It is no longer news that Mrs Folakemi Adeosun is no longer the Nigerian Minister of Finance. If like Jesus on the way to Emmaus, you are unaware of the events surrounding her exit, you might want to read the Premium Times (PT) article that set off the stack of dominoes. While Nigerians continue discussing her exit, amidst insinuations that the announcement was timed to obfuscate President Buhari’s latest SSS appointment, my view is that her resignation should not be an end in itself but rather, the start of a reflective process.
Firstly, let’s start with the issue of due process. PT alleged her national service exemption certificate was forged. Since this allegation triggered her delayed resignation, and noting that forgery is a crime under Nigerian laws, Kemi’s resignation is not enough; she should be prosecuted. However, noting that although the law should be followed, it should retain its human face, I would prefer a scenario where if found guilty and convicted, she would be fined the pitiful amount specified in the NYSC Act, and then in recognition of her service as minister of finance, the president would then issue a presidential pardon. This would send a message to thousands of other Kemis that laws are meant to be obeyed, while recognising extenuating circumstances and public service record. One other result of such prosecution would be an investigation into the possible existence of a fake certificate racket within the NYSC establishment. My idealism notwithstanding, I doubt that a Buhari presidency yet to clear his school certificate imbroglio would be willing to prosecute this forgery case.
The Buhari presidency brings up my second point—executive complicity in this matter. Buhari is liable, maybe vicariously, for Kemi’s forged certificate since he nominated her for office and “must have” received a security report on her. Even if we assume that he knew nothing about her certificate, his action after PT went public is shameful for someone who touts righteousness. Anyone with an objective outlook would have concluded from the PT article that Kemi’s certificate was fake since she legally could not have been issued an exemption. More worrisome was the defence put up by Prof Itse Sagay, a legal principality who advises the president.
Legality introduces my third point—public ignorance. Online and offline discussions showed that many Nigerians are unaware of the provisions of the NYSC Act regarding issuance of exemptions. Even Kemi’s resignation letter highlighted ignorance of the stipulation that only persons who were above 30 as at the time of graduation from a tertiary institution can be issued an exemption certificate. Unfortunately, lack of education on this matter provided fodder for mindless debates about the authenticity of the purported certificate. A debate about genuineness could only have been logical if Kemi had graduated above the age of 30. This likely influenced the response of the NYSC establishment that merely mentioned an “investigation” in passing. I believe the NYSC mouthpiece was being careful as the whole thing smelled of illegality. If NYSC had said the certificate was fake, they would be indicting the minister for forgery. On the other hand, if they had said it was genuine, they would have indicted their organisation for criminality since no known laws grant NYSC such authority to issue an exemption in Kemi’s case.
A more serious issue thrown up by the PT article is the allegation that Kemi, as minister of finance, was being blackmailed by the national assembly because the leaders of the legislature had discovered her forgery during ministerial screening but decided to cover it up to have some ammunition against her. As a sad commentary on the state of Nigerian politics cum governance, that article has been public for over two months, yet, the national assembly has not found it needful to deny the allegation. In the absence of a denial, we can accept that a group of persons supposedly designated to make laws and keep the executive arm in check, selfishly chose to insult Nigeria by blackmailing the finance minister. If President Buhari is interested in the prosecution scenario in my first point, this criminal blackmail is something to look into. As a bonus, one of the principal actors is trying to replace him, while another just sneaked out of his party. This should provide enough incentive to uncover the clique that allegedly blackmailed Kemi into releasing suspicious monies.
I now come to the issue of security agencies like the State Security Service (SSS or DSS) who are supposed to vet political appointees. However, apart from this discredited propaganda, these agencies do not deserve more than two sentences.
Another big issue worsened by the Kemi fiasco is the international image of Nigeria as a country of fraudsters. Nigerians struggle with long reigning stereotypes about criminality. As international news agencies broadcast the resignation of our finance minister over forgery, Nigerians might just be blessed with extra screening when submitting documents to foreign organisations, in addition to the existing suspicion we already enjoy. There seems to be no winning over this one.
To conclude, let me say something about the NYSC Act as it relates to Nigerians born and raised outside Nigeria. Notwithstanding the ongoing argument about the usefulness or otherwise of the compulsory national service, now is a good time to amend the Act to cover persons born and bred abroad who later in their lives have a reason to relocate to Nigeria. As at the time the NYSC was launched in 1973, very few persons would have fallen under this criterion, but as it is now, if the law is not modified, Nigeria might miss out from potentially beneficial talents wanting to contribute to national development within public service or as private sector employees. As Nigeria continues haemorrhaging home-bred professionals, we should reconsider barriers to foreign-bred Nigerians. This ends my epistle.
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