GUEST COLUMNIST BY AUSTIN OKOLIE
Let me start by congratulating the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) on its 50th anniversary. It is a scheme many of us passed through with fond memories. Many have also recounted their sad experiences, for although nobly conceived, the scheme has been blighted by many Nigerian factors, including poor organisation, ineptitude, corruption, and government’s failure to tap into the infinite potentials of the programme for national unity and development.
I watched the NYSC at 50 interview of the agency’s Director-General (DG), Brig. Gen. Yusha’u Ahmed, on Arise News. Whereas many of us saw the discharge certificate controversy of the Governor-elect of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah, as an opportunity for the NYSC to cure the maladies of dereliction, corruption, and analogue system that afflict the otherwise brilliantly conceived scheme, the dismissive manner the DG disclaimed Mbah’s certificate without adducing any facts from any investigation to back his claim, shows the opportunity has been blown.
If we take away politics, Mbah vs. NYSC drama exposes the rot in every sphere of the Nigerian system; and it can happen to any other Nigerian. Just to refresh our memories, available documents in the processes he filed in court in his N20 Billion lawsuit against the NYSC, shows that he was mobilised for the National youth service vide a call up letter, with serial number 01134613 (Ref. No. NYSC/FRN/2001/800351), asking him to report at the NYSC permanent orientation camp at Iyana-Ipaja, Agege, Lagos. After the orientation, the NYSC posted him to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in Apapa Quays for his primary assignment vide a letter dated 28th January 2002. But he was rejected by the NPA and was therefore again reposted to Udeh & Associates vide an NYSC letter dated 6th March 2002. Udeh & Associates accepted him and confirmed his assumption of primary assignment vide a letter to the Lagos State Director of the NYSC in a letter dated 11th March 2002.
Other critical documents front-loaded to the court by Mbah include his application to the NYSC dated 20th June 2002 to be allowed to go back to the Nigerian Law School for his Bar Part II (He had earlier done Bar Part I as a graduate of a foreign university), approval of his request by the NYSC Director headquarters in Abuja vide a letter dated 2nd October 2002 (Ref. No. NYSC/DHQ/CM//M/27), an application to the NYSC dated 3rd April 2003 seeking to be remobilised to complete his national service, a letter dated 24th April 2002 (Ref. No. LA/01/1532/T) by the NYSC Lagos State Director (Mrs. Rita Uzo Akinlade) forwarding Mbah’s request to the DG of the NYSC (Attention: Mr. Emmanuel, A. Ajisafe), and an approval for Mbah’s remobilisation vide a letter by the DG to the Lagos State Director dated 7th May 2003 letter (Ref. No. NYSC/DHQ/CM/27/20) to the NYSC to ‘continue his service year from where he stopped, with effect from May 2003’.
The letter with the subject “Re: Application for Remobilisation, Mr. Mbah Peter N. LA/01/1532” and signed by one Mrs. J. Okuoghae states: “I am directed to refer to your letter of 24th April, 2003, reference No. LA/01/1532/T on the above subject matter and to request you to reinstate the corps member to continue his service year from where he stopped, with effect from May 2003.”
Equally of interest in the processes filed by Mbah are the various clearance letters by Udeh & Associates, which enabled him to receive his monthly allowance during his service year and the final clearance letter by the law firm certifying that he completed the one-year National Service in their office in September 2003.
It has also emerged that he petitioned the DG, NYSC, on 6th February 2023 to complain about a disclaimer dated 1st February 2023 and signed by one Mr. Ibrahim Muhammad, NYSC’s Director of Corps Certification, saying that his discharge certificate was not issued by the agency. Having told his story and attached all the aforementioned documents, he appealed that the matter be “thoroughly investigated and persons found culpable be prosecuted accordingly”.
He equally met with the then just NYSC DG, who, contrary to what he claimed on Arise TV, actually told Mbah that he was neither briefed nor his clearance sought before the disclaimer was issued and that upon enquiry, the Director said he probably did not finish his NYSC, as the column where he ought to have signed like other members of his batch upon completion of service to show that he collected his discharge certificate was blank. In an April interview, Mbah said that he explained to the DG that he didn’t pass out with his set and showed him the letter remobilising back into NYSC service upon completion of his Bar Part II (Bar Final). He said the NYSC DG confessed that nobody had brought this part of the story to his notice. He promised to treat the matter with dispatch, pleading that he was still fresh in office, having assumed duties on 30th January 2023, whereas the NYSC Director wrote the letter on 1st February.
Unfortunately, till date, the NYSC has not deemed it fit to formally reply Mbah stating the facts and reasons it believes the certificate was not issued by it. And while he waited, a group dragged him to Court over the matter, a case he won. Yet far from replying him, the NYSC, through its Director of Corps Certification, continued to issue disclaimer letters (now in contempt of a valid court judgment), thereby arming the Enugu opposition in their media war against the Governor-elect. This probably left Mbah with no choice than to drag the NYSC and its errant Director to court, demanding N20 Billion in general and exemplary damages for “conspiracy, deceit, and misrepresentation of facts”.
