By OLAKUNLE OLAFIOYE
The National Youth Service Corps, NYSC is fighting a fresh battle. It is a battle that has once again threatened to dim the primary significance of the scheme, which has continued to serve as one of the major tools by the government to unify Nigerian youths from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
In the last six months no fewer than four corps members had lost their lives in controversial circumstances while undergoing the one-year mandatory national service.
Three corps members, Chinyerom Nwenenda Elechi, Ifedolapo Oladepo and Monday Asuquo Ukeme died during the three- week orientation course of the 2016 Batch ‘B’ (Stream I) in Bayelsa, Kano and Zamfara states respectively.
In December 2016, 27-year- old Elechi Chinyerom died after she allegedly bled and vomited on arrival at the Kaiama camp in Bayelsa State. Her demise was preceded by the death of another corps member in the state, Ogundare Opeyemi, who reportedly slumped and died in Nembe. Opeyemi was said to have died a day after he had a party with his colleagues in his area of primary assignment.
On Tuesday, November 29, the NYSC orientation camp in Kano State was thrown into mourning following the death of a female corps member, Ifedolapo Olawepo. Her death was attributed to an untreated renal sepsis infection. Olawepo reportedly took ill hours after arriving at the orientation camp.
Again tragedy struck in Bayelsa orientation camp in February with the report of the death of another corps member simply identified as Jumoke who was said to be in platoon 8 at Kaiama Grammar School in Kolokuma LGA of the state.
The death of the four corps members has only accentuated the call for the abolition of the scheme, which a section of the country believes has outlived the purpose it is meant to serve.
The call came despite the assurance by the Director General of the scheme, Brigadier General Suleiman Kazaure that the scheme would continue to take measures for the security and general well – being of youths enlisted to serve the nation on its platform.
The NYSC boss, who made the statement while reacting to the death of three corps members last year, dismissed the report that the deaths were caused by the negligence of the personnel of the service.
He said, “the death of the trio followed brief illnesses and after medical teams in the camps battled to save them in line with established procedures.
“However, in view of these unfortunate incidents in Bayelsa , Kano, and Zamfara states , the management has set up a high -powered committee to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the deaths,” he said.
Following the recent spate of deaths among corps members observing the mandatory one year national service, a section of Nigerians has once again re-echoed the call for the abolition of the scheme.
However, not a few Nigerians are of the opinion that the call for the abolition of the scheme is not in the interest of Nigerian youths. An education consultant, Mrs. Patricia Adimefe said that the spate of deaths among corps members during the service as witnessed recently was not a justifiable reason for the call.
“It was very unfortunate that those corps members died while undergoing the national youth service. I really sympathize with their families over their demise. But then let us really try to situate the problem. The outcome of the investigations carried out by the NYSC indicated that the affected corps members had health conditions, which ordinarily is a major source of concerns for every health conscious individual. And then, there was an allegation of negligence on the part of NYSC, which the managers of the scheme have debunked. If these are the issues, I don’t think the call for the abolition of the scheme is the solution. Rather, all stakeholders should work towards proffering solutions to the problems,” Adimefe pointed out.
According to her, one of the ways of preventing a recurrence of the unfortunate incidents is to put in place a mechanism to ensure that prospective corps members are thoroughly screened in order to be able to ascertain their true health status.
“For instance, one of my cousins who attempted to enlist in the military last year was disqualified on health grounds. Although it was a disappointing experience particularly for the young chap, we had no choice but to accept it the way it came. When I asked his parents if they were aware that he had that health condition, they answered in affirmative. They refused to disclose the problem but those handling their admission processes carried out their investigation and discovered the problem. NYSC should also try to do something in this direction because we don’t seem to be comfortable to making public our health challenges in this part of the world,” she said.
Adimefe also called on stakeholders to put structure in place in order to ensure that medical emergencies are given urgent and adequate attention.
Variation between the weather conditions of states where corps members reside before going for their nation service and that of the states they are posted to is another major challenge corps members want the managers of the scheme to look into in order to avoid medical emergencies during the national service. The difference in weather condition, according to some corps members who spoke to Sunday Sun, often trigger health crisis particularly among corps members with medical conditions.
A corps member currently serving in Taraba State told our correspondent how tragedies were averted during the three week orientation exercise last year as a result of what he described as harsh weather condition in the state. The 2016 Batch ‘A’ Stream ‘1’ corps member, who pleaded anonymity said a good number of colleagues collapsed and fainted during morning drillings on the parade ground while several others were down with various sicknesses for better part of the orientation exercise.
“The harsh weather was a serious challenge to most of us giving the fact that majority of us came from states with relatively friendlier weather conditions. It took majority of us sometime to acclimatize. Unfortunately however, our trainers seemed not to understand that, probably because they were already used to the environment. They just kept on dishing out rigorous training and exercises until corps members started collapsing on parade ground to the extent that some of them could not participate in the orientation exercise properly for several days,” he said.
He pointed out that corps members posted to states with harsh weather conditions should be given some time to acclimatize and be given the benefit to undergo less strenuous exercise.
A medical doctor, Dr Gabriel Omonaiye, Medical Director, God’s Goal Hospital, Ojo, Lagos, wants governments at all levels to show more commitment to the scheme particularly the safety and welfare of corps members on national assignment
According to him, “the deaths of NYSC members while doing the compulsory one year national service is not only painful and tragic, it also constitutes immeasurable loss and source of anguish and sorrow to their parents, who suffered to sponsor their education up to tertiary level. Therefore, government must ensure that everything feasible is done to put an end to it.
“The major responsibility lies with the government. Government must improve the quality of the NYSC orientation camps and the safety of the corps members. Water supply should be adequate and safe. The food must be enough, balanced and hygienically prepared and served. The camp clinics must be well equipped with medical instruments, drugs, man power with standard laboratories and laboratory scientists.
“In addition to the NYSC doctors at various orientation camps, there should be at least three consultant family physicians per camp, who will work on a shift basis from the beginning to the end of the camping. The senior doctors will oversee the NYSC doctors and help with the diagnoses, treatments and or referral of certain cases. Every camp clinic should have the wherewithal to deal with emergency cases adequately as well as to be able to rapidly evacuate for referral the very ill,” he advised.
Dr. Omonaiye also urged corps members who are sick to report for medical attention without delay and ensure compliance with the prescriptions given to them. “Prospective corps members who are quite ill should ensure they get proper treatment and recuperate very well before going to the orientation camps, even if they may have to differ the service to a later year.
“Corps members must also avoid unnecessary travelling, alcohol consumption, stop the use of illicit drugs, stop cigarettes smoking, avoid casual sex and generally be proactive about health, he advised.