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10 May 2018

Is NYSC right to bar corps members from evangelising?


I support the NYSC banning corps members from evangelising that is, open religious preaching. Corps members, being on national assignments, should not engage in sectarian assignments which could make them opponents of other religions. Doing so will erode their nationalist spirit and acceptance. Evangelism could make them cheap and easy targets of religious fanatics and hoodlums. But they can attend services in their respective places of worship. Can we encourage our military men to take part in evangelism? Certainly not.

The purpose of the NYSC is to integrate participants into true nationalism and broader  understanding of Nigeria. It was after the civil war, when the hatred that led to the war was becoming so endemic in the society, that General (Yakubu) Gowon (retd.) saw the need to create a better way of integrating the youths into the society. Therefore, a corps member is sent to a place to learn how to mix with others. So after graduation, when you are sent to serve for a whole year in another land, you will know what Nigeria is all about. Also, when you mix with other people, it will enable you to know that we are one and you may even find that people from other areas are more accommodating than your own people. So, when the youths do all that, it can only work when they go with a free mind. But when young men and women, who have been assigned to go and take part in this national service, become sectarian in their approach, doing it publicly, it is a way of defeating the purpose of the national service. So, that is why it is better for them to confine their religious activities to their internal services, like churches and mosques.

They should be allowed to engage in their religious worship as and when convenient; that would be enough freedom. But to go the extra mile by distributing pamphlets and, maybe, some of them doing it in their NYSC uniforms, you find that the level of love the locals have for them will diminish because that may give the impression that they (corps members) are against them or in support of their enemies. It is like allowing corps members to join political parties and participate during campaigns. •Godwin Erhahon (Ex-Chairman, Edo State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists)

The directive by the Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps to corps members not to engage in evangelism in their places of primary assignment is rather intriguing. Taken at face value, it could be argued that it is a pre-emptive step aimed at ensuring the safety of corps members as well as the escalation of unguarded religious messages which could lead to radicalisation. But as plausible as the above sounds, we should state from the outset that the practice and propagation of religious beliefs is a constitutional right. See Section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  The unavailability of the right (to propagate religious beliefs) is when it threatens the corporate existence of Nigeria or goes outside the bounds stipulated by the Constitution of Nigeria.  The right is not suspended because some members of the public or area hold a contrary religious belief to the belief which is sought to be propagated, provided the other belief is not ridiculed or scandalised.

The subscription into the NYSC scheme does not amount to a diminution of the rights of corps members guaranteed by the constitution. Nigeria should be a place where plurality of views should be encouraged and it is the duty of government at all levels to provide the environment for this to thrive. With due respect, the DG of NYSC went beyond his call in directing corps members not to engage in evangelism. •Mr. Somina Johnbull (Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association, Yenagoa branch)

It is not right for corps members to engage in evangelism. It should be stopped. They should face their duties in the orientation camp and their places of primary assignments. The purpose of the National Youth Service Corps is to ensure unity among all ethnic groups across the country; not because of religion. Ansar-Ud-Deen does not support evangelism by corps members.

As a Muslim corps member, you can observe your five daily prayers anywhere. Christian corps members are also free to do fellowship. Nobody must be forced to embrace a religion. Going around and preaching to people to embrace a particular religion is not ideal for corps members. •Alhaji Abdulrahman Salaudeen (National Publicity Secretary, Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria)

I do not have the details of why the National Youth Service Corps banned the youth corps members from evangelising. But the 1999 Constitution aptly provides for rights to freedom of expression and rights to freedom of worship. So a person, individual or group, has the right to practise his or her religion wherever the person is. I do not have the details but unfortunately the situation in the country now perhaps must have informed the NYSC to ban evangelism within the orientation camps.  You can see the killings in many parts of the country. Perhaps because of the experience in Benue State where priests and Christian worshipers were killed in churches and there were reprisals, NYSC wanted to take pre-emptive action to secure the lives of the corps members.  Anybody can be involved in a dastardly act in this country.

There could be a security report which the national leadership of NYSC might have been privileged to set and they acted proactively. Even without security report, a lot of unpleasant things are going on within the country now. Virtually everything is reduced to tribal and religious sentiments. Since the NYSC has not been abolished, it is very important that the security of corps members remains paramount. The ban could have been informed by the need to enhance the security of corps members and their property. You can imagine, youths who have graduated from various tertiary institutions and the hopes of the parents are high that very soon they will go into jobs and bring sustenance to the family and for just one useless man to start killing the corps members, maybe in the guise of ‘misguided’ religious coloration. I suppose that when the security situation in the country improves, the ban would be lifted. But I think the NYSC being headed by a Brigadier General in the Nigerian Army would naturally want to take proactive and pre-emptive security actions to save lives and property within the orientation camp.

The corps members should see themselves as Nigerians, first and foremost. We are talking of global citizens now and not somebody going to an orientation camp and still seeing himself or herself as Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Nupe or other ethnic groups. The purpose of the NYSC is to ensure total integration among the youths from various ethnic backgrounds in the country. •Mr. Issa Manzuma (Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Ilorin branch)

If such a law or directive was given to the corps members, I believe it is a way of denying them the rights given to them by the Nigerian constitution. If you have freedom of religion, are they saying corps members are exempted from that right? Are they turning their rights to privileges? Why are they withdrawing their constitutional rights from them?  It boils down to the situation we find ourselves as a nation where one’s religion is now a privilege. When the corps members were being posted for national service, the NYSC management should have told them to forget about religion when they were reporting for service.

Both Islam and Christianity spread on the wings of evangelism to reach out to people. If you are now asking corps members to suspend their religious obligation, you may as well suspend them from going to church or mosque. These are the kind of things our lawyers and civil right activists should be involved in; I don’t know what has become of them. The only thing that concerns them is protests from which they will obtain financial rewards. They are the voice of the voiceless; the corps members cannot speak for themselves. If you say they cannot evangelise, are you saying if  I’m a paramilitary officer, I cannot evangelise too? It is wrong, immoral and satanic; it is reprehensible and should be condemned by all Nigerians.

Corps members are being killed during national service, is banning evangelism the solution to it? Corps members are poorly fed, the uniform given to them is not up to standard, is banning evangelism the way out of it? All these baseless laws and directives should be scrapped so that the corps members can enjoy the scheme. •Pastor Bayo Oladeji (Spokesman to Christian Association of Nigeria President)

Compiled by: Success Nwogu, Adelani Adepegba, Alexander Okere, Simon Utebor and Afeez Hanafi

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