In defence of Minister Hannatu is a thought-provoking analysis of her appointment as Minister while serving in the NYSC

It is redundant to argue whether Hannatu Musa Musawa should serve as Minister while on national service. There are at least three reasons to consider the resulting controversy as a storm in a teacup. One, NYSC as an agency has lost direction. Two, it is ridiculous that she stepped forward to be mobilized for service at her age. Three, and in any case, there is a prior court ruling that one can accept ministerial position or contest elective office without presenting the almighty certificate of national service.

There is a fourth proposition, reserved for last. Now, let’s look at the evidence.

The age factor

First, the NYSC scheme is for youths who are under 30, according to the enabling law. Those who are 30 and over must apply for exemption to get a certificate of exemption. It is therefore ludicrous for Minister Hannatu to seek remobilisation at age 43.

What is remobilisation? The law mandates participants to observe a one-year continuous service until they pass out. Mid-service breaks and re-mobilization are not part of the bargain. Those who skip or abandon service have broken the law and risk jail. Understandably, NYSC managers cannot strictly apply this law or else our correctional centres will overflow with graduates who play truancy.

Cutting corners

The NYSC currently discriminates in mobilisation of corps members. This is understandable. The founding fathers did not envisage an explosion in the production of participants. Neither did they factor an economy that struggles to support the massive mobilization of youth. There are now over 200 universities producing candidates for national service, not counting polytechnics and colleges of education.

The situation is such that, rather than a yearly mobilization ritual, the Agency now mobilizes almost on quarterly basis. And yet, it cannot cope, the reason why it is now cutting corners. Cutting corners, did you ask?

NYSC discriminates against certain classes of graduates who the law allows to serve. Graduates of Colleges of Education are no longer called to service. Those graduating from the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) are equally excluded. What this means: If Minister Hannatu graduated from NOUN or from a college of education, NYSC will be embarrassed by the controversy!

There is a lot that NYSC needs to do to restore its integrity. The Board could start by seeking an amendment to the enabling law to avoid the the ongoing inconsistences and discriminations. For this reason, is it not advisable for the agency to reconsider meddling in the court battles of politicians? This is going to equity with soiled hands.

The legal angle

There is a legal angle in defence of Minister Hannatu. The courts have ruled that those accepting ministerial appointments or contesting elective public offices do not have to present NYSC certificates. This is the Kemi Adeosun legal precedent. It may be for this reason that Minister Hannatu insists that she has not broken the law. And she is right.

At the end of the day, the national youth service scheme is becoming another certificate-chasing exercise. The founding fathers emphasized two core objectives of the scheme. One is the belief that youths will use the period of service to develop common ties that ultimately promote national unity and integration. Such ties, they reasoned, will also “remove prejudices, eliminate ignorance, and confirm at first hand the many similarities among Nigerians of all ethnic groups.” The law says that participants should serve outside their home states but is this happening?

Dangerous hurdles

Of course it is not, for reasons that we cannot blame the agency. Given a choice, majority of youth corps members prefer to serve in Abuja or Lagos. And they will prefer not to serve while serving, like the minister as well as other politicians battling for survival at election tribunals.

We also know that what Minister Hannatu did is a common practice. NYSC can mobilize and deploy a participant to a place of primary assignment, only for them to promptly take off to continue with their prior pursuits, or take up new ones. With the right connections, unscrupulous staff and primary employers conspire to shield truants for as long as it takes to receive their certificates.

Consequently, the scheme is no longer an opportunity for youths to know their country and appreciate its ethnoreligious and cultural diversity. Given a choice, most would remain in their parents’ state of residence if they cannot serve in Lagos or Abuja. Who blames them, considering the dangerous hurdles on their route to service?

For one, their overall safety has become an issue. Two months ago, kidnappers intercepted a bus conveying corps members to their homes, after their orientation training in Adamawa. Lucky were the parents whose wards managed to elude the ransom hunting brigands. Nigeria routinely sheds the blood of innocent youth to appease desperate politicians during our election cycles. The horrible state of our roads further expose our children to avoidable deaths when travelling to and from their service stations.

Any youth that manages to survive these dangers will still come face to face with the biggest hurdle of all – chronic unemployment. This is why they see life after serving their nation as just another NYSC, “Now Your Suffering Commences?” Unlike the first and second generation of participants, joy has departed from the national youth service corps scheme. Minster Hannatu and many other persons now seek creative ways to eat their NYSC cake and have it.

The leadership question

The situation is dire. NYSC leadership needs to innovate, to bring out creative solutions to the multifarious challenges of managing the scheme. Unfortunately, the agency appears to be constrained by a leadership aberration.

Government continues to impose officers from the Army Education Corps to lead the agency. This is curious because the NYSC Act does not grant the Army such leadership privilege over the NYSC.

The law allows the Chief of Army Staff and the Inspector General of Police to nominate an officer each to the NYSC Board. It does not mandate any of the officers so nominated to head the NYSC as Director General.

Consequently, for all of its 50-year existence, none of the experienced senior staff of the agency reached the pinnacle. Instead, the agency muddles through with inexperienced military officers parachuted into leadership whenever there is a vacancy.

Today, is it any wonder that the NYSC continues to stagnate as an institution? Rather than rely on the experience and talents of its senior staff, it continues to be (mis)managed by a succession of army greenhorns. When I mentioned this point to a retired military officer, he wondered whether this was not because the NYSC is a paramilitary agency. NYSC is not a paramilitary agency. Even if it were, why can it not operate like FRSC and NSDC that grooms their officers to head the agencies. Is it any wonder that these younger institutions have become stronger organisations?

What is happening to the NYSC is akin to how Police manipulated itself to head the EFCC, beyond the operational position assigned to it by law. President Buhari saw through the police play at EFCC and changed the headship. President Tinubu should see through the army play at NYSC and remove them the leadership. An innovative civilian manager can pull the organisation up from the current lethargy. Until this happens, the embarrassment we see everywhere over NYSC certificate may not abate.

In defence of Minister Hannatu

In defence of Minister Hannatu, NYSC has become a certificate chasing institution. She remobilized because politicians without the certificate are harassed and ridiculed all over the place. And if she had to do it, she will serve in Abuja for safety reasons. Finally, there is no law that says she must present an NYSC certificate to become a Minister. Consider also that if she were a NOUN graduate or an NCE holder, there will be no controversy with getting appointed as a Minister.

If the foregoing does not convince sceptics, try this fourth proposition:

The President is empowered by the law to make pronouncements on matters of mobilisation. So is the NYSC Board which can also make a determination about a candidate and submit to the National Security and Defence Council to ratify. The President’s appointment of Hannatu Musawa automatically overrides all other considerations. Ask yourself: Will there be a controversy if tomorrow a President decides that a serving youth corps member should sit in his cabinet?

Slug: In defence of Minister Hannatu

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