By Luke Onyekakeyah
The reported death of a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Chioma Eunice Igweike, who was allegedly abducted and later found dead with vital parts of her body missing has added to the long list of innocent and promising youths who have lost their lives on account of being called to serve their fatherland under the now lackluster NYSC scheme. There is no doubt that under the alarming and frightening insecurity situation, the NYSC scheme is an aberration, which ought not to be because it exposes youths to danger that pervades the entire country. No place is safe in Nigeria.
Government ought to have reviewed the scheme with a view to scraping it, given the highly volatile situation in the country. Besides, the conditions that warranted the establishment of the NYSC no longer exist. It is only for selfish reasons that the scheme is allowed to run because some top government officials are reaping huge benefits from it on the grave of those being killed. This is insensitive and unpatriotic, to say the least.
Reports say Chioma Eunice Igweike left her house on Wednesday, July, 20, 2022, for the three weeks orientation course at the Ogun State NYSC camp. Her friends and former course mates said the Federal Polytechnic Oko graduate was kidnapped and killed by suspected ritualists and dumped somewhere.
Last April, another NYSC member, Stephanie Se-ember Terungwa, was declared missing and later found dead according to a statement by the NYSC spokesperson, Eddy Megwa. He said, “The attention of NYSC Management has been drawn to the pictures making the rounds in the social media of a missing Corps Member deployed to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
“The corpse was found wearing the NYSC kakhi trousers with the face defaced beyond recognition. On account of this, Management reported the discovery to relevant security agencies to help identify the body,” the statement read.
Megwa noted that the corpse was later identified as Terungwa. He added that investigations were ongoing to apprehend those responsible for her murder. It was later confirmed that the remains were that of a missing Corps Member, Stephanie Se-ember Terungwa, with State Code Number FC/21B/5807.
At this juncture, it needs to be stated that except the Federal Government does something urgently about the ravaging insecurity in the country, sending corps members on national service from their home states to an unfamiliar state to do the service is tantamount to sending them to their early grave. The entire country has become a killing field, where life is snuffed out of anyone at will.
Many corps members have already lost their lives in unexplainable circumstances. These youngsters are dying at alarming rate and there is no statistics on the number of deaths. Truth is that many bereaved families are bemoaning their fate, regretting allowing their sons or daughters to go for the national service only to be confronted with their deaths.
The rising mortality rate of youth corps members across the federation has become a matter of serious concern. Every now and then, news of corps members dying or being killed make headlines. While some die in the orientation camps, others are killed at their places of primary assignment or tragic accidents.
Consequently, the national youth service, which used to be fun in the past, is now a nightmare. This frightening development has made parents and guardians reconsider allowing their wards to accept the national danger call. Many youths are no longer eager to go for the service for fear of dying. Having suffered to train up to tertiary education, one cannot just embark on a mission that may end in death. The spate of deaths has made corps members to become endangered species. There are families that have lost their only child they invested all their life. Such families are perpetually devastated and ruined.
Across the country, death is lurking everywhere – on the highways, orientation camps, corps member’ quarters on the streets. Sometimes, corps members are made target of political thuggery. There are kidnappers, ritual killers, rapists, among other violent groups that target corps members. Whereas Nigerians live with insecurity daily, the case of corps members is worsened by the fact that they are in unfamiliar environment where they are easily identified and targeted. It is very serious. This lamentation is based on the hundreds of corps members that have lost their lives.
The question is how many more innocent NYSC members would have to die before something is done to stop this morbid turn of events? In all of the deaths, the NYSC is economical with the truth of what happened or how the corps member died. Parents are left in the dark.
Not long ago, I attended the funeral of a corps member, Fortune Ihechukwu Ihe, who died at the NYSC orientation camp in Sokoto state. Fortune, 21, a graduate of economics, reportedly, died on 14 April, 2019 while engaged in camp strenuous activities.
I tried to see a representative from Sokoto state at the funeral but there was none. As I made effort to see who was there for the NYSC, I was taken to a young lady, Mrs. Chioma Ugwu, an NYSC inspector from Ikeduru local government. She was the one who represented both the Sokoto and Imo State governments. The very low representation showed the low value attached to human life in Nigeria. Anybody, including youth corps members could die and life goes on as if nothing happened.
It is little wonder that the so-called NYSC orientation camps are like blighted ghettos that have nothing good for human comfort. There are no good facilities; no water, no electricity, no good toilets. I visited one orientation camp in one state and discovered that they are using pit latrines in this 21st century Nigeria. That is where thousands of youngsters, fresh graduates from universities and other tertiary institutions, including those from abroad are camped yearly in the name of national service. And it is not that they are paid commensurate remuneration. A graduate is a graduate anywhere and should be paid accordingly. But corps members are exploited for one year.
What value is the NYSC adding to the individual and the nation at this stage? The founding fathers of the scheme, in 1973, shortly after the civil war, saw the need for national re-integration and redistribution of scarce trained manpower at the time. Today, all that has changed.
Nigeria was more united in 1973 than today. In 1973, Nigerians could migrate to any part of the country and get employment without discrimination. Today, that is impossible. An Imo man can’t be employed in Enugu or any other part of Igbo land, not to talk of southwest, or the north or any part of Nigeria.
In 1973, the youth corps members were offered employment after serving irrespective of where they come from. That is impossible today. The youngsters are simply used and dumped after the service. They are left to their fate. That is why millions of graduates are roaming about with nothing to fall back on.
Rather than being a vehicle to redistribute trained manpower, the NYSC is worsening the unemployment situation as those who would have offered them employment shut the doors because they get free cheap labour every year. With millions of graduates bursting the labour market in Nigeria, there is no need to talk of redistributing manpower as was the case in 1973.
Today, there are millions of graduates all over the country to the extent that every state has enough trained manpower to carry out its economic activities. Those still using the situation of the country in 1973 to perpetuate the NYSC scheme are dishonest. Truth, today, is that, the NYSC has become a conduit for corrupt self enrichment by those managing it. These people benefiting from the scheme would want it to continue no matter who dies.
The Federal Government has three options: One let the corps members be deployed in their states. The fact that Sokoto NYSC officials did not show up at the funeral of Fortune apparently because of long distance and safety considerations, shows that it is wrong to expect a youngster like Fortune to travel all the way from Imo State to Sokoto state.
Two, the NYSC should be made optional if it should continue. Many graduates miss some great opportunities after graduation because of the service.
Finally, the scheme should be scrapped because it has outlived its usefulness. The purpose that gave rise to it has changed. Government should come up with a more proactive scheme for the youths. Government should pay compensation, even though, no amount paid will replace the colossal loss of a child whose life was cut short.