|Murdered Corp Member
Madness is the only word I can use to describe the orgy of violence that erupted in some parts of Northern Nigeria following the release of Presidential election results last week. Irate youths chanting “Sai Buhari” took laws into their hands leaving several people killed and burning properties including churches. Major victims of these attacks have been Youth Corpers, Christians and PDP supporters in these states. These senseless killings began in Gombe on Monday, a day after the elections and spread to other states including Bauchi, Kano and Kaduna. Questions about whether these attacks have been “spontaneous” have been raised.
The Congress of Progressive Change (CPC) issued a statement denying complicity in the violence. They simply washed their hands off the situation. The CPC Presidential candidate had these to say: “It was so spontaneous that I didn’t know about it. I did not ask them to start it, but I asked them to stop, especially the burning of churches and other religious places.” He claims that people just “reacted to results” and said he did not know what triggered the violence.
So if it wasn’t the CPC supporters, then who was behind it? Who was angry enough about results that hadn’t officially been released? And who thought the victory of Jonathan was such a taboo as to foment the indiscriminate shedding blood? And what does Buhari mean by “responded to results”. My take is that there was nothing spontaneous about these crimes. People were instigated to kill! A Southern Presidency with Jonathan at the helm irked some people so much that they had to spill innocent blood. This was a premeditated act of evil. This was about power and nothing more.
An independent study by The Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) on Electoral Violence in Nigeria had this to say in September of 2010: “…With the considerable resources available to him as an incumbent president and his Ijaw constituents in the Delta region pressuring him to stay in office, Jonathan has the means and the motive to seek a full term as president. If he chooses this course, powerful northern politicians may abandon the PDP’s elite consensus and challenge his candidacy. The stage would be set for a divisive and potentially violent electoral season featuring unprecedented public involvement. Even in the unlikely event that the elections are broadly credible, some losing candidates will almost certainly have sufficient grounds to convince their supporters that victory has been stolen, especially if the winner has a different ethnic or religious identity”.
If this report is anything to go by, anybody saying these killings were spontaneous is only being smart by half. There was a chance this might happen if the person who won the poll was a Christian Southerner! Jonathan who is referred to as “kafir” up north is also seen as a usurper and anything related to him or his victory was attacked. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubarka III was not spared. The angry youths burnt down his house because he was seen to be sympathetic to Jonathan when he advised voters not to vote along ethnic or religious lines.
Buhari and the CPC have claimed that 40 per cent of their votes were deducted when the figures were inputted into the INEC Excel sheets. Buhari scored 12,214,853 votes across the country and came second in the overall results. But if you mark his votes up by 40 percent across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, it would come to 20,238,088 which is lower than Jonathan’s 22,495,187 votes. He would still have lost. So what is the killing for?
Buhari who was accused of basing his campaign around ethnic and religious sentiment put lives in danger in the event that he lost the election to Christian or Southerner. His campaign team did not even cross the Middle Belt region to solicit votes in the South East and South-South. How could he have won an election when the North he clinched his hopes on was divided? There were only four states (Kano, Bauchi, Yobe, and Borno) than Jonathan didn’t get 25 percent of the votes which means that Jonathan had a good number of votes from Northern states as well.
As the killing spree went on, the mob went about attacking everything that they considered affiliated to GoodLuck Jonathan’s victory. They went after NYSC members. They concluded in their narrow minded thinking that because NYSC members were used as INEC ADHOC staff then they must have been used to rig Jonathan into powers. They didn’t have to look very far; their sponsors told them where to find the Corpers. They went to Azare, Giade and Itas Gadau, specifically to the Corper lodges in Bauchi states with one mission on their mind-murder. One of the ill fated Corpers was Obinna Okpiri.
|Late Obinna Okpiri
Obinna Okpkiri, a 27 year old Estate Management graduate serving in Bauchi met with the cold hands of death as the blood thirst mob cut him to pieces. They didn’t care whether he went to school or for how long. They didn’t care about the amount of investment his parents had in him or what he had to offer his country. All they cared was for power to return to the North. All that mattered was “Sai Buhari”. Obinna was just in the way and they killed him and twenty four others. I did not know Obinna, but I have talked to people who knew him personally. He was the deputy governor in Anglican Hostel in Wailo orientation camp. He was said to be gentle and intelligent. He didn’t deserve this…
SHOULD NYSC BE SCRAPPED?
NYSC members have found themselves in the line of fire recently. The elections have put them in the cross hair of “civil unrest”. The issue on whether the scheme should be scraped has been on the front burner for some time now. Youth Corp members have become soft targets for people with anti-establishment and nihilistic mindsets.
