By Emmanuel Onwubiko

“Every trouble is an opportunity to win the grace of strength.” –George Hodges.

“If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself. –D.L. Moody.

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has just inaugurated a new Director General in the person of Brigadier-General Dogara Ahmed who as I write must have listed out the core of his agenda following the handing over of the mantle of leadership by the Acting DG Mrs. Christisna Uba around 11am today. The inauguration of the new leader in NYSC has happened when millions of Nigerians were forced to have a strong rethink regarding the quality of leadership in the NYSC when the last substantive DG who was dismissed from office by President Muhammadu Buhari held sway. Luckily, the few months spent by the first ever female DG of NYSC has worked so hard to repair and fix the damage caused to the public image of the NYSC by the immediate past DG Brigadier-General Fadah. So the opening quotations are apt. Be that as it may, we recall that just before the end of the working hours of last week, the media reported that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the appointment of Yusha’u Dogara Ahmed as the Director-General (DG) of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

One of the online newspapers in Abuja stated that the NYSC Director, Press and Public Relations, Eddy Megwa, confirmed to them on Sunday that Brigadier-General Ahmed will officially be assuming office as the new DG Monday today by 11am which has already happened  as I write. Megwa noted that the Brigadier-General will be taking over from Christy Uba who was named the overseer of the scheme following the removal of the 18th DG, Muhammad Fadah, in November 2022. Mrs Uba is the NYSC Director of Information and Communications Technology and the first woman to lead the agency since its establishment in 1973. The three months or so she took over from the ethically challenged hierarchy that was in place can be adjudged as heroic. Her wonderful leadership acumen manifested in the dozens of published admonitions she made to the participants of the scheme and importantly, her unique feminine touch to the leadership of a government agency that has been dominated by Men since over 49 years of its existence, is a strong argument for the National Assembly to look at how the enabling Act of NYSC can be amended to remove the institutional gender disparity and to also whittle down the singular dominance of the men in military uniform of the prestigious position of the DG of NYSC. This is an argument for another piece soon. But this time around, we are here independently to suggest ways and means of sustaining the phenomenal achievements of growth, stability,  respectability that the immediate past Acting DG has brought to bear and importantly, to remind the new DG that he has recorded achievements made by the onetime DG of the NYSC Major General Shuaibu Ibrahim to incorporate into his leadership magnum opus so as to promote the NYSC as the most dominant stabilising force for national unity and integration in Nigeria. 

The new DG should also be guided by a record of the cataclysmic mistakes and mismanagement of the last military DG of the NYSC that for the first time in the nearly half a century history of the NYSC was sacked by the President. However, the interim hierarchy put in place by President Muhammadu Buhari in the person of the first ever female Acting DG of NYSC turned out to be a round peg in a round hole and a near perfectionist who brought in excellence and professionalism to bear in the daily leadership of the NYSC for the past three Months and she has stabilised the place which now gave rise to the emergence of the new DG that has already mounted the podium and is expected to hit the ground running without much ado. The new DG is lucky to have some of the finest senior Directors to work with who are patriotic, professional, efficient and effective in their own capacities.  I got to admire the NYSC when a big contractor gave me a hint of how transparent the procurement system is in the NYSC especially under the past DG Brigadier-General Shuaibu Ibrahim who is now a Major General. I will conclude by speaking to just a few of the achievements made by the DG who got promoted to Major General whilst serving in NYSC due to the extensive great milestones he recorded in NYSC-Major General Shuaibu Ibrahim. But first let me give the new DG three leadership secrets of a successful leader that I read up in the last one year from one of the best books out of the over ten thousand copies of books of diverse genre that I have gathered in my library.  

The first guide to the new DG of NYSC is that he must under no circumstances ‘Be a Time Thief’. The author who would be identified after the few citations from his book are exhausted herewith, stated that the most frequent executive complaint is lack of time – enough hours in the day to get everything done. Yet these same executives become a lot less aware of time when it’s someone else’s. The quickest way to make a lasting negative impression is to waste someone’s time: use it cavalierly, or take up more of it than you need. If you don’t have something to say, don’t set up a meeting just to make a contact. A contact who is really worth having will respond to I just wanted to meet you’ by making sure you never meet again. Don’t make people waste their time in your office. It is exasperating to have to sit in someone’s office while that person takes prolonged telephone calls. What is even more exasperating is to endure the chatty call that could have been easily handled with I am in a meeting. May I call you back in a few minutes? If you must take a phone call when you have someone in your office, excuse yourself, and then keep it short. This is one situation most heads of institutional agencies in Nigeria find themselves. The author however said there are three exceptions to telephone behaviour: when you are training a subordinate and you want him to hear your telephone technique or to learn first-hand about the facts of a particular situation; when you decide that the call might be germane to the meeting at hand; and when the person you are with might be favourably impressed by the person who is calling. The author who is in the USA went down historical line by recalling that in  the early 1970s, Vice President Spiro Agnew, whom I had met once or twice, was trying to reach me about my representing the literary rights to a golf short story he had written entitled I Can Play Better Than This, But I Never Have’.

