Brigadier General Okorie Affiah,
National Youth Service Corps,
THE CASE OF ABUBAKAR IDRIS USMAN
First, let me apologize for this open way of drawing your attention to the rather pathetic case of a serving youth corper who seemed to have set the record as probably the first to be court martialled for allegedly offending the statutes of your parastatal. I have decided on this approach because the issues involved are of public interest.
Second, let me declare my interest in the case. Abubakar Idris Usman, the youth corper in question, is my son, in the African sense. He graduated from Abdullahi Bayero University, Kano, with a BSc in Mass Communication with Second Class Upper. His father, who we all call Danjuma Yaro, and I have known each other since our childhood days over 60 years ago, partly growing up as we did in the midtown Kaduna neighbourhood of Layin Shaba, aka Nupe Road, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods which is predominantly Nupe. Danjuma himself is Hausa but speaks Nupe nearly as fluently as any Nupe. Not only that, Jamila, one of his daughters and elder sister to Abubakar, has been married for over fourteen years to one of my younger cousins. They’ve have had four kids. Abubakar is one of their favourite uncles.
Abubakar has been the subject of an unrelenting punishment by your subordinates in Kaduna which has been grossly out of proportion to his alleged offence. This open letter is an appeal to you to put an end to his travail.
The source of his seemingly unending trouble was his article published in the CAMPUSLIFE section of The Nation of November 22 last year entitled “In Kaduna, Corps members sleep in toilet.” The article, accompanied by a telling picture of a uniformed youth corper sitting beside a bunker bed in a toilet converted into a room, sought to highlight the plight of youth corpers at the NYSC camp in the state as a result of its hosting about 700 graduates more than the previous year’s number.
The offending piece quoted one corper as saying the hostels on the camp were “unfit for human habitation.” It quoted another as saying the overcrowding in the camp “posed a high risk of disease and personal safety.”
The article also mentioned the Camp Director, Mrs L. D. Mburi, of complaining “bitterly” about female corpers that used to defecate into polythene bags in their hostels. It also mentioned the State Co-ordinator, Mrs. Victoria Ango, as telling you on a visit to the camp that the abandoned hostel projects on the camp would be completed in three week’s time as a way of meeting the challenge of inadequate accommodation on the camp.
Predictably, the articles got the dander of the NYSC authorities in Kaduna up.
The first sign that Abubakar was in trouble came at lunchtime on the very day his article was published. The sign came through an urgent summons on his phone for him to go to the State coordinator’s office. On arrival he was confronted by an angry Mrs Ango who demanded to know who put him up to his “wicked” article. This was in the company of an equally angry Mrs Mburi and the Camp Commandant, Captain Dada.
After a barrage of angry words he was told that he’ll make the record as the first corper to be court martialled in the state. He was given enough time to get dressed up in his uniform for the trial which was to take place in Mrs Mburi’s office. On getting to the hostel to dress up he was told by some of his colleagues that some NYSC staff had been there and had ransacked his bag and taken away his digital camera, jotter, and his other mobile phone.
At the venue of the trial he discovered that two of the corpers he quoted in his article had also been summoned. This was in the afternoon. However, the trial did not begin till 7 pm. It was chaired by Mrs Mburi. Others on the panel included your representative, a State Security Service (SSS) representative, a police representative and a civil defence representative. According to Abubakar, no one questioned the accuracy of his article. Instead the panel’s concern was who sponsored him and how he was able to file the article when he was supposed to be on the camp; a silly question, if you ask me, in this digital age of the ubiquitous internet. The panel, he said, also wondered if he thought he could fight government. And so on and so forth.
All three apologized profusely for the embarrassment they said the article must have caused the state NYSC authorities and pleaded for clemency. Abubakar, however, said he tried to explain to the panel that he meant no harm and was only practicing what he was taught about the watchdog role of a journalist as a mass communications undergraduate.
The panel was not impressed. Instead at the end of the trial at 9 pm it sentenced the other two to severe drill. On his part as the main culprit, Abubakar was sentenced to the same drill, his phone seized and was told he will get a three-month extension of his service without pay.
The following day his father, Danjuma Yaro, appeared on the camp in the morning at the summons of the NYSC authorities, presumably for briefing about his son’s offence. Danjuma went along with one of the most respected elder’s of our neighbourhood, Sheikh Namadi. Both pleaded with the camp director for clemency for Abubakar. Their pleas fell on deaf ears; Abubakar would be forgiven alright, she said, provided he published an advert in three national newspapers retracting his article.
Anyone who knows what newspaper advertisements cost, especially in Nigeria, would agree that this was impossible for anyone on a corper’s relatively miserable allowance. Worse, it would amount to committing professional suicide for any journalist to retract a piece whose accuracy and fairness was never in question, never mind a budding journalist like Abubakar whose entire career was in front of him.
Abubakar sought my advice as a father and a veteran journalist he said he’d always looked up to. I told him he was foolish to have written the article as a corper but he must never retract it as long as he was sure of his facts. He heeded my advice and paid a stiff penalty for it; he was refused his posting letter when the camp finally closed on November 25.
Before then his case took a very sinister turn in the afternoon of the very day his father was summoned to the camp. That afternoon, he said, he was made to appear before an SSS staff who accused him of being a member of Boko Haram. That was a most cynical manipulation of the young man’s self-will and of his appearance; unlike his clean-shaven father, Abubakar may have sported a goatee but anyone who knows Layin Shaba will testify to the fact that no child of the neighbourhood has ever displayed extreme religious tendency.
Abubakar was interrogated extensively by the SSS operative but was not detained. Presumably the operative was satisfied that someone was merely trying to frame the stubborn young chap.
For weeks after the close of camp a stalemate ensued between Abubakar and the Kaduna NYSC authorities. Each time he went to the headquarters for his posting he was told he could only get it if he retracted his article. Eventually, they relented – or so it seemed – and posted him to teach at Government Secondary School, Warsa Piti, in Lere Local Government of the state. This was in spite of his earlier plea for posting to Kaduna North on health ground as someone who had tested positive of Hepatitis B in 2012 and needed routine medical check up.
However, even in seemingly relenting from their position, it was not without an element of cynicism; the same people who refused to post him until he retracted his article issued him a query that he had been posted since November 28, 2012 but had “refused” to collect his letter in violation of a section of an NYSC bye law! He was given the 24 hour to answer his query.
For a while it seemed the authorities were satisfied with his response. Last month it emerged that they weren’t but were merely biding their time to punish the hapless chap even more. First, he was served with a letter relocating him to Delta State “on health grounds.” When he wrote back to say he never requested for relocation he received two letters, the first signed by an assistant director on behalf of the state coordinator and a second by the state coordinator herself, which said he was being relocated as punishment for his “malicious article” in The Nation. In addition, the letters said he will serve an extension of 30 days.
Both letters said the reposting was at your directive.
Sir, I wish to appeal to you to review your decision. Abubakar has been punished enough by his initial posting, considering his health challenges and the trauma he’d suffered through the delay in posting him. Besides he has never been paid his allowances since he resumed at his primary post. His offence may have embarrassed your staff in Kaduna but it was never malicious.
I hope, sir, that you will answer the prayers of a father who prays that his son would one day become the kind of journalists any country that wants to progress needs plenty of.
Brigadier General Okorie Affiah,