The scheme was founded in 1973 by the Gowon administration and at inception had laudable intentions. It was meant to integrate Nigerians together after the Civil War. A man from the South West who had his tertiary education in the South East would be sent to a Northern state like Kano or Kaduna where he would learn and appreciate the diversities in the culture and languages of Nigeria. The host community would usually be happy to receive him and make him feel comfortable. But now, taking up assignment in some states in Nigeria especially the northern part is a huge risk to life. Parents take huge risks allowing their wards enlist into the program because he (she) may not see their child again. And that’s the sad reality of the situation.
The scheme like every other Nigerian parastatal has become drenched in corruption. NYSC has been reduced to a means of getting cheap labor by the Government. The intentions of the founding fathers have been lost. The scheme favors the northern states more and paradoxically, this is where corp members face the highest threats to their lives.
NYSC is no more about the service but just the discharge certificate. Serving members cannot just wait to get out. The Government has organized the scheme in such a way that the discharge certificate has become a prerequisite for getting any meaningful employment. Corp members undergo untold hardships in the states where they are posted to. But for the Christian Fellowships that provide temporary housing for these Corp members, many are left without shelter. The recent outcry over the failure of the scheme has been about the deaths of serving members but even the day to day hardships faced by this youths is enough to scrap it.
After the Suleja Bomb blast, the Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps, Brig-Gen. Maharazu Tsiga came out boldly to say no Corp member died when reports were to the contrary. After the sad event in Bauchi, the NYSC official report put the death toll at 4 when several others had been slaughtered. What is the lying for?
It is unfortunate that this country does not place value on the lives of its citizens. And this insensitivity has led to the loss of more lives. Take the Independence Day Bombing for instance, the victims of the mayhem were carried to the National Hospital Abuja for treatment and the Nigerian Government was happy to announce to whoever cared to listen that it would cover the hospital bills! Can you imagine that? I work in the health sector, and what am about to say may surprise you. The bills were paid quite alright but the Government paid it for just one week. But at least, our wonderful Government kept its promise.
You are probably aware about the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City. But what you don’t know is that the US Government paid out 1.1 million dollars EACH (USD) to the families of the victims irrespective of what country they are from. That is a country that takes lives seriously. That is a country that is sorry about putting citizens in harm’s way. British Petroleum (BP), the company responsible for the oil spill that gutted the gulf has paid out over 4 billion dollars in compensation to farmers and families affected by the disaster. And the Nigerian Government tells us on National Television that they will take care of the bills with smiling faces.
It is an open secret that the “big man’s pikin” does not serve in NYSC. The man in government will influence in child’s posting to Abuja, Lagos or Port Harcourt. NYSC posting are for sale for as little as 10,000 naira. It is the poor man’s child that can neither influence or “sort” his way through that gets sent to Zamfara, Bauchi, Gombe or Borno where he can be hacked to death.
When I was in the orientation camp, the daughter of the one of the presidential aspirant (before he dropped his ambition) came to the camp only to sign the “Book of Life” (a register used to collate names of Corp members in the State in question.) The NYSC officials tool the book to meet her in the armored jeep while the rest of us waited in the sun for our turn. I have nothing wrong with showing honor to the “elite” of the society but the lady should have at least come down from the vehicle. That was the only day she came to a camp that was meant to be for three weeks. She will definitely not be sent to a “war zone”. She will probably get her discharge certificate by FedEx in the United States while her fellow comrades die in Bauchi.
So do I think the scheme should be scrapped? No is my answer. I don’t think it should be scrapped out-rightly. The Corp members offer services in communities where help will otherwise never come. Some places in the Eastern part of the country have only Corper Doctors, pharmacist and nurses running the hospitals. And we all have grandparents and other relatives that go to these hospitals. NYSC members have also contributed tremendously to the education sector to fill the gap of inadequate manpower encountered in primary and secondary schools.
I believe that the scheme should take a break for a year or two and reform itself. There needs to be a reassessment of values the scheme once held. The intention of the program has failed woefully and needs to be revamped. By revamp, I mean that the scheme should be made voluntary. If you want to serve your country, you do so. A discharge certificate should not be used to force you.
However for those who want to enlist in the scheme, they should be paid handsomely for their services. Paying a Corper 150,000 naira a month is not too much to ask. That would certainly inspire any youth to take up employment anywhere in the country. In addition, adequate security must be provided. The death of any Corper whether by natural or “man made” means must be seen as a National tragedy. If a Corper is killed for any reason, the states in question will have no Corp member deployed to them for a year while those already deployed will be withdrawn. That way, the organization would be taken seriously. Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos state has shown exemplary leadership by sending a plane to carry Corp members who are distressed from Bauchi State. Something the DG of NYSC should have done ages ago.
