It was sometime towards the end of November 2007. Dimeji Bankole, at less than 40, had just become the speaker of the House of Representatives. He came into office against the background of a major upheaval in the federal legislature, where the former speaker, Olubunmi Ette, had been removed for an alleged corrupt practice. Events, years later, showed that Ette, the first woman speaker of the federation’s, removal was due more to politics and religion than a fight against corruption.
It was not long, however, before the new speaker ran into trouble. It was alleged that Bankole did not present himself for the mandatory 12-month National Youth Service Corp. By the time the dust settled it was found that while the youthful speaker was mobilised for the service, there was no evidence that he completed the national call. The roll-call of personalities who came to the national limelight but were found to have either avoided or absconded during the service include Diezani Alison-Madueke, former minister of Petroleum Resources; Kemi Adeosun, former minister of Finance; and Adebayo Shittu, former minister of Communication.
While Alison-Madueke and Shittu used boldface to retain office after they were found out, Adeosun was not that lucky. Shittu, who came to public office in a tragic circumstance as a commissioner in the Old Oyo State under Bola Ige, who later became minister of Power and later Justice, argued ingeniously that his various public services ought to make up for his mandatory one-year national call. But Adeosun came under heavy fire ignited by the same people who brought her into the public glare. Her boss, Muhammadu Buhari, held on for a while, but could not last the distance. The East Londoner would eventually buckle under the weight of public pressure as she resigned her appointment. Accused of forgery, Adeosun approached the court in a deft effort to avoid criminal prosecution. The court would later whitewash her, but long before then, the Buhari administration gave her safe passage to her second country of origin, Britain.
In the last few weeks, a fresh controversy arose around Hannatu Musawa, minister of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy. Shortly after her confirmation by the Senate, social media became agog with the allegation that she failed to present herself for the mandatory national service. The alleged infraction remained speculative until the mainstream media joined the fray in projecting her as an unfit person for the office she had been engaged.
If others before her made spirited efforts to ward off the allegation, Musawa had been mum about the grievous accusation. The initial approach was to use third parties to respond with some lawyers arguing that no law had been broken by her appointment. Then a statement purportedly issued by her clarified that while she was mobilised in 2001 in Akwa Ibom, a family commitment made her transfer to Kaduna State, where for unstated reasons, she was unable to complete her service until she was remobilised last year.
Perhaps realising the gaping holes in the statement, Musawa quickly disowned the statement and remained mum. It is obvious that she is embarrassed by her own conduct, which has indicted several institutions of the government. She ought to be. It is certainly untrue that she had not broken the law. By Section 2 of the establishment law, the NYSC Act, every graduate is required to enroll and serve for 12 months continuously. Breaking the service midstream and remobilising 21 years later, properly speaking, amounts to absconding, an offence that is liable to an extension of service by a minimum of three months without pay.
More important is that both the statute and case law frown at corps members participating in politics, and she could, therefore, not hold the political appointment of a minister simultaneously with her participation in the NYSC. It is unclear how this infraction escaped the appointing, screening, and confirming authorities. This is more so when the fact is considered that Musawa had been in this kind of bind before.
Two years ago, Buhari nominated her to serve as a national commissioner on the board of the Pension Commission. She failed the confirmation hearing of the Senate on account of her inability to produce her NYSC discharge certificate. Meanwhile, Nigerians were told that the list of ministers was delayed in being transmitted to the Senate because of security screening by the Department of State Security. The question, therefore, was how the notorious fact of her ineligibility on account of absconding from the youth service escaped the security agency.
Also questionable is the quality of vetting done by the Office of the Chief of Staff which had the responsibility of assisting the president to check the background of his appointees. Finally, it is also curious how the Senate, which two years ago declined to confirm Musawa fell into the error of passing her. Does it mean that there was no institutional memory? It should be regrettable that the lady did not demonstrate the level of integrity that is required for that office. Being a lawyer, she must have been aware of her ineligibility and should have warned the appointing authority. Or did she, and the warning was ignored?
Clearly, there is a need for more rigour in the screening and confirmation of persons proposed for high office in the country. There is a relationship between the dysfunctional state of the nation and the quality of officials put in charge of the country’s affairs. The prevailing lackadaisical approach to the recruitment process is evidently not working. The same reason is certainly responsible for the impunity with which big men’s children abuse the NYSC scheme.
Musawa’s father, by her own testimony at the Senate confirmation hearing, was a big politician in her Katsina home state, where he had traversed public office for many years. It is obvious that her mum and I-don’t-care attitude to the allegation of her breach of a law that the founding fathers of the Fourth Republic found so important as to include it in the 1999 Constitution as altered, could only come from a big man’s daughter who habitually think she could always be above the law.
Adebiyi, the executive editor of Western Post, is also a member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspapers
First published on THISDAY Newspapers