the election materials back to the collation centres and as a result had to resort to being transported to the collation centres by some concerned members of the communities they were posted to serve. Another instance was during the 2015 Governorship election in Bayelsa State, most of the Corps members on election duty were transported to the various polling units with election materials via water to places like Oproma in Southern, Also, in Ondo State, during the Governorship election in 2017, some of the Corps members that were bringing back results from laje had a boat accident at night. It, however, took the timely intervention of the Nigerian Navy who were in the background to come to their rescue.39 This explains partly the challenging situation and the sacrifice of Corps members during the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
Also, Due to some security guidelines such as restriction of movement on election day, Corps members find it difficult to move election materials to their polling units.
security was a major challenge to the Corps members on election duties. During the 2011 election, for instance, at least ten persons lost their lives while others sustained fatal injuries including Corps members at the Independent National Electoral Commission’s office in Suleja, Niger State. On the day of the Presidential Election two separate explosions were reported in Borno and Kaduna State while sporadic shootings were reported in Jos. It was however estimated by the Human Right Group that at least 800 persons were killed during this period, including eleven members of the National Youths Service Corps on election duty in Bauchi. This went a long way to influence the public opinion that the government and the Independent National Electoral Commission did not make adequate provisions for the security of members of the National Youth Service Corps upon which the commission depended for the success of the 2011 elections.
It is sufficient to say that the Independent National Electoral Commission faces a significant challenge because of the rising waves of insecurity in the nation and the mass relocation of Corps members from the North-East and North-West due to the effects of Boko Haram, banditry, and religious extremism. The above implies that the locations would lack the necessary number of Corps members for national assignment. According to Ocheme Mark, the absence of IT-inclined graduates and youths in good numbers in most of the rural communities in the core north means that the Independent National Electoral Commission will struggle to assemble the needed number of graduates to conduct elections in such area.
- Accommodations and welfare
Reports shows that after the active engagement within three weeks in a row, there were cases of inadequate provisions of accommodation for the Corps members who were posted for election duties outside their host Communities and as a result of this, many of the Corps members on election duty found it very difficult to cope with the harsh realities. Some corps members admitted to being abandoned to sleep in uncompleted buildings and others in dilapidated primary schools.
Also the lack of adherence to the welfare and benefits/ hazard insurance. A vivid example of this; A former member of the National Youth Service Corps, Stephen Alao, who was involved in an accident during the 2019 general election, while serving in Kebbi State, has called on both the NYSC and the Independent National Electoral Commission, to pay him the compensation that was agreed upon at the National Assembly. Alao shared how his health challenge has rendered him almost unable to do anything.
- Adequate security should be provided for Corps members on election duties.
- Adequate accommodation and arrangements should be provided for Corps members.
- Corps members should be exposed to IT Trainings and INEC assignments during the 21 days Orientation Course and the service year in anticipation of their engagements in election and other related duties.
- The welfare of the corps members should be of utmost priority, especially in the discharge of their national duties and responsibilities.
Since its initial involvement in the country’s political process, the National Youth Service Corps has grown to play a crucial role in all succeeding elections. The relative distribution of trained and qualified graduate members of the Scheme throughout the country as a result of its deployment and posting policy, which has ensured that each part of the country gets a trained and qualified graduate to serve within the period of one year, has made it possible for Corps members to participate in the conduct of elections. Since Corps members are not permitted to serve in their state of origin, they are non-partisan, and this has allowed the Scheme to support elections in the nation since 2011.
 Ejela Emenako (Ed.), (1986), 12 Years of National Youth Service Corps in Nigeria: 1973-1985, National Youth Service Corps Directorate Headquarters, Lagos. P. 82
 Arhe Osumah. 2016. Paradigm Shift: Youth Engagement in the Conduct of the 2015 Elections in Nigeria. Journal of African Elections.