Nigeria Matters

‘NYSC 9’ and Yuguda’s Heart of Darkness

In 2000 at dawn of the 21st century, Things Fall Apart was named among the world’s 100 greatest books of the 20th century by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 2008, the whole world was united in a joyous celebration of a product of the human mind when it marked the golden jubilee anniversary of the publication of this great novel.

And in March this year, Thing Fall Apart was chosen as one of the 50 most “most important and influential books in the history of the world.” It is the only book by a black man in the list. Chinua Achebe, the author of this masterpiece, which is the most widely read and translated book by any African, has won every imaginable prize in literature and has been decorated with every garland available save the Nobel Prize.

Literary critics believe that Achebe’s offence against the European literary establishment, for which he is unlikely to get this prize, is his 1975 lecture in which he took a swipe at Joseph Conrad, calling him “a bloody racist” over Conrad’s novella, the Heart of Darkness. They also point to his criticism of Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson published in 1939. Achebe said it was Mister Johnson that made him decide to write Things Fall Apart in reaction to the negative portrayal of Africa by Cary in the novel. Both Conrad and Cary are celebrated as literary ‘gods’ by European literary supremacists and denigrating them is seen as heresy.

The statement last week by Isa Yuguda, who has been re-elected as governor of Bauchi State, on the fate that befell the nine youth corps members (some accounts say 12) killed in the post-election violence that happened in Bauchi and some other states in the North as a result of the outcome of the presidential election, made me to remember Conrad’s novella, the Heart of Darkness. The novella, published in 1899, takes place one night on a boat by the Thames, a mesmerising tale of one man’s search for another. The little book sprang from Conrad’s experience in the Congo in July 1890. He spent day after day looking at decomposing bodies, skeletons tied to posts, he wrote, when a 13-year-old boy came in with a gun wound on his head, that he would be “glad to see the end of this stupid tramp”. The “tramp” went on, and Conrad watched men die and dreams end.

Yuguda was reported to have said that the dead NYSC members were destined to die the way and in the circumstance they died. He added that he too was attacked in 1979 when he was a youth corps member serving in Ibadan. He blamed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for not doing enough to protect the young Nigerians who were deployed to Bauchi State to serve their fatherland and added that he too suffered personal losses in the riots. He informed the journalists that his son almost died in the process.

The Bauchi State governor has since clarified his statement, saying the media quoted him out of context but even his new statement was not much better than the one he claimed was a misrepresentation of what he actually said.

The truth is that for those corps members used by INEC for the 2011 election it was a thing of pride to be called to serve in that capacity. I know this from experience. Anybody who was youth corps member between October 2, 1990 and September 30, 1991, will remember that he or she had two orientation programmes. After the usual orientation on camp which lasted four weeks at that time, we were camped again after a few months and given orientation on election matters because we were used by the government to organize one of the elections during former military President Ibrahim Babangida’s endless transition to civil rule programme. I remember vividly that some police officers who conducted the second orientation to prepare us for the election then specifically told us that on the election day, a corps member had a right to arrest an electoral offender. There was excitement in the air. We were all happy and everybody wanted to be a part of the action.

Therefore, for Olawale Teidi and Anslem Nkwazema, the thought of working for Nigeria by being presiding officers in the elections was a historic duty; for Michael Okpokiri and Elliot Adowei, it was an honour to be called to be a part of history. Also, Paul Adewunmi and Jehleal Adeniji most likely felt a sense of satisfaction, like many other Nigerians, who believed that with the involvement of NYSC members, change had come to Nigeria as echoed by Ikechukwu Ukeoma on his Facebook wall just before he was hacked to death in Bauchi.

Also Sule Akonyi and Ayotunde Gbenjo felt their fatherland valued them and the best thing to do was to put in their best for the election to be successful. These were the nine young Nigerians that perished in Bauchi, the nine young men Yuguda treated their deaths dismissively, comparing the fate that befell them to the attack he suffered in Ibadan in 1979 as a corps member. The way the governor has conducted himself on this issue is insensitive, unfortunate and very regrettable for someone who went through a higher institution, has been a minister and is today governor of a state.

Yuguda’s statement was his first reaction to the mayhem that took place in his state and instead of accepting that the corps members died under his watch and apologising to the nation and their families, he absolved his administration, absolved himself of any blame and pointed accusing fingers at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

One would have expected Yuguda to have sent delegations to the families of the slain corps members, consol them and probably ask them what their needs are. There is no amount of compensation that can be equated to life but soothing words can heal the wounds and make the families know that their children or wards died not in vain but for the greater glory of their fatherland; that they were sacrificed for Nigeria to be a great nation. Yuguda and people like him have no place in the new Nigeria that we need to build. Though he will still be governor for the next four years but in reality and at heart, he has shown that he belongs to the past.

On account of his nonchalant attitude to the death of the corps members, it will be unwise for the NYSC to post prospective corps members to Bauchi State subsequently at least while Yuguda is still in power in that state. He has shown that he does not deserve the services of these young Nigerians and cannot guarantee their safety. With his attitude, what is the difference between Joseph Conrad’s Congo of 1890 and Yuguda’s Bauchi in 2011?

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