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News anaylsis: Minister Adebayo Shittu: lawmaking, law breaking and national service

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Barely one week af-ter former finance minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, took shel-ter, under a belated resigna-tion from the cabinet of Pres-ident Muhammadu Buhari, yet another colleague of hers has had the NYSC certificate searchlight trained on him. This time, Mr. Abdur-Ra-heem Adebayo Shittu, the Sha-ki, Oyo state-born lawyer, ex- Oyo state House of Assembly legislator, ex-Oyo state attor-ney general and commissioner for justice and Buhari’s minis-ter of communication, appears to have picked up the very pair of shoes abandoned last week by Adeosun.

According to online sources, Mr. Shittu did not participate in the compulsory national youth service, as was the case with Kemi Adeosun but, unlike her, he did not make any at-tempt to obtain any formal ex-emption on whatever grounds; his reason being that he went direct from the Nigerian Law School – where he had gone for the necessary practical train-ing to enable his legal practice in Nigeria – into politics.

This assertion is borne out by Shit-tu’s biographical sketch which shows that he was elected into the Oyo state House of Assem-bly in 1979, the same year that he was called to the Nigeria bar. According to him, “I deliber-ately refused to serve.

I didn’t need it [an NYSC discharge or exemption certificate] to be-come a member of the [Oyo] state assembly; and that is al-ready a service.” He had graduated from the then University of Ife [now Obafemi Awolowo University], Ile Ife in 1978 and, thereafter, proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos on a one-year stint of practical tutelage, a necessary condition and aspect of legal training for appear-ance in Nigerian law courts.

From the Oyo state legisla-ture, Shittu went into the cab-inet of the Dr. Omololu Olun-loyo National Party of Nigeria, NPN, cabinet as commissioner for information and culture, a venture that was disrupted by the December 1983 Major Gen-eral Muhammadu Buhari-led military coup and government. Just 30 that year, Shittu re-sponded to the military putsch that disbanded the civilian government in the country by easing his way into private le-gal practice, re-surfacing again under the regime of Governor Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja as his state’s attorney general and commissioner for justice in 2003.

He went on to National Polit-ical Conference of 2005 where all manner of water in the form of political alliances went under the bridge and he ended up in the Congress for Progres-sive Change, CPC, where he met Muhammadu Buhari.

He has been Buhari’s com-munication minister since 2015 and is thought to be quite close to him. Unlike the case of the former finance minister, the commu-nication minister says he de-liberately did not serve thus raising questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of the normal ‘security clearance’ and ‘screening’ done respec-tively by the security agencies and the Oyo state legislature before he was sworn into the various elective and appoint-ive offices.

Those were offices through which he garnered this much exposure and public service resume in blatant de-fiance of the NYSC Act which expressly demands participa-tion in the scheme as a condi-tion for any employment, more so public office employment, in the country. Commentators who spoke to Orient Daily expressed the view that, while the media, as usual, have spotlighted yet an-other seemingly seamy anom-aly in the federal government closet, it is also an opportuni-ty for the federal government to right the perceived wrongs in its handling of the just ended [or is it hibernating?] Adeosungate. A lawyer, Ope Adedipe, told this reporter that “the ques-tions I ask are whether the government will accept the minister’s explanation, which, to me, is mere rationalisation; whether such excuses, in any way, attune with the letters and spirits of the NYSC Act.

We want to see how, and if, he will get away with this crass legalism in the face of a noto-riously evident act of illegali-ty about which he is not even making any bones.”

The National Youth Service Corps is reported, by the Nige-rian Tribune, to have thrown the agency’s statutory instru-ment, NYSC Act at the minis-ter, saying it could not find any justification for the minister’s claim.

The spokesperson for the agency, Adenike Adeyemi told the Imalefalafia, Ibadan newspaper that the provisions of the Act were very clear and could not have accommodated the type of interpretation that Mr. Shittu is now proffering for his failure to serve in the 45-year-old scheme. Of the conditions for exemp-tion, Adenike said that “serv-ing in the national [or state] assembly is not one of them” even as the minister was busy telling journalists in Abuja that “the constitution says anyone who qualifies to con-test an election and wins, he is obligated to move through the house of assembly which I did for four years; so it is a form of higher service as far as I am concerned and eve now, I am still in service.”

Interesting logic, one would say particularly as the minis-ter was cornered by journalists at the ongoing screening of his party (APC’s) gubernatorial aspirants in Abuja. Another higher service, this time as governor of Oyo state?

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