When he graduated from the University of Benin in September 2019, Adewale Bello's plan was simple.

The Theatre Arts graduate had applied for and won a scholarship to study for a masters degree at a South African institution.

The scholarship was deferred till November 2020 because, first, he had to complete the mandatory one-year national service for Nigerian graduates below the age of 30.

The 27-year-old expected that he would be deployed by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in November 2019, and then hop on to South Africa immediately service year ended.

An unfortunate delay in paperwork meant he missed the Batch C deployment last year, and then he had to wait for the first deployment in 2020.

Bello adjusted his plan, but it remained simple - if he made the Batch A deployment early in 2020, then he could still make it to South Africa early in 2021 and make up for lost time.

He registered for deployment in February, but he didn't get a call-up letter when 2020 Batch A corps members did.

Nigeria's tertiary institutions continue to produce graduates in the tens of thousands every year, too many for the NYSC's camps nationwide to accommodate at the same time, so a typical batch deployment would be further divided into two streams that would stay in camps at different times, usually a month apart.

Bello made the second stream, so he would have to wait just a little bit longer with his scholarship now delicately walking a tightrope.

Nigeria announced its index case of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on February 27. The novel disease was already spreading wildly across the world at the time, and many world governments were already putting restrictions on social and economic activities.

The coronavirus pandemic has crippled social and economic activities in Nigeria since the government started implementing restrictions in March. Some businesses are still prohibited from reopening five months later [AFP]
The coronavirus pandemic has crippled social and economic activities in Nigeria since the government started implementing restrictions in March. Some businesses are still prohibited from reopening five months later [AFP]
AFP

The NYSC on March 18 shut down all orientation camps across the country as a precautionary measure to stop the spread of the highly infectious disease.

2020 Batch A Stream One corp members who had been in camp for only one week out of the scheduled three were told to leave immediately.

Despite the interruption, the NYSC assigned places of primary assignment to the corps members, an affirmation that their service year had commenced.

This consideration has not been extended to other prospective corps members in Stream Two, like Bello, who have been devastated by the disruption.

"I have already lost the scholarship," he told Pulse.

Like Bello, Lawrence Ogiriki also had a really simple plan that relied heavily on his NYSC deployment earlier this year.

The Sociology and Anthropology graduate had a business plan and business partners to help him transport fabrics from Onitsha, Anambra State, and sell in certain parts of his native Bayelsa where he believed the product would turn a good profit.

He had some money saved, but also hoped to boost the capital for his business from his NYSC monthly stipend, earlier this year increased from N18,000 to N33,000.

The current uncertainty that now hangs over his deployment, and the biting economic effect of the coronavirus have put a significant dent in his plan.

"It was really frustrating to hear that they stopped the entire process because of the virus and it has really destroyed a lot of things for me.

"Even the little money I managed to save before the virus has been used," the 24-year-old said.

An employment opportunity for which he had a great chance of getting last month fell through because he didn't have an NYSC discharge certificate.

He said an NYSC call-up letter could have also got him some sort of consideration for the employment, but he didn't have that to present too.

"It was very painful because these are opportunities one is not supposed to miss just like that," Ogiriki lamented.

Nigeria has recorded the third highest number of coronavirus cases in Africa behind South Africa and Egypt [Twitter/@NCDCgov]
Nigeria has recorded the third highest number of coronavirus cases in Africa behind South Africa and Egypt [Twitter/@NCDCgov]

Edwin Lawani, a Project Management Technology graduate from the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), missed out on a similar opportunity to secure a job at an insurance firm after the shutout from NYSC.

The 25-year-old faced financial difficulties with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and was forced to be prolific in applying for various jobs.

He was pleasantly surprised when he heard back from a potential employer and enthusiastically attended a scheduled interview.

The interview didn't end well for one specific reason.

"I hated myself when I was told to bring my NYSC discharge certificate.

"I was even told that assuming I have call up letter that they would still favour me but there was nothing to show them," he said.

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 last week announced that it has advised the NYSC to start planning ahead of resumption in future phases of Nigeria's response.

"We will work closely with them to design policies that may allow this to happen in the future," PTF coordinator, Sani Aliyu, said at a media briefing.

That resumption won't happen until at least September as the PTF, for the third time, also announced the extension of the second phase of the eased lockdown for another four weeks.

Even when that resumption happens, NYSC Director-General, Brigadier-General Shuaibu Ibrahim, has made it clear on more than one occasion that Batch A Stream One corps members will first be recalled to orientation camps to complete the remaining parts of training interrupted in March.

This means more waiting time for Stream Two members like the ones that spoke to Pulse and they're not too thrilled by it.

"I feel we are enlightened already about this pandemic; for crying out loud, we are graduates and we know the precautions and preventive measures to take to protect ourselves particularly because the pandemic isn't something that is going anywhere soon," Bello said.

NYSC's State Coordinator in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Walida Isa, told Pulse that camps all over the country are already near complete readiness to take back corps members with all safety measures put in place.

"The PTF will come in soon to look at how prepared we are with the protocols and, if they are satisfied, they will give us the go-ahead to reopen," she said.

An Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo suggested to President Muhammadu Buhari in June to consider suspending orientation camp exercises for two years, and simply deploy corps members to their places of primary assignment.

The Osinbajo-led committee told President Buhari (right) that suspending camp exercises and directly deploying corps members would ensure there is no backlog in the national service placement pipeline [Presidency]
The Osinbajo-led committee told President Buhari (right) that suspending camp exercises and directly deploying corps members would ensure there is no backlog in the national service placement pipeline [Presidency]

Lawani agrees with the committee's recommendation and believes it's the best way for the NYSC to move forward from the coronavirus disruption.

Ogiriki has a suggestion a bit more radical if the NYSC continues to stall while the coronavirus continues to linger.

"It will be wise for them to issue all of us who have registered the discharge certificate, since we cannot take up jobs without them," he suggested.

Since February, over 46,000 coronavirus cases have been recorded all over Nigeria, with nearly 1,000 fatalities.

And just like for a lot of everyone else, the longer the pandemic lasts, the longer it remains an impediment for prospective corps members who just want to serve and move on with their lives.