As Nigerians, one of the distasteful cultures that we grow up to inherit is the flagrant disobedience of established laws which is often executed with boundless impunity. One of the delusional convictions of those championing this cause is the belief that their actions cannot be challenged by anyone, however grave and unlawful such actions may be. This is largely so since the society, for quite a long time in the history of its existence, has consciously encouraged and even nurtured the culture of indiscipline, recklessness and total disregard for the laws of the land. The result of this unfortunate system is that it has successfully created a society with individualistic government, thereby invalidating the supreme laws of the land. This is a monumental tragedy and the reason for which our society has acquired a broken leg. More disheartening is the reality that the vices responsible for this deformity have grown so bold and ravenous!
To avoid misconceptions of all shapes and sizes, it is proper to emphatically state that this article is solely aimed at questioning the unlawful decision of the authorities of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to debar fellow students of the National Open University of Nigeria from participating in the one year service scheme like other universities across the nation. That no one has risen to properly challenge this deplorable decision strikes me with unusual puzzlement.
I must, unapologetically, affirm that there is no legal ground on which the authorities of NYSC should bar students of the National Open University of Nigeria or any accredited university in Nigeria from participating in the scheme. I will prove this by presenting clauses as contained in the NYSC Act. Whilst I present these clauses, certain words may be capitalised for emphasis. Such emphasis are entirely mine, employed to achieve certain effects:
Section 2(1) of the NYSC Act says:
'Subject to the provision of this Decree, EVERY NIGERIAN shall
a. if, at the end of the academic year 1972-73 or, as the case may be, at the end of any subsequent academic year, he shall have graduated at ANY university in Nigeria.'
Quite obviously, the Act did not indicate the exclusion of graduates of National Open University of Nigeria or any other accredited university. It explicitly said ANY UNIVERSITY IN NIGERIA, and National Open University is clearly not a Congolese institution. I challenge the authorities of the NYSC to repudiate the existence of this clause. My deduction, therefore, is that the ongoing discrimination against fellow students of National Open University of Nigeria is the product of those running the agency, who have resorted to apply personal sentiments in a desperate attempt to squash ethical standards.
Although the Act did provide, in clearly written clauses, circumstances that may render certain graduates ineligible to participate in the Service Corps, these clauses pointed no finger at students of National Open University of Nigeria or any other accredited university in the country. I have presented the clauses below whilst putting the general public on the Judge's seat:
Section 2 (2) says:
'Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, with effect from 1st August, 1985, a person shall not be called upon to serve in the service corps; at the date of his graduation or obtaining his diploma or other professional qualification -
a. He is over the age of thirty
b. He has served in the armed forces of the Federation or the Nigeria Police Force for a period of more than nine months
c. He is a member of any of the following, that is:
i. The Nigerian Security Organisation
ii. The State Security Service
iii. The National Intelligence Agency
iv. The Defence Intelligence Service
d. He has been conferred with any National Honour.
After rendering the above clauses as contained in the NYSC Act, it remains to me an inscrutable mystery why authorities of NYSC should unlawfully debar Nigerian graduates from National Open University of Nigeria and with no one raising an eyebrow at the scale of such brazen injustice. I should like to learn, is this facile discrimination a way of questioning the intellectual competence of graduates of the institution? Or a way of expressing inordinate antipathy towards these graduates? Let me say, with boundless certitude that the feeling of antipathy and the obvious scepticism they nurse as regards our intellectual competence have nicely manifested into this fully-fledged discrimination.
The point of my observations should be quite clear by now, namely that the NYSC scheme is NOT the prerogative of any university in Nigeria as the authorities of the agency have made it to be! And that the authorities of NYSC are legally incapacitated to debar graduates of the National Open University of Nigeria or any other accredited university in Nigeria from participating in the scheme. That this simple truth is glossed over is largely due to the fact that (as I stated at the beginning of this article), our society has fostered a world where scorning or trampling on established laws attract a standing ovation. Preposterous!
I have previously read articles telling stories about how NYSC awards 'Certificate of Exemption' to graduates of National Open University of Nigeria. Doing so is to brutally insult the intellectual sensibilities of these students who are not less gifted than their counterparts in other universities. Can no one see the unreserved antipathy that this agency holds towards these students? Can no one feel the undercurrent hostility against a group of students who clearly have the backing of the law on the matter under reference? That the authorities of the National Open University of Nigeria have made no single reference to the NYSC Act, a document recognised in Section 315 (5) (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, leaves behind a trail of questions on the supposed spirited efforts by the University to ensure its students are mobilised for the Service Corps exercise. It is unthinkable that the world should continue to look on with such utter silence whilst some individuals run the terrible risk of creating factions in our academic community. In the midst of this ominous situation, what appears frightening to me is that no one seems to understand the insidious implications of allowing the survival of such factions.
Partnering in this despicable business of discrimination against graduates of National Open University of Nigeria is the Council of Legal Education (CLE) that has firmly sworn never to admit Law graduates from National Open University of Nigeria into the Nigerian Law School. Well, let me not dance with two deadly masquerades in the face of this terrible night. God willing, I will strongly address the Council of Legal Education on their discriminatory stance in another article.
For now, what I must say is that we cannot embark on this dangerous trip of celebrating prejudice without undermining our own progress and civilisation as a nation and as a people. To this, I must seek your permission to quote a very brilliant assertion by one of the world's greatest thinkers and writers, Professor Chinua Achebe. Hear him:
'America, which we copy when it suits us, should provide an excellent example to us in this connection: that although we may not be able to legislate prejudice and bigotry out of the hearts and minds of individual citizens, the state itself and all its institutions must not practice, endorse or condone such habits.'
Professor Chinua Achebe made this loud cry thirty-two years ago, some years before Providence ushered me into a world where justice is sadly the scarcest commodity. It is not surprising, therefore, that with the pace of civilisation in the 21st century, individuals and even state-owned institutions in Nigeria are still being pictured casting narcissistic glances at the garments of discrimination in which they clad. With the weight of this guilt resting so precariously upon us, I am left with the heart-rending conclusion that we quite do not have the moral justification to question the consistent racial prejudice that our compatriots get subjected to in the West. Doing so would be quite hypocritical, to say the least. Indeed, the wanton and colossal destruction inflicted upon the Nigerian soul by these champions of discrimination is simply unforgivable!
There exist no tenable reasons for negotiating, pleading, or holding discussions of any kind with those heading the Service Corps in a bid to persuade them to 'consider' students of National Open University of Nigeria to participate in a scheme for which they already have the full endorsement of the law. But here lies the unprepossessing antithesis of life, particularly in a society like ours where injustice has been so extolled to a point where the victim, unfortunate as always, must be loud in heaping adulatory songs upon his fierce-looking oppressor.
Although the management of NYSC may not be armed with the natural decency to render any apology to students of National Open University of Nigeria for this long-standing injustice, they must, however, reverse their unlawful decision within the maximum period of one month from the date of this publication. In the event that they insist on treading on this anarchical path, authorities of the National Open University of Nigeria should, on the reliable strength of the quoted clauses contained in the NYSC Act, immediately take DECISIVE STEPS to ensure that it defends the interest of its victimised students, using the appropriate channels as prescribed by the law. If the University fails to intervene in spite of the revelation of the above clauses, such silence shall be construed as complicity.
For now, this is what I have to say on the lingering issue of NYSC at the National Open University of Nigeria. And now that I have cleared the heavy cloud in my heart, sleep will pay me a visit tonight!
Elias Ozikpu studies at the National Open University of Nigeria. He is an activist, playwright, novelist, polemicist.