This article is part of our #FirstWord series to provide context on trending news.
Adebayo Shittu, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications, has been revealed to have skipped the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.
The revelation about Mr Shittu, who is currently vying for the post of Oyo State Governor, came to light a week after Kemi Adeosun’s resignation. Like Mr Shittu, Kemi Adeosun had also skipped the mandatory service. Unlike Mr Shittu, Mrs. Adeosun did not vehemently defend her decision to skip it.
What happened with the Minister?
Despite graduating from the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), at the age of 25, the Minister failed to present himself for service after graduation and till now has not done so.
Section 2(1) of the NYSC Act mandates that Mr Shittu had to have participated in the year-long service. According to the Act, all Nigerians who earn degrees or higher national diplomas from tertiary institutions in Nigeria and abroad are to participate in the scheme.
Skipping it is an offence and is punishable with up to 12-month imprisonment.
Why did he skip NYSC?
When asked why he did not enlist in the NYSC after graduating from law school in 1979, Adebayo Shittu, announced that he was elected member of the Oyo state house of assembly. The minister believes that having been elected as a lawmaker, he did not need to participate in the national 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 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,” – Adebayo Shittu
He is also unhappy with being compared to Nigeria’s former minister of finance, Kemi Adeosun. According to him, he is in a much better situation because while Mrs Adeosun allegedly forged an exemption certificate, he never applied for one.
“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,” – Adebayo Shittu
What does the law actually say?
While it is true that the 1979 constitution (which was in force at the time Adebayo Shittu graduated from school) did not identify NYSC certificate as a requirement for State House of Assembly members, it recognizes the NYSC act.
Section 274 (5) of the constitution is clear that the mandatory scheme cannot be invalidated, meaning that the NYSC Act which makes participation in the scheme a prerequisite for being employed in the country holds water.
“Nothing in this Constitution shall invalidate the following enactments, that is to say – (a) the National Youth Service Corps Decree 1973; (b) the Public Complaints Decree 1975; (c) the National Security Organisation Decree 1976; (d) the Land Use Decree 1978, 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.”
Interestingly, Mr Shittu, a lawyer, failed to consider the NYSC act – which the constitution gives credence to.
Adebayo Shittu’s claim about political office compensating for his refusal to participate in the NYSC scheme is incorrect. Adenike Adeyemi, spokesperson for the National Youths Service Corps has come out to say that the Minister was wrong to dodge serving his country.
The NYSC act is clear on the category of individuals exempted from national service -
i) Those who graduated above the age of thirty
ii) The staff of the Nigerian security organization, State Security Service, National Intelligence Agency and the Defence Intelligence Service
iii) Those who served in the armed forces or Nigerian police for a period of more 9 months
iv) Individuals who bagged National honours before graduating
Mr Shittu is not one of them.
What happens next?
It is unclear what’s going to happen next regarding Mr Adebayo Shittu’s deliberate exemption from NYSC. Lawyers and stakeholders have come out to say that the Minister needs to serve or tow the path of Mrs Adeosun and resign.
However, the path forward might not just involve leaving the cabinet, he needs to be prosecuted as the law stipulates.