Unfolding story of Minister Hannatu Musawa’s NYSC saga
More facts have emerged about the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) status of the Minister of Art, Culture and Creative Economy, Hannatu Musawa.
Ms Musawa has for weeks been in the eye of the storm for failing, during her confirmation hearing at the Nigerian senate, to provide evidence that she participated in the mandatory national youth service program after her graduation from the university.
That controversy deepened in the past days following the disclosure by the NYSC that the minister is currently undergoing her national youth service, sparking calls by her critics that she should vacate office.
But PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report that Ms Musawa’s national service saga has a longer history and is far more complicated than is publicly known.
A review of a cache of documents and interviews with people familiar with the matter revealed that Ms. Musawa and NYSC authorities had battled for at least three years over her real NYSC status and a withheld certificate.
While the lawyer claimed she completed her national service in 2003 and should be issued the withheld certificate, the NYSC claimed she absconded midway into her service. After the years-long back and forth failed to produce results, Ms. Musawa then opted to be remobilized to serve out whatever period of time the NYSC believes is outstanding for her. “We advised her to sue the NYSC over the matter,” an associate of the minister told PREMIUM TIMES. “But she refused, saying she preferred a peaceful resolution of the matter.”
An NYSC discharge certificate issued in Ms. Musawa’s name in 2003 exists and is in the custody of the Corps, according to documents seen by this newspaper. However, authorities are withholding the document after accusing her of absconding at a point during her service year. On her part, Ms. Musawa said the NYSC was not diligent and careful enough in its search for her record and that she was not accorded a fair hearing to prove that she did not abscond.
Ms Musawa, an inferno and the search for a certificate
In 2020, former President Muhammadu Buhari nominated her for appointment as the national commissioner representing Nigeria’s northwest geopolitical zone on the board of the National Pension Commission (PENCOM).
In preparing for her screening by the Senate, Ms Musawa wrote the NYSC through its Kaduna State coordinator requesting the replacement of her NYSC certificate.
According to her, the NYSC certificate was part of the documents that got burnt in an inferno that razed her Asokoro residence in 2019.
“Last year, on Saturday, 14th September 2019, at approximately 5:52 pm, a fire broke out in my house at No 15, Justice Lawal Uwais Street, Asokoro, Abuja. Many of my documents were lost in the fire, including which was my NYSC certificate,” she wrote in the letter dated 30 September 2020. “Therefore, I am writing to apply for the replacement of my NYSC Certificate that was lost in the fire incident.”
The Kaduna State NYSC searched for Ms Musawa’s records in its certificate issuance registers but did not find any matching information. The State Coordinator, Isa Wana, therefore, forwarded Ms Musawa’s request to the Corps Certification Department at the NYSC headquarters in Abuja.
Her details could not be found in any of our certificate issuance registers of 2001, 2002 and 2003. She could not also remember her state code number and place of primary assignment for ease of further investigation,” Mr Wana wrote in a letter dated 7 October 2020 to the NYSC certificate department.
Days after Mr Wana’s letter to the NYSC headquarters, the corps certification department found Ms Musawa’s NYSC certificate, indicating that she never collected the certificate and that it did not get burnt in her home.
However, because she had claimed in her letters to the NYSC and obtained a police report that the certificate was part of the destroyed properties in the fire that gutted her home, the NYSC declined to issue her the certificate.
The NYSC also accused her of absconding during her service year as it could not find her details in the Kaduna State office where she claimed to have completed her service. Her failure to get the NYSC certificate at the time ultimately led to her disqualification for the PENCOM appointment in November 2020.
Now aware that her certificate is in the custody of the Corps, Ms Musawa continued to push for its release. In letters to the NYSC, she insisted that she duly completed the NYSC in Kaduna, where she was redeployed after serving for five months in Ebonyi state.
Documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES showed that the minister was called up for national service in September 2002 and posted to the Ministry of Justice, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. Five months into the service year, in February 2003, she was redeployed to Kaduna State.