The author wrote also that: “I had tried to call him from my Chicago hotel, but he was unavailable, and he once had asked where he could reach me. I had said that I would be either in the hotel or in the office of A. C. Spectorski, editor at that time of Playboy magazine.“While my meeting was going on in Spectorski’s office his secretary buzzed him and said, “The Vice President of the United States is on the line for Mr McCormack. Although the call had nothing to do with the business at hand, our meeting took on a whole new aura of importance.” Secondly, the new DG must master his Own Turf and by that i mean he must study his new environment and be a master of his environment in a humble and ready to learn formalities. Humility, honesty, accessibility are great leadership attributes.The author said there are times when one of the best sales techniques in the world is simply to ‘show up’ – to hop on a plane and go wherever you have to go to meet someone at his convenience, at his office. Sometimes this is dictated by protocol, sometimes by a sense of the situation. But as a general rule you are far better off having meetings at your own office.

This has very little to do with ‘power offices’ and everything to do with territorial imperative, Even if all you have is a ‘power cubicle’, it is still best to meet on your own turf. First of all, it is your theatre. You can exercise control over a meeting in your office that you simply don’t have elsewhere. Second, because of the territorial imperative, a meeting on your turf brings with it a sense of ‘invasion’ by the other party. There is tension there, however sublimated it may be. Simply by being polite and making the other person feel comfortable you can diffuse that tension, and earn a certain amount of confidence and trust even before the meeting begins.The only office affectation I allow myself is keeping my lights very low. Otherwise, to me, a ‘powerful’ office is either a very big one or one that is neat, clean and efficient, a place where one can tell that business gets done. I must confess that Brigadier-General Shuaibu Ibrahim as he then was the first time he became DG of NYSC practiced this principle of always coming punctual to his office and he was a lovely master of his environment and loved affectionately by the staff and management then. 

(Continued on

The last but obviously the most fundamental point on achieving success in leadership, the new DG must mean what he says. Trust is very important.  

The author gave the following exposition of this point; “Dow Finsterwald, former PGA Champion, now head pro at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, once asked me for a favour. He had seen a print of a Leroy Neiman painting of him playing with Arnold Palmer, and he asked if we could get him a signed edition for his clubhouse. I called one of our executives who dealt with Neiman on a regular basis. He said there would be no problem, and I conveyed this news to Dow.

“A month later I called that executive -I was in Japan at the time and began telling him in so many words how, early in my career, I had promised to do something for someone, hadn’t done it, and how it had come back to haunt me. As I continued, it became clear that the executive had no idea what I was talking about. But as I approached the end of my story he blurted out, ‘Oh my God, the Neiman print!’ We shipped it off a week later.

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The author said that business promises are made all the time, and almost as often they are broken needlessly creating a horrible impression. I must remind the new DG that the then Major General Shuaibu Ibrahim-led management of NYSC transformed the institution to a revenue-generating enterprise that contributed huge revenue to the Treasury Single Account of the federation from such businesses as bakery, packaging of table clean drinking water amongst other services. The then DG also established TV and radio stations which are the first in the history of NYSC in nearly 50 years.  The then DG kept to his promises. 

I say to him: “If you say you will return a call the next day and you don’t that’s enough to influence an entire relationship. There’s no business law that says you ever have to return any phone call, just don’t say you will.”

It is also unwise to put yourself in a position of speaking on behalf of your company if you know there’s a possibility, however slight, that your company won’t back you up. To the new DG, I repeat what the author wrote that “if you promise someone you will deliver something in a week and it gets there a month later, its worse than you’re not having promised it in the first place.”(From the book ‘What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School’, by Mark H. McCormack). 

I suggest that the new DG gets this book and read. I can borrow him my copy if he doesn’t have it already. There’s every likelihood that he had it given the multifaceted professional trainings that military officers are exposed to. 

Still on the issue of trust, the new DG must work on those noble leadership principles manifested by the immediate past Acting DG Mrs. Christiana Ubah and the one time DG Major General Shuaibu Ibrahim.  

This trust issue is critical given that some persons very influential in the society are already canvassing position detrimental to the continuous existence of the NYSC. 

Already some of these extensively media influential individuals have questioned if the NYSC is still relevant in the contemporary times buffeted by widespread insecurity and violence threatening lives and property of the citizens.  

So he, the new DG needs to work hard, be accommodating to good ideas, listening to his Directors who mean well for the NYSC so the people of Nigeria will continue to trust the NYSC. The position is also not an opportunity for him to create jobs for the boys. The NYSC is such a very serious place to accommodate frivolity of ethnicity or religious bigotry. 

Just like millions of Nigerians, I expect that the new DG can work harmoniously with the in-house staff and senior Directors to continue to build up the NYSC to become a citadel of leadership excellence.  

Importantly, the need to realize the NYSC YOUTHS TRUST FUND is critical before May 19th 2023 exit of President Muhammadu Buhari who has done a lot to promote the growth of the NYSC as a National institution.  

This trust fund will give skills to become wealth creators to NYSC participants and curtail the unprecedented rate of ‘japa’ or migration of youngsters from Nigeria due to near collapse of governance in the Country to the Western societies in search of greener pastures.  

* Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria