There is need to enforce the laws governing the scheme

Introduced in 1973 by the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon as a vehicle for national integration following the bitter civil war, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme has over the past four and a half decades made significant contributions to national cohesion and harmony. But given a series of recent scandals involving top federal government functionaries and a host of other challenges that grossly limit its impact and reduce its appeal, many Nigerians now raise questions as to whether the NYSC has not outlived its usefulness.

However, while we understand the frustrations of the moment, especially in the light of the recent resignation of the Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun and the refusal by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to clear the Communication Minister, Mr Adebayo Shittu, for the governorship contest in Oyo State for dodging service, we believe very strongly that the scheme is still relevant. Whatever may be the current challenges, scrapping an initiative that aligns with global trend will not only be retrogressive, it will also amount to an unfair abbreviation of the rights of thousands of young Nigerians who love the scheme and have been faithful to its ideals. But if NYSC is to survive, the laws governing it has to be enforced.

The Communication Minister, who was disqualified from seeking the gubernatorial ticket of the ruling APC in Oyo State, studied law at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and graduated in 1977. He subsequently attended the Nigerian Law School and was called to the bar in 1978. But instead of undergoing the mandatory one-year service for all Nigerian graduates, Shittu contested for the membership of the Oyo State House of Assembly. He won the election and served as a legislator for four years from 1979 to 1983. Thereafter, he engaged in private legal practice and at some point served as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Oyo State. In 2015, President Buhari appointed him as the Minister of Communication.

Section 2, subsection 1 of the NYSC Act makes it obligatory for every Nigerian graduate with the exemption of those in military/security services, “to make himself available for service for a continuous period of one year from the date specified in the call-up instrument served upon him”. Since Shittu graduated at 25 and neither held a national honour at the time nor was he a member of the armed forces, he was not qualified for exemption on any grounds and could not have been exempted from NYSC. Indeed, he is not saying that he was exempted but that the nation should substitute his membership of a legislative house in his state of origin, a full-paying political job, for the national service.

In the case of Mrs Adeosun, her admission that she presented a forged NYSC certificate of exemption and her eventual resignation ended a saga that put the nation in suspense after several weeks of denial and grandstanding. But the scandal is also an indictment on the efficiency and reliability of the nation’s security institutions particularly the Department of State Services (DSS) which supposedly screened and found her eligible for appointment first as a commissioner in Ogun State in 2011 and subsequently as a federal minister in 2015.

However, it is the integrity of the Senate that is called to question the most, especially in the light of reports that many of the lawmakers knew about her predicament and were using it as a weapon of blackmail. This is a serious allegation that the Senate cannot just ignore for it goes to the heart of their credibility. Indeed, if the highest legislative authority in the country can compromise over an oversight assignment of this nature, we can safely assume that the entire system is imperilled.