The NYSC insisted there is no record that the then corps member continued her service after redeploying to Kaduna. But Ms Musawa said the corps only needed a further careful search for her records in Ebonyi and Kaduna to determine the authenticity of her claims that she completed her service. She also pleaded to be given an opportunity to provide documents, including copies of letters from Manema Universal Limited in Kaduna, her NYSC employer during the last part of her service year.
In December 2020, Ms Musawa wrote to the NYSC governing board, asking that the board intervene by giving her a fair hearing regarding the matter. But in a 17 March 2021 reply, the Board said her case had been declared closed, and no further search of her documents was necessary. “The board prays that you accept its decision in good faith and that this becomes the end of this matter as far as the NYSC is concerned,” the letter, signed by Board Secretary Abdullahi Jikamshi, said.
Despite this verdict by the NYSC Board, Ms Musawa did not relent in the push for her certificate. In August 2022, Ms Musawa wrote a 10-page letter to the then Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, detailing her ordeal. She pleaded for the review of the NYSC’s decision on her service status and the withholding of her certificate. “My reputation, future, career and integrity could be eroded if this matter is not properly handled,” she wrote in the letter, a copy of which this newspaper obtained.
She claimed she was never accorded a fair hearing throughout the period of the appeal to get her NYSC certificate. According to her, the NYSC repeatedly made the mistake of searching for the wrong call-up number. Instead of NYSC/LAW/2001/405353, she said the NYSC continued to search for NYSC/LAW/2001/405351. The mistake in the call-up number search was made from the Kaduna State office of the NYSC where the search began, she said.
Ms Musawa also maintained that she completed her NYSC service at Manema Universal Limited in Kaduna but did not collect her certificate at the time because of an illness. “I completed the service in September 2003 and obtained my clearance but didn’t attend the passing-out ceremony at NYSC due to illness,” she said.
She added that she applied for the replacement of the certificate because she believed she had collected the certificate. “At the time I made the application for certificate replacement to the NYSC, I was under the honest and genuine belief that I had collected my certificate at the end of the service year since it was 17 years ago,” she added.
Ms Musawa also told then Minister Dare that “The DG NYSC has been acting on the information he has received without giving me an opportunity to be heard and, thus, has made conclusions that remain detrimental to my future even and most especially beyond the present assignment.
“From all indications, it would appear that the DG NYSC has become sentimental and ceases to be impartial in this matter. It is clear that I have not received a fair hearing and fair consideration from him in the least bit. Thus, I pray that all actions taken therein by the DG NYSC in this matter should be reversed as prejudicial and the whole matter reconsidered dispassionately by another objective body or person.
An unyielding Musawa Plea and a remobilisation
However, her appeal to Minister Dare for a reconsideration of her case did not produce the result she desired. Nonetheless, she continued her push to collect her service certificate, her associates said. When it became clear that she was not making any headway, she then requested to be allowed to reenroll for whatever number of months the NYSC believed was outstanding on her service year.
The Director of Press and Public Relations of the NYSC, Eddy Megwa, told DAILY TRUST Ms Musawa was remobilized and had been participating in the national youth service scheme for the past eight months in Abuja.
Her associates say having done an extra eight months of national service in Abuja, in addition to the five she did in Ebonyi, the embattled minister can be said to have completed her one-year service. “She even overstayed in service,” one associate said, asking not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
PREMIUM has not been able to independently verify that claim. Ms. Musawa and Mr. Megwa, the NYSC spokesperson, did not answer or return calls made to their known telephone numbers seeking their comments for this story.
What NYSC law says
Established by Decree number 24 of 2 May 1973, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was created for “proper encouragement and development of common ties among the youths of Nigeria and the promotion of national unity”.
The decree, which mandates all Nigerians who graduate from a university in or outside Nigeria to undergo the program for a period of 12 months, has, however, been reviewed by the legislature since the return to democracy.
According to Section 2(2) of the NYSC Act (2004), the only excluded Nigerians from the mandatory participation in the scheme are those who attained the age of 30 before their date of graduation, those who served in the Nigerian armed forces or the Police for more than nine months, staff of Nigerian security organizations, and those conferred with national honors.
Born on 1 November 1974, Ms Musawa graduated from the University of Buckingham and the Nigerian Law School before age 30 and is therefore eligible for national service.