Ayo Oyoze Baje
The graphic pictures of the pitiable plight of several members of the National Youth Service Corps(NYSC) sleeping on bare floor, on the eve of the postponed Presidential and National Assembly elections, drew public outrage and honestly so. They deserved a far better treatment.
Placed on a rather insulting salary of N19,000 per month by a power-poaching political class, many of who are old enough to be their grand fathers, the promised package of N35,000, safe and secure accommodation in addition to feeding by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) was too compelling to ignore.
This was more so, to the 400,000 youth corpers who constituted about 40 per cent of the INEC ad-hoc staff. But sad to note that here is Nigeria, where not a few promises made by the political leaders hardly see the light of the day, the corpers became some of the most vicious victims, precisely on February 15, 2019.
The torrid tales of their criminal neglect were similar across the country; from Calabar to Kano, Shogunle to Sokoto. Many of them who reported for the national assignment as early as 9.00 am with the passion of patriots, were left unattended to up till the wee hours of the day of the election. What a rude shock it was, only to be told that Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC Chairman decided to postpone the elections for the reasons of logistics and inclement weather, barely six hours to the commencement!
The corpers were abandoned to sleep on bare floors, in open spaces and buses, even as some were robbed and left naked to the elements of wind and cold. These sordid acts run against the grains of setting up the NYSC, on the 22nd of May, 1973 with the support of the Supreme Military Council(SMC) and the Federal Executive Council(FEC), then led by now retired General Yakubu Gowon. So, how would he and the likes of Prof. Adebayo Adedeji and then Colonel Ahmadu Ali, wherever they are now, feel as the first Chairman and first Director about this show of national shame?
It is worthy of note that the laudable scheme came after the 30-month civil war, that ended in January 1970. The NYSC programme was established under Decree No.24 of May 22, 1973, via the NYSC Act. The aim was to properly integrate the country and heal the wounds of the war. In Gowon’s words: “we were convinced that while force could keep Nigeria one, only greater understanding and interaction, particularly amongst our youth, could make us into a truly united nation”. But as usual, this dark scenario of the tragic treatment meted out to the corpers triggers the quaint questions. Decades after, are we truly united, more understanding of our differences and ready to evolve an egalitarian society for the good of all? The answers are obvious.
It is gratifying to note that hundreds of thousands of the over 2. 8 million of those who have served in the scheme have over the years positively impacted on the quality of life of members of their host communities. Some have healed the sick, built clinics, roads, bridges and culverts, offered scholarship schemes, and given extra lessons to prepare students for examinations.
Unfortunately, others have fallen helpless preys as victims of ritual murders, extra-judicial killings, sectarian riots, kidnapping, religious extremism, causalities to road accidents and Boko Haram insurgency. The gnawing pain is that some have died as endangered species, mostly in preventable deaths.
For instance, as at August 2018 the riveting news headline that over 50 corps members got killed in 7 months is simply heart-rending! The post-election violence that erupted in some states of the north such as Bauchi, Kaduna, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kano, Adamawa and Yobe after the Presidential election left in its wake several dusty deaths. One could recall that of an Ogun state- born male youth corper, whose father died when he was a toddler and who sponsored himself through school. He had his precious life wasted in the twinkle of an eye by some vampires opposed to western education. The grief for the old mother was untold.
There was the reported mindless murder of a female corps member, Linda Angela Igwetu, then 23 years old in Abuja, that generated an out-pouring of emotion. And that was because she was gunned down by a trigger-happy policeman in company of her friends, a day to her passing out parade! That is Nigeria for you, where successive governments have serially failed in protecting the lives of the citizens.
In spite of the noble gesture by the then Pre- sident Goodluck Jonathan-led administration to pacify the families of the victims with a monetary compensation of N5 million, as well as approval of an automatic employment in the Federal Civil Service for one graduate from each of the immediate families of the slain NYSC members none could be placated.
And that is because life is precious, priceless and irreplaceable. How one wishes that our political leaders as well as the perpetrators of such pure evil act of killing innocent souls of those serving our dear nation take cognizance of the Judgment Day. How would they feel should any of their children or relatives fall victims to this crime against humanity? How would they feel?
The time has therefore, come for our political leaders to take the critical element of Trust between them and the led majority, more seriously. While it is easy for them to fulfill promises made to family members, political sycophants, associates, cronies and concubines of graft, they often find it difficult to do so for those who voted them into positions of authority.
But they should remember that when they swear to any oath of office it must fall in line with Section 14 Sub-Section2(b) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended; to protect the lives and property of the citizens as well as provide for their welfare.
So, when that is not done for our youth, including youth corps members who are the potential leaders of tomorrow what future are building for them?
Baje writes from Lagos