PATTERNS OF VIOLENCE AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Conflicts are an integral part of human society and Nigeria has had her fair share of them. From the Civil War in 1966 to the Zangon Kataf conflicts in 1992, conflicts abound in every aspect of everyday life. Major conflicts in Nigeria usually have religious, ethnic or economic undertone. These three factors are interwoven in such a way that an economic conflict can quickly become a religious one. Politics is also a factor as politicians may use any of the aforementioned factors (economic, ethnic and religious) to serve their selfish motives.
In places like Jos for instance, the conflicts originally began purely as an economic struggle between the so called “indigenes” and “settlers” which strove for resources and political influence in the state. It began to appear to the minorities that they were from a particular ethnic group (Fulani) and also of a different religion (Islam). So it is easy for an outsider to conclude that that the conflict is between Christians and Moslems when in fact it is a much deeper one.
The metamorphosis from economic to ethnic and ultimately to religious is intricately delicate and can easily go from one boiling point to another in a short time especially when the people have lived in a society devoid of trust for a long time.
I believe that the majority of conflicts in Nigeria can be resolved with a working economy. A hungry man is always an angry man. The almajiri problem is a pointer to this. With the prevalent poverty experienced in the Northern part of Nigeria, these “kids” (if I may call them that) are picked up by Islamic clerics who feed and cater for them. Some of these clerics also sow seeds of hate and the potentials for destruction against the state are left to germinate. The almajiri belongs to this cleric or controller because he controls their stomach. Therefore it doesn’t take him anything to obey a benefactor who tells him to kill. It’s the least he can do.
EQUAL RIGHTS TO CITIZENS: The mentality that a person is better than another in the same country is only a recipe for disaster. The Second World War was fought because a certain group of Germans (Nazi’s) saw themselves as better than another class of individuals (Jews) and this led to the massacre of over six million Jews. We can’t have a society where there is oppression of any kind whether economic or religious. The Niger Delta Crises and Uprisings in the Middle East are key examples. If a person has stayed in a place for an agreed amount of time, he (she) deserves to exercise the right to buy and own property in that place and even run for elective office. I hope that one day we will have a Nigeria where an Hausa-Fulani Moslem will be the governor of Lagos and a Christian Igbo man can govern Zamfara state.
EDUCATION: This is the most effective way to solve the almajiri problem in the north. When people are educated they are empowered to make better lives for themselves. The sentiment in the south where people say, “If them no wan go school, make them no go,” will hurt us faster than we think. Legislation has to be made to make education compulsory at primary and secondary school level. There is simply no way around this.
Proper monitoring of what is been taught in the schools must also be done. Islamic studies should be taught like mathematics and must not be the only thing taught in schools.
People in the southern part of Nigeria are not responsible for the apathy showed by mothers in the north to immunize their children but the continual existence of the Polio Virus (WPV) puts our own children in danger. A state legislation mandating Immunization may become necessary and stiff penalties should be set for defaulters. These mothers must be educated to understand the importance of immunization.
I also believe that the Government must not be involved in any state sponsored religious activity like travelling to Jerusalem or going for the Hajj. It should be a strictly personal affair.
JUSTICE: There can never be peace without justice. The blood of the innocent must be avenged. Nothing stops a man that has killed in cold blood from doing so again if he is not punished. Impunity creates impetus for more crime. The police have failed miserably in this regard. When suspects are caught, after some time, nothing is heard about the cases anymore. In Jos for instance, the murderers of women and children got as low as 5 year jail time. That judgment is disgusting. The Law must serve as a deterrent. I want to see a law where anyone who commits a crime like this should be given the capital punishment. His death must be broadcasted on National Television and radio. There are far too many sentiments whipped and politicking over every issue in this country. Government officials shield criminals and go unpunished. The Boko Haram sect leader, Yusuf Mohamed was killed extra judicially and today, nobody is saying anything.
A while ago, arms were smuggled into the country from Iran; the Iranians involved were granted bail. Nigeria maintains its diplomatic stance with Iran and is considering going into talks on nuclear power with the Iranian government! What kind of country is this?
This country has gone through a lot and the fabric that holds us as one is being tested on a daily basis. The enemies of progress want to destroy us but I believe we pull through. We must resolve that the death of Obinna and other Corpers must mean something. The perpetrators of this act must be brought to book.
© Ewoigbokhan Otaigbe Itua
This article is dedicated to the Corpers that lost their lives in the needless bloodshed that occurred across some parts of the country. To Obinna and Co, may your souls rest in peace. (Amen)