by Luke Onyekakeyah
THE insistence by the Federal Government and the Director General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brig. General Nnamdi Okere-Affia to send corps members to troubled states in the north despite the ceaseless killings there by marauding gunmen and suicide bombers smacks of a blatant show of impunity, highhandedness and insensitivity. We’re in a democratic administration where government has the duty to protect the citizens. It amounts to callousness, indeed a deliberate attempt to expose the youngsters to danger without regard to their lives. That is why the Federal Government and the NYSC should rescind the frightening decision in the public interest. Sending helpless young people to states where they are exposed to danger infringes on their fundamental right to life. Many have been killed in the recent past and it ended there. Nobody sees danger and runs into it, except a fool. Whereas thousands of the natives of the affected states are running away in droves to more peaceful areas, the authorities are sending the corpers to replace them! That is ridiculous. There would have been no objection if the corps members were trained and armed like the other military personnel. Nobody is asking that the police and soldiers should not be sent to the north.
It is ironic that most tragedies that bedevil this country are preventable if the right steps were taken by the relevant authorities. All the air disasters we have recorded in the recent past could have been prevented if the regulatory agencies had done their job properly in terms of regulation. The authorities would close their eyes and allow faulty unmaintained aircraft to ply the airspace until they crashed and killed innocent people. It is then that everyone would wake up and begin to run helter-skelter to ban the affected airlines.
Our roads, bridges are allowed to dilapidate until horrendous accidents occur before the authorities begin to apportion blame and take fire-brigade actions. For instance, there has been outcry over the poor condition of the antique Niger Bridge at Onitsha and the need for repairs and a second Niger Bridge. But nothing would be done until that bridge collapses one day with heavy casualties and then government would rise up to work 24-hours to rebuild it. That would be a grave inconvenience and loss of business. Why are things like this in this country? Why are preemptive measures not taken to prevent disasters before they occur in? How many youth corps members do they want to die before the senseless postings are stopped?
It is nerve-rending, indeed, beats imagination, that despite the escalating orgy of bloodletting killings, maiming, massacre and destruction of properties going on in the affected northern states almost on daily basis, the federal authorities and the NYSC still see nothing wrong with the situation. Are they testing whether the marauding Boko Haram insurgents have the capacity to commit more havoc? Who says that the young graduates being compelled to render national service at the risk of their lives would be spared by the insurgents?
Who wants to sacrifice more innocent blood on the altar of elusive national unity that is facing the worst challenge since the end of the civil war in 1970? Is the number of youth corps members killed so far in the north not enough? I repeat, how many more corps members do they want to die before the senseless postings is stopped? How many government and NYSC officials insisting on the posting have their sons and daughters in those troubled states? Government officials, that is, those that still have their children in this clime, use their position to secure juicy postings for their sons and daughters in the south while children of the poor citizens are horded to the killing fields in the north. Can Brig. General Nnamdi Okere-Affia demonstrate his new found patriotism by moving the NYSC secretariat to Maiduguri, Damaturu, Bauchi or Kano? As an army officer, armed with bodyguards, can he relocate to any of these states to show that he is serious and we will follow him?
If he can’t do that, why is he sending hapless unarmed youths to a strange environment reeling in crisis at the risk of their lives? Is he going to arm these youths to defend themselves? Why are this country’s leaders ever inclined to doing the wrong things that hurt the citizens? Where will all this pretense on national unity take us? Why can’t the authorities appreciate the situation on ground and adjust the service programme accordingly?
Since the NYSC released the Batch B posting of the 2012 corps members about three weeks ago in which it sent thousands of corps members to crisis-ridden states in the north, there has been angry reactions from different quarters across the country. Parents and guardians have rejected the postings. Some state governments and socio-cultural groups in the zones, particularly, in the southern states have vehemently opposed the sending of their children to the north because of the inherent danger. The corps members themselves have also protested against being exposed to danger in the north. These reactions, which could mar the entire programme wouldn’t have arisen if the authorities had applied some wisdom by taking into consideration the grave insecurity in the northern states.
Rather than doing that, the authorities are pretending as if all is well with the country. When reactions began to mount against the insensitive postings, the NYSC was quick to insist that the corps members must first report to their respective orientation camps before complaining. The question is how do you go to those states in the first place? I served in Maiduguri and enjoyed going there in 1983/84. What is the guarantee that one would reach his or her destination safely? After the orientation, how do you live in a tensed environment where death is lurking around the corner?
When the House of Representatives patriotically hearkened to the public outcry and passed a resolution that the NYSC should stop posting corps members to the troubled states, everyone heaved a sigh of relief except the troubled states’ authorities. That notwithstanding, the NYSC obliged and issued a notice about the redeployment of the affected corps members to other states. Corps members posted to Borno and Yobe states were told to report to Benue and Nassarawa states’ orientation camps while those posted to Kano, Bauchi and Plateau states were directed to report to the Abuja headquarters of the NYSC for redeployment.
But in what came like a thunderbolt, revealing lack of cohesion or collaboration among the different arms of government, the Minister of Youth Development, Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir, overruled the redeployment plan and stated that the scheme must abide by the law setting it up that requires corps members to be posted anywhere in the country. He insisted that the affected corps members must report at their state of posting at all cost. He made reference to the civil war, which he said, Nigerians went to the civil war and died while many others were incapacitated. He called it a sacrifice to the nation.
Since then, Nigerians, especially, families whose children have been sent to the ‘war front’ as rightly acknowledged by the Minister are alarmed at this development. It is true that the law setting up the NYSC requires prospective corps members to be deployed to all the states of the federation, but that law presumes a peaceful atmosphere for the postings to be made. The law did not say that youth corps members should be deployed to dangerous states where their lives are at risk. The law is made for man and not man made for the law. The right thing to do at this time is to amend the law in accordance with the new developments. Interpreting the letters of the NYSC Act blindly when the peaceful atmosphere intended by the law is not there is draconian as it were.
Besides, the Minister’s allusion to the civil war in which thousands of Nigerians died as sacrificial lamb is curious. Is it an acceptance that there is ‘war’ in those states and the objective is to send these youngsters to go and die as another sacrifice for Nigeria? It is pertinent to ask what the Federal Government has done for those who sacrificed their lives for the country. What plan is there for corps members that may probably be killed in the course of their service?
There should be wisdom in leadership that makes a leader take right decisions. If the right decisions are not made, the system is exposed to ridicule and failure. What would happen if any of the corps members posted to the troubled states is killed? Who would bear the responsibility? Would the meager N5 million paid to families of corps members killed in the recent past in Jos, Bauchi and Kano states be enough? Government should in all circumstances protect the citizens. That is a constitutional responsibility.
* This piece was originally published in Guardian.
** Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.