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Happy 51st!

This is just to celebrate with the millions of Nigerians both home and abroad on the 51st Independence day celebrations. On October 1, 1960, Nigeria formally gained her independence from Great Britain.  I realize that many Nigerians are cynical about all the  profuse celebrations going on when they look around and see economic hardship, general insecurity, political malfeasance, infrastructural decay, austerity, and general backwardness. They may wonder why anyone would want to celebrate a nation like Nigeria which must appear to be a failed state.

I recognize all these Brobdingnagian setbacks but nevertheless, I feel compelled to celebrate with people who despite the woes manifest in their homeland, are simply eager to acknowledge  and proclaim their Nigerian connections and pride. Of course there is work to be done, and I hope that beyond the fleeting mass hysteria and wild partying that October First induces, Nigerians of all stripes would find the time once again for deep and sober reflection on the nation’s abysmal state of affairs.  And having done such reflection, that they may find themselves sufficiently motivated to work for the greater good. This may seem like a mere wish to you, but for me, it is also a silent prayer.


Who Needs The NYSC?

NYSC members:They may be dressed in paramilitary khakis and boots, but they are completely civilian and non-militaristic

Any Nigerian who is not intimately familiar with the political upheaval in Nigeria over the past 30 days should really sit up and start paying close attention. The reason is because we are dealing with life and death issues here; we are talking about matters so grave that they affect the very foundational structure of Nigeria.

As you may have noticed, April was the month that a multitude of Nigerians went out to vote for their leaders. The aftermath of that election was a most horrifying cycle of barbarity and violence as northerners faithful to the defeated Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC, took to the streets of the North, destroying the properties of and murdering hundreds if not thousands of Christians, Southerners, members of other parties like PDP, Igbos and a number of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members in cold blood. Looting and destroying the homes, property, business or church centers of southerners in the North or in extreme cases, dismembering these southerners (especially the Igbo or Igbo-sounding southerners) by gangs of violent disaffected youth seems to be a fairly routine and cyclic episode in the North. However this time around, they also attacked their fellow Muslims who they suspected to be colluding with the PDP, or giving succor to Christian southerners. And worse, they also attacked and brutally murdered scores of innocent NYSC corpers!

For the benefit of any non-Nigerian, let me briefly explain what the NYSC is all about. Nigeria has a compulsory, nationwide youth service program for people graduating from the various universities and polytechnics. These fresh and inspired young men and women, who have graduated from their various universities, and are thus ready to face a challenging world first have to show their dedication and patriotism to the fatherland. To do so, these fresh graduates will be dispatched by the NYSC government to towns, cities and villages far removed from their local environ for one year. In this space of time, these corpers are expected to mingle with people of other ethnic origins (tribes), social, religious and family backgrounds. They are expected to learn the culture and possibly the language of the indigenes of the place to which they were posted. This will help in the development of the country as these corpers form part of (if  not the majority of) the educational, health, administrative and business sectors of the communities they find themselves.

It is no secret therefore, that in the Nigerian equation, the Northern half of the country urgently need the invaluable service of National Youth Service corpers every year. Let us just face the facts: in terms of physical development, the Northern part of Nigeria is sorely lagging behind despite the fact that it continues to swallow a disproportionately larger slice of the national cake. It has produced most of the presidents or military rulers that Nigeria has had in its 50 year history; it (the north) has a disproportionately larger presence in the Nigerian military; the north has more local governments and thus more senators and representatives in the Nigerian National Assembly—an observation which invariably stresses the lion share of Nigeria’s income which go directly to the North and her politicians. Yet, they are lagging behind in practically all socio-economic indices because of the unmatched greed and incompetence of the North’s elite political class.

Members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) at an orientation camp

If you like, you can blame it on the feudal and hierarchical structure of the Muslim-dominated north. The incontrovertible fact is that a huge portion of the wealth secured from the southern half of the country over these many years has gone directly to fund development projects in the North—even if such projects come at the expense of projects in the south or close to the very areas where the nation’s income-accruing resources are found. If that were not enough, an astounding portion of state revenue has gone to line the pockets of the north’s own political and cultural administrative class. The result is that the North’s elite class turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to the blighted, poverty-stricken, illiterate and disease-prone masses. With a high unemployment, life does really appear gloomy and depressing judging by the standard of living obtainable in the south. This is why the North desperately needs Youth service Corps members every blessed year.

