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Opinion

A daughter’s letter and a difficult reply, By Azu Ishiekwene

National Youth Service Corps

National Youth Service Corps

On Saturday, I received an email from my 18-year-old daughter, which she titled, “My bleeding heart.” When I saw the title, I stopped everything and opened it. I could feel blood rushing to my head as I started to read:

“My heart is gladdened when I go on Twitter and see how outraged my fellow youths are over the tragic deaths of Ifedolapo Oladepo and Monday Ukemo, who lost their lives for a programme I regard as unnecessary. An unnecessary programme that my sister and brother and cousin have gone through and my parents expect me to go through when the time comes.

“But a day later, or a week or even a few hours, we are back to our lives because that is not our story. Ifedolapo is not us – or at least that is what we tell ourselves. She is not my beautiful hardworking sister. She is not my handsome innovative brother. The God we serve won’t let that happen to us. We are privileged and our parents will make it all work out.

“We forget that while she may not be us at this point, the next victim could very well be. We don’t put ourselves in the position of those who mourn her today and every day of their lives going forward. We forget that this line between “us” the untouchable and invincible, and “them”, the victims, is just imaginary. Unless, of course, we change the system.

“Ifedolapo’s story isn’t just something to be re-tweeted and liked and cried over; it’s now a sore thumb in our history. She does not need your words. The fellow Nigerian who was just raped does not need your words. The starving Nigerian child does not need your words. The mentally abused Nigerian does not need your words. They don’t need mine. They need action.

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“So why am I taking my time to write these words? Written words are my thing and they convey half of what I feel inside which is a lot and encompasses anguish, depression, sorrow, frustration, irritation, anger, hope and a whole lot more and this is the closest I can get to expressing these feelings aside from action. These words are being written so each and every one of you can witness me and hold me accountable. I will act. I must act.

“Why? Because I am sad. I’m sad at the world that is becoming. Sad that we’re unable to hold government accountable, and that, as citizens, we also appear helpless to do anything for ourselves; sad that these ideas might only go so far because many of us are content in our darkness.

“We are content not knowing and exercising our rights. We are content with our children’s teachers abusing our children physically, mentally and emotionally in the name of culture, respect and discipline.

“We are content not knowing whether there are resources available to abuse victims. We are content not knowing that there are special schools available for children with disabilities and instead forcing them to be subject to abuses from their teachers and classmates because if they work hard enough, they can overcome it all. We are content.

“Share this with your child or friend. Have difficult conversations with your children regarding all that is going on – enough of us privileged kids living in bubbles. If I didn’t have my parents lay the foundation by not over-sheltering me, I’d probably have left this whole conversation at a re-tweet. If you have ideas that could change Nigeria for the better, share them with those who can help make it a reality.

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“My parents may not be too thrilled with me disclosing this information because they have, for all my life, been dedicated to ensuring my security and protecting me but I have come to the realisation that they can only protect me so much from this world we live in and I don’t want to be protected.

“Enough of us choosing to not read the full details about the horrific abuse of a 6-year old girl; enough of us looking away from the violent pictures depicting the very real impact of Boko Haram. We have closed our eyes too tight and for too long and no matter how blinding it will be when we open it up, we need to open our eyes. Enough is enough.

“I have cried. I have shouted. I have mourned the country I call home for the first time and now I am ready to get to work. There is a lot we cannot change but I genuinely believe there is even more that we can and that’s what matters. The question to consider now and when you’re writing your new year’s resolution is; what are you going to do about it?”

After reading the letter a surge of depression washed over me. The country actually lost three – not two corps members in one week: the third, died in Bayelsa.

We don’t know if they arrived at their camps with pre-existing conditions, but we know for sure that the negligence of camp officials complicated matters.

I just had two children go through the corps and what happened to Ifedolapo, Monday and Chinyerem, could have happened to any of them.

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How do I explain to Nkechi that in two years when she’ll be ready for the National Youth Service Corps, things would be – might be – different?

I replied:

“Nwa Nbeshi

“I know how deeply upset you are about the deaths of Ifedolapo and Monday. These were young people full of hope and promise. Did they have pre-existing health conditions? No one can say for sure. But what obviously cries out is the negligence of the camp officials. Now, it’s over.

“It has happened so many times before, I cannot say it won’t happen again or concede that you should refuse your call-up when the time comes.

“You are right. We these things happen, we just re-tweet, moan and move on. That’s why it happens again.

“If corps members in Kano, Zamfara or Bayelsa refused to answer the parade call and insisted on peaceful protests to the offices of the respective state commanders demanding they won’t stop until the deaths were investigated at least, the dead will not rise again but the message will be clear: the next batch of corps members will be taken more seriously.

“Your generation will have to do more than living in the comfort of sheltered lives.

“They’ll have to put their effort where their tweet is.

“My thoughts and prayer go out to the friends and families of the dead corps members and I hope that their deaths will bring the change that we need; that we can say at last, enough is enough and stop the collective bleeding of our hearts.”

Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and a board member of the Paris-based Global Editors Network

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