FORCED INTO THE LIONS DEN
When I read that the minister of youth development, Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir, was trying to force young people into the lion’s den by insisting that the National Youth Service Corps members must be posted to any state, including those that are highly volatile at present, I had to do a double take. I couldn’t believe that any person, least of all the minister in charge of the national welfare of our youth, could make such a careless, insensitive and irrational decision. To force Christian corps members from the south to go to some selective northern states where they may be the target of extremists or to force Muslim corps members from the north to go to some selective states in the south where they could be the target of reprisal attacks is not only careless, it is incredibly cruel.
Wearing his expensive attire with a stomach full of rich food in a nice protected environment, much like most of the gung-ho pencil pushers in government who haven’t any idea what it’s really like for the ordinary man to be surviving in the danger of several Nigerian cities today, the minister did not easily betray his seriousness. Was he speaking with a straight face when he compared the NYSC participants to military personnel whose calling was to be posted for security duties because they signed and were prepared for that duty? Was he joking when he tried to make the case that the corps members had no choice but to report to the posts assigned to them regardless of the danger of the location?
Unless Alhaji Inuwa has been existing under a rock for the past one year, in a hibernation of sorts where he has had limited knowledge of what has been happening in the world around him, he would know that there is a serious security breach in certain parts of the country where it would be highly ill-advised and reckless for the government to send other people’s children for the NYSC scheme. More than anyone else, he should know that the government rhetoric of “we will protect you” is no longer fooling anyone because the administration has already fallen short of its duty to adequately protect, support and compensate the families of the corps members that were butchered while on active duty last year. He should be conscious of the fact that the state has failed miserably in protecting the lives and property of thousands of victims across the breadth of this country. The minister should be aware that even trained, professional security personnel posted to some of the troubled areas are lobbying to be reposted to alternative states. Yet he wants to compel promising young men and women, at the dawn of their lives, to put themselves smack in the face of danger.
It’s aggravating that the minister would take such a draconian stance in relation to Nigerian youths from the safety of his plush Abuja office while blustering armchair machismo. In using terms like “national integration” and “constitutional issue” to justify the irresponsible deployment and cheerlead from hundreds of miles away in his recliner, he seems not to be bothered about exposing these young men and women to this kind of danger. It is alright for him, I suppose, to harrumph and cheer the benefits of the national integration achieved through the NYSC far away from the dangers because he doesn’t have to go there himself. I’m sure the minister wouldn’t even consider sending one of his own kin to a known volatile place where their lives will be in danger. Better still, as the minister in charge of youth development, why can’t Alhaji Inuwa offer to move his ministry and personnel to the vicinities that are known to be the hotspots for the brewing offensive? After all, it is in those areas where a lot of idle youth are being indoctrinated into guerrilla warfare that the close presence of the minister in charge of youth development would be much needed.
Some weeks ago, it was reported that President Jonathan had expressed apprehension about flying to Maiduguri for security reasons. If a whole president, with the full regiment of security shields all around him, can have reservations about travelling to an area that has perilous security challenges at present, why on earth would Alhaji Inuwa think it’s all right to expose other people’s children to such danger?
As the minister gears to recklessly compel youths into an unnecessary scenario that presents a heightened possibility of danger, he must remember that the government is 100 per cent accountable for its decisions and actions. This would mean that any decision the administration makes regarding the welfare of our youth must be made taking full cognizance of the fact that the decision could relate directly to the life and death of another person’s child.
Obligation in Nigeria should not be a one-way street. The government cannot expect to hold people accountable for their obligations under legislation or otherwise while the government, itself, does nothing to uphold its primary liability to protect the Nigerian people. The main duty of the Nigerian state is to guarantee the safety of lives and property of its citizens.
Although the NYSC is a constitutional duty and, in theory, the kind of integration tool needed in a nation with a growing harmony gap, the scheme’s mandatory service has become an issue of much debate following the tenuous security situation in some areas and last year’s murder of corps members during the violence that trailed the general elections. Having been first introduced through a military decree in 1973 in order to integrate and bring about harmony amongst Nigerians, six years later it was enshrined in the constitution. However, the reality of the increasingly volatile atmosphere, general anger that government contractors are selfishly lobbying for the scheme in order to maintain their business of supplying equipment for the programme and several incidents of attacks against corps members has compelled Nigerians to question whether the scheme has any remaining worth, whether it is still accomplishing the function of its formation to promote co-existence and national integration.
There is no doubt that the NYSC has its benefits. Apart from its purpose of national integration, it exposes young people to practical experiences and the reality of the world after the theory that was taught in schools. Millions of us have passed through the scheme and have profited immensely from the national integration and exposure offered by the system. Many people remember and speak of their NYSC days fondly: it was a time that offered excitement, adventure, the promise of fresh opportunities and the beginning of a new and independent life. However, since then, Nigeria has regressed significantly in terms of security and economic arrangements.
Whatever the future of the scheme will be, the current decision of the minister of youth development to force our young men and women into the lion’s den will certainly not betide well for the NYSC in the long run. As the drama of the NYSC deployment continues to intensify, one hopes that the government will consider the welfare of our youth, be reasonable and take a position different from that of the minister. In the event they don’t, concerned corps members should take a leaf out of the book of the UNILAG students when the government wanted to force a name change to their prestigious institution and consider their legal option to compel the federal government to uphold its constitutional and cardinal purpose: to ensure the “security and welfare of the people”.