The resignation of the estranged Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, last Friday, has expectedly raised a lot of dust in Nigeria’s polity. So much have been said, so many inferences, insinuations and accusations, some of which could pass-on as selfishly motivated.
Beyond this, however, the issue of a government official resigning from office as a result of matters relating to malfeasance is to a large extent alien to Nigeria. That the official in question is the Minister of Finance, who, by Nigerian standard, must be the “right-hand” person of the Chief Executive, in this case Mr. President, makes it the more too good to be true. This is because the President, by Nigerian standard, has enough powers to make his wish come true.
Among the numerous inferences, insinuations and accusations, a couple stands out, both in the context of who made them, as well as the manifest and latent contents therein, especially in the light of what genuinely concerned Nigerians seek in those who lead them.
There were calls for Adeosun’s prosecution from all corners on charges of forgery in accordance with the dictates of the NYSC Act. Expectedly, top of the calls came from people who are pro Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), the key opposition political party.
Contrarily, to Professor Itse Sagay, Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), the Minister should not be sacked because ‘she’s damn good’.
“There is nothing in this world that will make me remove such a woman (if he was President) from the government. The PDP can weep from now until there is no tear in their body; she is going to be there. We cannot afford to lose that woman.
“Who cares about youth service? I don’t bloody care whether she did youth service or not. It’s irrelevant as far as I am concerned”, Professor Sagay was quoted by “Pulse”, an online newspaper on the 10th of August, 2018.
In her resignation letter to the President, Adeosun explained that she did not know and was not in a position to decipher the authenticity of the NYSC certificate issued her haven been born and bred in Britain till she was 34 years, based on the findings of Premium Times.
According to her, upon enquiry as to my status relating to NYSC, I was informed that due to my residency history and having exceeded the age of 30, I was exempted from the requirement to serve. Until recent events, that remained my understanding.
“On the basis of that advice and with the guidance and assistance of those I thought were trusted associates, NYSC were approached for documentary proof of status. I then received the certificate in question. Having never worked in NYSC, visited the premises, been privy to or familiar with their operations, I had no reason to suspect that the certificate was anything but genuine.
“Indeed, I presented that certificate at the 2011 Ogun State House of Assembly and in 2015 for Directorate of State Services (DSS) Clearance as well as to the National Assembly for screening. Be that as it may, as someone totally committed to a culture of probity and accountability I have decided to resign with effect from Friday, 14th September, 2018,” she said.
Considering that what genuinely concerned Nigerians feel about the whole saga is hinged on the stance of the incumbent administration on corruption, the attention given the issue is understandable and seen to be guided by two salient questions: How did we get here? What is the way forward?
The whole issue started when, in July, Premium Times, an online news medium, broke the news that the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, “did not participate in the mandatory one-year national youth service scheme. Instead, she forged an exemption certificate years after graduation”.
For clarity sake, the year-long service is organized by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and is made compulsory for all Nigerians who graduate from universities, or equivalent institutions before attaining 30 years of age. It is a key requirement for jobs in Nigeria, both in the public and private sectors.
Consequently, there is an enabling law to enforce it, which not only prescribes punishment for anyone who absconds from the scheme, but also forges its certificate.
The implication is that Nigerians who skip the service will not be employed in Nigeria, and will be liable to 12 months prison sentence and/or #2,000 fines, in accordance with Section 13 of the NYSC law. Also, Section 13(3) of the law prescribes 3-year jail term or an option of #5,000 fines for anyone who contravenes provisions of the law as Adeosun did.
Section 13(4) of the law also criminalises giving false information, or illegally obtaining the agency’s certificate and provides for 3-year jail term for such offenders.
The crux of the matter, as revealed by Premium Times, is that the estranged Finance Minister graduated at 22 years from the “Polytechnic of East London” in 1989, but did not come back home to participate in the one-year service, even after returning to Nigeria in 2002. She rather accepted a job offer at a private firm, “Chapel Hill Denham”. Moreover, her certificate bears “University of East London”, the name the institution change to in 1992
She finally got an “Exemption Letter” from the NYSC in 2009, dated September 9 precisely, and purportedly signed by Yusuf Bomoi, a former Director-General of the NYSC.
According to Premium Times, officials of NYSC said the retired Brigadier General, who died in September 2017, could not have signed any certificate for the corps eight months after his retirement in January 2009.
Using the purported fake NYSC certificate, Mrs. Adeosun worked for two private Nigerian companies and was appointed Commissioner by the Ogun State Government before becoming the Finance Minister.
Section 12 of the NYSC Act states that: “For the purposes of employment anywhere in the federation and before employment, it shall be the duty of every prospective employer to demand and obtain from any person who claims to have obtained his First Degree at the end of the academic year 1973-74 or, as the case may be, at the end of any subsequent academic year the following:-
(a) a copy of the Certificate of National Service of such person issued pursuant to section 11 of this Decree (b) a copy of any exemption certificate issued to such person pursuant to section 17 of this Decree (c) such other particulars relevant there to as may be prescribed by or under this Decree.”
The import of the above is that it is illegal to hire a person who graduated but failed to make himself or herself available to serve, or falsify any document to the effect that he or she has served or exempted from serving. Herein lays the bone of contention.
What this means in essence is that while Mrs Adeosun’s qualification and capability is not in doubt, she and her employees in Nigeria are guilty of illegality. But, as has become normal in Nigerian politics, the issue at stake was given various interpretations, in the same way her resignation last Friday was.
Taken from the context of President Mohammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption, this issue is one which for a long time will be weighed by the standard set in tackling issues relating to corruption.
It will be recalled that on assumption of office in 2015, President Buhari was quoted by various media to have zero tolerance for corruption. According to him, “Corruption is a hydra-headed monster and a cankerworm that undermines the fabric of all societies. It does not differentiate between developed and developing countries. It constitutes a serious threat to good governance, rule of law, peace and security, as well as development programmes aimed at tackling poverty and economic backwardness,” hence “it must be fought on all fronts”.
The key question that readily begs for answer is whether the law in Nigeria is a respecter of person. If not, as far as the NYSC Act is concerned, the two companies, Ogun State Government and the Federal Government that hired Adeosun’s services should share in the illegality of the issue. It is therefore not enough for Adesoun to just resign, as honourable as such action may be, even as it was belated in her case.
Anything less than bringing all the parties involved in the illegality will not only put a huge question in the President Buhari’s popular saying that he “stands for nobody, and for everybody”, but will also confirm what many Nigerians feel, that the declaration is a sham.
Daily Trust newspaper summarised this in its August 28, 2018 edition when it stated: “Although personal integrity, self-respect and respect for the law are no longer a requirement for high office in Nigeria, the truth is that Adeosun’s position is untenable. The excuse that the Exemption Certificate was obtained on her behalf simply doesn’t hold water. The scandal is a stain on the reputation of an administration which came to office brandishing integrity”.
The implication is that everybody involved in this high level forgery, from the erstwhile Minister, to those she stated as “trusted associates” and whoever has employed her, has a question to answer because, one way or another, they have desecrated the Rule of Law in Nigeria.