Only recently, President Muhammadu Buhari requested the National Assembly to approve the sum of $566,754,584, N226 billion, and £98,526 to clear judgment debts. But we can now see how government and its agencies pile up needless judgment debts.
The DG even took NYSC’s organisational irresponsibility a notch higher by disclaiming Mbah’s certificate on live television in clear contempt of a subsisting court order in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/09/611/2023, restraining the agency and its Director of Corps Certification whether by themselves, their directors, officers, servants, legal representatives, counsel or any other person or persons howsoever described and connected, from issuing, publishing or continuing to issue, publish disclaimer to the effect that Mbah’s NYSC discharge certificate was not issued by the agency, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit already filed. Not only that, whereas he lied that he was not aware of Mbah’s suit, the Affidavit of Service by the court bailiff, which was published in the media, shows that he was served on Monday, 15th May 2023.
Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that so far, NYSC’s only grounds for disclaiming the certificate was because he didn’t sign his column in the collection register during the passing out of his batch; and it sounds so silly, as the documents he adduced clearly show that he did not pass out with his batch! He broke his service year to return to Law School, and was remobilised by NYSC, and came back to do the remaining months.
But hope of using Mbah’s matter to put some things right at the NYSC is not totally lost, as the NYSC is not the sole authority as far as the authenticity or otherwise of its certificate is concerned. For instance, NYSC certificates are printed by the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company PLC. They have security features. They have serial numbers and watermark. And there are only two ways the certificate could be forged: either the serial number of Mbah’s certificate doesn’t exist or someone else holds a certificate with the same serial number and he just went to Oluwole to get another certificate with the same serial number; which is unlikely after going through the whole process of service as his supporting documents show.
Thus the onus is on the NYSC to say, “certificates in these series, including serial number A808297 don’t exist” or “the certificate number A808297 paraded by Mbah belongs to Mr. ABC”. But they haven’t said so. And now that Mbah, who feels his rights or reputations have been violated, has gone to court, it offers him, NYSC, the police, Department of State Services, NPMC, etc. to help the judiciary get to the bottom of the matter.
But as I said earlier, this matter shows the depth of the rot in the Nigerian system. Who could have believed that an officer in the Federal Ministry of Justice could collect a bribe to file a process falsely stating that Mbah made a plea bargain and was convicted by Justice M.N Yunusa on 7th July 2015 in Suit No. FHC/L/09C/2007. This he did to support Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/2257/2022 filed by a legal practitioner, Mr. Ejike Obumneme, for some fronts of the Enugu APC governorship and deputy governorship candidates, seeking Mbah’s disqualification from the governorship contest. But upon investigation, it was discovered that Mbah wasn’t even tried in the first place. His name was struck out in the Suit No. on 7th March 2013 at the behest of the EFCC’s lawyer, Kelvin Uzozie, before the commencement of trial. But for court records, Mbah would probably have gone down for that as well. That is Nigeria for you.
Also, the saga exposes the analogue or anachronistic approach to record keeping by the NYSC, just like every other government institution. We are in a digital age for crying out loud. I think Mbah’s problem began from the time they created a temporary file for him, which the alphabet “T” in the 24th April 2002 letter (Ref. No. LA/01/1532/T) by the Lagos State Director to the DG, forwarding his request for remobilisation, stands for. You go to offices and they are still moving files up and down. An office clerk will choose whether or not to see your file or even remove it entirely for peanuts. What is wrong with us as a country? Why can’t we go digital for more efficiency, transparency, and accountability?
As one Innocent Obodo suggested, what is so difficult in displaying on its website: all the Corps members it has mobilised since inception in 1973 and their documentation details; all Corps members, who have served and received their certificates; names of employer organisations it has ever deployed Corps members to since 1973; and of course all the Corps members that have ever defaulted or absconded from service, etc.?
So, dear General Ahmed, as you relish the 50th anniversary of the NYSC, just know that much whereas the agency has had its positives, all, as Mbah’s case shows, is not correct, sir. Some have even said, reform or disband the NYSC; and I totally agree with them, but I’m more inclined to reform and retooling.
As for Mbah, who will be sworn in on Monday, 29th May, one thing going for him is that even his worst critic doesn’t contest his immense capacity to lead or govern. Coming from the private sector where Pinnacle Oil and Gas Ltd., a company he built from a micro to medium, and multi-billion dollar mega business leads in the petroleum downstream by wide margins, Enugu has the brightest opportunity for an all-round transformation and development.
Dr. Okolie is a Senior Lecturer, Senior Research Fellow, and former State Director, National Orientation Agency