11th July, 2012
By Tayo Ogunbiyi
In view of the various ethnic and tribal entities that constitute the Nigerian federation, lack of unity has always been a major impediment to nation building in the country. Indeed, the earliest threats to the existence of the country, in the immediate post independence years, were traceable to its heterogeneous character. Hence, one of the main challenges that succeeding administrations in the country have had to grapple with has been that of disunity. Consequently, from independence till date, subsequent governments in the country have devised various policies and programmes with the primary goal of surmounting the various complications posed by the country’s mixed population.
Perhaps, one of the most well thought out strategies ever put in place by a government in the country to foster unity among the populace is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. The programme, a brainchild of the General Yakubu Gowon’s administration, was conceived in 1973 as a way to address the major fallouts of the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970). Having fought a bitter civil war that further exposed the precarious nature of the county’s federation, the NYSC programme was put in place as a policy that could enhance the unity of the country. The core aspect of the programme, through which this could be achieved, is that which involves the posting of fresh graduates to various parts of the country for a mandatory one year national service programme.
Like every government’s policies and programmes, despite its various shortcomings, the NYSC scheme has over the years succeeded, in its own little way, in fostering unity in the country. Through the programmes, a few inter-tribal marriages, which ordinary might not have taken place, have been consummated. Equally, some of the corps members, seeing the limitless possibilities for prosperity in their host communities, have stayed back in those communities (irrespective of tribal and ethnic differences) to earn a living through various legitimate means. Similarly, through various means of social interactions, a few of the corps members have been able to learn, speak and understand the languages spoken in their places of primary assignments. Also, lots of the corps members have been exposed to various customs and traditions of diverse parts of the country through the NYSC scheme.
Undoubtedly, the NYSC scheme has over the years been a uniting factor in the country. However, in view of recent security challenges in the country, it is imperative that operators of the scheme to re-examine some aspects of the programme, especially the one that relates to the posting of corps members to various parts of the country. One of the banes of the country is deception. It is quite alarming the manner at which a typical Nigerian maneuvers to circumvent the truth. Perhaps, our inability to always uphold the truth for what it is, is primarily responsible for the various socio-political problems bedeviling the country. In our country today, it is not uncommon to see men and women that have sworn to uphold the truth at all time, publicly and shamelessly desecrating the altar of truth for selfish reasons.
It is from this perspective that one will like to view recent attempt by authorities of the NYSC to justify the posting of some youth corps members to some volatile parts of the country. No matter how much anyone tries to rationalize falsehood, it remains nothing but lies. Even a toddler in the country knows that some parts of the country have become no go areas for anyone who does not want to die a sudden death. As I am putting this piece together, news just filtered in that good old Jos is boiling again. Now, how does anyone with good conscience facilitate the redeployment of the nation’s youths to such boiling places all in the name of serving the father’s land?
Those that have declared war on Nigeria, using certain parts of the country as their operational base, have demonstrated, beyond reasonable doubt, that human lives mean nothing to them. Indeed, one of the major objectives of these people is the eradication of western education. Hence, it is only plausible that corps members, who symbolise the triumph of western education, will be the immediate targets of these agents of death. The fact that these people have continued to operate at will in defiance of the nation’s security network, makes everybody vulnerable to their activities. If the security operatives, with all the human and material resources at their disposal, still find it difficult to confront these agents of evil, how does anyone justify sending defenseless youths to the lion’s den?
Sending corps members to troubled spots in the country is like sending them on a suicide mission. How do you convince parents that have spent all their life savings to send their children to school to be in agreement with such a plan? Every other thing that is lost in life can be recovered, except life. Once it is lost, life can never be irreplaceable.
It is heartwarming to note that members of the House of Representatives have stood by the people on this issue. It is equally pleasing that members of the Lagos State House of Assembly have passed a resolution kicking against the posting of corps members from Lagos state to volatile parts of the country. Similarly, it is cheering that eminent Nigerians have risen to condemn this attempt to send our youth on a suicide mission. Perhaps, this explains why the NYSC has to rescind its decision in respect of the issue. This is the right thing to do. No nation that is desirous of greatness deliberately sends its youths on a death mission. Coming up with the idea of sending corps members to unpredictable parts of the country has already put a question mark on the integrity of the leadership of the NYSC.
This is not a tribal or ethnic issue. No! It is about being reasonable. It is about putting the people first. It is about taking rational decision. The human life is a sacred gift from God. Any government or institution that plays politics with human lives does not deserve the respect of anyone. This, indeed, is the time for all security agencies to device new strategies to confront the security situation in the country.
Presently, the tragedy of the security situation in the country is really not in the various acts of blood spilling being orchestrated by the agents of death; rather it is in the effectiveness of our response. Thus far, we seem to be getting used to a stereotyped form of response. First, different people pay visits to sights of gruesome murderous acts, commensurate with those involved, promise heavens and earth until there is another incidence when the whole circle will be repeated all over again.
If we are serious about the sacredness of human life, we need to take more decisive steps to reverse the trend. Now that it has come to a level where Nigerians consider certain parts of the country as not safe enough for them to live, probably all stakeholders will now come together to tackle the security challenge in the country headlong. As for the NYSC, the time has come for it to review some of its policies and programmes to meet contemporary challenges.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.