Another minister serving in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet has been found to have skipped the mandatory national youth service scheme, an offence that may see him lose his position and earn him jail term.
The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, failed to participate in the NYSC scheme despite graduating from the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) at age 25,
The revelation about Mr. Shittu, who is currently angling to become Oyo State governor, is coming to light about a week after Kemi Adeosun was compelled to step down from her post as Nigeria’s finance minister after this medium reported that she skipped national service and then procured a fake exemption certificate to cover her tracks.
Months of discreet checks at the NYSC headquarters showed that the communications minister did not present himself for service after graduation and is yet to do so till date.
Contacted Tuesday, Mr. Shittu admitted that he did not serve but claimed he thought his first political post after graduation could suffice as national service, a claim lawyers and NYSC insiders consider as ludicrous and untenable.
Skipping the compulsory national service is an offence under the NYSC law, punishable with up to 12 months imprisonment.
Employers are mandated by law to always request NYSC certificate of national service from employees as part of the conditions for hiring.
Mr Shittu, born on March 23, 1953, studied law at Ife, graduating in 1978. He proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, qualifying as a lawyer in 1979.
Having earned a bachelors degree at the age of 25, Section 2 of the NYSC Act expects Mr Shittu to have participated in the year-long national service.
The Minister speaks
Section 2 (1) of the NYSC Act mandates all Nigerians who earn degrees or higher national diplomas from tertiary institutions in Nigerian and abroad (effective 1972/73 session) to participate in the scheme.
Those exempted by the law are those who graduated after their 30th birthday, persons with national honours and individuals who serve in the military and intelligence organisations.
Rather than enlist in the national service, Mr Shittu went into politics after graduation, and was, in 1979, elected member of the Oyo State House of Assembly.
The minister said he believed that having been elected lawmaker, he needed not participate in the national service.
He said he deliberatively skipped the NYSC scheme because he was convinced that his membership of the state assembly was itself a “service”.
“The constitution provides for the qualification needed for state assembly members, NYSC is not there,” Mr. Shittu said. “I didn’t need it to become a member of the state assembly, and that is already a service,” he said.
Mr Shittu disagreed with our reporter who laboured to explain to him that the NYSC Act makes participation in the scheme mandatory for all graduates like him and that election or appointment to political office does not qualify as a basis for exemption.
What the Law Says
Mr Shittu’s argument does not appear convincing when placed against the letters of the NYSC law.
Subsection 2 of the same section enumerated instances of exemption from the national service, which did not include holding political office, as Mr Shittu claimed.
The four categories of individuals exempted from the national service, according to the NYSC law, are those who graduated above the age of thirty, and those who have served in the armed forces or the Nigeria Police for a period of more than nine months.
The third category covers staff of four security organisations, namely the Nigerian Security Organisation, the State Security Service, the National Intelligence Agency and the Defence Intelligence Service.
Exemption status is also conferred on individuals who bagged national honours before graduation.
Despite not possessing certificate of national service, Mr Shittu went on from being a state lawmaker, to occupying important government positions, including his current post as minister.
Mr Shittu is a former attorney general and commissioner for justice in his native Oyo State. He also served as member of the Oyo State Judicial Service Commission from 2004 to 2007.
In 2005, he was nominated minister by President Buhari, and later assigned the communications portfolio upon legislative screening.
It is not clear how he scaled screenings by the Oyo State House of Assembly, the SSS, and the National Assembly, who are all expected to screen commissioner and ministerial nominees before their appointment.
Mr Shittu is now aspiring for governorship of Oyo State.
Section 12 of the NYSC Act mandates all employers to demand the national service certificate of prospective employees before hiring.
Section 12 of the Act reads:
“For the purposes of employment anywhere in the Federation and before employment, it shall be the duty of every prospective employer to demand and obtained from any person who claims to have obtained his first degree at the end of the academic year 1973-74 or, as the case may be, at the end of any subsequent academic year the following:-
a. a copy of the Certificate of National Service of such person issued pursuant to section 11 of this Decree
b. a copy of any exemption certificate issued to such person pursuant to section 17 of this Decree
c. such other particulars relevant there to as may be prescribed by or under this Decree.”
Section 13 of the Act also criminalises skipping the national service as it prescribes 12 months imprisonment or fine of N2,000 or both, for such offenders.
Lawyers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said the minister is in the breach of the NYSC law for skipping the national service.
“His membership of the state assembly is not the same as national service,” said Huwaila Mohammed, a Kano-based practitioner. “He needs to serve, because the section of the law dealing with exemption did not include political office holders like him.”
Another lawyer, Abdul Mahmud, agreed with Ms Mohammed’s position, saying the minister “is a dodger who is in breach of the law”.
He said by the provision of Section 12 of the NYSC Act, Mr Shittu ought to have presented his certificate of national service before he was cleared as minister.
“The provision is clear,” Mr. Mahmud said. “It says (you must serve) before you get any job in the federation.”
Mr Mahmud, who chairs the Abuja-based pressure group, Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL), said Mr Shittu’s “case is worse than that of Kemi Adeosun because he deliberately refused to serve”.
“If we assume as a member of the Oyo House he (Mr Shittu) served, did it not defeat objective 4 (b) stated in Section 1 (4) (b) of the NYSC Act? Members serve in states other than their own,” he said.
The lawyer said Mr Shittu should be arrested immediately by the police and made to face the law.
All positions he has held are illegal and he should return all monies he earned from those posts to government coffers.