FREEPRESS – President Muhammadu Buhari is still keeping his Communications minister, Adebayo Shittu, in office, two months and 10 days after PREMIUM TIMES exposed the official for skipping the mandatory one-year national service.
On September 20, this newspaper published details of its investigation which showed Mr Shittu shunned the service scheme, which is organised by the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC).
Another cabinet minister, Kemi Adeosun, who was Mr Buhari’s finance minister, was earlier in the year busted by PREMIUM TIMES for a similar offence, and forging a document to cover it.
Mrs Adeosun was eventually eased out of her post following a public outcry.
But in the case of Mr Shittu, the government has not taken action, despite the minister’s admission of the offence.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in October disqualified Mr Shittu from the governorship race of his native Oyo State, citing his absconding from the national service as the reason.
The party, however, did not take any step to have the minister sacked from government.
Contacted on Wednesday, APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, said the party only acted within its brief.
He said the party is not a prosecutorial agency, and therefore cannot make categorical submissions or advisory to the president on who he appoints or drops from positions.
Mr Shittu’s Contraventions
The minister graduated from the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) at the age of 25 in 1978.
Section 2 of the NYSC Act expects Mr Shittu to have participated in the year-long national service.
Mr Shittu attended the Nigerian Law School immediately after graduation, qualifying as a lawyer in 1979.
However, instead of participating in the national service, he got elected into the Oyo State House of Assembly in the 1979 general elections.
Months of discreet checks at the NYSC headquarters showed that the minister never presented himself for service after graduation.
Mr. Shittu admitted to PREMIUM TIMES that he did not serve but claimed he thought his first political post after graduation sufficed as national service, a claim lawyers and NYSC insiders consider ludicrous and untenable.
Skipping the compulsory national service is an offence under the NYSC law, punishable with up to 12 months imprisonment.
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.
Employers are mandated by law to request NYSC certificate of national service as part of the conditions for hiring.
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.
The minister said he deliberately 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.
Lawyers described the minister’s defence as ridiculous.
The NYSC management also repudiated Mr Shittu’s interpretation of its law, saying the minister’s state assembly membership could not have relieved him of serving the country.
“Serving in the National (or state) Assembly is not one of them (conditions for exemption from national service),” NYSC spokesperson, Adenike Adeyemi, told the Nigerian Tribune, after PREMIUM TIMES broke the story.
Buhari, Government Mum
The Nigerian government has not said anything, or acted on the scandal since PREMIUM TIMES published the story over two months ago.
Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, declined comments on Tuesday, insisting that this reporter speaks to the affected minister instead.
Pressed that the question was on Mr Buhari’s disposition to the scandal, Mr Adesina slammed; “No comment, no comment!” and hung off.
The Secretary to the federal government, Boss Mustapha, did not answer multiple calls placed to his known telephone lines.