Lawyers to govt: reverse stand on NYSC posting

Lawyers say no to postings of members by the
National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to hot spots in
the north. They fault the government on moral and
legal grounds and suggest a reversal of the state’s
position. John Austin Unachukwu, Adebisi Onanuga,
Eric Ikhilae and Precious Igbonwelundu report.
Can a responsible government trade its primary and
constitutional responsibilities for political
considerations and gains?
This question is informed by the confusion over the
position of the Federal Government on the rejection
of the decision of the National Youth Service Corps
(NYSC) to compel unwilling graduates to observe
their mandatory national service in some crisis-
prone northern states.
Recently, and particularly after the massacre of
innocent NYSC members during last year’s post-
election violence in the north, there have been
increasing calls for the government to rethink the
objectives and aims of the scheme established in
1973 by virtue of Decree 24 of that year, although
succeeded in 1993 by Decree 51.
Aside calls for its overhaul, there have been
suggestions on ways of effecting the needed
change in view of the threat unending terrorism,
religious and sectarian violence in the northern part
of the country now pose to the scheme.
 But, rather than act, the government appeared
comfortable maintaining the status quo, a
development that prompted the current controversy
over the deployment of Batch B corps members for
service this year.
Apparently feigning ignorance of the fact that
governments and people of Borno, Yobe, Bauchi,
Gombe, Plateau, Kano and Kaduna now live at the
mercy of members of the Boko Haram sect and
other fundamentalists, the NYSC had announced the
deployment of fresh graduates to those states.
The announcement ignited protests by the affected
graduates, their families and well-meaning
Nigerians, who saw the act as an exhibition of
callousness on the part of a public institution,
against the people. It took the intervention of the
House of Representatives and some state Houses of
Assembly for the NYSC to reverse its position.
But, when all thought the issue had been resolved,
the Federal Government decided to reignite the fire
of discord by ordering the NYSC not to consider the
security threats in the northern parts of the country,
a decision many believed was informed by political
consideration as against the need to uphold the
constitutional provision in Section 14 (2) (b) to the
effect that: the security and welfare of the people
shall be the primary purpose of government.
The Minister of Youth Development, Inuwa
Abdulkadir, had, while announcing the
government’s position, argued that the Federal
Government overruled the NYSC on the
redeployment of corps members from troubled
states on the ground that the posting of corps
members to states other than their states of origin
was enshrined in the NYSC Establishment Act.
He contended that any other form of concessional
posting of corps members other than on the grounds
of health and marriage, as contained in the Act,
enshrined in Section 315 (5) of the Constitution, will
require the amendment of the Constitution.
This refusal by the government to consider the
resolutions of the House of Reps and some state
Houses of Assembly in arriving at its decision, and
the confusion over its actual motive have combined
to compel many to conclude that it acted solely on
political ground, with less regard to the law and
constitutional provisions.
Critics observed that while it took the government
sometime to take a stand on the issue, the
governors of the unsafe states, particularly Bauchi
and Borno, were reported to have lamented the
negative socio-economic implications of the
redeployment of corps members from their states.
They also noted that the Bauchi State Governor, Isa
Yuguda, had dismissed the unprovoked killings of
corps members, deployed for election services, in
the wake of the 2011 post-election conflict in some
northern states including Bauchi as “their destiny.”
Those opposed to government’s position on this
issue argued that the government’s claim that its
position was informed by legal and constitutional
considerations is faulty on the ground that the same
Constitution makes the security and welfare of the
people, including corps members, the primary
responsibility of the government, a consideration,
they said ought to supersede others.
They contended that by literally compelling NYSC to
post corps members to troubled states, despite the
threat to their lives, the government deliberately
negated the provisions of Sections 14 (2) (b), 15 and
17 (b) and (c) of the Constitution. To them, every
responsible government should not only be driven
by the urge to protect the interest of its citizenry, it
should subject laws to the good of all.
Critics also noted that although the scheme was
established after the civil war, as an agent of
reunification and bonding, it seemed to have
outlived its usefulness, the state having failed to
live up to its responsibilities as required in Section
15 of the Constitution
Section 15 sub-section one says: “The motto of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be Unity and Faith,
Peace and Progress;” while sub-section two says:
 “Accordingly, national integration shall be actively
encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of
place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or
linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.”
Sub-section three states: “For the purpose of
promoting national integration, it shall be the duty
of the state to: (a) provide adequate facilities for
and encourage free mobility of people, goods and
services throughout the Federation; (b) secure full
residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the
Federation; (c) encourage inter-marriage among
persons from different places of origin, or of
different religious, ethnic or linguistic association or
ties; and (d) promote or encourage the formation of
associations that cut across ethnic, linguistic,
religious and or other sectional barriers.”
Sub-section four provides that: “The state shall
foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement
among the various people of the Federation, to the
end that loyalty to the nation shall override
sectional loyalties.” while sub-section five says:
“The state shall abolish all corrupt practices and
abuse of power.”
Lawyers have faulted the government’s position on
the issue. They argued that its reference to legal
and constitutional provisions as the bases on which
it overruled the NYSC was faulty. While some urged
the government to deemphasise law in resolving
the issue, others contended that, by seeking to
compel NYSC in its operations, the government has
breached the law.
Professors Ademola Popoola (Dean, Faculty of Law,
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) and Mike
Ikhariale (visiting Professor of Constitutional Law at
the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies),
rights activist Bamidele Aturu and Chairman,
Nigerian Bar Association (Ikorodu), Lagos, Sahid
Owosile, were unanimous on the need for an
overhaul of the scheme. They also advised parents
of affected gradustes to approach the court for
Popoola said: “This issue cannot be handled within
the framework of state law. We are all living
witnesses to the security situation in the country.
