NYSC, Unity Schools: Wither Nigeria’s unity

Millions of Nigerians might not admit it publicly, but privately are very worried about the direction their nation is headed, as it is crystal clear that the country is currently sitting on a tinder box being buffeted from various sides. The strains the nation is facing range from the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, to farmers/herders clashes in the middle belt and southern parts to banditry which is national.

The failure of the central government to deal decisively with the anti-social problems has given rise to many non-state actors who are attempting to “defend” the interest of their various people and nationalities. Of course, those that fit this profile include Sunday Adeniyi Adeyemo, popularly known as Sunday Igboho, who has assumed cult status in the South West after he decided “enough was enough” and led action against perceived threats to the “Yoruba nation” by so-called Fulani herdsmen first popping up at Ibarapa, in Oyo State to drive out the Seriki, Alhaji Saliu Abdulkadir for allegedly aiding and abetting the criminals.

The 48-year-old native of Igboho town, located in Oke-Ogun, Oyo State, even went as far as questioning the wealth of Alhaji Abdulkadir and was quoted to have asked him how he was able to acquire his wealth, which included a number of houses, and 11 cars solely from proceeds of cattle sales? Explaining why he decided to take the action, Igboho told popular broadcaster, Kola Olootu: “The reason for that was the incessant attacks on our people in the Ibarapa and Oke Ogun areas of the state. Our people are no longer safe in their own land. On the contrary, Yoruba people don’t engage in such atrocious things.

You cannot see a Yoruba man going about killing people in Kano. “In the North, they can behead a Yoruba man for slapping a Hausa/Fulani let alone destroy their farmland. You will recall the case of ‘Oko Oloyun’ (a popular herbal medicine trader) who was killed during a visit to his country house. He was killed at Igbo Ora.

The government said it would unravel the facts behind his killing but till now, the matter has not been unravelled.” One cannot really fault his argument here because if the government had been more decisive in dealing with the issue then clearly he would not have taken the law into his hands. Following the Ibarapa action, Sunday Igboho then popped up in neighbouring Ogun State a week later to also issue another ultimatum to the Fulani herdsmen to leave or face the wrath of the people. Unfortunately, the same scenario is playing out across the River Niger in the Eastern part of the country, where despite frequent farmers/herders clashes and the often brutal manner in which people are being killed, the governments have failed to deal decisively with the issue has allowed the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu attempt to fill the void and provide security for the people.

Thus, on December 12, 2020 he announced the setting up of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), as a regional security force and a paramilitary wing of IPOB, with the “sole aim” of protecting the people from Fulani herdsmen. However, the Federal Government, which has been unable to checkmate the onslaught from the herdsmen, saw the ESN as a threat to its authority and deployed the army to locate and destroy ESN bases.

This escalated with the outbreak of the Orlu Crisis a month later, with the military confrontation lasting for a week, until ESN declared a unilateral ceasefire and both sides withdrew from the city. Video footage of the incident showed an almost full scale urban warfare as troops could be seen taking cover why they tried to dislodge the ESN members, who from the sounds of the guns being fired were not using local Dane guns but superior weapons like AK-47s. Shortly after the Orlu Crisis, IPOB gave all the governors of southeast Nigeria 14 days to ban open grazing, threatening to deploy the ESN to enforce a ban if the authorities did not do so. However, the ESN did not wait 14 days; a few days later, ESN operatives attacked a Fulani camp in Isuikwuato, Abia State, killing their livestock and burning down their houses.

Belatedly, following the raid, some governors responded by heeding the ESN’s call and banning open grazing in their states. While it is a truism that virtually all nations around the world face some form of tension as for instance in Great Britain where the Scottish have repeatedly tried to extricate themselves from the union, but this has not in any way caused a major rift within the merger. Unfortunately Nigeria’s many problems have more often than not been exacerbated by ethnicism, which should not be the case if all the programmes on ground to forge unity had been successful.

The most popular of such programmes is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which was launched on May 22, 1973 as an avenue for the “reconciliation, reconstruction, and rebuilding of the nation after the Civil War”. It was established based on decree No. 24 that stated that the scheme was created “with a view to the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”. Then Military Head of State, Gen, Yakubu Gowon, who gave birth to this very noble idea, then followed up by taking the “unity” fight to an even younger set of Nigerians – the secondary school – hoping that this level of Nigerians would still be more pliable to embracing oneness and not seeing themselves through jaundiced eyes.

Thus, while the first set of such schools were actually established by the British colonial masters; three new ones were added in Warri, Sokoto, and Enugu in 1966 while General Gowon, in 1973, ensured there such schools in all the 12 states back then.

Since then, hundreds of thousands if not millions of Nigerian youngsters have passed through both levels of “ethnic filtering” and yet despite this the honest truth is that the nation is no closer to being unified than in the build up to the Civil War. Gone are the days when Nigerians moved around the country freely searching for work or attending schools, not afraid of being caught up in ethnic clashes or being butchered by the various violent bandit groups that dot the length and breadth of the land. For instance I went to university in the East and served in Cross River and never once did I ever feel threatened.

Now, fear will not allow me make the four-hour drive to Benin because of the perilous state of insecurity. It is very clear that the nation needs to rethink its strategy of fostering unity and come up with a fresh approach if we are to stop the slide!




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