LAST week, worried by the pervasive insecurity in the country, particularly the spate of kidnappings, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, urged the management of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to allow corps members to serve in their respective home states till the security agencies halted the dire situation across the country. This was just as it challenged President Muhammadu Buhari to act in accordance with his rhetoric while addressing world leaders at the 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York. In a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Jare Ajayi, Afenifere said: “Since it has been admitted even by the Federal Government agency that we may need to live by the kidnapping syndrome as indicated by the NYSC’s security tips, the minimum that the government owes parents and corpers in this regard is to let the youth serve their nation in their respective states. That way, their chances of being kidnapped would greatly be minimised.”
According to the apex Yoruba sociocultural outfit, the government’s poor handling of kidnapping had emboldened the perpetrators to continue their dastardly activities. It, therefore, called on the Federal Government to immediately allow states to transform their respective security networks into state police formations “with all the powers appertaining thereto.” According to reports, there have, in recent months, been cases of corps members being kidnapped, just like other members of the Nigerian public who have fallen victim to the dastardly activities of the outlaws across the country. In particular, the Abuja-Kaduna, Abuja-Lokoja-Okene and Aba-Port-Harcourt roads have in recent months witnessed serial incidents of kidnapping as bandits turned travelling on the highways into a nightmare.
To be sure, the NYSC was not conceived as a mere platform for national service. Even if things have degenerated so badly in recent times that the essence of the scheme has been virtually lost, the point needs to be restated that the NYSC was not conceived merely as a platform for graduates of the country’s institutions of higher learning to devote their labour to their country for a year, or even to have an opportunity to travel to places other than their previous habitat. Much more than these, the scheme was meant to bring the country’s graduates into contact with cultures other than their own and thus foster understanding across linguistic and ethnic lines.
In other words, the NYSC was conceived as a means of forging national unity. If anything, the sad experiences of the 1967-70 Civil War had taught the federal military government that the country needed further welding together, particularly in view of the fissures that constantly blighted the efforts made to unite the diverse nationalities in the country. That way, the scheme was expected to generate passion in the participants for existence outside their locality. Indeed, except a corps member is married or has serious health issues, (s)he is not expected to serve in his or her home state. That being the case, it would ordinarily amount to an aberration to ask participants in the scheme to serve in their home states.
Sadly, however, the security situation in the country has become patently dire and, what is more, the government has proven time and again that it is incapable of guaranteeing the safety and security of corps members. The key question thus arises: just how do you entrust the safety of people outside their locality to a government that cannot protect people in their own locality? As Nigerians are all too aware, hardly any week passes without people being kidnapped on the highways, on their farms (if they are farmers); in short, everywhere and anywhere. In that case, it would be foolhardy to expect Nigerians to wait until more corps members are kidnapped before making their objections known to the government. Certainly, Afenifere did not make the suggestion in question because it did not like Nigeria: the call is, to all intents and purposes, rooted in reality. It is indeed hard to fault the patriotic and compassionate call. If the government cannot guarantee the safety and security of corps members, there is no point taking them beyond their familiar habitat where they can at least move about with some degree of confidence, and where family members are readily available.
The bottom line, therefore, is that Afenifere’s call speaks to the failure of the government to perform its most important duty, which is to protect life and property. The government should then see Afenifere’s commonsensical recommendation as a wake-up call even if it does not accept the suggestion. After investing so much in their children, it is a terrible thing for parents to hear that they have been kidnapped while serving their country. That is enough to cause misery and despair, if not heart attack and death. Corps members cannot, and should not, be sacrificial lambs for the government’s utter incompetence. The government has a bounden duty to overhaul its security strategy and ensure that corps members do not become easy prey for bandits, kidnappers and criminals of different hues. Afenifere’s call is much more than food for thought.