Adebayo Shittu, a former minister of communications, has said he would have solved the problem of graduate unemployment within two years as governor if he had been given the chance.
The Saki-born All Progressives Congress, APC, chieftain in an interview with Sunday Punch, said that his prayer to God is that if He loves the people of Oyo State, he will put him in a position where he can affect their lives positively.
You also had the NYSC issues. What happened and how was it addressed?
The law during our time was the 1979 Constitution. The NYSC decree was promulgated in 1973. The law gives you the option of either going for the national service or moving to the House of Assembly and I chose to move to the House of Assembly to serve Nigeria in a much bigger role. I got elected while in Law School and I spent four years in the House of Assembly and immediately after, I got appointed and became a commissioner for Information and Culture. By the time I completed the term, I was well above 30 years as provided by the NYSC then. Subsequently, I occupied other political positions. So, I thank God. A lot of people intentionally or ignorantly compared my situation with that of the then Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun. My issue is entirely different.
Do you think the NYSC controversy might have affected you politically?
Yes, it was mysteriously exploited against me. In 2019, I wanted to contest the governorship position in Oyo State and the then governor, the late Abiola Ajimobi, used it against me by influencing the leadership of the political party at that time to disqualify me. He was given a ticket to contest the Senate and I was disqualified. If we had the right party leadership at that time, I would not have been disqualified. When the current Governor of Ogun State (Dapo Abiodun) won the election in 2019, his political enemy took him to court, asking the court to disqualify him because he didn’t go for the national youth service, but the court said no because the constitutional requirement to be a governor never stated the NYSC certificate as a precondition. So, I am qualified to occupy any position either as a governor, minister or any other because the constitutional requirement for contesting an election has nothing to do with an NYSC certificate.
Some people have said the NYSC should be scrapped, while others said it shouldn’t be made compulsory. With the experience you had, what is your position on it?
I don’t have any hard feelings about its discontinuation or otherwise. Still, I’m aware that a lot of people look forward to it because it is the first opportunity of being employed and it gives them the right exposure. Many people, for instance, are in Ibadan who have never crossed the River Niger to other parts of the country. Through the NYSC scheme, they have the opportunity of being posted to Abuja, Enugu, Port Harcourt, etcetera. I think as one Nigeria, I’m in support of it.
What was the reaction of former President Muhammadu Buhari to your NYSC controversy?
Well, he was misled. I remember that I had to explain to him about my previous political experience and the NYSC issue. When I was elected in 1979, my political opponent then took me to court, asking the court to disqualify me on the basis that I did not go for the national youth service and the court said there was no constitutional requirement for the NYSC in any election and the case was dismissed. I showed evidence of that to former President Buhari.
You couldn’t make it for the second term of the Buhari administration. What was the reason?
If I must be realistic with you, I will tell you to go and ask Buhari why he didn’t pick me because he was the one who picked me for the first term. But to clear the controversy that may have existed, it was the same person who got me disqualified from the governorship race. He too lost the senatorial election and then blamed me for his woes. He came to Abuja and told the President and other people that I was the one who messed up the party which resulted in the APC losing at the 2019 (governorship) election (in Oyo State). Unfortunately, nobody called me when he brought that information to hear from me. They just went ahead to disqualify me. I thank God that I’m still myself as it is often said that when there is life, there is hope. I will rather forget what has happened; what I look forward to is a better future.
But many believed the NYSC controversy contributed to why you were not reappointed for a second term. Isn’t that the situation?
Not at all, it was mischief on the part of our then leader (in Oyo State) who reported that it was Shittu who messed up our political party, and I asked if I was so powerful to have messed up the entire political party in the 33 local government areas of the state. At a point, the party wanted to arrange local government election and people bought forms for chairmanship and councillorship elections. No member of the APC who collected the form was allowed to participate in any of the primaries. Somebody just sat down and selected his favourites to be candidates for our party. Again, at the party primaries to select party officers, some of us collected forms. We, as the Unity Forum at that time, a lot of our people collected forms and they paid for the forms, but the same leader ensured that none of us got the opportunity to participate.
There are a lot of other people and I paid for governorship forms, but none of us was allowed to contest in the primaries. Many of us said we could not support a governorship candidate and a senatorial candidate and that was how the people got annoyed and voted for the current governor at that time and that was how Ajimobi lost the senatorial election only for him to go to Abuja and say that I was the cause of the party’s failure. In terms of performance, with all sense of humility, nobody has done all I did for the party. It happened and I had to accept that God knows the best.
Despite all the issues, are you still interested in contesting an election or accepting an appointment?
Let me tell you that I have been an active politician for 44 years at a stretch, glory be to God. I made a lot of sacrifices, including during the last presidential and governorship elections. So, if an appointment comes, it will not be unexpected, but if it doesn’t come, I will leave everything to God and continue doing my best. I sacrificed my professional career because of politics. As for contesting an election, it is not in my plan except if God says so. Permit me to say that I am a product of the (Obafemi) Awolowo school of politics and with all sense of humility, I can say that the difference that I can make in occupying the position of a governor, most people are likely not to have that knowledge or exposure. My prayer to God is that if He loves the people of Oyo State, He will put me in a position where I can affect their lives positively. For instance, if I had been a governor, within two years, I would have eliminated graduate unemployment. I have the knowledge and capacity, but if I don’t have the opportunity, I won’t be able to do it.