The security agencies should do more to expose those who skipped the compulsory scheme

In the wake of the resignation of former Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun over falsification of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate, many Nigerians, particular those seeking public offices, are becoming more circumspect with the credentials they put in the public space. The sheer impact of that bust is broadened by the manner in which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) prevented the Communication Minister, Mr Adebayo Shittu, from contesting the party’s gubernatorial primaries in Oyo State for dodging the mandatory service. A similar controversy now swirls around the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate in Kwara State, Mr Rasaq Atunwa, who reportedly forged an NYSC exemption service when he in fact did not serve after obtaining his first degree at the age of 23.

For years, while many Nigerians from average homes go through the scheme, some others with connections in high places have found ways around the compulsory service meant for everyone who graduated under 30 years. Some compound the matter by going for fake NYSC discharge of exemption certificates, knowing we run a system where accountability is in short supply and employers of labour hardly check the claims made by their employees.

However, the increasing close scrutiny of documents of public officials by the media is making many to sit up. In that process, many politicians now believe they can hide behind technicalities to cover what is clearly a crime. Some of them who had paraded all manner of degrees in the past and had worked as top officials in or out of government are reportedly limiting themselves to presenting only their West African School Certificate (WASC) or the equivalent in the forms submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The reason is clear: to cover their tracks. But the authorities should not allow this brazen attempt to circumvent the law.

Introduced in 1973 by the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon as a vehicle for national integration following the bitter civil war, the NYSC scheme has over the past four and a half decades made significant contributions to national cohesion and harmony. Section 2, subsection 1 of the NYSC Act makes it obligatory for every Nigerian graduate with the exception 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”. And without a discharge certificate or exemption certificate issued by the NYSC, no Nigerian graduate is qualified to work in the country, either in the private or public sector.

In justifying his deliberate decision to skip the service, the Communications Minister, who graduated at 25, for instance, resorted to a curious interpretation of the law. Shittu said he served the nation in his capacity as a member of the Oyo State House of Assembly immediately after his graduation. Even going by his own twisted interpretation of the law, Shittu did not serve the nation but Oyo State through his membership of the legislative house when the law does not allow graduates to serve in their state of origin except on medical grounds. That is aside the fact that the law specifies what national service means and graduates are not empowered to deploy themselves.

While Nigerians therefore await what the presidency will do with Shittu now that his own party has declared him ineligible for public office and the PDP has a decision to make on its gubernatorial candidate in Kwara State, it is important for the security agencies to collaborate with INEC to fish out other NYSC dodgers who think they can break the law to secure public offices in Nigeria.