Today is April 16. Exactly a year ago, the Presidential elections took place which installed Goodluck Jonathan as President. The reports were that the elections were mostly free and fair, but some in the North did not share that sentiment. In the violence that ensued in the hours and days following the close of the polls, members of the NYSC were caught up in it. Nine lost their lives. The tardiness of security agencies to restore calm made matters worse, and then Interior Minister, Emmanuel Iheanacho, was suspended from the cabinet on April 19.
What followed was a debate on whether the NYSC was still relevant. Young people in the prime of their lives were far from home, on national service, and the minimum that could have been done was to ensure their safety especially as they were handling a very important duty: that of being electoral officers at the polling booths. Instead, what we got was trading of blame between the NYSC and the affected states, and frightened young people who did not know what would happen next.
I was also an electoral officer last year, and took part in the Voter Registration exercise before that as well. I never met any of the deceased corp members, but I feel a certain kinship toward them. It could so easily have been me or someone else I knew. That is why, on this day, my heart bleeds at their memory. For many of us, Passing out Parade was exactly two months away on June 16. None of the 9 made it to that date. None of them got to receive their discharge certificates. Instead of returning home to the welcoming arms of family members and friends, they returned in coffins. All those dreams, aborted. For what?
In the run-up to the elections, President GEJ said that his quest to win at the polls was not worth the blood of anyone. Indeed, he was correct. With such a statement in mind, perhaps he could have done more to bring those responsible for the violence to justice. That did not happen. What we got instead was a committee, recommendations, more given to the families of the deceased, and that was all.
One year on, the feeling of ‘buyer’s remorse’ is at an all time high. The handling of fuel subsidy has mortally damaged the credibility of this administration, and the daily tales of unspeakable corruption in every area of our national life, has exposed the ‘transformation agenda’ as just the latest empty, vacuous slogan.
Today, however, my thoughts are on the nine young people who never came back to their families, who wanted to serve their country, but ended up paying a price out of all proportion to what they bargained for. I hope that one day this country will be worth their blood.