Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Theatre of The Absurd V: Violence, The North and The NYSC

Set up in 1973 in an attempt at reconciling and rebuilding the country after the Civil War, the Nigerian Youth Service Corps stands today as one of the most effective unifying factors in a country split across deep ethno-religious fault lines.

As most Nigerian States tend to have a dominant ethnic group with their attendant tradition and cultural system, most graduates get their first real exposure to other ethnic groups and cultures during the one year period of compulsory Youth Service. Testimonies abound of the success of the scheme at: inculcating discipline; positioning graduates to give back to society; exposing youth to the many colourful cultures that make up the Nigerian nation; and most importantly promoting national unity and integration. Serving Corps members teach in schools, provide primary healthcare, staff offices and even voluntarily form associations in a bid to contribute to the quality of life in their host communities. By many standards, the Nigerian Youth Service Corps scheme has achieved a lot over the past few decades.

Therefore, it is disappointing that serving Corps members frequently fall victim to strife in their host communities – strife which most often arises out of the many differences in culture, religion, ethnicity and perspective they were sent there to bridge in the first place.

In the aftermath of the 2011 Presidential Elections, the past few days have seen irate youth in some parts of the North take to the streets in protest at the loss of their preferred candidate – General Muhammadu Buhari. Reportedly, the Sultan of Sokoto – widely accepted as the spiritual head of Nigerian Muslims – was pelted with sachets’ of water; mosques, churches, government buildings and INEC offices were burnt; even the residences of Vice-President Namadi Sambo and the Emir of Zazzau – among other notable Northern personalities – were also razed. Sadly, serving Corps members were not left out.

The Commissioner of Police in Bauchi State, Mr. John Abakasanga, has confirmed the death of at least four Corps members and maintains that others remain missing as of yet. Information from other Bauchi sources adds that nine other Corps members were gruesomely murdered last night. Only yesterday, 50 Corps members narrowly escaped being burnt to death in the NCCF Secretariat in Minna, Niger State. Other Corps members remain missing at the moment – unsettling parents and guardians across the nation.

A number of motives have been put forward for these protests, chief among which is that it is political in nature. I beg to disagree. From all indications, the uprisings that swept across the North – and which we may not have heard the last of – are not ENTIRELY political, ethnical, or religious in origin.

Despite the fact that people of Northern origin have ruled Nigeria for longer than any other region, the North still remains backward in many ways. Today, teeming masses in the North are: poor, hungry and semi-literate at best; do not have access to quality healthcare or free qualitative education; are held back from progress by rigid traditional institutions, and have no hope in the present or opportunity for the future. Of course, this is a single – but largely true – story of the North.

There is another North. There is the well digger who dug a well for my family thirteen years ago, yet continues to bring us onions from Sokoto every year. There is the beautiful Fulani woman with perfect skin who speaks such perfect English that I believed for most of my childhood that she grew up in Buckingham Palace. There is the Hausa family that protected my Mother and her family back in Makurdi during the pogrom leading to the civil war... Examples abound of the beauty of the North, if we choose to see beyond the more obvious strife and refuse to be caught up in the fallacy of hasty generalization.

In a country where ethnic and regional loyalties run deeper than national allegiance, the masses of the North have been underdeveloped by their regional leaders – and these protests are basically an attempt to overthrow the ‘old order’. As Salisu Suleiman explains, “the protests in northern Nigeria can be viewed as rebellion against a backward and anachronistic feudal system. Karshen Zalunci (End of Oppression) might be an apt description”. Sadly, these protests are hardly coherent – with no clear cut plans for achieving lasting change. The protesting youth have achieved nothing of value by indiscriminately turning on innocent people, particular emphasis laid on Corps members – who are in these areas for the singular purpose of serving the fatherland.

Are these the same Corps members expected to conduct Governorship elections on the 26th April – in these same areas? Are there enough security operatives to guarantee the safety of these Corps members over the next few days, and during the elections in the roughly 60,000 polling units spread across the North? Is it not safer to order their immediate return to their home States – in the greater interests of their safety? Will they not be in the right if they choose to boycott the Governorship elections next Tuesday in protest of these happenings?

Arrests must be made, and deserving punishments meted out. Urgent steps must be taken to ensure the safety and security of these Corps members – many of whom remain in these volatile areas solely because of their commitment to INEC. They are the future of this country, and that future must be preserved in good condition – by all means necessary. There is no point posting Corps members far away from their home States when their safety and security cannot be guaranteed in the new host communities.

Time and chance have conspired to grant President Jonathan a golden opportunity to assert his leadership and craft a new future for the North. May God help him to make the right choices, now and always. AMEN.

Nigeria shall arise!

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