The case of citizen Kemi Adeosun
I was never a fan of the now former Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun. I’m also not a fan of the NYSC programme – as I wrote here in December 2016, the programme is an immoral and unfair use of resources. It is also important to remember that Mrs Adeosun’s crime was using a forged certificate. Against that, there is no defence.
But in her resignation letter to the president, something interesting was revealed. As is known, she was born in the UK but the first time she ever got a Nigerian passport, according to her, was when she was 34 years old. If you graduate after you turn 30, you are exempted from the NYSC. But what if you become a Nigerian citizen after 30? Why did Mrs Adeosun need an exemption certificate anyway?
The Nigerian constitution takes an expansive view of citizenship. This is not surprising once you understand it was written by Marxists and unreconstructed communists. Apparently you are a ‘citizen’ if your parents are Nigerians. But here we see the problem with not testing laws with the purpose of perfecting them. Something like the Land Use Act – an incredibly important law – has never been once amended in the 40 years since it came into being. The same thing with the NYSC – can a law be so perfect that it never needs to be updated or amended? This scandal created the perfect opportunity for Nigeria to address issues around NYSC and how the constitution is worded concerning citizenship. Given that so many Nigerians continue to have their kids in America and many more are sure to emerge from Canada in the near future with the current wave of migration, issues like that of Mrs Adeosun are bound to reoccur.
The reason why the NYSC applied to her was because she was a ‘citizen’ of Nigeria. But at the time she graduated from university in the UK, the only passport she had was a British one even though she qualified for Nigerian citizenship through her parents. So the question to ask is this – does NYSC apply to you whenever you become a citizen? If you were born abroad and were a citizen of another country until you were, say, in your 40s and then took up Nigerian citizenship, what is your obligation as regards NYSC? We can test this with a hypothetical scenario.
Suppose that every Nigerian citizen gets paid N100,000 every year by the government as a benefit of citizenship. When Mrs Adeosun became a citizen at 34, would she have been entitled to N3.4m or started collecting her entitlement from the point she became a citizen? Citizenship comes with rights and responsibilities that are interlinked so if she would not have been entitled to the back pay, then it is hard to understand how something she got when she had not yet become a Nigerian citizen – her university degree – could have triggered the NYSC question for her. The matter should not have come up at all.
Or perhaps to put it another way – what if the Nigerian government introduced a poll tax on every Nigerian citizen, could it have reasonably collected it from Mrs Adeosun at the time she was living in the UK and had not yet taken a Nigerian passport? That would be a kind of citizenship that is forced on you and you cannot opt out of simply because your parents are Nigerians. Or might she be obliged to kill her parents to avoid the tax?
A part of me feels sorry for her that, of all issues, it is the nonsense of the NYSC that felled her. A teachable moment such as this is one that should inspire lawmakers and the executives to embark on the process of perfecting what ought to be a living constitution. Instead, as is often the Nigerian way, it appears that some saw it as an opportunity to blackmail her for public money (if she paid up, that is perhaps the biggest crime of all). There are probably many more people working in government right now with dodgy NYSC certificates and at risk of blackmail. We never hear testimonies of how NYSC shaped someone to become a reformer in public service or how it altered a policymaker’s outlook for the better. The only time it seems to come up is when it is being used to ‘tackle’ someone.
In the 2018 budget, there is N105bn for the NYSC programme – more than the capital budget for the education ministry. God only knows how much Nigeria has spent on the programme since inception since no one is counting. To repeat – spending hundreds of billions of naira every year on NYSC while abandoning millions of children who don’t even make it into the education system at all is immoral.
But this is Nigeria, so with Mrs Adeosun gone, the matter has been ‘solved’ – until it rears its head again with another government official.