The National Youth Service Corps has dismissed the claim by the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, that holding political office compensated for his refusal to participate in the compulsory national service.
The spokesperson of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC), Adenike Adeyemi, said the minister’s claim that holding an elective office suffices for the obligatory national service is incorrect.
Since PREMIUM TIMES exposed him as an NYSC dodger on Thursday, Mr Shittu has been claiming that his election into the Oyo State House of Assembly immediately after graduation in 1979 replaced the mandatory service.
Some lawyers however said Mr Shittu’s justification for skipping the scheme is flawed and ludicrous.
Mrs Adeyemi agreed with the lawyers on the bases for exemption allowed by the law in Section 2 of the NYSC Act.
The referenced section exempted only four categories of Nigerians from the national service.
Those exempted are those who graduated after their 30th birthday, those who served in the military or the police for at least nine months as well as staff of intelligence agencies.
Those conferred with national honours before graduation are also exempted from the scheme.
Speaking to Tribune newspaper, the NYSC spokesperson said the provisions of the Act are clear, and that individuals such as Mr Shittu who became a lawmaker at the age of 26 are not exempted.
She said, “Serving in the National (or state) Assembly is not one of them (conditions for exemption from national service)”.
“You have read the Act and you can see the circumstances where someone is exempted, you analyse it if he [Shittu] was exempted duly or there is a reason why he should have served. But the Act is very straightforward on the grounds for not coming up to serve.
“If you are a graduate locally trained or foreign trained, as long as you graduate before the age of 30, you are expected to serve. Whether foreign or locally trained, the law is the same. Our youths should be rightly guided that if you were able to complete your studies and as of the date of graduation, you are under 30, you are eligible to serve,” the NYSC spokesperson said.
Mrs Adeyemi insisted that the NYSC law gives no preferential treatment to Nigerians other than those exempted by Section 2 of the Act, emphasising that
“The NYSC was set up to mobilise all eligible Nigerian youths. The Act does not talk about VIPs or children of VIPs. Anyone who is a Nigerian youth, who has a first degree and under the age of 30 must serve, the issue of VIPs or their children does not apply.
“However, if there is any reason why a corps member needs a concession, the corps member applies and concession is given, for example, for marital reasons and on health grounds. Everyone is treated the same and where concessions are to be given, it is treated. So, VIPs or children of VIPs do not come into the Act and we do not look at that,” she said.
Lawyers who spoke on the Shittu scandal said the minister is in 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 lawyer.
“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 the police should arrest and prosecute Mr Shittu immediately.
“All positions he has held are illegal and he should return all monies he earned from those posts to government coffers,” Mr. Mahmud said.