NYSC and harvest of deaths of corps members
The rising mortality rate of youth corps members across the federation has become a matter of serious concern. Every now and then, news of corps members dying or being killed make headlines. While some die in the orientation camps, others are killed at their places of primary assignment. Consequently, the national youth service, which used to be fun at the beginning, is now a nightmare. This frightening development has made parents and guardians think twice as they now see the national service as a danger call. Many are afraid to allow the children they have suffered to train up to tertiary education embark on a mission that may end in death. The spate of deaths has made corps members to become endangered species. As the situation is at present, not until a corps member completes the service and returns would the family heave a sigh of relief. Reason is that life could be snuffed out of him/her anywhere, anytime, thereby dashing all the hope reposed on the person by his/her family. There have been cases of families losing the only hope they invested all they have. Such families are perpetually devastated and ruined.
Across the country, death is lurking everywhere – on the highways, orientation camps, corps member’ quarters, streets, indeed, everywhere. Corps members have become target of political thuggry. There are kidnappers, ritualists, rapists, among other violent groups that target corps members. Whereas Nigerians live with insecurity daily, the case of corps members is worsened by the fact that they are in unfamiliar environmnet where they are easily identified and targeted. It is very serious. This lamentation is based on the hundreds of corps members that have lost their lives. A few examples will buttress my point.
Last February, the coordinator of NYSC in Bauchi State, Afolayan James, debunked news about the killing of 10 corps members in front of INEC headquarters in the state. Afolayan was reacting to a post on Instagram by a corps member serving in Bauchi, who alleged that 10 of his colleagues died while waiting at the INEC office to be posted to their stations as ad-hoc staff for the postponed presidential and national assembly elections. While there may be denial, which is normal in official circles, there is no smoke without fire, more so, as the reporter was a serving corps member.
Last January, reports had it that members of the NYSC staged a protest in Abuja over the gruesome killing of their colleague. Leader of the group, Sulaiman Alhassan, alleged that their colleague, Mustapha Ingawa, was arrested and tortured to death by some security operatives.
In December 2018, the NYSC in Nasarawa state, reportedly expressed sadness over the death of one corps member, Samuel Makene in the state. The NYSC state coordinator, Mrs. Zainab Issah, reportedly got a text message from the DSS about the death of the corps member and contacted the NYSC Zonal Inspector, Akwanga, who confirmed the incident.
The foregoing is just a tip of the iceberg. The litany of corps members who were killed, strangled, kidnapped or rapped to death is unending. Space would not allow more dastardly examples.
The latest in the string of deaths of corps members was that of Fortune Ihechukwu Ihe at the NYSC orientation camp in Sokoto state. Fortune, 21, a graduate of economics reportedly, died on 14 April, 2019 while engaged in camp strenuous activities. Fortune was parceled back home to his parents in Imo state. At the funeral held on April 23, at St. Brendan Catholic church, Amakohia in Ikeduru local government, which I witnessed, the officiating parish priest, Rev. Fr. (Dr) Edmond Njoku, with three other priests, asked a soul-searching question – Is it wrong for parents to allow their children to go for national service? In a way, it is now wrong since one would send his son or daughter only to have him parceled back dead. Parents of Fortune, Dr&Mrs. John/Cordelia Ihe, were devastated and inconsolable. At the grave side, emotions ran high that a distraught friend of Fortune, jumped into the grave screaming to be covered along with him. There was consternation in the crowd of sympahtisers, as youths pulled him out from the grave.
The question is how many more innocent NYSC members would have to die before something is done to stop this morbid turn of events? In all of the deaths, the NYSC is economical with the truth of what happened or how the corps member died. Parents are left in the dark.
I tried to see a representative from Sokoto state at the funeral but there was none. As I made effort to see who was there for the NYSC, I was taken to a young lady, Mrs. Chioma Ugwu, an NYSC inspector from Ikeduru local government. She was the one who represented both the Sokoto and Imo State governments. The very low representation showed the low value attached to human life in Nigeria. Anybody, including youth corps members could die and life goes on as if nothing happened. This explains why healthcare in the country is nothing to write home about.
It is little wonder that the so-called NYSC orientation camps are like blighted ghettos that have nothing good for human habitation. There is no good living facilities, no water, no electricity, no good toilets. I visited one orientation camp in one state and discovered that they are using pit latrines in this 21st century Nigeria. But that is where thousands of youngsters, fresh graduates from universities and other tertiary institutions, including those from the developed world are clamped yearly in the name of national service. And it is not that they are paid commensurate remuneration. A graduate is a graduate anywhere and should be paid accordingly. But the trained minds are exploited for one year.
It is pertinent, at this juncture, to ask of what value is the NYSC, to the individual and the nation at this stage. The founding fathers of the scheme, in 1973, shortly after the civil war, saw the need for national unity and to redistribute scarce trained manpower at the time. Today, all that have been eroded.
Nigeria was more united in 1973 than today. In 1973, Nigerians could migrate to any part of the country and get employment without discrimination or molestation. Today, that is impossible. An Imo man can’t be employed in Enugu or any other part of Igbo land, not to talk of southwest, or the north or any part of Nigeria.
In 1973, the youth corps members were offered employment after serving, irrespective of where they come from. All that are impossible today. The youngsters are simply used and dumped after the service. They are left to their fate. That is why millions of graduates are roaming about with nothing to fall back on. Rather than being a vehicle to redistribute trained manpower, the NYSC is worsening the unemployment situation as those who would have offered them employment shut the doors because they are sure of free cheap labour every year. With millions of graduates bursting the labour market all over Nigeria, there is no longer any need to talk of redistributing manpower as was the case in 1973.
Today, there are millions of graduates all over the country to the extent that every state has enough trained manpower to carry out its economic activities. Those still using the needs of the country in 1973 to perpetuate the NYSC scheme are dishonest. The truth, today, is that, the NYSC has become a conduit for corrupt self enrichment by those managing it. These people benefiting from the scheme would not want it to continue no matter who is dying.
The Federal Government had three options as follows: One let the corps members be deployed in their states. The fact that Sokoto NYSC failed to show up at the funeral of Fortune apparently as a result of long distance and safety considerations shows that it is wrong to expect a youngster like Fortune to travel all the way from Imo State to Sokoto state.
Two, the NYSC should be made optional is it should continue. Many graduates miss some bright opportunities that come their way after graduation because of the service call.
Finally, the scheme should be scrapped because it has outlived its usefulness. The purposes that gave rise to it have been eroded. Government should come up with a more proactive scheme for the youths, In all these deaths, Federal Government should pay compensation, though, no amount paid will replace the colossal loss of a child whose life was cut short.
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