The Federal Government has again snubbed a recommendation by the Economic Sustainability Committee led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and decided to re-open orientation camps nationwide next Tuesday amid rising COVID-19 infections.
The Osinbajo-led committee had in June 2020 recommended that while the National Youth Service Corps programme could continue, the three-week orientation exercise should be suspended for two years.
The recommendation read in part, “The immediate focus in the education sector is to address the disruptions caused by the pandemic and ensuring social distancing measures at all levels of education.
“In a similar context, consideration will be given to suspending the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp exercises for at least 24 months while allowing deployment to places of primary assignment. This will ensure that there is no backlog in the national service placement pipeline.”
It was learnt that when the spread of COVID-19 dropped late last year, camps were re-opened in November but the nation again recorded a surge.
A top health official said the increase in activities including the re-opening of NYSC camps and the #EndSARS protests contributed to the spike in COVID-19 cases which has now exceeded 100,000.
He said, “The whole world knows that increased human interactions lead to an increase in COVID-19 infections. Even in the UK and the USA, schools have been re-opened and shut at different times but the key thing is to reduce human interaction as much as possible.
“The truth is that re-opening of NYSC camps is avoidable. Corps members could have been given virtual orientation lectures and posted to their places of primary assignment. That was what the Vice-President’s committee recommended. There is no way these camps will not record infections.
“Will there not be human interactions? Wouldn’t there be physical activities, sports or marching parades? Would corps members be wearing masks inside the hostels?”
A presidential aide, however, said he had no clue as to why the recommendation of the vice president was ignored.
“We are all surprised that the NYSC is going ahead with re-opening orientation camps at a time when infections are increasing. It is completely avoidable because the orientation can be done online and corps members can get their postings afterwards,” the aide said.
However, when asked why the government was going ahead with the orientation exercise, a source in the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development told this newspaper that the government had bowed to pressure due to economic considerations.
He said some persons had been given NYSC contracts, adding that closing orientation camps could lead to huge losses.
The source said, “About 90 per cent of the budget of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development goes to the NYSC. You can check it. There is no way the government will suspend the orientation programme for two years. The orientation camp is a key component of the NYSC. Contracts have been given.
“It was just like when the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs insisted on continuing with the school feeding programme even when schools were shut during the lockdown.”
Speaking on why the Federal Government was going ahead with the orientation exercise despite the recommendation by Osinbajo’s committee, the Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the government could not stop all activities because of COVID-19.
He said, “From the beginning of this outbreak, every country has had to make hard decisions and if you are not in that decision-making seat, you probably don’t understand how hard this is. Do you stop a child from going to school for one year or do you manage this outbreak and close schools? We cannot afford to close down schools, close everywhere, working places, close ports. It is just not possible.
“So, we have got to find a way to continue moving forward with certain aspects of daily life in a controlled way, mitigating risks as much as possible.”
The NCDC boss said measures had been put in place just like in November 2020 to ensure that NYSC camps were safe.
Meanwhile, the Director of the NYSC, Brig. Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, stated that there would be no changes in the routine at the orientation camps. He, however, said there would be physical distancing.