Sept 25, 2003
The Director General,
National Youth Service Corps,
National Directorate Headquarters
J. S. Tarka Street,
Off Festival road,
Area 3, Garki.
Five Expelled Youth Corpers In Cross River and Rivers State
Greetings of Peace.
We are writing you after receiving the appalling news of the five female Muslim Corp members expelled from NYSC camps in Cross-River and Rivers States for refusing to put on white shorts for the morning parade. As we are aware that the scheme was established for “the proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity” and “to remove prejudices, eliminate ignorance and confirm at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups; and to develop a sense of corporate existence and common destiny of the people of Nigeria”, we find it amazing that certain members of the Nigerian plurality will be so quickly excluded from such a laudable scheme which claims to hold so much promises for the Nigerian youth as well as our common destiny. We also find that the decision of the NYSC officials to expel these Corp members may not be derived from common policy and practice of NYSC nor can it be traced to any rule or guideline that is made available to the public. The victims, being female Muslims, are strictly enjoined as an expression of faith to constantly observe certain code of dressing which description is well known and therefore requires neither elaboration nor debating. We strongly feel that a 3-week orientation programme organized to develop the youth should expose all the participants to the beauty and depth of our diversity and need for tolerance rather than make scapegoats of innocent students. If Muslims are to remain and be characterized as Muslims, they must understand and uphold nothing but the Islamic culture at all times. Losing this culture and identity will mean the loss of everything that Islam stands for. These five victims of this crisis are the most vivid example of this reality. The fact that certain officials will impose rules that directly discriminate against Corp members based on ethnic or religion background is a dangerous epidemic that must not be allowed to destroy the lofty achievements which NYSC scheme has recorded. We are aware that the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN), Muslim Corpers Association of Nigeria (MCAN) and some other concerned bodies and individuals have made representations to NYSC in the past on this issue, but sadly, it seems we all have not made significant progress that could have prevented these ugly cases in Cross River and Rivers State. The cornerstone of our nascent democracy should distinctly be tolerance, equality, high values and respect of due process. It is blatantly clear that the concerned NYSC officials were unable to abide even by these basic ‘articles of faith’ in their exercise of discretion in the two cases. In addition to all these, we wish to state that:
By the Decree which established the scheme, the directorate owes an obligation to all Corp members that their freedom of ethnic and religious expression will not be hampered or tampered with. They therefore owe it to the five Corp members to protect them against reckless victimization once such expression of faith has not impinged unfairly on public good or rights of others. MPAC demands that NYSC holds itself to account on its obligation to the Nigerian youth, and reiterates that: “The purpose of the scheme is primarily to inculcate in the Nigerian Youths the spirit of selfless service to the community, and to emphasize the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social background. The history of our country since independence has clearly indicated the need for unity amongst all our people, and demonstrated the fact that no cultural or geographical entity can exist in isolation.”
The administration of NYSC and in fact the National government should demonstrate its willingness and courage to pull the nation out of the authoritarianism of the past and also work very hard to fully integrate all Nigerians without regard to ethnic, religious, etc background. Since the actions of the camp officials cannot be traced to any official position, procedure or policy made available to the public, they only amount to acts of sheer authoritarianism and outright harassment.
That other female Muslim Corp members possibly agreed to put on the short should not in anyway have binding effect on these five Corp members and as such the official position should not be derived from the act of those who might have acted exceptionally to the well known female dressing code in Islam.
Refusal of the directorate to reinstate the five Corp members immediately will amount to acts of gross victimization and open the route for similar cases against innocent Corp members who already may be exposed to other incidents playing themselves out at NYSC camps across the country.
These exemplary female Corpers, who have spent years in academic institutions looking towards this laudable government programme should not be unduly deprived of the benefits of the scheme and consequently have their post educational career ruined.
Muslims should not be confined to expressing their faith only in the names they bear and the halal food they eat.
To demonstrate to the public that all religions will be protected from authoritarianism under your administration, we strongly appeal to you to stand clearly with the victims to denounce the unjust acts which have unfairly discriminated against them causing them and their families untold hardship. Your actions to resolve this matter quickly will accelerate Government’s position and actions on defending our pluralism, save the victims from further trauma and indignation as well as provide easy route for them to return to the scheme.