In November 2012, Miss Mercy Okpithe reported to the Batch ‘C’ Orientation Camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Anambra State. Excited and looking forward to the opportunity to serve Nigeria for one year.
But little did Mercy know that four months later, fate would have no mercy on her.
Mercy, it was gathered, was severely beaten up by the Camp Commandant at the NYSC Orientation Camp, one Captain S.O. Beke, about 11:00p.m on Monday, March 18, this year.
She allegedly fainted and was rushed to the camp clinic.
The following day, she was transferred to the Anambra State University Teaching Hospital, Awka where she was diagnosed with dislocation of coccyx, a small triangular bone at the base of the spinal column.
The hospital further referred her to the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos, for special attention. It was gathered that she might be flown abroad for surgery.
But what could have led to the alleged brutalisation?
This correspondent visited Mercy in her Lagos home. As she lay down on a couch in their living room, the young lady writhed in pains, even as she struggled to answer the reporter’s questions.
“When the Batch A corps members were in the Orientation Camp in March, this year, the NYSC officials invited members of the Dance Troupe to the camp to teach the new corps members how to dance. We got to the camp in the evening of Sunday, March 17.
We were 15 all together; 11 boys and four girls. We girls were not meant to stay together in the same room with the boys. But we had to because there was no vacant room. The following morning, the NYSC State Coordinator gave a directive that a separate room should be given to the girls. But the officials could not find a vacant room for us.
So, they put us in one of the rooms occupied by some Batch ‘A’ female corps members. “We took two mattresses each to the place. There were no bunks. So, we spread the mattresses on the ground. Thereafter, the other three girls slept but I was still awake. I was listening to music on my phone, using an earpiece.
Around 11:00p.m., some soldiers came into the room. They were both males and females. I felt it was a normal thing because they did the same thing when I was in the camp for orientation exercise in November 2012. Then, I noticed that a female soldier was arguing with one of my friends, Ifedayo Fakehinde.
Then, the female soldier forcefully removed one of the mattresses which she slept on. Ifedayo sought to know her offence and the soldier hit her. I quickly rose up and caught her as she was falling. Otherwise, she would have hit her head against the wall. But she sprained her hand.
The incident caused a scene. Many corps members came out and argued with the soldiers. As this was going on, Ifedayo was crying. We calmed her down.
Then, the NYSC Schedule Officer came around. He sought to know what happened. As I was explaining what I knew about the incident to him, I heard the voice of the Camp Commandant telling all the corps members to go inside. Before I finished my explanation, the commandant came and pushed me. I sought to know why he pushed me. But he pushed me again.
I told him to stop pushing me because he could not push his sister like that. But he continued until he pushed me to the wall. Then, he kicked me from the ground and I hit the ground with my back. I couldn’t move. Then, I heard other soldiers saying ‘die, die, die’ till I passed out.
As gathered, the Schedule Officer ran probably to call the State Coordinator, Mrs. I.B. Ekpe, when the commandant was purportedly beating the corps member.
But Mercy woke up at the camp clinic the following morning with excruciating pains.
Later that day, she was transferred to the Anambra State University Teaching Hospital, Awka.
Mr. Solomon Okpithe, Mercy’s father, said an official of the NYSC called him on phone in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 19, telling him that Mercy was involved in an accident and that he should come to Awka immediately.
The official, he disclosed, told him to come with somebody who would stay in the teaching hospital to take care of Mercy.
When he got to the hospital with his wife at about 12:30p.m the following day, they were shocked to hear that she was brutalised by the camp commandant.
Okpithe said the first thing that came to his mind was how to save his daughter’s life. He sought to see the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the teaching hospital but could not see him until about 7:00p.m when he came out from the theatre.
“I asked the CMD about my daughter’s condition, but he said the hospital could not handle it and he would refer her to Enugu. I told him that I was from Lagos and asked if he could refer her to any hospital in Lagos. Then, he said he would refer her to Igbobi. Immediately, he instructed the doctor that was in charge to write the letter.
“On Thursday morning, we were at Igbobi. The doctors at the hospital tried but the sad thing is that they told us they could not handle it too. They said it’s not just an orthopaedic case but something that has to do with the spine. They treated her and asked us to take her home. Then, they gave an appointment,” he said.
On the next appointment day, according to Okpithe, the hospital said the first option, which was the treatment by orthopaedic doctors, had failed.
“They said they were taking another option now and if it fails, the third option would be a surgery.”
Okpithe, who has since been responsible for his daughter’s hospital bills, disclosed that Mrs. Ekpe promised the family that NYSC would reinburse whatever amount spent on the treatment, adding that Ekpe said she had informed the national secretariat of NYSC in Abuja about the development and had also written a letter to the NYSC in Lagos State about the incident.
“I have received calls from one Mrs. Daniel from the NYSC Office, Lagos, telling me I should accept their sympathy on my daughter. But on the other hand, Mrs Ekpe never stated the cause of the dislocation. I know she’s doing that to protect the officer.” Okpithe, an engineer, urged the Chief of Army Staff to ensure proper reform of the army, especially those in charge of NYSC.
He also advised the Federal Government to provide necessary items for corps members on the camp. The issue of inadequate mattresses, he said, caused the problem. When contacted on phone to react to the claims, Captain Beke neither confirmed nor denied the incident.
He only asked if the story would be published in Daily Sun, and when the reporter answered in the affirmative, the officer paused and said he would call back. But he never did. Further efforts to reach him failed as the phone was switched off.
When the reporter was eventually through to him, Captain Beke directed the correspondent to contact NYSC for any comment. “I am not NYSC,” he asserted.