I have admired Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, the Minister of Finance, from a distance. She speaks English the way the Queen of England speaks even though she seems to add a bit of cockney accent to it. She is good with figures which I am not good at which is one reason I chose the writing craft as my life-long engagement. She shows competence, diligence, substantial eloquence and some level of transparency in her work. So I was thrilled to meet her on May 5, 2016 at the Chinese Restaurant, OPIC Plaza, next door to the Sheraton Hotel in Ikeja. She was one of the four ministers that came to meet with the media chieftains of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN). They came to explain at a town hall meeting what the Federal Government had been doing – and not doing – since it took over the Aso Villa a year earlier. She displayed a gutsy performance and I thought she was a courageous young lady. I asked her, not entirely jokingly, whether she had a bullet proof vest because of her trenchant and frontal attack on tax evaders and avoiders and her extirpation of thousands of ghosts from the payroll of the Federal Government. Since then my admiration for her has remained high.
I have been very distressed to read the ugly story swirling around her in the last couple of weeks. Premium Times, an online newspaper, had published a story that alleged that Mrs. Adeosun who graduated in the United Kingdom at the age of 22 did not serve in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Instead, according to Premium Times, she procured a fake exemption certificate dated September 2009. Armed with that allegedly fake exemption certificate she has been able to work as a Commissioner of Finance in the government of Ogun State. She was also able to pass through the screening of the Buhari government which nominated her as a Minister. The Senate screened her and found her appointable. President Muhammadu Buhari then appointed her to the strategic Ministry of Finance.
Let us interrogate the facts: Mrs Adeosun got her degree or equivalent qualification in the United Kingdom at the age of 22. All graduates below the age of 30 must serve compulsorily in the NYSC programme. And since Adeosun was 22 at graduation and 22 years is less than 30 years she ought to have served in the programme but she did not. This may be because she lived and worked in the United Kingdom before she came back to Nigeria. But by the NYSC law once you graduate before 30 years you must serve even if you return to Nigeria at the age of 60. If you do not serve in the scheme it is a punishable offence. But if you graduate after 30 years you have to apply for and receive an exemption certificate. With that certificate you are free to work without let or hindrance.
However, since Adeosun graduated at 22 she does not fall within the category of persons who should qualify for exemption. If she applied for an exemption certificate her application was an act in futility. The NYSC should never have given her an exemption certificate. But according to Premium Times, the exemption certificate she has utilized for employment purposes is fake. The Premium Times has identified 10 discrepancies between Mrs Adeosun’s certificate and the one issued by the NYSC in 2009.
The NYSC says that Mrs Adeosun did apply for an exemption certificate but it has not said whether her application was approved or not. It simply says that it is investigating the one allegedly paraded by Mrs Adeosun. If Mrs Adeosun applied for an exemption certificate it should be easy for the NYSC to tell the public without any prolonged silence whether she deserved to receive and whether she did receive an exemption certificate from the NYSC.
From available facts Adeosun was qualified to serve in the NYSC. She did not serve. That is an offence. She did not deserve to have an exemption certificate, fake or genuine. If she has it, as it is obvious that she has, that is also an offence. If the certificate was issued by the NYSC even though she did not qualify for one, then the NYSC has some explaining to do for breaching its own law. If it was not issued by the NYSC but by the con artists at Oluwole where everything on earth can be faked then she has some explaining to do. That for her would be double wahala.
In this matter, the NYSC does not have any room to dance. It must be forthright. It must say the truth and say it quickly. I am a proud alumnus of the very first batch of the NYSC in 1973. I learnt a lot about the country especially because I served in Sokoto, a place I had never been to before and knew next to nothing before I got there. It was a worthy experience even though we were violently opposed to it initially. The integrity of the NYSC programme has been assaulted over the years. Some NYSC persons allegedly share their salaries with officials who allow them to be absentee corps members. Some graduates are able to get preferential postings to Abuja, Lagos, Rivers State, Kano and other places of special interest to them. There are also allegations that some persons above 30 years have managed to smuggle themselves into the programme with the connivance of some officials since jobs are very hard to find. These allegations have the potential of affecting the integrity of the corps. Its prevarication on the Adeosun matter will give a dent to its image except it speaks up quickly in the defence of its integrity.
The Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, was asked to comment on the matter last week. He said that since the NYSC which is a government agency has spoken it means the government has spoken. He therefore has nothing to add, he said. This is a piece of naked sophistry. Yes, NYSC is a government institution but not Adeosun’s employer. The Federal Government is the one that employed Adeosun and if it is miffed by the swirling news it should show interest. It can ask the NYSC to give it a briefing on it, issue a statement on it or it can ask the Police to investigate the allegation. In any case, the NYSC itself is accused of issuing the certificate in breach of the law. As a law and order government and anti-corruption crusader, shouldn’t the federal government be interested, in fact eager, to investigate an alleged crime by one of its institutions, NYSC and one of its staff, the Minister of Finance? Mr. Lai Mohammed who has recently delivered an excellent homily on fake news has not said, vaguely or explicitly, that the Adeosun matter is fake news. We may therefore assume that if he has not countered it with accustomed emotional alacrity that the news may not be fake. But we have no intention of rushing to judgement. We only need to say that if there is no concrete information issued on the matter by the government or Adeosun in the very near future the government’s catechism of anti-corruption may sound hollow.
Mrs Adeosun has not controverted the facts. She has not denied the unfavourable information hawked in the public space about her. She has simply padlocked her lips in the vain hope that the matter might go away soon. If the facts are incontrovertible then she has a wall to climb. Silence as a cover-up scheme by either the federal government or Adeosun will inevitably collapse in universal ridicule. We have been told that Adeosun had met President Muhammadu Buhari three times last week. No one knows whether they whispered to each other about the Adeosun affair but as the saying goes: where there is whispering there is lying. No communique has been issued on those three-day seminars.
It is obvious from this episode that pre-appointment checks of potential employers by security agencies and screening committees are deficient. Those who check these documents do so only perfunctorily without seeking to crosscheck their authenticity with issuing authorities.
Mrs Adeosun needs to speak up in defence of her good name which this allegation is threatening to soil. If she doesn’t, her moral strength and her verdict on tax defaulters and forgers of salary dockets and planters of ghosts in them will be dense with sanctimony. Truth never goes away. It always digs its heels into the soil making it impossible for lies to uproot it. It stands ram-rod straight, tall, towering over a thousand lies and no axe no matter how sharp can fell it.
If we want to build a fair and just society infractions must be frowned upon and punished on a non-discriminatory basis. Societies can only be stable, progressive, fair and just when they establish and uphold uniform benchmarks for political, social and ethical behaviour. The Adeosun case is a litmus test for Buhari’s political will to do what is right.