By Bisi Lawrence
Not a solitary roll of drum or one sound of the bugle was heard; no thud of marching feet; no flags at half-mast was flown, or the draping of a casket with the national colours observed; no laying of wreaths, only the shedding of tears from close family and friends … . And yet, the country was supposed to be in mourning. Or were we?
Those ten young men and women killed in Bauchi were not just part of a crowd of victims. As members of the National Youth Service Corps, they were on a national assignment. They lost their lives, cut down in the pride of their bloom, in the service of this country.
And all we could do is shrug it aside with the payment of five million naira to each family of the murdered “youth corpers” (to use their illustrious moniker) and set up a panel of enquiry.
Five million naira rings well in joyful ears. It is a good prize for a well-earned victory in sports, or a television quiz. It can buy a lot of groceries too. But a human life cannot be compared to any amount of groceries. The gesture may be well-meant, but it merely sums up to be no more than an extension of the “moneytizing” mentality which equates the cost with the value, and loses sight of the worth.
I wonder if you have ever been close to a “youth corper.” You may have heard some of their dreams, once golden but now gradually tarnished by an overlay of frustration in a confused economy and cloudy future. But they strive on.
They embrace the hazards of their “service year” without question, accepting it all as a duty to the nation. They mirror the present and define the future … our future. I have raised six of them. I was totally involved with their hopes and now thank God for fulfilling their dreams so they can stand on their own.
I insisted that they should let me have their pictures during their term of service in those sassy uniforms of theirs – half military, half boy scout. No photographs give me more pleasure than those pictures. I wonder if any relative of the Bauchi massacre victims can bear to look at any photograph of their deceased loved ones at the moment.
I remember some of the visions held by my own”youth corpers.” They delivered them with enthusiasm and the assuredness of champions. Some of them were out of focus with reality. But, as a loving parent, you do not argue about them. You only proffer a note of caution, wrapped in words of encouragement. Time will provide the correction to the dreams. You let them live.
But when life is snuffed out “like a candle in the wind”, dreams turn into no more than the figments of a mirage. When the visionary is gone, and the dreams cannot live, you let them die.
Maybe that was what a certain State Governor meant in his reaction to the gruesome incident in Bauchi. But he spoke out of tune in the dialect of a religious philosophy that could not cut through the grief of the moment. His son, according to him, once escaped from a similar peril. He does not know the anguish that such a tragedy thrusts on the bereaved. Unfortunately, he cannot understand the pain of love. His situation demands sympathy.
All the same, dreams may perish but memories survive. It is yet not too late for the government to honour these young men and women who died in active service for their nation. As it is, if there were a pantheon for unsung heroes and heroines of the land, these Bauchi “decem” would definitely occupy the front row. We should show our esteem in a manner that would denote our appreciation for their lives.
A good way is to build a monument to their memory in a conspicuous area in Abuja, the national Capital. In addition, a day known as the National Service Day, should also be dedicated to their memory, as well as in recognition of the patriotic service which the NYSC renders to the nation. Rallies should be held in every State Capital on that workfree day, to extol the necessary ideal of national unity for which the NYSC stands, and in the discharge of which the young men and women lost their lives.
After all that, the issues of individual dependents like wives and children should be humanely addressed. That is the least a nation could do, especially when the government cannot totally disclaim all responsibility in this matter.
Every “youth corper” is undoubtedly the ward of the NYSC when on service. The Corps is accountable for his or her welfare. The first bastion of safety for them is the police. That was where many of the “youth corpers” ran when they were in danger – to the police station.
But the policemen pushed them out at the approach of the murdering hordes straight into the fierce embrace of death. They cast the young men out to save their own skin. That describes the calibre of our security personnel and also questions the status of their armoury.
The fact that marauding murderer have also had their way with the security set-up in that part of the country provides grave concern as to the competence of our security organization. There had been major outbreaks of fatal riots in Bornu, Gombe, and even Bauchi itself before now, followed by panels of enquiry but no ensuing action. A panel of enquiry should be the furthest measure in our thoughts at the moment.
The police should come out this time with all their investigative machinery and bring these criminals to book at last. It is not the NYSC that has failed. It is our security organization that is shamefully inefficient. But we are very clever at deceiving ourselves.
At the first impact of the news of the shocking slaughter of the “youth corpers,” it would not be unusual to think of disbanding the organization. But what we need to disband are the groups of murderers in the North or South, whatever their religious or social coloration. What we need to tamper with is the quality of our security.
Surely, a country like Nigeria should be able to protect herself. Our security system has let us down, now and again. We wade through massacre into murders. And day in, day out, we are fed on dry promises of bringing down the wrath of justice on the miscreants.
The ineffectiveness of our security system impinges on our private as well as public lives. If we are to scrap every organization adversely affected by the inadequacies of our security, we might as well shut down the entire country itself. The NYSC today represents one of the strong strands that bind us together as a nation. Scrap it and you may snap a significant mainstay of our sense of unity.
And so we now have a fitting footnote to our free and fair elections. And if you like, they were “credible” too, what with the reported malpractices, repetition of polls, vile accusations and vicious rumours, and with the regrettable backwash of innocent blood “Credible” has undoubtedly picked up a new meaning in the twist of political disingenuousness.
Not for me! I repudiate all the doublespeak and insincerity. We are heading for a series of legal entanglement the type of which politics has never unleashed in ;this country. Then we may begin to decipher what is credible as against what is creditable.
In the mean time, we should not let our young heroes die in vain. We must do honour to their memory.