Today makes it 250 days since Nigeria’s Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu, was busted for deliberately skipping the mandatory National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC), an offence punishable under the law with up to 12 months imprisonment.
Section 2 (1) of the NYSC Act makes it compulsory for all Nigerians who earn degrees or higher national diplomas from tertiary institutions home and abroad (effective 1972/73 session) to participate in the scheme.
Employers are mandated by law to request this certificate of national service as part of the conditions for hiring.
Those exempted according to the law are those who graduated after their 30th birthday, those with national honours and people who serve in the military and intelligence organisations.
Before Mr Shittu was busted, former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun was forced to resign after she was exposed by PREMIUM TIMES to have submitted a forged NYSC exemption certificate.
She departed the country after her resignation without being charged for forgery.
Amidst this scandal, the All Progressives Congress (APC) disqualified Mr Shittu from taking part in Oyo governorship primary election last year.
Mr Shittu graduated from the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) at the age of 25 in 1978 and proceeded to law school immediately after graduation, qualifying as a lawyer in 1979.
While he was expected to go for national service, he got elected into the Oyo State House of Assembly in the 1979 general elections.
Without presenting himself for service afterwards, he later became attorney general and commissioner for justice in Oyo State. He also served as member of the Oyo State Judicial Service Commission from 2004 to 2007.
President Buhari nominated him, in 2015, for the position of minister of communication and this, was approved upon legislative screening without the SSS, and the National Assembly, discovering the illegality.
Rather than accept wrongdoing, Mr Shittu admitted he deliberately boycotted the NYSC scheme.
He made a case for himself that his membership at the state assembly when he graduated was equivalent to “service.”
“The constitution provides for the qualification needed for state assembly members, NYSC is not there, I didn’t need it to become a member of the state assembly, and that is already a service,” he said.
He also disagreed that he has similar case with Mrs. Adeosun
“…I left Law School in 1979. And the Constitution says anyone who qualifies to contest an election or who has gone through an election and wins, he is obligated to move through the House of Assembly which I did for four years.”
“So, it is a form of ‘higher service’ as far as I’m concerned, and even now, I am still in service. I don’t think I have violated the law except someone has a superior argument and can prove it.
“Unfortunately, Kemi had a fake certificate, I didn’t present any, I didn’t have one. I simply followed the constitutional requirement that if you are qualified to contest an election, it is compulsory for you to serve the nation in the capacity that you won an election,” he said.
Meanwhile, a detailed fact-check done by Dubawa, an initiative of Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, revealed that Mr Shittu’s claim that his service as an elected member of the old Oyo State House of Assembly, in the defunct Second Republic, was equivalent to the compulsory one year NYSC is false.
When contacted then, the spokesperson of the NYSC, Adenike Adeyemi, said political office has nothing to do with compulsory service.
“You have read the Act and you can see the circumstances where someone is exempted. You analyse it, if he [Shittu] was exempted duly or there is a reason why he should have served. But the Act is very straightforward on the grounds for not coming up to serve.
“If you are a graduate locally trained or foreign trained, as long as you graduate before the age of 30, you are expected to serve. Whether foreign or locally trained, the law is the same. Our youth should be rightly guided that if you were able to complete your studies and as of the date of graduation, you are under 30, you are eligible to serve.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Muniru Abeedeen, in his reaction to Dubawa then said the interpretation by Mr Shittu is an insult to legal practice.
“How can he say serving as a member of the state assembly is equivalent to NYSC. That’s an insult to legal practice. He should rather surrender himself and accept defeat. The law is clear even to a lay man.”
Another Lawyer, Kayode Ashiru, also condemned Mr Shittu’s argument.
“There is nothing contrasting in the law. The NYSC decree is well spelt out that serving is compulsory, as long as you graduate before 30. He was serving his constituency and pocket as an assembly member not Nigeria. So, it is not equivalent.”
APC takes action
Following PREMIUM TIMES’ revelation, the APC excluded Mr Shittu’s name from the list of gubernatorial aspirants in the March 9 general elections.
The APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, said then that the party considered Mr. Shittu’s action of skipping the NYSC an offence that disqualifies him from contesting to be governor.
“He admitted that he did not do the mandatory NYSC as provided for under the law and in his own judgment, his being a member of the House of Assembly in the state and now as a minister of the federal republic that these were enough sacrifices.
“But for us as a party, we know that NYSC is a mandatory scheme. It is not something you may elect to do or abstain from doing. And my understanding of the NYSC Act is that no employer of labour is permitted to employ anyone who graduated under 30 years and who did not obtain an exemption for reasons as provided for in the NYSC Act.
“So, for us, not participating in the NYSC raises very serious moral issue as well as legal issue. Anyway, we were convinced that if he did not do NYSC, that for us was enough to disqualify him and we had to find the courage to do so,” Mr Oshiomhole said.
Disappointed with his disqualification by the party, Mr Shittu filed a suit marked FHC/IB/CS/111/2018 against his party.
He prayed the court to determine whether the action of his party to omit his name in the list of gubernatorial aspirants was lawful or a contravention of the constitution because he did not participate in the NYSC scheme.
Meanwhile, the court on April 12 struck out the case. The court dismissed the case due to the fact that Mr Shittu did not file the case within the time stipulated by law.
Having failed to satisfy the dictates of the constitution, the court refused going into the merit of the case.
Meanwhile, President Buhari has refused to take any measures to sanction his appointee despite the fact that many Nigerians have called for his removal.
Femi Adesina, the spokesperson to Mr Buhari did not respond to a PREMIUM TIMES request to speak on the issue.
Mr Buhari’s second term, which will last for another four years, is expected to commence on Wednesday, May 29.
The president in a televised interview indicated he would reappoint some ministers. He did not indicate if Mr Shittu would be reappointed despite violating Nigerian law.