The Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate in Kwara State, Razak Atunwa, has formally admitted that he has two university degrees, but failed to present himself for national service in a blatant violation of the Nigerian Constitution.
PREMIUM TIMES first reported last month that Mr Atunwa did not participate in the national youth scheme as required by law, but instead procured a forged certificate of the National Youth Service Corps.
Mr Atunwa, a serving federal lawmaker and chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice, tendered the document to the PDP in his nomination filings for the party in late September, and even went further to swear an affidavit notarized at the Kwara State High Court in Ilorin, the state capital.
Mr Atunwa denied wrongdoing at the time, telling PREMIUM TIMES he had complied with the law in filing his election paperwork with his party.
But when the politician submitted his nomination form to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), he confirmed he had two university degrees as reported by PREMIUM TIMES, but conspicuously removed the claim he made about taking part in the youth service.
Although our report has prompted Mr Atunwa to dubiously remove his forged NYSC certificate from the credentials he submitted to INEC, the lawmaker has implicated himself by confirming to INEC that he obtained both undergraduate and master’s degrees from two universities.
The NYSC law requires every Nigerian who attended university or polytechnic to participate in the national youth scheme for one year after graduation, provided the person finished before age 30.
Failure to serve would prohibit such individual from gainful employment in Nigeria, and making false claims about serving could attract long jail term. Also, anyone who graduated before 30 but deliberately declined to serve has committed an offence that could attract 12-month imprisonment, even if the person did not forge NYSC documents.
Only a person who obtained a degree after 30 or served in the military or won national honours medal would qualify for exemption certificate under the NYSC law.
Mr Atunwa, born on October 17, 1969, studied law at the University of East London, graduating in 1992 at age 23. He proceeded to the University of London for his master’s degree, graduating in November 1993, PREMIUM TIMES can confirm.
Having earned a bachelor’s degree at 23, Mr Atunwa, going by Section 2 of the NYSC Act, should have participated in the yearlong national service. He will not be qualified for exemption under the law.
With his INEC filing, Mr Atunwa appears to have dug himself deeper into potential legal trouble, an act which the PDP appears to be complicit by continuing to keep him as its governorship candidate notwithstanding the demands from Nigerians or legal implications.
By submitting university degrees without his NYSC certificate, Mr Atunwa has admitted he failed to present himself for national service, an act considered criminal by and punishable under the National Youth Service Corps Act.
Section 13 (1)(b) of the NYSC Act prescribed a jail term of 12 months for Mr Atunwa’s failure to make himself available for national service.
Any university or higher national diploma (HND) holder “who refuses to make himself available for service in the service corps continuously for the period specified in subsection (2) of this section, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N2,000 or to imprisonment for a term of twelve months or to both such fine and imprisonment,” it said.
By being in possession of a forged NYSC certificate, Mr Atunwa has rendered himself susceptible to a jail term of up to three years.
Anyone who “makes, or has in his possession any document so closely resembling any certificate so issued as to be calculated to deceive, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N5,000 or to imprisonment for a term of three years or to both such fine and imprisonment,” the section said.
Section 12 of the NYSC Act said a graduate who failed to present self for national service shall not be eligible for employment in Nigeria.
“For the purposes of employment anywhere in the federation and before employment, it shall be the duty of every prospective employer to demand and obtained from any person who claims to have obtained his first degree at the end of the academic year 1973-74 or, as the case may be, at the end of any subsequent academic year the following:-
“a. a copy of the Certificate of National Service of such person issued pursuant to section 11 of this Decree
“b. a copy of any exemption certificate issued to such person pursuant to section 17 of this Decree c. such other particulars relevant there to as may be prescribed by or under this Decree,” it said.
A watertight legislation
Multiple sources close to Mr Atunwa said the candidate has insisted that the NYSC certificate was not amongst requirements set by INEC.
“He also said the Constitution set minimum requirement for an aspirant to primary six certificate or anyone who could barely speak, read and write English language and the NYSC is a law and not equal to the Constitution,” the source said on Monday evening.
But while federal laws are considered subject to the Constitution, the NYSC Act is incorporated in the Constitution itself.
It is one of the four laws under the Transitional Provisions and Savings component of the Constitution whose elements cannot be amended by the National Assembly, unlike most other laws.
In fact, it takes exactly the same process required to amend the Constitution to amend the NYSC Act, the National Security Agencies Act, the Public Complaints Commission Act and the Land Use Act.
Section 315 (5) states as follows:
“Nothing in this Constitution shall invalidate the following enactments, that is to say –
“(a) the National Youth Service Corps Decree 1993;
“(b) the Public Complaints Commission Act;
“(c) the National Security Agencies Act;
“(d) the Land Use Act,
“and the provisions of those enactments shall continue to apply and have full effect in accordance with their tenor and to the like extent as any other provisions forming part of this Constitution and shall not be altered or repealed except in accordance with the provisions of section 9 (2) of this Constitution.
Subsection 6 clarified emphasised that: “Without prejudice to subsection (5) of this section, the enactments mentioned in the said subsection shall hereafter continue to have effect as Federal enactments and as if they related to matters included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.”
“What Razak Atunwa is trying to do in Kwara is to give the All Progressives Congress an easy ride to power,” said political analyst Femi Adebakin. “There is no way any court in Nigeria will not remove him and order his immediate prosecution, that is assuming he refuses to step down and manages to find himself office.”
Mr Atunwa has the backing of Senate President Bukola Saraki, who is widely considered as the preeminent political heavyweight in Kwara.
Mr Adebakin said it is particularly unfortunate that law enforcement authorities could not arrest Mr Atunwa.
“You wonder whether this country has any hope at all when a man who has no immunity has been caught red-handed forging national document like NYSC certificate,” Mr Adebakin said. “He has not been arrested, and he is not on the run, but agencies are too timid to immediately swing into action and do their own part of a job PREMIUM TIMES has virtually completed for them.”
“Instead, he is running for office in the same country whose laws he so brazenly violated,” he added. “Kemi Adeosun fled the country to avoid prosecution, but this PDP politician is grandstanding like he is above the law.”
Mr Atunwa remained defiant of the same NYSC certificate forgery that already consumed a serving finance minister. Kemi Adeosun stepped down from office in September, about two months after PREMIUM TIMES found she graduated from the same University of London at 22 but failed to present herself for national service, forging an exemption certificate instead.
Similarly, the ruling APC disqualified Adebayo Shittu, Nigeria’s incumbent communications minister, from the governorship race in Oyo State for failing to present himself for national service. The disqualification followed a PREMIUM TIMES’ report which detailed how the minister had sidestepped NYSC after graduating from Obafemi Awolowo University in 1978.
Mr Shittu did not forge his NYSC certificate, but the APC found he had already committed an illegality by failing to present himself after obtaining a law degree at 25.