Bayo Shittu and the fresh storm over NYSC
Adebayo Shittu, the Minister for Communications, has kicked up dust anew on his NYSC saga. He has been telling whoever is ready to listen that he did not participate in the mandatory National Youth Service. His excuse is that he considered his election into the Western House of Assembly a national service. Commentators have predictably knocked his reason as ridiculous, especially coming from a lawyer. Because of the non-participation, the APC high command did not clear him as eligible to contest for the governorship of Oyo State on its platform. He was on Channels Television on Sunday. He spoke confidently about the rightness of his position. He said he had written to the National Working Committee of APC, his party, to complain about his exclusion. He also hinted he would go to court.
I do not yet have strong views on his own matter as I had and still hold on the ordeal of Kemi Adeosun. It will be interesting to see how it goes in court when it eventually lands there. Is serving as minister or a member of parliament enough to substitute for NYSC? It is food for thought. This column was the first to raise this point in the case of Mrs. Adeosun. She served as Commissioner for Finance for four years in Ogun State and for three years as Minister of Finance at the centre. She did not have to serve as commissioner or minister if she did not want. That she accepted the appointments were borne out of a longing to serve the country. The position of Bayo Shittu has been dismissed by a colleague of mine in his column as stupid. I am not in the habit of throwing novel ideas out of the window off hand—without deep reflection.
In the case of Communications Minister, Bayo Shittu, can his point just be dismissed without second thoughts? Before he left the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University from where he graduated in law, the level of representation of his constituency in government had been very low. Here were a cluster of big towns and communities which had been represented by Standard Six certificate holders of old, and at best by School Certificate holders where other areas had higher levels of representation. For adequate representation, the constituency longed for someone with a high level of education, preferably a degree holder, especially in law. The constituency could, therefore, not wait to grab Bayo Shittu who fitted into their vision upon graduation. Others in the area with comparable level of education preferred careers outside of politics. The grouse from the axis up till today is that it has not produced a governor and it is to a large extent blamed on the deficiencies of the past in not having representation of educational clout.
Laws are made not having any particular part of the country or any set of people in view. This is why, in my view, Shittu’s contention will be interesting to watch. Your community wants you, but the larger society through the instrumentality of the NYSC law says no; the community may as well wait for another four years to have a strong representation. I am just thinking aloud! However, his subtle judgmental pronouncement on his former colleague as minister was distasteful. He was quick to state that what Adeosun had was a forged certificate which was different from his case. Kemi Adeosun was a victim of system entrapment and bureaucratic irresponsibility. And the salient points to consider on her case are lost on a great many that have closed their minds to her efforts to establish her innocence in the whole saga. Damage to character or reputation is not guilt to be taken lightly. From the point of law and citizenship Adeosun cannot be held reproachable for what befell her.
Perhaps, it bears restating that until she was 21 in 1988, Kemi Adeosun was a Nigerian only by virtue of her parents being Nigerians. The Law says if either of its parents is a Nigerian, even if either of the grandparents is, any child born and bred overseas is a Nigerian and is entitled to all the privileges of citizenship thereto. However, once the person is 21, by the instrumentality of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a Nigerian citizen ceases to be tied to the apron strings of his parents, and the privileges of citizenship through them are terminated. The child is of age. He must personally revalidate his citizenship. I have Dr. Abdul Mahmud as my guide and witness. Dr. Mahmud says:
“When Kemi Adeosun graduated in 1989, her Nigerian citizenship had already been nullified by Section 26 (1) and (3) CFRN 1979—Refusal of Citizenship. By not renouncing her British citizenship on 01 October 1979 or 1988 when she was 21, as demanded by Section 26 (3) CFRN 1979, she lost her Nigerian citizenship. This was later restored when Section 28 (Dual Citizenship) of the CFRN 1999 came into effect on 29 May, 1999.
“In 1989 when she graduated at the age of 22 she was no longer a citizen of Nigeria, so she couldn’t have served as a foreigner—a British citizen. One addition is that when the 1999 Constitution restored her citizenship by birth in 1999 she had also passed the service age of 30. She was 32 years.”This was what weighed on the minds of Kemi Adeosun’s advisers and associates. To make assurance doubly sure, nevertheless she wrote to NYSC for documentary proof of exemption. The NYSC, typical of the Nigerian public institutions, did not reply. In her own words: “Upon enquiry as to my status relating to NYSC, I was informed that due to my residency history, and having exceeded the age of thirty (30), I was exempted from requirement to service.” She added: “On the basis of that advice and with the guidance and assistance of those I thought were trusted associates, NYSC was approached for documentary proof of status. I then received the certificate in question. Having never worked in NYSC, visited the premises, been neither privy nor familiar with their operations, I had no reason to suspect that the certificate was anything but genuine.”
