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Prominent Nigerians rise in defence of the continued existence of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, now threatened by the murder of its members in post-election violence in parts of the North

The recent murder of 10 members of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, in the post –election violence that engulfed Bauchi State and other parts of the North is threatening the life of the scheme. The scheme was set up by the government of Yakubu Gowon in 1973, to involve university and polytechnic graduates in the development of the country. The idea is that since there is no military conscription in Nigeria, graduates of tertiary institutions should take part in the NYSC programme for one year. Under the scheme, participants are posted to states other than their own where they are expected to mix with people of other ethnic groups, social and family backgrounds, to learn the culture of the indigenes in the places they are posted to. This action is aimed at bringing about unity in the country and also to help the youths appreciate other ethnic groups. The programme has equally helped in creating jobs for some of the corps members who are lucky to be retained in the places they did their primary assignments.

However, since the murder of the 10 corps members in Bauchi State, there have been calls from different quarters for the scrapping of the scheme.  Many corps members who served as ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, during the April 2011 general elections in the North had traumatic experiences during the post-election violence. Some of them escaped death by the whiskers. The violence begun soon after the results of the presidential election were announced which indicated that Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, had lost to Goodluck Jonathan, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Irked by the results of the election, CPC supporters in the North troops out in the streets, killing innocent people and burning churches. Some mosques were also burnt in Kaduna State. NYSC members were not spared as they were seen as tools used to “rig” the presidential election.

To worsen the bad situation, Isa Yuguda, governor of Bauchi State, who was supposed to be the chief security officer of the state was quoted as saying, that the dead corps members only fulfilled their destinies. “It was their time to die. They were destined to die. Those that weren’t destined to die, live. I was nearly killed in Ibadan in 1979, when supporters of Obafemi Awolowo went on rampage after Shehu Shagari was declared winner,” he said.

Two weeks ago, President Jonathan gave out N5 million as compensation to each of the families of the 10 corps members that died in the mayhem. He also set up a 22-man panel to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the riot and those behind it.

Despite these efforts, many Nigerians have continued to call for the scrapping of the scheme because according to them, it has outlived its usefulness. To drive home their point, they have instituted a case in the law court aimed at securing legal backing for the scrapping of the scheme. Others suggested that members should serve in their home states or geopolitical zones as from the next service year for security purposes.

For instance, Oluwole Aluko, an Ibadan-based legal practitioner, has sued President Jonathan and the attorney-general of the federation, seeking the abrogation of the decree setting up the scheme. In suit number FCH/IB/CS/35/2011, Aluko is claiming that the NYSC decree of 1973, is a contravention of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the African charter on human and people’s right and the United Nations universal declaration on human rights and, therefore, null and void.

Emmanuel Gbonigi, a clergy and president of the Action Committee for the Restoration of Oodua Sovereignty, ACROS, asked the NYSC authorities to review its posting arrangements and patterns to ensure corps members are posted to states within their geopolitical zones of origin or he would tell corps members of Yoruba extraction to shun posting to Northern states of the country, as the zone has become a “slaughter slab for Yoruba Corpers.” “We cannot sit down and watch our youths being slaughtered like rams. We won’t accept this again. We cannot use our retirement money to train our children and later they would now bring their dead bodies to us here. We shall not accept any more deaths of our people. If the scheme is cancelled, it would not diminish the said unity,” he said.

Similarly, Magnus Adeyemi Atilade, archbishop and national president, Christian Welfare Initiative, CWI, called for a review of the scheme to enable the corps members serve in their home states or geopolitical zones as from the next service year. He said the federal government should be held accountable for the killing of the corps members and other Nigerians as well as the burning of 84 churches in the North for not providing enough security for the murdered corps members who were on national assignment. He also berated government for treating rioters in the past with kid gloves, as if some people in the country were untouchable. The group said it was awaiting the outcome of the 22-man panel set up by the federal government to know the next line of action to take. The CWI called on government to fish out the sponsors and perpetrators of the post-election crisis and punish them appropriately to calm frayed nerves.

Victor Anya, a Lagos-based public affairs analyst, also wants the scheme scrapped because of the dangers members are exposed to during the one-year service. “Considering the problems that confront NYSC members, it is long overdue for the programme to be scrapped since it has outlived its usefulness.  If the programme must be sustained, it should be reorganised and restructured so that NYSC members would be allowed to serve in their states of origin or their geopolitical zones. There is no need for NYSC members to be sent to other states other than their states of origin or geopolitical zones where their lives have no value and are slaughtered as sacrificial lambs,” he said.

Anya believes that Nigerians who do not want the programme to be scrapped are contractors who are benefitting immensely from the programme. “Contractors make huge sums of money from the supply of uniforms, shoes, face caps and food items to the members of the NYSC. Those who do not want the NYSC programme to be scrapped are those who are making big money from the programme but have their children studying in foreign universities and do not return them home to serve the country. How many of those who want the programme to remain will be happy to have their children killed for serving their father’s land?” he queried.

