The Subversion of NYSC Scheme

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    When South Korea crashed out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at the first round in June this year, the sight of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club of England star striker, Heung-Min Son in tears told a pitiful story. But many informed football followers knew why the young man was crying. By South Korean law enacted in 1957, a two-year military service is compulsory for all male citizens by the time they are 27. But the law also has a caveat: Sportsmen who win any medals in the Olympic Games or Gold medals at the Asian Games are to be handed exemptions from military service, though they still have to do four weeks of basic training. Son’s tears were therefore about a promising football career that could be abruptly ended because, were he to take two years away from the game, it would be difficult to come back the same player.

    Fortunately, the Asian Games holding this month in Jakarta, Indonesia provides a way of escape for the player Spurs bought for US$30 million from Bayer Leverkusen of Germany three years ago. While such tournaments ordinarily don’t draw top footballers and is for the Under-23 team, Son (who turned 26 last month) has been allowed by Spurs to join the South Korean squad (as one of the three over-age players) in the hope that the country would win the gold medal so that the club would not have to lose him for two years. For Son, even a silver medal in Indonesia will not be good enough so his only chance of not being drafted for two-year military service is for South Korea to win the Gold medal at the Asian Games starting on Saturday.

    What the foregoing says very clearly is the importance placed on national service and nearly every country in the world has one variant or another of such mandatory conscriptions which could be for six months, a year or two. In Nigeria, it is the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which is for one year. Established in May 1973 by the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon with the aim of using it as a tool for reconciling, reconstructing and rebuilding the nation after the civil war, the scheme was initially for graduates of universities before it was extended to graduates of Polytechnics.

    By the NYSC Act, which is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, all Nigerians, whether home or abroad, are expected to be enlisted for the scheme once they graduate before the age of 30 otherwise they cannot work in either the public or private sector. While, as you would expect in a country like ours, some graduates (aided by their connected parents) pick where they serve, NYSC has nonetheless managed to survive with many positive stories. The 1989/90 service year in Niger State, for instance, remains one of the most memorable years of my life and there are thousands of Nigerians who have similar stories. But in Nigeria, there are always twists to every tale.

    About six weeks ago, Premium Times published a well-investigated report that the Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun not only failed to undertake the NYSC upon return to Nigeria from the United Kingdom (where she was born and graduated at age 22), she used a forged certificate of exemption to secure her ministerial appointment and perhaps before then, her commissionership position in Ogun State. This is a serious allegation that borders on criminality on two fronts: dodging service which is a constitutional infraction and forgery. Of course there is a third component in the story that the Senate knew about the problem before her confirmation hearing but left it as a weapon of blackmail, an allegation that is also yet to be refuted.

    While Adeosun has maintained an undignified silence on the matter, other officials who were compelled to speak have relied on the default line of the Buhari administration whenever it wants to cover up internal misdeeds: the matter is under ‘investigation’!

    As it would happen, even that line is no longer tenable. The Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) Chairman, Prof Itse Sagay, SAN, said last week that “the PDP (in Nigeria today, anybody who as much as demand accountability of the current government is deemed to be a PDP member) can weep from now until there is no tear in their body; she (Adeosun) is going to be there. We cannot afford to lose that woman”. According to Sagay, “a lot of the good things happening now – the welfare that Nigerians are enjoying and are going to enjoy, because it takes time, and the way our economy is booming, how we got out of recession – are due to her (Adeosun’s) expertise, her commitment, her sacrifice.”

    Asked if it was not an offence to skip NYSC, Sagay replied: “Who cares about youth service? I don’t bloody care whether she did youth service or not. It’s irrelevant as far as I am concerned.” And to further confirm the hypocrisy of the so-called anti-corruption agenda of the current administration and its selective approach to morality, Sagay still had the temerity to demand the immediate resignation of Senate President Bukola Saraki on “moral grounds”. The learned Professor could not even see the irony of his own statement.

    The most poignant message the Adeosun saga sends is that for the Buhari administration you can break the law and commit any crime so long as you are on their side. Yet, no society can advance when the philosophical underpinning of a government is to pick and choose on matters of integrity, due process and rule of law with punishment for bad behavior reserved only for those in opposition. But perhaps more worrisome is the complicity of the NYSC. The position of the management may have been informed by the fact that the scheme has been so corrupted that discharge certificates have actually been given to some children of fat cats who schooled abroad and never really served the country. So, the “mistake” may be that someone forged an exemption certificate when the person could easily have procured a discharge certificate.

