We must strengthen our public institutions. We must ensure our institutions perform as constituted. Those are the constant wise counsels of our many statesmen over the recent years, weeks and days. They intend to impact the country with widely accepted normative behaviour.
The National Youth Service Corp – NYSC, was established three years after the civil war by then General Yakubu Gowon’s military administration, to nurture and reduce the ravenous misunderstandings in the country’s already fractured inter-ethnic relationships. Its main goal is to model the country towards an evolutionary state where every citizen is viewed as a member of a united nation. To attain such noble aims, every graduate from an institution of higher learning (post-secondary education) under the age of thirty-one must compulsorily serve in any area of the country.
While the NYSC has been burdened with controversies such as the loss of Corpers serving in risky and violent parts of the country (Corpers can decline to serve in any dangerous condition), a recently erupted controversy over the actual NYSC service of the recently appointed Minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Ms Hannatu Musawa, represents a clear test of integrity for the new government, and the NYSC.
It’s not a simple matter of incoherently mumbling what a “service” actually means and entails, but it is rather that of employment.
In this case, the NYSC has already confirmed that the minister is still a serving Corper (while gainfully employed, which contravenes national laws), however, the NYSC appears frozen and unable to enforce its statutory duty. What does the law say exactly on this matter? The NYSC Act empowers employers to request for, and job-seekers (which the minister is, in this case) to also present a NYSC discharge certificate. As a current serving Corp member, it is also an indisputable fact that the minister does not possess a completed discharge certificate. So it appears both the Federal government as the employer of the minister and the minister, are violating the law (which incurs a penalty). For clarification purposes, service in the NYSC is a precondition for employment anywhere in Nigeria, and serving your nation in a wage-compensating position is categorised as employment. The employer, in this case, is the Federal government.
Will the NYSC continue to act as a bystander on this matter?
Recall that a well-performing member of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, and former minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun honourably resigned after an internal investigation concluded that her NYSC certificate was in dispute. Being asked to serve your nation is an honour, and honourable intents deserve honourable actions. When a dispute arises, one must be honest and clear in intentions, because the bystanders are also observing. Another side controversy involves many Senior Advocates of Nigeria – SAN, proclaiming that a law has not been breached. How so? Then how exactly does the Constitution see the NYSC? And, are Politicians actually exempted from the youth service? Following section 315, sub-section 5a of the constitution states that the NYSC Act cannot be invalidated, which means the NYSC Act must be given adequate treatment and respect irrespective of any situation.
The constitution affords equal treatment to all Nigerians and respects qualifications and background, training or statuses, irrespective of differences. So a fishmonger, or a meat butcher, or even a Pepper-seller can even become the President of Nigeria, or a State governor for that matter. And if the sole assumption here is that the highest form of education those individuals attained is perhaps Secondary school, then NYSC exemption applies to them (also for serving security officers). So even a politician must still comply with the NYSC statute as applicable to the situation. Every circumstance is based on facts and evidence; for without facts and evidence, law has no basis. The fact still remains that the minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy is a lawyer (a post-secondary school qualification), and judging by public facts, such qualification was attained by the thirtieth birthday. Hence, a completed NYSC service is obligated.
At a time when citizens are being urged to assist the country in reforming, the overall disquiet by the media on this matter so far is particularly alarming. Public institutions can only be strengthened when we demonstrate good civic examples which exemplify acceptable models for the public to follow. Such can only be accomplished when the NYSC leadership performs the constitutionally-imposed duties. Continuing to illegally amass billions in your bank accounts, only serves to influence the public to emulate such unlawful deeds when the opportunity arises! And there’s an unquestionably high proportion of certainty that everyone agrees with the notion that Nigeria cannot reform if we continue to accept delinquent behaviour by public officials.
The derelict and delinquent reaction of the NYSC on this issue so far demonstrates its capacity as a weak institution!
So, will the Presidency withdraw or defer the minister’s portfolio appointment and employment, and will the NYSC decisively punish open violators of its Act and establish good practical examples for the country? It’s a matter of good public policy and an exemplary controversial beginning for the Tinubu administration.
Agans-Oliha, writes via [email protected]