Indeed, some parents who witnessed the burial of Ebenezer Gbenjo and Jelili Adeniji, two weeks ago in Osun State, have vowed not to allow their wards observe their service year in the north.  Gbenjo and Adeniji were among the youth corps members that met their death at the Giade Police Station where they sought refuge when the violence broke out. Gbenjo was buried on Monday, May 2, at Saint Peter’s Anglican Church Cemetery, Oke Apata, Gbongan, while Adeniji was buried on May 3, according to Muslim rites, in his father’s compound at Isale-Oja area of the town, about 500 metres away from Ebenezer’s compound.

According to Rufus Gbenjo, father of Ebenezer, the family had looked up to the slain corps member as the “messiah” of the family. Ebenezer, the last child of the family, and his immediate elder sister, Funmilade, were the two graduates produced by the family. “The two are the promising children among the five children of my marriage. Two of our children are deaf and dumb while the third one is a photographer and they all depend on us for survival, despite our poor state of living. Funmilade, who graduated with masters degree in 2006, has no job. Ebenezer was always consoling us, assuring us that an end would soon come to our poverty; promising to cater for the other siblings who are handicapped,” he told journalists last week.

As a result of the incessant protests in the North which had often claimed the lives of corps members, many parents in the south no longer want their children to serve in the North.

Sources at the NYSC headquarters in Abuja, told Newswatch that its officials have been under pressure with requests for preferential posting by parents of intending corps members from the south who have vowed not to allow their children to serve in the North.   

However, despite the calls for the scrapping of the scheme, some prominent Nigerians are opposed to the idea. They feel that it will be tantamount to throwing away the baby with the bath water.  For instance, Gowon who established the NYSC in 1973, has vehemently opposed calls for scrapping of the scheme. Even though he bemoaned the repeated killings of corps members, he insisted that the scheme was still vital for the political and socio-economic development of the country. “I wanted to develop Nigeria and, of course, I wanted to keep Nigeria together as one and by so doing, we were able to get young Nigerians to serve together in areas other than their places of birth so that they could know one another, get used to what ordinarily could have been differences among them and live together with that understanding in peace and tranquility.”

 He regretted that some youth corps members had to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the country in trying to ensure that the nation moved forward through credible, free and fair electoral process. “I must say that the loss of the lives of those young people in parts of our country in the service of their nation hasn’t portrayed those responsible for the sad development as loyal and patriotic people. It is barbaric,” he said.

Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, said that instead of scrapping the programme, the federal government should review the scheme. He said the NYSC scheme was long over due for a review as that would help re-energise it for the attainment of its set objectives of national cohesion, integration, unity and stability. The former vice-president criticised the legal action instituted by some persons, seeking to scrap the NYSC programme, as no nation should formulate or reverse its policies out of sentiments. He explained that the youths were the building blocks of unity and that the NYSC had contributed greatly to achieving the objectives of unity, togetherness, harmony, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

He also urged that since the introduction of the NYSC programme in 1973, it had enabled the nation’s young men and women to appreciate the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country, thereby significantly helping them rethink their prejudices and promoting their understanding. Abubakar advised advocates for the repeal of the law establishing the NYSC programme not to reduce their minds to the level of those who criminally targeted the murdered young graduates who were on patriotic national assignment. He commended the federal government for the compensation of affected families of corps members who were killed in Bauchi, but was quick to say that no amount of money could pay for the loss of such promising young men cut down in their prime. To him, only justice, as demanded by the affected families, could ameliorate the loss and stem the growing culture of impunity in the country. He called on the government to fish out perpetrators of the violence against the slain Youth Corps members.

As more Nigerians continue to call for the scrapping of the NYSC scheme, the trial of 20 suspects arrested in Giade, Bauchi State for the murder of the 10 Youth Corps members on election duties began last week. Mohammed Kafin Madaki, prosecuting police sergeant told the Bauchi Magistrate Court that the suspects with others at large conspired, attacked and matcheted seven corps members, one policewoman and two businessmen to death. The prosecutor alleged that the suspects also burnt down the divisional police headquarters in Giade, shops and places of worship. Besides, he also claimed that they burnt down six vehicles parked inside the police station. All the actions according to Madaki are contrary to the Penal Code Laws.

Mohammed Mukhtar Abubakar, the chief magistrate, ordered the suspects to be remanded in prison custody and adjourned the case till May 31, for further hearing. The 20 suspects were part of the 41 arraigned for the post-election violence in the state.

 Human Rights Watch, a worldwide rights group last week said 800 people died and 65,000 others were displaced in 12 states in the north when violence erupted at the conclusion of the presidential election held on April 16.



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