I had written an article some weeks ago on the Kemi Adeosun matter titled “Ungolden Silence.” I had said in that piece that it was wrong for Mrs Kemi Adeosun, who is Nigeria’s Minister of Finance to keep quiet on the issue of her non-service in the compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme which is meant for Nigerians who graduate before they are 30 years old. Mrs Adeosun graduated from a higher institution in the United Kingdom at age 22 and worked there for some years before returning to Nigeria. Apparently, because she lived abroad for so long she thought when she returned at above 30 years of age that she only needed an exemption certificate to be able to work in Nigeria.
She acquired one which, according to an investigation by the respectable online newspaper, Premium Times, is fake. Since the news broke the NYSC officials have only volunteered the news that the lady did apply for an exemption certificate but they have not confirmed whether they issued one to her or not. Nor have they indicated whether the exemption certificate Mrs Adeosun used for employment was issued by them or not. When the Minister of Information, Mr Lai Mohammed, was asked to throw light on the matter he simply said that since the NYSC, a government department, has spoken, it means the Federal Government has spoken. He therefore has nothing more to say.
It is obvious that the NYSC officials are still combing through their files to be able to tell the public something that can settle the matter one way or another. Since it is taking them a very long time to find the information we can conclude that there is no information to find in those files. Secondly, Mr. Lai Mohammed has not volunteered any more information on the matter. We can also conclude that he has no fresh information on the issue. The conclusion one can draw from the ungolden silence of Mrs Adeosun, NYSC and the Federal Government is that they have all been boxed into a corner and do not have any idea how to get out of the ugly situation.
Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, who advises the Buhari Government on corruption thinks he has a solution. He has advised President Muhammadu Buhari to dig his heels into the soil and ignore all those who think the government which is an anti-corruption government should take action. His reasons are two (a) Mrs Adeosun is doing a good job which I agree with. But excellent performance does not exonerate anyone from obeying the laws of the country. (b) That the NYSC is a worthless scheme that no one should bother about. That is a worthless and irresponsible remark to which all those who have served in the scheme would be vehemently opposed to. That is a very disrespectful statement to those of us who served in the scheme. We resent it. Other Nigerians who benefit from the exertions of NYSC people, I believe, would resent it.
Let us take the two issues seriatim. Sagay, a professor of law, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and an Adviser to the Federal Government on Anti-Corruption matters is a very important official of the government. Such an eminent law expert ought to advance only views that can improve the justice system in Nigeria. The question of competence or non-competence of Mrs Adeosun does not arise at all in the NYSC default matter because competence is not a defence in any criminal matter. What is a defence is non-commital of an offence. Secondly, no one is so competent in any system that he or she is indispensable. Mrs Adeosun is not. Thirdly, if Professor Sagay pursues this line of argument as an Adviser and the government accepts it we will get into a legal quagmire and the government’s anti-corruption campaign will be gravely hampered even more than it is at the moment. His advice is a baffling repudiation and vulgarization of Nigeria’s justice system. It is rejected, roundly rejected. Professor Sagay may say that his view is personal. By his position any view that he expresses on corruption is official, not personal. If he is looking for a subject on which to express his personal opinion I suggest the weather, a subject in which he is neither an expert nor an adviser.
His remark about the NYSC is reprehensible. If he did not serve in the NYSC scheme it is not an excuse for condemning a 45 year old national institution that millions of young Nigerians have passed through. Like many Nigerian institutions the NYSC has degenerated in terms of management but its core values remain. These values include community service, friendship, cultural and language absorption and national unity and knowledge and the concept of service. Those who serve in the scheme are paid mere pittance. They are compelled to abandon their comfort zones and serve in any part of the country to which they are assigned including rural communities where basic amenities are non-existent. How can such a scheme that teaches young Nigerians the spirit of service to community and self-reliance be described as an unworthy venture by such a respected man as Sagay. Luckily, President Buhari does not share his view.
Recently, Buhari received in audience some members of the NYSC serving in Daura in Katsina State. He praised the vision of General Yakubu Gowon who started the NYSC scheme in 1973. “I have personally spoken to General Gowon to thank him for having the initiative to start the NYSC programme. It is very good for Nigeria,” Buhari said.
Professor Sagay’s solution to the Adeosun debacle is no solution at all because it is capable of compromising the government’s position on its anti-corruption programme, a programme that already has a K-leg. I envisage that the Government needs Mrs Adeosun’s continued exertions now and does not contemplate dropping her just a few months to the end of its tenure. Let me suggest a soft landing for her and the government. This is based on two extenuating factors. One, she was born, raised and educated abroad. She also worked there for some years before relocating to Nigeria. In those days, communication between Nigeria and its citizens in the Diaspora was not as good as it is now.
So it is obvious that she may not have been aware that eventhough she came back when she was above 30 years she still had to serve in the scheme and not just acquire an exemption certificate. Even Nigerians who have been living here do not know this fact. Secondly, since she came back she has been screened for employment in Ogun State and the Senate without any hiccup. So she had a reason to believe that she was not in breach of any law otherwise she would not have been employed by the Ogun State and Federal Governments. She must have been led to believe that an exemption certificate was all that she needed. Unfortunately she got a dud one.
Now the soft landing. I suggest three measures (a) she must serve in the NYSC scheme now. As a foreign graduate she could serve in the Ministry of Finance where she is now and receive her current salary. However, when she goes for community service on any day of the week one day’s pay must be deducted from her salary. Many private sector organisations that accept corps members operate this way. (b) She must apologise to Nigerians for the errors. (c) If she wishes she can donate her NYSC allowance to a charity of her choice. This will be a way of mollifying the feelings of Nigerians on this matter. It will also bring peace to her troubled heart. It will also do an immense good to her image which has come under serious scrutiny since the news broke. The government will then be able to continue to retain her service without doing any damage to its reputation which this matter threatens to smear.
Credit: Ray Ekpu, The Guardian