It is very good that President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered a probe into the death of two members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) at their orientation camps during the recent orientation programme for fresh corps members in the country. Ukeme Monday and Ifedolapo Oladepo died at the Zamfara and Kano states Orientation Camps respectively, following ill health, for which it is suspected that they were not given adequate medical attention. Oladepo, in particular, was reported to have complained that she was ill, but was thought to be feigning illness to avoid the mandatory drills. It has been alleged that her complaints were not taken seriously by the medical team at the camp until her condition became critical.
The demise of these two corps members has, once again, brought to the fore the conditions under which our fresh graduates undertake the compulsory national service, especially the state of the orientation camps and the arrangements made for their health and safety at these camps. It has also underscored the recurring controversy on the relevance or otherwise of the NYSC scheme, especially on account of the growing difficulty in securing the lives of the participants as they travel across the country and during the course of their service.
Reports from different parts of the country indicate that the conditions at many of the state orientation camps are not conducive for healthy living. Many of the camps are located in distant parts of the states, with crass unconcern about how the participants would get there. Some of these camps have no perimeter fencing, and their structures are dilapidated. Many have no functional toilets and bathrooms.
Indisposed corps members in some states are reportedly left to the care of fellow corps members who newly graduated from the medical colleges of our universities. It is these corps member doctors who treat and refer sick participants to the medical personnel on the camps, if they deem it necessary. This scenario, obviously, cannot make for robust health care at the camps, especially when a corps member does not have a life-threatening ailment.
One thing that has become clear from the recent unfortunate deaths is that better arrangements must be made for the health needs of corps members at the orientation camps and throughout the service year. It is not necessary to continue to endanger the lives of participants in this scheme.
The use of NYSC members for election duties has also cost some of them their lives. During the rerun election in Rivers State, a corps member identified as Okonta Samuel was shot dead while working as an ad-hoc official. Earlier, some other NYSC members were killed in the aftermath of the 2011 presidential election. This is in addition to the number of those who die in road accidents on their way to and back from their places of primary assignment.
At no time since the establishment of the NYSC scheme by the General Yakubu Gowon administration in 1973 has its continuing relevance been questioned as we are having it today. The graduate mass mobilisation scheme which was started in the immediate aftermath of the unfortunate Nigerian Civil War was meant to foster unity, national integration and understanding among the diverse ethnic nationalities of the country.
However, in the last several decades, the appreciation of the scheme by various stakeholders has depreciated significantly. It is now seen by some as a sort of irritant that is being sustained to cater for interests other than those of the participants. Some have called for its outright cancellation.
The state of some of the camps indicates a complete failure of planning, funding and leadership. Many of the state governments that should support the NYSC with the provision of functional orientation camps are not alive to the responsibility, thereby making the problem overwhelming for the NYSC.
The probe should find out the circumstances leading to the untimely deaths of the mentioned corps members. It is necessary to identify the ailments that killed them and the treatment given to them at the camps. This will help to determine if anyone was culpable in their deaths and ensure that such unfortunate incidents do not recur.