A source in the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, Abuja, says the government bowed to pressure not to close orientation camps for NYSC members due to economic considerations.
The Yemi 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.
He said some persons had been given NYSC contracts, adding that closing orientation camps could lead to huge losses.
The source, in an interview with Punch, 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.
Ihekweazu said this while reacting to a question from Punch at a virtual briefing of the World Health Organisation on Thursday.
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, workplaces, and 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 orientation camps’ routine. He, however, said there would be physical distancing.
He stated this on Friday at a sensitisation webinar for the 2020 Batch B Stream II corps members.
Responding to a question, he said, “No changes in the routine just that you will be observing social distancing.”
However, the NYSC Camp Safe Reopening Project Lead, Dr Oyeladun Okunromade, said there would be no religious gatherings on camp.
Okunromade said corps members would be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at the orientation camps, adding that those who test positive for the virus would be isolated at approved NCDC health facilities while those who test negative would be allowed in camps.
She said a maximum of 200 corps members would resume daily, adding that the orientation exercise would still hold for 21 days.
Okunromade said, “There won’t be any form of religious gatherings in the camps. We encourage virtual activities. Mammy Market (activities) have been significantly reduced in line with the new normal. There won’t be any sitting down with friends to dine at the market but there will be take away.”
A virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said he did not have all the details noting that there was a need for proper planning to avoid what is going on at the enrollment centres of the National Identity Management Commission.
“The question is, how do you put people together like that under that condition? They have not told us how they plan to do it. I don’t know how many people will be in the camps. Maybe they have made their plans,” Tomori said.
Medical doctors from different parts of the country have faulted the National Youth Service Corps’ plan to open its orientation camps across the country and mobilise graduates for national service amid the ranging COVID-19 second wave.
This was as prominent virologist, Prof Oyewale Tomori, likened the move by the NYSC as an invitation to disaster.
The Director-General of the NYSC, Brig. Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim disclosed on Friday that corps members would be allowed on NYSC approved camps nationwide from January 19, 2021.
But speaking to Saturday PUNCH, Tomori said the reopening of the NYSC camp at this time was not safe for the country.
He said, “Having people together from different locations in the same place without face masks, washing of hands and the rest is an invitation to disaster.
“The issue of mobilisation, just like reopening of schools, should not be encouraged. Anywhere we have a congregation of people should not be encouraged. The virus is found almost all over the country, so if you are bringing people from different places, regions and locations to camp in a place, then it’s not a wise thing to do.”
Also, an Ogun State-based medical doctor, Dr Oladapo Ogunlaja, told Saturday PUNCH that it would be difficult for the NYSC to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols among the corps members.
Speaking in an interview on Friday, he said, “For now, I don’t think it is a right decision, especially with this raging COVID-19.
Ogunlaja, who is also the NMA Chairman in Ogun State, said, “Are they going to be testing each person before they enter the camps? There are a lot of questions begging for answers. People come from different places and many people are not following COVID-19 protocols.
“How many people have you seen on the street using face masks? How many people do you see washing their hands regularly? How many people do you see using hand sanitiser?”
The NMA chairman equally expressed fear over the planned reopening of schools by the government, saying there was a need to tread with caution.
He added, “Even the schools they want to open, I am so scared. About two or three days ago, we heard about LASUCOM hostel where three students tested positive; they have to close down the medical school, yet we are talking about NYSC camps that would have thousands of young people.
“Why is the government doing this? Indeed, by now, what we should be talking about is a total lockdown.”
Also, the Medical Director of Magodo Specialist Hospital, Lagos, Dr Ayo Olamijulo, expressed concern that the NYSC camp’s opening would escalate COVID-19 cases.
Olamijulo, in an interview with one of our correspondents, noted that the country was still struggling to accommodate people who had already been infected.
Olamijulo said, “The opening of NYSC camps nationwide is a wrong move. Now, it is obvious that we are not there when it comes to attending to issues that need national and international attention. We, as a nation, are very lackadaisical. More positive results would come from the NYSC camps nationwide. It is a pity.
“Nothing is being put in place to safeguard the lives of the innocent young Nigerians who are being asked to move to camps.
“Recall that even in cities and towns now, there are not enough oxygen and bed spaces for those battling with the virus. So, how many health workers are in the camps? How many bed spaces are there? How many useful and needed drugs are there for emergencies, which we are experiencing in this period? We have to be careful not to fall into the hands of our enemies.”
While noting that countries were closing their borders and banning gatherings, Olamijulo urged parents and the youths to consider the situation before making a decision carefully.
He added, “Individual parents should be allowed to weigh the options and decide on what to do. They have the right to ask their children to stay at home and go (for NYSC) when the situation is conducive. At the end of the day, they should know it is their children.”