    When Sagay therefore says, “Who cares about youth service? I don’t bloody care whether she did youth service or not”, he is passing a verdict on a scheme whose ideals have been subverted. But it is still nonetheless disturbing that it doesn’t matter to a respected Senior Advocate of Nigeria, a foremost teacher of law in our country, that our Minister of Finance failed to serve her fatherland as stipulated in the Constitution and on top of that, went on to forge the certificate of exemption. As someone with tremendous respect for Prof Sagay, some of what he says these days worries me.

    The Adeosun saga also tells another compelling story about Nigerian politicians and personal interests. Despite the fact that many of our distinguished senators are at daggers-drawn with the presidency, not a single one of them (whether APC or r-APC or PDP) has disputed the story that they knew about Adeosun’s NYSC certificate problem from the outset and had been using it as a weapon of blackmail. Meanwhile, even before Sagay told us that nothing will happen to Adeosun, Nigerians were already aware of that; after all, this is a government that treats court orders with contempt and has a penchant for blackmailing anybody that raises questions about propriety with the banal refrain, ‘corruption is fighting back’.

    But this is one scandal with far-reaching implications. In recent years, many NYSC members have been violently killed on election duty, some have been victims of road accidents and just a few weeks ago, no fewer than nine drowned in Taraba State—all in the course of serving their fatherland.

    It is sad that nobody around President Buhari can appreciate the fact that having a person with a grave charge of forgery as finance minister undermines the integrity of the administration and puts a question mark on his signature promise. In an earlier piece I did on this issue, I affirmed that nobody is querying the competence of Mrs Adeosun, but rather that when a government allows its friends and allies to make justifications for their wrong doings, bend rules to suit predetermined ends and excuse egregious unethical behaviour from those who ordinarily should be held to the highest standards, any claim to fighting corruption is but a big joke. I then concluded:
    “On the whole, the Adeosun NYSC saga raises many important issues. The first is the tardiness in pre-appointment screening by relevant security agencies, despite all the drama that usually attended the exercise. The second is the question of fit and proper persons to occupy public offices as a matter of deliberate state policy. The third is the place of individual integrity in the anti-corruption scheme of the current administration, given the number of senior officials alleged to be parading dodgy credentials. The fourth is the question as to whether political loyalty should override transparency in the assessment and tenure of senior public officials.

    “On the matter at hand, Mrs Adeosun is not qualified for NYSC exemption certificate so there is a problem if she indeed got the one displayed by Premium Times. If she got it in error, her position still remains untenable. A good test for her: If this happened in the United Kingdom, where she was born and grew up, would she still be on her seat as Finance Minister? Finally, at the level of individual morality, public decency should dictate that when otherwise good people are found wanting, the only path of honour is to take responsibility and spare the system of needless stress.”

    All said, whichever way one looks at it, what the Adeosun scandal has done is to damage the credibility of the NYSC scheme. Henceforth, it will be difficult to compel anybody to serve their country under such a compromised institution. While this may not be bad in itself since there are many who already argue that the NYSC has outlived its usefulness, Nigerians will remember in future under whose administration the scheme was effectively killed in a bid to shield one of their own from the law!

    Teens Conference 2018 is Here!
    The online registration portal for the 2018 edition of the Abuja RCCG TEAP Teens Conference which holds this coming Saturday has closed. We are expecting about 800 participants who have been registered and will receive confirmation SMS and email detailing their conference number and other information latest by Friday. The event will also be streamed live on http://rccgteapteens.org/live.html. Further enquiries should be directed by mail to info@rccgteapteens.org or to the numbers on the leaflet.

    Meanwhile, the Deputy Head of the European Union delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador Richard Young has agreed to join the Executive Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil, Mrs Folorunsho Alakija; House of Representatives Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara and Chief Strategist of Media Reach, Mr Japheth Omojuwa on Saturday.

    The objectives of the conference which is free (with snack break and a proper lunch after) include teaching the teenagers to take responsibility for their future; making them to realise that no matter the odds, they can reach their goals and getting them to understand that God still intervenes in the affairs of men. The theme of this year’s conference is “IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN!”. We look forward to seeing the participants on Saturday.

    • You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com