*As the nation is united in grief
By Jide Ajani
That afternoon, grief was served for lunch. But Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, the man who appears to be doing well with his charm, soothed and consoled the parents of the deceased.
Not that he bought their grief with N5million (which was to be given to the parents of each of the slain National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, members who died in April), but the palpable connection he established between the parents and himself went a long way to douse the fire of angst.
It was Tuesday, May 10 (note the symbolism of figure 10), 2011.
The family of the NYSC members who were killed in the aftermath of the presidential elections in Northern Nigeria and who have become known as the NYSC 10, visited Aso Rock Presidential Villa.
Who invited them?
It was President Goodluck Jonathan.
Why? Sunday Vanguard has learnt that it was part of President Jonathan’s efforts at demonstrating that the Nigerian nation never forgets its own.
In fact, families of the slain corps members had met the previous night, Monday, May 9, 2011, with the Director General of the NYSC, Col. Tsiga. It was at the meeting that they were informed that President Jonathan would like to meet with them the following day. The meeting with the corps members’ families was somber.
However, when Mr Awuchewu Okpokiri, spoke, his tone was very bitter. Indeed, the fact that President Jonathan had handed down a scoop of soothing balm did not sink in. It couldn’t. Here were families who had lost loved ones because of service to the nation.
According to Okpokiri, “communication in the last violence was nothing to write home about. Most of us families did not know about the death of our dear ones until about a week after”.
“I don’t think that is very good because I feel that when this kind of thing happens and we approach the authorities we should have been told of what had happened – at least the heads of the families should have been told; but this was not so. A lot of us did not know about the death of these children until 24th of April for something that happened on the 18th. We also want to ask just like every other Nigerian is asking today that the NYSC scheme should be reviewed in all its ramifications”.
Okpokiri was responding to the presentation made by President Jonathan on behalf of the Federal government of Nigeria.
President Jonathan disclosed that “in demonstration of our gratitude for the supreme sacrifice that they have paid in the service of Nigeria, I have decided that each of the ten families of these gallant young men and women will receive a token monetary compensation of N5 million”.
He therefore requested them “to proceed directly from this meeting to the NYSC Secretariat as I have directed the Director General to pay out this money immediately.
“Our Administration holds them in the highest esteem and we are determined to ensure that their names are permanently immortalized as an enduring source of inspiration to us all. I appreciate the fact that no amount of recognition can adequately compensate for the deep void that their passing has created in your individual families”.
Besides, he said “in addition, each of the families which has an unemployed graduate who is a direct sibling of the deceased could forward the names of such persons to the Director-General for processing for automatic employment in the Federal Civil Service. With regards to those who suffered varying degrees of injuries, additional to my earlier directive that the State Governments take charge of their medical bills, the Federal Government hereby guarantees each of them automatic employment on completion of their National Service”.
He however stressed that “these gestures are not meant to compensate for the lives lost or for disabilities suffered. They are our way of demonstrating the nation’s appreciation for the great sacrifice which these young patriots have made in the national cause”.
He said their invitation is “to afford me the opportunity to directly express the depth of my sadness at the unfortunate loss of your children, wards, and relations on National Youth Service as a result of the unfortunate violence which erupted in parts of the country following the last elections”.
“My heart, and indeed the hearts of all Nigerians go out to you all as you reconcile yourselves to the reality of the shock and the pain of losing vibrant young men and women of great promise and hopes of a fulfilling future ahead of them. We all share in your grief”.
According to him, “this tragedy is even more sobering, considering that they died carrying out a national assignment that has served to effectively consolidate our democratic process.
“The success of the 2011 elections and the wide international acclaim which the exercise has received was due in large part to the uncommon patriotism and diligence exhibited by the members of the National Youth Service Corps”.
He reminded them of the heroic death, saying “your sons and daughters may be gone, but they have not died in vain. You can take some solace in the fact that they are today national heroes of whom every patriotic Nigerian is immensely proud”.
He pointed that “as we mourn our fallen young brothers and sisters, I pray that Almighty God imbues us all with the requisite wisdom and understanding to be driven at all times by the values of loyalty, courage, dedication, and faith in a strong, prosperous and united Nigeria which is the essence of the NYSC scheme”.
At this point in time, he added that “we must all ponder the tragic loss of these young Nigerians and resolve to honour their memory by rededicating ourselves to engendering Nigeria’s continued peace, unity, stability, growth and development”.
He emphasised that “we must eschew any and all divisive tendencies and focus instead on emphasising the strength of our diversity and the renowned resilience and creativity that mark us apart as a uniquely gifted people.
Let me seize this opportunity to state in the clearest terms possible that this Administration is resolved to ensure that all those who may have been directly or indirectly responsible for this national tragedy face the full weight of the law. The culture of impunity must stop in this country.
“Tomorrow, I will formally inaugurate the Fact-finding Committee which will undertake a thorough investigation of the unfortunate incident. I want to assure you that those found culpable will be brought to justice”.
The family members thanked the President for mentioning about “compensation to us the bereaved families but we want to say that no compensation can be meaningful until the perpetrators of this heinous act are brought to book”.
Okpokiri again observed that “a lot of the police stations in most of these areas (where the youth corps members were killed) are nothing to write home about and that means that security for our people, our common man in the area is not there. And that means anything can happen at any time.
“I also want to call your attention to the fact that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Some of us from some states were sponsored by the NYSC to come here while some of us had to transport themselves to this place. They approached the NYSC and they didn’t give them any help and they had to come here on their own. I don’t think that is good enough”.
He said “but Mr. President, we want to thank you for all your concern and love for us and we pray and believe that whatever sacrifice these our children have done will be the last sacrifice for the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria and for the unification of Nigeria”.
The 10 corps members are Adewumi Paul, Ekiti, Okeoma Okechukwu Chibudom, Imo, Ukazeone Amsalem Chukwunonyere, Imo, Olawale Tosin, Kogi, Akonye Ibrahim Sule, Kogi, Gbejo Ebenizar Ayotunde, Osun, Adeniyi Kehinde Jelil, Osun, Anyanwu Agnes, Imo, Okpokori Obina, Imo and Adohe Elliot, Bayelsa.
One of the 10 families included the widow, Mrs Tessy Adowei, and four children of late Mr Adowei Elliot, from Bayelsa State.
Beside the President and his deputy, Vice President Namadi Sambo, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Minister Youth Development, Senator Olasunkanmi, NYSC officials led by the DG, Chief of Staff to the President and SA Media and Publicity, Ima Niboro, among others were in attendance.
The reception held at the Council Chambers.
Meanwhile, the committee set up by President Jonathan to investigate the killings had hardly commence its work that another twist of a possible security backlash on members rear its head.
Chairman, 2011 Elections Violence Investigations Panel, Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, had to come out in the open to declare that he was not afraid to serve the nation. Already, security protection is being provided for members of the panel. The panel has been charged by President Jonathan to complete its work within six weeks and all those likely to be invited to testify have since been admonished to honour the invitation of the committee.