Destroying the spirit and essence of the NYSC scheme

Nigeria is an interesting country. In virtually every aspect of the country’s activities, several banana peels are usually placed by vested interests against our making progress as a nation. Efforts are often put in place by unscrupulous elements either to damage a process that ordinarily is moving on smoothly or they do something else to wobble the system, rake up controversies and rupture an otherwise smooth-sailing process. 

In almost every aspect of our national process, it is usually the case that selfishness and pursuit of self-centered ego are always seen to be at play; nationalism or national interest are often subsumed to the back seat.

It is against this backdrop that we decided to make a peep on the judgment delivered by Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, on Wednesday, 7th July 2021, in the case filed by the erstwhile Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, against the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), where she argued that by the circumstances of her nationality, she was not expected to have participated in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme. 

Adeosun, it must be stated, had on her own volition, resigned her appointment as Finance Minister and sneaked out of the country when it was disclosed that she did not participate in the NYSC programme. She had initially attempted to produce a so-called exemption certificate she allegedly got, but when people in the system who should know informed that NYSC couldn’t have given her the said exemption certificate, with the several contradictions, including the name of the Director-General of NYSC that purportedly signed the noxious exemption certificate, when it was issued and other attenuating circumstances around the said exemption certificate, Adosun simply made no issue of the “Oluwole Street” exemption certificate. She simply voted with her legs, and sneaked away from the country. 

In the suit she filed at the Federal High Court, the former minister could be said to desperate at clearing her name of any wrong doing or of breaching the letters of the Constitution and of the NYSC Act. 

By the provisions of Section 12 of the NYSC Act, every Nigerian graduate of a higher institution, whether graduating in Nigeria or abroad, but who is below 30 years of age at the time of graduation, must offer himself or herself for mobilisation in the mandatory one year NYSC programme. 

The law specifically stated that even if such a graduate had attained the age of 31, 50, 60, 100 or even more at the time the person returned to Nigeria or decided to offer self for NYSC programme, in so far as the person was not above 30 years at the time of obtaining first degree or Higher National Diploma or its equivalent, he or she must participate in the mandatory NYSC programme.

That was where Adeosun found herself when she was said to have purportedly sought and obtained the so-called NYSC exemption certificate which turned out to be toxic. We at The AUTHORITY, without delving into the genuineness or otherwise of the said NYSC exemption certificate, state that Mrs. Adeosun took the correct steps by offering herself for NYSC at the time. What however wobbled the action is that at that time, even though she was above 30 years of age, having obtained her first graduating degree at the age of 22 years, was that she allegedly asked for exemption. Had she obtained such an exemption at that time, she would still have violated the letters of the NYSC Act.  This is because she was expected to present herself for mobilisation being that she was 22 years when she graduated as the law does not look at the age of the person when the person elects to participate in the national service.

It is important to bring back issues that had made the suit filed by Adeosun a non-issue.  Not too long ago, the Supreme Court had set a ratio decidendi on a similar case when the apex Court affirmed a judgment of the same Federal High Court which held that a lawmaker, be stripped of his victory at the House of Representatives election and the result of that election awarded to one of his opponents because he did not participate in the NYSC scheme.

In the judgment, Hon. Abdulra’uf Abdulkadir Modibbo of the All Progressives Congress (APC), then representing Yola South, Yola North and Girei Federal Constituency in Adamawa state at the National Assembly was removed from the Green Chambers of the national legislature, due to issues surrounding his NYSC non-participation.

The five-man Justices of the apex court, held, in the appeal marked: SC/790/2019, that Modibo was not qualified to stand for the election, having not properly participated in the mandatory one-year NYSC scheme. Justice John Okoro (JSC), who read the unanimous Supreme Court judgement, ‎ordered that Hon. Jafar Suleiman Ribadu of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who came second in the polls, be issued with the Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which made him the representativeof that Federal Constituency Modibbo who win the election.

However, while delivering judgment last week, Justice Taiwo Taiwo made a 180 degree turn around from the said Supreme Court judgment and pronounced that participation and obtaining NYSC Discharge or Exemption Certificate is not a sine qua none for election into the legislative houses, holding an executive elective office or for appointment as minister or commissioner in the country. This beats every imagination, especially now that Nigeria is battling with several issues threatening to teat the country apart. 

In the judgment under review, Justice Taiwo Taiwo set out the facts of the case as being “that sometime in 2018, while the plaintiff was serving as the Minister of Finance of the Federal  Republic of Nigeria, it was being paraded in the public space that she did not participate in the NYSC scheme and as such ought to have been disqualified from holding the office. It was further alleged that the said insinuations have remained unabated, thereby, consistently putting the plaintiff at disadvantageous 

positions in the pursuit of her career, both within and outside the country. This has, therefore, necessitated the plaintiff to file this action,” the Judge said in the judgment. 