In many of these remote, dusty and impoverished villages in the north, these corpers run the ramshackle health clinics treating and helping the masses of the poor and diseased denizens of these places. They rely on the corpers to teach in their primary and secondary schools. Needless to say, many of these children in the North do not want any formal western-style education—a fact discernible from their general lackadaisical approach to their studies. Perhaps, it helps that these northern school administrative boards have a policy of passing every child on to the next higher grade whether or not such a child demonstrates a mastery over the curriculum. And oh yes, they have to be very thankful of something called “Federal Character” whereby possibly unqualified or less than qualified northerners have to be hired or considered for any national duty or employment—all for the sake of “fostering peace and unity amongst Nigeria’s many ethnic nationalities. It is the Youth corpers that are relied on to work as election registrars—registering the people who intended to vote. They are the ones who handle the delicate election computer equipment and were to serve as Election Day poll officials to conduct the elections. As a matter of fact, the roles of these corpers in the communities they find themselves are virtually inexhaustible.

In the south, the corpers are not quite as visible, or as crucially needed. The difference is very clear. Most of the things which corpers serving in the North have to do to help their villages and communities already have people doing them in the south and possibly making a living doing so. The technological, social, and economic infrastructure needed is already in place in many parts of the south coupled with a very strong capitalist work ethic. In the south, people wake up each day and struggle hard to make a difference in their families because, unlike the north, the people in the south (especially southeast/southsouth) are not beneficiaries of massive Federal government presence or largesse.

Having said the foregoing, I will not hesitate to note my sickening bewilderment and gut-wrenching disappointment over the recent events in Bauchi, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, Niger and many other parts of the Muslim North. There were horrifying stories of NYSC members that were beaten and maimed and forced to fraudulently register underaged people; some were forced to thumbprint for the CPC to ensure that CPC won overwhelmingly in those polling stations; some female NYSC were groped and physically violated during the exercise; and ultimately, when Jonathan Goodluck won, gangs of bloodthirsty northern youths started hunting down and killing innocent youth corpers! I am not talking about simply harassing or beating up people as a crude means of intimidation—I am positively saying that they went on a murderous spree, and with terrible blades they hacked away and cut unlucky NYSC members to bloody pieces and burnt everything they had with fire! There are harrowing stories of near-escapes from certain death as terrified NYSC members sought refuge in the bush or in barracks. Fleeing from these unprovoked attacks, some hid in the houses of their muslim neighbors, but they weren’t all lucky when the vicious mobs came around. The ordeal was real and every bit as gory. Yet, these are the young men and women who only a few weeks ago were doing everything in their power to help the illiterate, underprivileged and relatively destitute people in many villages and local governments up in the North!

The saddest thing about this is that it is a yearly or regular occurrence in Nigeria and there seems to be nothing that can be done to effectively stamp out the menace of religiously or politically-motivated violence in the North. Whenever the spate of violence kicks off, the state and federal governments mouth empty promises or at best, send a few soldiers to calm down the situation and all is promptly forgotten! Nothing is tangibly and credibly done to arrest and punish the depraved brutes that fomented the carnage; as a matter of fact, if any were caught and jailed, the local authorities will protest and demand their release. Above all, nothing is usually done to give these dislocated and maimed Christian southerners any comfort or medical care and attention. Usually, none of them are to be compensated by the state governments. If they are dead, nothing is done to remember their deaths or celebrate their lives that were barbarically cut down by the rampaging hordes of disaffected northern youth. No state burials, no flags flying at half-mast, no one-minute silence in schools to remember or honor the hapless dead, no finely sculpted memorials, no reparations to grieving families, not even the barest acknowledgement that some unspeakable crime had been committed. This should offend the sensibilities of any decent person—especially when this narrative plays out again and again to the same predictable end.

This is why I am asking a few questions for your consideration: Do we really need the NYSC?  Why can the rules of the NYSC not be amended to permit people serve in their own localities? Why must people send their loved ones to die every year in the killing fields of the north for the sake of some perverted idea of national unity? What in the world is it going to take for the governors of northern states to guarantee the safety of NYSC members? What will it take to severely punish the perpetrators of this crime to the extent that such terrorism begins to look like an unattractive prospect for other would-be terrorists?

I am tired of asking these questions every time. The time to be proactive is now. To that effect, I’ll never allow any child of mine, or indeed any relative or acquaintance of mine to go up North for their youth service period. I’ll further advise every sane Christian or Igbo southerner to abandon the North permanently. They can reside and earn a living somewhere in the south away from the sporadic specter of violence up north. This is just not negotiable as far as I am concerned—until a time comes when there is sufficient security for non-northerners in the north. To be frank, relative security in my mind, suggests that there are still terror-inclined masses around who may be keeping their violent constitutions in check because of some overwhelming presence of state security officials. Even if this situation were suddenly available, I wouldn’t be moved. That is because there will still be a toxic and combustible mixture of xenophobia and religious fanaticism which could potentially explode. Such an uneasy calm is not attractive to me. The only way I may be persuaded to change that view is when it becomes crystal clear to all and sundry that the masses in the North are unilaterally against the violence being perpetrated in their name, and as such rise or speak with one voice to condemn these homegrown terrorists; and exceeding that, they have to take actions to crush them completely as well.


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