The trusted associates, organised that NYSC be approached officially for exemption. The emissaries raised for the purpose came back with fake certificate. You can trust many a Nigerian! They took the least line of resistance; they cut corners! Adeosun did not suspect that anything was amiss until the Premium Times report. When the investigation directed by the president confirmed the Premium Times report, she said of it: “This has come to me as a shock.”It was then she thought her continued position in government was no longer tenable and that the path of honour left for her was to resign.
Says Dr. Mahmud: “Some may argue that when the military promulgated The Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No.1, 1984, the 1979 Constitution was effectively suspended by the military decree. This is erroneous argument. Decree No.1 of 1984 only suspended and modified parts of the 1979 Constitution, and not the entire constitution. Chapter 3 which dealt with Fundamental Rights were never suspended or modified by Decree No.1, 1984. What this means in effect is that Section 26 which dealt with “avoidance of dual citizenship was never touched by the decree.”
Many a Nigerian has been calling for Kemi Adeosun’s head, insisting that she must have her day in court. What they do not reckon with are what Professor Bolaji Aluko and Barrister Chris Akiri have drawn attention to, the rudiments of Criminal Law with the maxim, “Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea” (an act does not make the doer of it guilty unless the mind that did it be guilty; that is, unless the intention be criminal, the act itself isn’t,” so argues Chris Akiri. The intent and the act must both occur to constitute the crime.” Professor Aluko says, “Mens rea is the intent a person has behind committing a crime. But this is not required in every situation…Actus reus is the action the person takes to perform the criminal act. This is physical action behind the crime.”
It is evidently clear that Kemi Adeosun did not intend to skip the NYSC call up. She wrote to NYSC for documentary proof of status, but got no reply. She went the extra mile, not even taking her residency history for automatic cause for exemption. And when the certificate was brought purportedly issued by NYSC by trusted associates, she was not aware it was fake. It would have been too much of a risk for her to knowingly be brandishing a fake certificate of exemption to Security, the State House of Assembly and the National Assembly for clearance to be able to take up her appointments. I have argued that if she did not forge her glittering academic and professional certificates which are her meal ticket forever, for what purpose would she need to forge an NYSC testimonial? It does not make sense. The academic and professional certificates are not what a person can pick by the roadside. I said if we were in doubt, why would we not ask for a confidential report on her character traits from her previous employers. Why do we fight shy of that? Is it not what employers or prospective employers do routinely? She had worked with the British Telecom Plc and PricewaterhouseCoopers in the UK. These are reputable organizations.
Until she was 34 when she obtained the Nigerian passport she was, on technical grounds, not a Nigerian. Nigeria, too, did not recognize her as a citizen and as her own which was why, before then, whenever she needed to come to Nigeria, she had to obtain a visa. Nigeria required of her a visa to come to the land. No one obtains a visa to enter his or her country! On the basis of the facts available, Adeosun is not culpable. It is unjust to have her demonised and criminalised. It is unkind to seek to damage her name and reputation irretrievably. She is a citizen of the universe. She is adequately equipped to work in any English-speaking country of the world.
A superficial reading of the position of Adebayo Shittu can easily make us charge him with deliberate avoidance of participation in the NYSC scheme. But his point has thrown up issues of food for thought evidently not envisaged by the NYSC law. Whether the yearning of a community that necessitated Bayo Shittu going straight into parliament to raise the level of their representation in government can be glossed over will be interesting to see a court decide. Should the community have waited for another four years for an appropriate level of representation in the Western State of Assembly? But then, are the objectives of national youth service met by serving in one’s state? What about being in an orientation camp? What about drills? What about community work and acculturisation—all of which are the cardinal elements of national youth service? Did Shittu’s confidence on Sunday tell us something he knows and which the rest of us are yet to grasp? Time will tell. In my view, it is a matter that goes beyond the letters of the law.