The learned Judge in upholding the submissions made by Adeosun’s counsel declared thus: “It is a Constitutional misconception to conclude that for a person to serve as Minister at the Federal Level, he or she ought to have 

participated in the NYSC Scheme and obtained a discharge certificate”. He added: “the plaintiff having been born in London, United Kingdom in 1967 as deposed to in paragraph 8 (ii) of her sworn affidavit, is a United Kingdom Citizen and that she retained her United Kingdom Citizenship as demanded by section 28 of the 1979 Constitution; which translated to the fact that she lost her Nigerian citizenship, immediately she attained the age of 21 years, in 1988”, therefore, “she lost the privilege or right accruing to a Nigerian citizen and could not have discharged or performed any duty expected of a Nigerian citizen, including participation and service in the NYSC scheme, and having not regained her 

Nigerian citizenship and rights accruing thereto, until the 1999 Constitution came into force, and that the 1999 Constitution repealed the 1979 Constitution, through the instrumentality of  Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Promulgation) Decree No 24 of 1999″. This pronouncement is what we are interrogating, not as an appeal, but as a public issue of very high national importance which the media by section 22 of the Constitution are empowered to interrogate.

It is shocking that Alhaji Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the sole respondent in the matter, failed to draw the attention of the court to the fact that NYSC was not joined in the suit, even though the proprietary of its mandate was being attacked.

He rather chose to be on the same page with Adeosun, his erstwhile colleague at the Executive Council of the Federation (FEC).  

What was shocking in the entire saga is that although Malami agreed that any graduate in employment in Nigeria is expected to have provided his employer with a discharge or exemption certificate prior to obtaining the job as obligated by the provisions of Section 12 of the NYSC Act, he contended that in view of the provisions of Section 147 (5) and 192 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, the minimum 

qualification required for a Commissioner/Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is school leaving certificate and did not include obtaining an discharge or exemption certificate. And having understood Mrs. Adeosun’s Citizenship status, Justice Taiwo stated in the judgement that Malami “took no steps to remove her as Minister of Finance in 2018 despite the uproar in the public space as regards the Plaintiffs’s failure to undergo the National Youth Service Scheme”, but that “she resigned the position of Minister of Finance on her own free will”.

The AGF further agreed with the submission that Adeosun was not deemed eligible for participation in the NYSC scheme in 1989 when she graduated at the age of 22, but falls into the category of persons entitled to an exemption certificate upon the restoration of her Nigerian citizenship by the 1999 Constitution, when she was already 30 years old.

According to Justice Taiwo, “Sections 65 and 66 stipulates the yardstick for qualification and disqualification for the House of Representatives. Again in these sections, participation or non participation in the NYSC scheme is not one of those grounds for qualifications or 

disqualification of any Nigerian, including the plaintiff for appointment as a Minister or Commissioner in the Federal or State 

Executive Bodies”. 

He also ruled that having been “one-time Commissioner for Finance in Ogun State between 2011 to 2015 and was appointed Minister of Finance in 

2015 till sometime in 2018. It is my finding, which finding was not challenged that by the time she moved back to Nigeria in 2003, she was not eligible under the NYSC Act to serve in the 

National Youth Service Scheme. In fact it would have been a criminal offence if she had participated in the NYSC under any guise”. He then made the mother of all declarations by declaring: “She is thus by law estopped from participation in the scheme”. 

This statement has far reaching implications. Not only did the Judge carry out what lawyers refer to as “Father Christmas”, the Judge has by the pronouncement destroyed the very essence and spirit of the NYSC and doctrine of Satre Decisis, which is sacrosanct in the Nigerian jurisprudence. 

While Nigerians expect the AGF to shirk away from providing soft landing for his erstwhile colleague and file an appeal against the judgment, it is also expected that the NYSC management should take up the issue at the appellate court because the Federal High Court judgment has put spanners on their work. Soon, we could hear of a judge pronouncing that since the NYSC is not listed in the Constitution, it is an illegal body which must cease to exist. 

We believe that jurisprudence should not be used to destroy a system, but should be deployed to strengthen our national faculties to make Nigeria a great nation. Every effort must be made to stop rhis penchant of using our courts to put sand on issues that promote national consciousness, patriotism, hardwork and diligence. Nothing can be as disconcerting as a judgment which seeks to put the NYSC in the hams way, which is what Adeosun succeeded in doing through the judgment she got at the court. 

It must not be allowed to stand. The AGF must come out clean on the matter. An appeal must be filed immediately and NYSC must be permitted to join as a party in the appeal where it can bring up facts hidden from the FHC while the matter lasted. Not doing so will mean a serious disservice to the Nigerian nation and a big affront to the strivings to wedge war against corruption in the country. 

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