Another ministerial nominee of President Bola Tinubu, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, is currently enmeshed in a controversy surrounding the authenticity of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate he submitted for his screening by the Nigerian Senate.
PREMIUM TIMES had earlier reported how another nominee, Hannatu Musawa, who had earlier been rejected by the same National Assembly for a similar reason when offered an appointment by the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari, was simply requested to take a bow by the Senate during her screening exercise last week.
During her confirmation hearing, Ms Musawa was not asked why she failed to participate in the NYSC scheme. But when Mr Tunji-Ojo’s appeared at the Senate on Tuesday, the Senator representing Kwara North Senatorial District, Sadiq Umar, flagged some discrepancies in his NYSC certificate.
Mr Umar sought to know why the nominee participated in the NYSC scheme at 37 and why the discharge certificate he tendered carries a suspicious date.
“This is the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So we want to be sure that when we clear you, we’ve done a very good job,” Mr Umar said.
But Mr Tunji-Ojo quickly dismissed the lawmaker’s concerns, explaining that eligible individuals for NYSC could participate anytime after their date of graduation provided they graduate before the age of 30. This, he said, was his case.
Mr Tunji-Ojo claimed to have participated in the scheme between November 2019 and November 2020. His claim is strange given that he was a sitting member of the House of Representatives during the same period.
He was elected into the house in 2019 and re-elected in 2023, representing Akoko North East/Akoko North-West Federal Constituency of Ondo State.
But in his explanation, Mr Tunji-Ojo, however, failed to state why his NYSC certificate, a programme he claimed to have completed in 2020, carries February 2023 as the date of issuance.
It is also unclear where Mr Tunji-Ojo served as his Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) during the NYSC programme, and whether he received the monthly allowances paid to corps members.
Some former and present NYSC officials said it is unlikely for the corps to mobilise a serving politician for national service at the same time he or she is in office.
“National service is a full-time job,” one official said, asking not to be named because she is not the official spokesperson of the NYSC. “if it turns out that he indeed served while also being a federal lawmaker, those who mobilised him have a lot of explanations to make.”
“He too (Tunji-Ojo) must tell us where he was camped for orientation, where he did his primary assignment, what his community development service was and the bank account through which he was paid his allowances.”
What NYSC law says
Established by Decree number 24 of 2 May 1973, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was created for “proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”.
The decree, which mandates all Nigerians who graduate from a university in or outside Nigeria to undergo the programme for a period of 12 months, has however been reviewed by the legislature since the return to democracy.
According to Section 2(2) of the NYSC Act (2004), the only excluded Nigerians from the mandatory participation in the scheme are those who attained the age of 30 before their date of graduation; those who served in the Nigerian armed forces or the Police for more than nine months; staff of Nigerian security organisations, and those conferred with national honours.
Mr Tunji-Ojo, however, does not belong to the categories of those exempted.
According to his Curriculum Vitae, which he submitted to the National Assembly, the lawmaker said he completed his first degree at the University of North London (now London Metropolitan University) in 2005 at the age of 23, making him eligible to participate in the scheme.
Until now, Mr Tunji-Ojo’s NYSC status or certificate has never come under scrutiny.
Holes in Mr Tunji-Ojo’s NYSC certificate
PREMIUM TIMES scrutinised the certificate and found major discrepancies that some officials of the NYSC described as ‘very strange’.
The dates of the year of service as contained in the certificate correlate with the 2019 Batch C corps members. The batch has two streams.
The first stream passed out on 15 October 2020 and their certificates carry 4th November 2020 as the date of completion. The second stream passed out on 28 October and their certificates carry 27 November.
Mr Tunji-Ojo’s certificate also bears 27 November as the date of completion of service, indicating that he may have served as part of the 2019 Batch C, Stream II NYSC members.
However, PREMIUM TIMES’ comparison of Mr Tunji-Ojo’s NYSC certificate with others who served and passed out in the same batch, showed multiple differences.
Mr Tunji-Ojo’s certificate was issued in February 2023, and not November 2020 like other 2019 Batch C, Stream II corps members.
Also, Mr Tunji-Ojo’s certificate carries a different signature.
The nominee’s certificate was signed by Yushau Ahmed, a Brigadier General, who only became NYSC Director-General (DG) in January. The serving DG when the nominee claimed to have served was Shuaib Ibrahim, also a brigadier general.
The NYSC issues certificates to corp members only once. The organisation said it doesn’t replace lost or damaged certificates. Instead, it issues letters of confirmation of service.
“It is the NYSC’s policy not to reprint lost or burnt certificates,” the NYSC states on its website. “The Letters of Confirmation are issued instead.”
Meanwhile, there are three NYSC batches a year — Batch A, B, and C.
For each batch, the management of the NYSC produces an end-of-service year magazine/photo album in each state and the federal capital territory (FCT). The magazine contains among other things, the name, state code, and passport photographs of outgoing corps members.
PREMIUM TIMES got a copy of the ‘FCT KOPA’ 2019 Batch C, Stream II Magazine produced in October 2020 which contains the details of all the outgoing corps members of the period.
But the state code on Mr Tunji-Ojo’s certificate –9466– was conspicuously missing in the magazine. The corps members’ details were arranged in chronological order of their state codes. But Mr Tunji-Ojo’s state code is not the only one missing.
According to an official of the NYSC, who does not want to be quoted because he had no permission to speak to the media, there could be several reasons for the omission of a corp member’s name from the magazine. It could be due to a corps members’ failure to fill some documents or production errors. The official, however, said it was not enough to conclude that such a person did not participate in the scheme.
Nominee keeps mum
Efforts to reach Mr Tunji-Ojo have been unsuccessful as calls to his known telephone line did not connect.
Also, messages sent to him via SMS and WhatsApp were not replied as of the time of filing this report. Similarly, Mr Tunji-Ojo failed to respond to an email sent to him by this newspaper.
We’re investigating -NYSC
Meanwhile, the management of the NYSC said it is also probing into Mr Tunji-Ojo’s claims.
The organisation’s spokesman, Eddy Megwa, told PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter in his office on Friday that as soon as the investigation is concluded, it would make its findings public.
Qosim Suleiman is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe.
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