Deaths involving fresh graduates in Nigeria during their national youth service year may not be entirely new. But the recent harvest of deaths at some National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camps in the country has created panic and trepidation all over the place.
In fact, hardly does a service year pass by without the scheme recording some deaths. Most of the deaths usually occur through fatal accidents as the fresh graduates move from one point to another during the service year on our horrible highways. Not only this. A few years ago, no less than seven of them were brutally cut down in the violence that erupted in some northern states in the aftermath of the 2011 presidential election.
In the recent deaths, the first incident involved Elechi Chiyerom, a 27-year-old graduate of Ignatius Azuru University of Education, Port Harcourt. She was reported to have died from excessive bleeding and vomiting at the orientation camp in Bayelsa State. Less than 24 hours later, the nation was again confronted with another sad news. This time, the death of the duo of Ukeme Monday and Ifedolapo Oladepo, the former a male, the other, a female graduate.
The duo were first class graduates. Monday studied Petroleum Engineering at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, while Oladepo graduated in Transport Management from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, Oyo State. The two young, brilliant Nigerians passed on at the NYSC orientation camps in Zamfara and Kano states respectively.
Their deaths have, once more, called to question, the deplorable and appalling state of our country’s medical system. The three corps members all gave up the ghost within intervals of 48 hours, just a few hours after they allegedly took ill. If we were in a country with a responsive and responsible government, each orientation camp would have been properly equipped to take care of emergencies. It is assumed that each camp must have, at least, 10 certified doctors because before a medical graduate proceeds for internship, he or she must have secured his or her medical certificate.
In the early stages of youth service, many years ago, the doctors usually go for clinical orientation in teaching hospitals, prior to their NYSC orientation period. That means that, for medical students, orientation was two-fold – one before the service orientation; and the other in the orientation camp. With this, the doctors had confidence to treat because of the earlier supervision they must have had at the teaching hospital. Unfortunately, those that are ready for house jobs now are just lining up because the teaching hospitals can no longer absorb them.
Now, what is the problem with the NYSC that cannot co-opt doctors among the fresh graduates in the camps to provide effective and efficient medical services at the orientation camps under the supervision of some old hands in the profession? What is the process of certifying doctors in Nigeria today?
The training process of doctors in Nigeria was actually disrupted in 1985 by the military regime of then Major General Muhammadu Buhari, who is now the country’s incumbent president. That was the time he sacked all doctors in government establishments and asked them to reapply. Of course, that led to the mass exodus of doctors from the country.
From that time, the post-graduate programme became disjointed. The one year exchange programme with hospitals in places like Britain, Canada, the United States and others, gradually fizzled out as nepotism and all kinds of vices set in. Back then, a country like Nigeria would pay some stipend for accommodation, maintenance and airfare for the young doctors and their families, while the host countries paid for research and training under their research grants. The death of this programme has led to a big decline in productivity among our doctors.
Take the pathetic case of Ifedolapo. When she manifested symptoms of illness, she was allegedly ignored by the NYSC officials who thought she merely feigned illness to avoid the physical drills at the camp. Then, perhaps, without a comprehensive diagnosis of her illness, an injection was administered on her. That worsened her condition. She finally died.
If the authorities said another one bled to death, did she commit an abortion? For three people to have died within a reasonable interval of time, shows that there was really no adequate medical intervention available to them. This is probably why things turned out the way they did.
Again, the question is: Why were the doctors at the camps not reoriented separately to enable them to handle the type of emergencies the three deaths presented? In the past, when the government unleashed young doctors in the rural areas of the country, some of them received youth service awards and other recognitions. Why has this stopped?
I spoke with a medical doctor, Dr. Olu Fatoba, who said: “It is quite surprising that the doctors in the camps could not handle normal anaphylactic reactions, which is very common. People easily react to penicillin, sulphur and others. Do they have drugs for anaphylactic reactions to drugs or injections in the camp clinics? Drugs like hydrocortisone, adrenaline (for shock) and others? Do they have the antidotes in those clinics? After Ifedolapo was treated and she reacted the way she did, what was done to ensure that she lived?”
From what I gathered, those ‘so-called doctors’ in the camps and rural areas in the Northern part of the country are mostly male nurses. Since the mass exodus of Indian and other foreign doctors operating in that part of the country, the population of doctors have drastically reduced. Which hospitals were attached to the Kano and Zamfara orientation camp clinics for instance? Are there ambulances in the camps to take any patient to the nearest functional hospital? Do they have qualified senior doctors in the camps? Do they have enough drugs, drips, infusions and all that? The truth is that the camps should have been fortified with fundamental requirements to sustain people.
Nigeria is a funny country. Every day, people gather in their thousands in places all over the country, but when you look around, you hardly notice any ambulance in sight. Many churches in Nigeria that are usually filled to the brim by worshippers do not have emergency programmes in place to take care of emergencies. What were the emergency arrangements put in place in the church which recently collapsed in Uyo? Let us look back at the immigration recruitment deaths. The country recorded such a very high casualty figure because no emergency precautions were put in place for the exercise.
It is good to note that the federal government has ordered the corpses of the dead corpers to be exhumed for proper post-mortem examination. However, one does not need rocket science to know that post-mortem done on an exhumed body, cannot be as conclusive as that of a fresh body. Sad enough, no government official has physically gone to Osogbo, Osun State, to speak with the family of Ifedolapo, all this while. This is fueling speculations that the government-ordered probe might just be a smokescreen after all.
It is doubtful if doctors who have been licensed could not perform their chores well if adequate drugs and equipment were available. At any rate, the deaths should be looked into thoroughly to avoid wasting our talented and vibrant youths in such a careless manner.
The latest mishap at the NYSC orientation camps has again reignited the call that the entire programme should be scrapped altogether. I disagree with those who hold this view. In its simplest form, the programme has enabled people who hitherto would not have ventured outside their immediate environment, to go out to other places. That is one of the positive impacts of the programme. This is good for the unity of the country.
Therefore, the programme should not be cancelled. Rather, the over bloated cost of governance in the country should be brought down to enable the government to make enough money available for the NYSC programme to meet its mandate.