BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, HENRY UMORU & BASHIR ADEFAKA
LAGOS — FORMER Military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), who established the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, in 1973 and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, have opposed calls for scrapping of the NYSC because of incessant killing of corps members especially in northern parts of the country during recurring ethno-religious and political crises.
Noting that the scheme was still vital for the political and socio-economic development of the country, the leaders have bemoaned the repeated killings of corps members and urged the government to halt the killings.
Gowon, who recalled why he established the NYSC, lamented that 41 years after the Civil War some Nigerians still hated one another and indulged in killing one another via ethno-religious and political violence.
He said: “That all this show of hatred still happens years after the Civil War is highly regrettable. The solution to it is that, Nigerians have to be patriotic and faithful to their country. Instead of using tribe, politics or religion as tool for violence, they should see it the other way by using it to buttress their loyalty and patriotism to their country, Nigeria.
“We’ve got to learn, especially through the two religions that we have, how to be able to live together and do things together in peace loving each other. That I think has worked out really in the West where they have a lot of religious differences and yet, there doesn’t seem to be a serious issue. They don’t go on fighting each other but they live side by side respecting each other, marrying each other, etcetera.
“Unfortunately in the North that is not the case. I think the leadership in the North, especially the leadership at the lower level should really rein in their young militants to ensure that they do not have the hearts of violence against their brothers whether of the same religion or of the other religion.”
Murder of corps members
Recalling that he set up the NYSC to develop and unite Nigeria, Gowon urged the government to find solutions to the rampant murdering of corps members. He said: “I wanted to develop Nigeria and of course I wanted to keep Nigeria together as one and by so doing we were able to get young Nigerians to serve together in areas other than their places of birth so that they could know one another, get used to what ordinarily could have been differences among them and live together with that understanding in peace and tranquility.
“That was what I did with my establishment of the National Youth Service Corps. It is only sad that recently some youth corps members had to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the country in trying to ensure that the nation moved forward through credible, free and fair electoral process. I must say that the loss of lives of those young people in parts of our country in the service of their nation hasn’t portrayed those responsible for the sad development as loyal and patriotic people.
It is barbaric and I believe, by the pains that followed, we have learnt our lessons, the more reason we should not rage at arms or rage for whatever reason against each other. To me, I think the government should do something about it because, seriously speaking, it is sad.”
On his part, Abubakar stressed the need for the Federal Government to carry out a total review of the NYSC scheme instead of scrapping of the programme.
Abubakar, who commended the Federal Government for the compensation of affected families of corps members who were killed in Bauchi was, however, quick to say that no amount of money could pay for the loss of such promising young men cut down in their prime, adding that only justice, as demanded by the affected families could ameliorate the loss and stem the growing culture of impunity in the country.
Atiku, who appealed to Nigerians to support the actions of President Goodluck Jonathan so far taken at healing the wounds inflicted on the nation by these killings, stressed that the pain was also aggravated by the poor management of the incident by the local administration in the affected areas.
In a statement from his media office, Abubakar said the NYSC scheme was long over due for a review as that would help re-energise it for the attainment of its set objectives of national cohesion, integration, unity and stability.
Speaking in Yola at a ceremony of the American University of Nigeria, AUN, and the release of 400 prospective corps members expected to join their colleagues from other parts of the country for the next call up by the NYSC for the compulsory scheme, the former vice president maintained that despite the unfortunate and regrettable death of 10 corps members in the recent post_election violence, the benefits of the unification programme were greater than its perceived shortcomings.
He said that since the introduction of the NYSC programme in 1973, the scheme had enabled the nation’s young men and women to appreciate the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country, thereby significantly helping them re_think their prejudices and promoting their understanding.
The former Vice President criticised the legal action instituted by some persons, seeking to scrap the NYSC programme, noting that no nation should formulate or reverse its policies out of sentiments, adding that the youths were the building blocks of unity and that the NYSC had contributed greatly to achieving the objectives of unity, togetherness, harmony, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
While calling on the government to fish out perpetrators of the violence against the slain youth corps members, Abubakar advised advocates of the repeal of the law establishing the NYSC programme not to reduce their minds to the level of those who criminally targeted the murdered young graduates who were on patriotic national assignment.
He specifically cited the recent spate of bombings in the country, and for which, regrettably, no arrests have yet been made, even as he called on security agencies to rise to the occasion by apprehending terrorists in the country and having them charged to the courts of law.