We also know that some corps members have been
victims of kidnappings in some parts of the country.
We also know that even some of them who took
part in the last general elections were assaulted,
some were even killed. We should protect our
youths, they are our valuable assets
 “So, the Federal Governemnt should handle the
situation with a sense of imagination, and not that
of strict legalism that this is what the law says. The
truth of the matter is that parents and guardians are
not ready to release their wards to go into troubled
areas to render national service”.
He went on: “The NYSC is a desirable project and I
believe that it should not be scrapped, you need to
get into it. In fact, we need to review the entire
programme to restore its original objective. But the
present reality on ground shows that we need to
handle matters with imagination and not just
talking about the provisions of the law.”
Ikhariale said: “If there is a conflict between the
Constitution and the Act, the Constitution should
prevail, but that is if both parties are quoting their
laws correctly. So, I don’t know whether the
Constitution they are quoting is correct or the Act
they are alluding to in supporting their intentions.”
 “But looking at the matter generally, why did this
question arise: that people should not go to serve in
a particular place? For example, I am from Edo
State, I did my own NYSC in Sokoto State and I am
very happy about it because, today, I have many
friends in Sokoto, Gusau, Birinin Kebbi, among
others. In my own time, what is now called Sokoto
and Zamfara states were one state. So, I was a
youth corps lawyer, but my jurisdiction was Sokoto,
Tsafe, and other areas, that was fun.”
“But if during that time my life was threatened, or
there was the likelihood that I could be killed by
some fanatics or other people, I would probably not
have been able to served there nor still be alive,
today. So, we have an issue on our hands; a very
serious issue: that is to say, how safe are our corps
“If it is true that some places have become
dangerous for NYSC members, they should not be
sent there until there is evidence on ground that
they are now ready to receive corps members. It
should be an embarrassment for those who made
their place unsuitable for a good programme like
the NYSC.
“Or it should be done in such a way that graduates
from those states serve in the states, if we must
allow people to go there. But, that will defeat the
objective of the programme which is supposed to
expose us to the various cultures of our country
different from the ones we are used to,” Ikhariale
Aturu contended that Abdulkadir ‘s attempt to
justify government’s position by clinging to the
Constitution and some other laws “ is extremely
insensitive, unfeeling and demonstrates, with the
greatest respect, an inscrutable lack of appreciation
of the tragic security situation in those parts where
people are being daily mowed down in their
hundreds while the government of which the
minister is part watches helplessly and laments
He argued that the minister has completely stood
the Constitution on its head and he must not be
allowed to get away with it.
“First, while it is true that the National Youth
Service Corps Act is one of the laws entrenched in
the Constitution by virtue of Section 315(5) of the
1999 Constitution as amended, that entrenchment
simply says that nothing in the Constitution shall
invalidate the NYSC Act and no more. Now, no one
is saying that the NYSC Act is invalidated.
“Second, and this is crucial, the Honourable Minister
should be told plainly that the provisions of the
NYSC Act preserved or entrenched by the
Constitution is clearly and manifestly against his
narrow and extremely unsound interpretation.
Section 1(4) (b) of the Act provides clearly that: “as
far as possible, Nigerian youths are assigned to jobs
in states other than their states of origin.”
The implication of this is that even corps members
from the volatile states cannot be posted to their
states. That section would be complied with simply
by posting the corps members to any state other
than theirs and other than the volatile state. But
that is not all. Section 991) makes it abundantly
clear that: “The Directorate shall determine the
place and time each person qualified to be
registered under the provisions of this Act shall be
Furthermore, Section 9(5) of the Act says
unambiguously that: “In the discharge of its
functions under this section (that is deployment or
posting of corps members), the Directorate shall not
be compelled in any manner whatsoever to deploy
a member of the service to any particular
undertaking or project.”
“It is thus clear that it is the minister that is
violating a law entrenched in the Constitution by
purportedly overruling the NYSC Directorate. It is his
decision that is unconstitutional, indefensible,
unsupportable, unpopular, unjustifiable, insensitive,
unfeeling, and uncaring.
“Happily, he has now provided parents who would
have wanted a cause of action to sue him and his
ministry for violating the NYSC Act in reposting their
children and wards contrary to the NYSC Act.”
To Owosile, government’s posture is intended to
create the impression that there is unity in the
country and that all is well.
 “I do not think our children should be the bait for
attracting unity. I also do not believe that peace is
about not fighting. Sometimes, you may have to
fight for you to understand peace. If we say don’t let
them be posted to troubled states, if those states
want something like that, let them improve on the
security situation in their states.
“Let them stop the killings. Where are their
governors? Where are their leaders? What are they
doing about it? If they are not doing anything about
it, then others cannot risk placing their children in
their care.
“The fact that you want to serve the nation does not
mean that you must go and commit suicide. It
looks rather suicidal for a nation that appreciates its
citizens. I see the nation as a father figure when it
comes to its relationship with its citizens. So, we
can’t make our children the target of such things.”
Owosile continued:“Most of us are not criminals
today, not because we know the laws. It is simply
because we are acting reasonably. So, if you are
citing laws, it is only when there are conditions for
satisfying the law that you can be talking about the
“The law does not exist in a vacuum. When
circumstances abound that cannot allow the law to
operate, you change it. What law will say I should
go and die? Let them appreciate the circumstances.
Maybe by the time they burn the National
Assembly, they would understand what it is to react
to circumstances that endangers security.
“I don’t see any law that will support that my
children, because I see all of them as my children,
should be exposed to danger just because you want
to show that national service is compulsory. It is
not as if those children are saying that they won’t
serve. But to post them to where there is danger,
that is not service. It is disservice to this nation,”
Owosile said.

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