From the look of things, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) may kick-start the redemption in public service integrity that Nigerians have always craved for. Beginning with the whistle blown by the highly-respected news medium, Premium Times, on the dud NYSC certificate of former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun and the latest revelation about the failure to undergo the compulsory one-year national service by the Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, a purifying revolution may have begun with NYSC certificate as a flag-off.
Forgive this very harsh submission – we lack a sense of shame. We are a people who traded off our ability to be ashamed a very long time ago. As a student of history, I will draw the graph of this shamelessness from the time of the military strike of 1966. Ostensibly because they belonged to a feared and dreaded class, the military that came into power held the civil populace with great disdain. It was not accountable to the “bloody civilians” and went on a binge with public money. The rise of public administration and the discovery of oil and natural gas are two major events which many analysts attribute to sudden increment in the level of corruption at this time in the life of the country and the gradual death of integrity. There was so much petro dollars accruable to Nigeria during the post-war era that she could not manage. Military Generals owned secret accounts in Chase bank, Midland Bank, among sundry other offshore accounts. By the time they left government in 1979, sleaze and corruption was their bequeathals to the incoming civilian government.
With free petro dollars, the individual hand, which the Yoruba figuratively refer to as his savior from lack and poverty, became literally useless. Farmers began a migration from rural areas to the urban center in pursuit of the petro dollars they said could be plucked freely on the streets of the city; armed robbers were on the increase, prompting the military to begin their execution at the bar beach; forgery and stealing of public funds assumed ascendant position, down till today when individual Nigerians walk on the streets with trinkets made of the most well-fed army of maggots on their necks.
Pre the1966 putsch, an accusation of certificate forgery or impersonation of a certificate holder was enough for the accused to commit suicide. I remember the libel case instituted against the Tribune by Dr. Okechekwu Ikejiani, who by then was an ally of Nnamdi Azikiwe and a former Chairman of the Ibadan University College. The Tribune had culled a letter-to-the-editor opinion piece earlier published in the Daily Service of October 13, 1951. In the letter, the writer, one Aina Adetokun, writing from Ekotedo, Ibadan, had castigated Ikejiani thus: “In fairness to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, bearing one or two occasions in which he collected public money without rendering any accounts, he has been trying to make an honest living. He is on the whole earning his keep. One of the things that vitiate Dr. Azikiwe’s leadership is the type of noisy and dishonest colleagues who proclaim him ‘god of Africa’. And who are these disciples? One Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani, former Chairman of the Ibadan University College, returned to Nigeria about three years ago with a lot of fanfare. He claimed to have obtained a doctorate degree in medicine. It was later proved that the degree was a fake. Consequently, the quack expert was kicked out of the University.”
Irked by this report, which he viewed as “ethnic consciousness and reproductive symbolism” Ikejiani had asked the newspaper for retraction or else, he would file a libel suit against it. A rebuttal it published on June 19, 1952 would not pacify Ikejiani. It ran thus: “With reference to a publication by a contributor in the Daily Service of the 13th October 1951, culled and published by this newspaper on 15th October, 1951 wherein Dr. Ikejiani was reported to have claimed falsely that he obtained a doctorate degree in MEDICINE, readers should please note that Dr. Ikejiani did have the degree of M.D. from Toronto. What he falsely claimed was a doctorate degree in SCIENCE. The error is regretted. Editor.”
Apparently dissatisfied with this ‘apology’, Ikejiani sued the Tribune at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Ibadan Judicial Division, under Mr. Justice Miles Abbott. Judgment was given on September 12, 1952 and the court held that Dr. Ikejiani had been disparaged by the article. He was awarded “the sum of 750 pounds in damages and 10 pounds for costs, plus 30 pounds for disbursements.”
The military putsch gradually took off such sense of shame. Hard work became very unpopular. Just like in Osun State where someone who had a single F9 result in his school leaving certificate rose to the topmost level of seeking gubernatorial slot, studying hard or working hard lost its shine. Prostitutes tendering the flesh of military big epaulettes acquired more money than the civil servant. Circumventing or short-circuiting the route to success became rampant. Forgers reigned and society looked the other way. Oluwole – code name for forgery – assumed a life-long dimension. Fathers dragged their kids to where they would falsify results and miracle centers – euphemism for results forgery – rose in leaps and bounds.
The Minister of Communications, Shittu, is the most recent in this collapse of values mirrored by the elite. Premium Times investigation proved that he did not participate in the NYSC scheme, even though he graduated from the then University of Ife at age 25. In his defence, Shittu claimed that he deliberately dodged participate in the youth service, having been elected into the Oyo State House of Assembly in 1979. He claimed that a stint at the parliament approximates service to the country. In its reaction however, the NYSC stated that political office is not equivalent to the one year compulsory youth service. Earlier, Adeosun, ex-minister of finance, had been accused of forging her NYSC certificate and in the thick of condemnations, resigned her appointment. Her alibi was that upon her arrival in Nigeria, she had delegated the process of acquisition of an exemption certificate. If you have ever fallen into the hands of visa, passport or vehicle registration racketeers, the plausibility of her claim would ring a bell.
My take is that Adeosun’s resignation is a great development for our country. I have heard so many economic strides she was said to have brought to Nigeria on account of her brilliant financial wizardry as minister. But the integrity of fatherland in the eyes of a watchful world was at stake. And her integrity as well. The fact that Shittu’s claim is alien to the NYSC Act makes it necessary that he should also tow the path of honour of the Adeosun kind. Already, there is an underground crusade in Nigeria to do things right, certificate-wise.
The Adeosun example has woken Nigerians up to the need not to delegate such consequential assignments. NYSC, as it is currently structured, is hostile to a faithful service to fatherland. It is an interregnum before the stark reality of unemployment hits the new graduate, which should not be. Children of the rich dodge the service and certificates are brought to them at home. Those who serve barely scoop any lesson from it that is within the projection of the framers of the scheme. The case of singer, Davido, who reportedly arrived the orientation camp with trousers rolled up and para-military officials looking the other way and who, the next day, was in America to honour a musical engagement, in defiance of the stipulated time for being at the orientation camp, is a good example. Government officials’ children who school abroad should be asked where their children performed the mandatory service. Where, for instance, did President Muhammadu Buhari’s children, whom we were told graduated recently, do their NYSC service? Who were their colleagues?
We can bring sanity to public service integrity by making the one-year NYSC indeed mandatory. The way to do this is to ferret for more public officials in government – local, states and federal – who ran foul of the NYSC Act. Making public examples of them would be enough deterrent and a wake-up call to all to return to the path of rectitude.