Tragedy is a depressant, often leading people overcome by emotions to the wrong and often very hasty resolutions. Like all observers of the aftermath of last week’s presidential elections in Nigeria, I was saddened by the loss of innocent lives in the north as a result of a mad frenzy of sadistic unemployed youths convinced that their candidate won. In the process, many lives were lost, including a current serving member of the NYSC Ukeoma Aikfavour whose last status update on April 17 reads as follows:
Na wao! This CPC suporters would hv killed me yesterday, no see threat oooo. Even after forcing underaged voters on me they wanted me to give them the remaining ballot paper to thiumb print. Thank God for the police and am happy i could stand for God and my nation. To all corps members who stood despite these threats esp. In the north bravo! Nigeria! Our change has come.
The exact details of his death is not yet known, and it doesn’t make it less sad, or less a grave indictment on the supporters and leaders of CPC who wanted to win the election by do-or-die. Ukeoma paid the ultimate sacrifice which by now we have resolved to make sure was never in vain. (I’m aware of Facebook pages now calling for a rally in his honour on May 29, as well as calls for the government of Goodluck Jonathan to reward his family, and immortalize his name – all very good, very important steps to offer support and solidarity to those ordinary people who do extraordinary things everyday on behalf of all of us.)
Then there are also the cynics whose only lesson from this unfortunate event is that the NYSC has outlived its usefulness and should be scrapped, or that corp members should be deployed only to their home states. Here is one of such recent examples. Nothing could be more unfortunate than a thought process that finds this as the best alternative to a system that has allowed us to understand each other more than any other in the country. In civilized countries, the lessons from tragedy is not usually an about turn with tails between one’s legs, but a courageous pushing on with a resolve to tackle the problems that makes the tragedy happen in the first place. Nobody can quantify the loss of a human life. But attacking the structure that has – for over thirty years – moved people around the country in order to learn and to contribute at the grassroot level is a bad idea. It is like trying to cure a boil with an invasive laser surgery.
The National Youth Service Corps needs a lot of changes, one of which is the amount of stipend that each corp member gets every month. Another one is that they should be well protected and should never be left to their devices in situations when their security is at risk. Like soldiers defending the country from attack, each corp member is a representative of all of us, and we owe it to them to make sure that they return home safely. But to suggest that they should not be given the chance to experience that diversity that their country is made of is, again, a bad idea that we should never encourage. If they need to live in police or soldier barracks to make them safer, we should encourage that. Not that they should go and serve in their home towns. All that would bring is a future Nigeria where all everyone knows about the country is all they see within miles of their own home. And what good is that for nation-building or for a safer future based on understanding?
The new president, Goodluck Jonathan has such tasks on his hands, to unite the country again, and make such situations unlikely where the call for dividing the country will be a better alternative to working to find safer and more challenging ways to forge a future based on respect and understanding. Meanwhile, people like Aikfavour Ukeoma make me proud to have been an NYSC corper. May his sacrifice remind us of the high price of integrity, the frailness of our current national experiment, the futility of violence, and encourage us to work for a better, more secure future for ourselves.