Graduate killings prompt government review of postings

The government has sent security forces to protect camps in northern Nigeria where graduates are undertaking compulsory youth corps assignments. There have been threats of further armed attacks on graduates by the Islamic sect Boko Haram.

The Arabic name of Boko Haram is Jama’atu Ahlis-Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad and it translates to mean that Western education is sinful and belongs to infidels. Education is a target of the group, which also wants to impose Sharia law in the north.

The executive governors of Nigeria’s northern states are concerned that the withdrawal of serving graduates would create serious human resource problems in the education and health sectors, where graduates are annually deployed and are most needed.

It is mandatory under law for all university graduates to serve for a year in any part of Nigeria. Private and public sector employers are not allowed, under the constitution, to employ any graduate who has not served under the National Youth Service Scheme.

The scheme was created in 1973 and one of its key clauses forbids deployment of graduates in their state of origin. This is intended to ensure that during national service young men and women get to discover other social, ethnic and cultural landscapes in highly diverse Nigeria.

But the scheme has suffered serious setbacks.

During last year’s presidential elections, some serving graduates deployed as election officers were murdered in northern Nigeria, allegedly by Boko Haram.

The latest postings of new graduates have generated controversy.

Parents in northern Nigeria have not raised concerns over the safety of their children sent to southern parts of the country, but parents in the south have understandably protested against deployments to states in the north where Boko Haram has attacked schools and churches and killed many civilians in its ‘Holy Jihad’.

The parents of Antonia Temilade Oyinye, an economics graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile Ife in southern Nigeria, were worried about her being sent to Yobe, one of the states where Boko Haram operates.

Oyinye said the scheme should allow voluntary redeployment, given insecurity in the north. “My parents are adamant that I should stay put,” she said. “Luckily I will now serve in Adamawa state. But something must be done quickly to keep us all safe.”

Ekeji Okon, a medical doctor, was sent to Bornu state for national service. He supports protests against the youth corps.

“I was serving in Bornu state in 2009 when Grace Ushang, a female colleague, was hacked to death in broad daylight by Boko Haram fanatics for putting on blue jeans and a shirt which they considered ‘sinful’ and ‘anti-Islam’.

“Little did I realise that Nigeria would later witness more killings of Christians by these fundamentalists. No religion, including Islam, preaches that anybody should take another person’s life,” Okon lamented

Mixed response from government

Initially, there were discordant tones emanating from government circles over protests by graduates who did not want to serve in parts of the north where there are security concerns.

Minister of Youth Development Inuwa Abdulkadir said his ministry would not review the postings of corps members sent to Boko Haram-infested states, especially Bornu and Yobe. “This is a constitutional matter. Until the law is amended, I will not review the postings.”

His position sparked public anger. Even the National Assembly urged Abdulkadir to redeploy corps members to states that are relatively safe.

The most interesting rejection of the minister’s position came from former chief judge of Lagos state Samuel Omotunde Ilori. He argued that corps members had the constitutional right to reject any posting where their security could not be guaranteed.

“They have the right to life and dignity of the human person first and the right not to be killed. These rights are enshrined in Chapter Two of the 1999 constitution,” Ilori said, adding that those rights trumped youth scheme acts. “Self-preservation is the first law of nature.”

Ilori declared that he would offer his expertise and services, free of charge, to defend in court any corps member who rejected posting to an insecure state.

As a compromise, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the director-general of the youth scheme, Brigadier General Nnamdi Okore-Affa, to repost corps members to ‘safe’ districts in troubled northern states.

Okore-Affa in turn warned that he would not hesitate to deny corps members to states that could not guarantee their safety. The northern governors have since put in place extra security measures to ensure corps members' safety.