Friday, 22 April 2011

Nigeria: Ukeoma Ikechukwu - A Nigerian Hero and Martyr

They serve unsung

Sadness and grief, horror and terror as a nation sheds the blood of her young on the altar of the selfish and criminal desires of others.

Young men and women called into the service of their nation immediately after graduation to faraway regions of their motherland to help and contribute whilst learning of the great diversity of a nation that strains at maintaining a semblance of unity.

Their faith in a brighter future and their altruistic goals soar over the privations of a year of penurious service where new friendships can be developed for life and new experiences can made the difference of a life well lived.

Usually, unsung, unheralded, disrespected and maligned, they bear this call to service as a cross, constantly belittled and berated by those who probably need their service most.

Our selfless NYSC

It was a masterstroke of project management to ask the National Youth Service Corps members to become ad-hoc staff for the Independent National Election Commission for both the voter registration exercise early in the year and the elections in April 2011.

We thought having them in this function will eliminate bias, impartiality and the suborning of the system to criminal ends. The NYSC took all the flak for the lack of preparedness of INEC which was derelict in its responsibility to protect their staff and pay them on time.

We read of too many instances of these young people sleeping rough, getting harassed, beaten up and sometimes getting killed for doing their service to the nation.

Either by compulsion or willingness, these are probably the only class of Nigerians we can truly say have put their country first; before self, before comfort, before welfare and before much else; the most they get is probably grudging praise and the scars, hopefully with fond memories that would make for amazing story-telling at some other time.

The terror in Nigeria

After the presidential elections on the 16th of April, 2011, violence broke out in the North that left many NYSC members far away from home and safety at the risk of great harm. The stories were horrifyingly desperate as people tried all they could to get these amazing Nigerians to some safety. Some were lucky and many are still missing and others came to unimaginably harrowing deaths.

The numbers are rising and there is very little that could assuage and understand the grief of parents, siblings, colleagues, friends and other acquaintances at the loss of these wonderful examples of selflessness.

Ukeoma Ikechukwu

I am most touched by the example of Ukeoma Ikechukwu who according to his Facebook profile [1] attended National High School in Aba and then the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he hails from the South of Nigeria but was on national duty and INEC service in Bauchi State in Northern Nigeria for the elections.

He was declared missing soon afterwards and confirmed dead earlier today; that is the sad story of our nation, people who serve her risk being served to her in all sorts of circumstances.

Mr. Ukeoma Ikechukwu whilst I do not know him must however not go unsung and unappreciated even by those who remotely have a connection to him because he embodies the promise of a Nigeria we seek and yearn for exemplified in a number of postings on his Facebook page.

His favourite quote talks about the value of character, an inestimable virtue and many trade away for selfish gain - When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost something is lost but when character is lost all is lost.

Stand for God and my nation

What is most touching is the last post he made to Facebook [2] in the early hours of the 17th April, 2011 and this should stand as a testament to the man for all posterity.

Na wao! This CPC suporters would hv killed me yesterday, no see threat oooo. Even after forcing underaged voters on me they wanted me to give them the remaining ballot paper to thiumb print. Thank God for the police and am happy i could stand for God and my nation. To all corps members who stood despite these threats esp. In the north bravo! Nigeria! Our change has come.

He was a man who under threat and possible loss of life, pressed into the electoral malpractice of allowing underaged persons to vote who still found the wherewithal and courage to engage the police to prevent the egregious criminality of thumb printing the unused ballot papers.

In a land far from his comfort zone he had faith in the police and what they could do, despite the terrifying experience he was happy to stand for God and his nation and then commend his colleagues in this exercise for keeping firm in the face of these serious threats.

Then he wrote what was in the minds and hearts of everyone including many of those who attempted to suborn the process - Nigeria! Our change has come.

We shall remember him

Hope undiminished, service so selfless, Ukeoma Ikechukwu represents to all Nigerians, young and old the promise of a future that this democratic season offered.

In his short life, he has become a martyr to the cause of a Nigeria still striving to reach its potential, he has in his own small way buttressed the reputation of institutions handling the electoral process and he has given Nigeria an enviable name to be proud of.

I offer my most heartfelt condolence to his kith and kin and pray that his pure and graceful soul rest in peace.

In the words of our national anthem, it is important that the labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain. Let not the work of the many NYSC members like Ukeoma Ikechukwu be in vain, let not our quest for an accountable democracy be in vain, let not the quest for justice be in vain, let not the hope that he expressed come to naught.

Ukeoma Ikechukwu, I doff my hat to you, you will never be forgotten.


[1] Ukeoma Ikechucwu – Facebook Profile (membership required)

[2] Ukeoma Ikechukwu – Facebook (membership required)