Thanks to the intervention of good journalism, Nigeria’s Finance Ministry has been relieved from questionable management.
That may sound extreme, or even unfair, after reading Ms Kemi Adeosun’s resignation letter released last Friday. The now ex-Minister chiefly blames unscrupulous “trusted associates” who misguided her into signing for a fraudulent exemption certificate that was not issued by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). These associates, who may have claimed to have assurances from the Corps, apparently confirmed that she would not need to undertake the mandatory service year since she was already past 30 years of age by the time of her return to Nigeria in 2002 to take up a private sector job. Until that time, her visits to the country had been only holidays, she says.
Ms Adeosun was 35 in 2002 but she did graduate from the University of East London a decade earlier. The NYSC Act mandates national service for all who graduate before the age of 30. It grants exemption to those who graduate after exceeding the age, not as Fisayo Soyombo observes, those who return to the country after exceeding the age. It is not impossible that she would be convinced of her no longer needing to serve after she returned; perhaps something the National Assembly may want to reflect in an amendment to the Act (would a man who returns at 53 after graduating before 30 abroad still have to serve?).
But let it not be in doubt that she bears full culpability for her ignorance leading up to bearing a forged federal document. That it took 69 days after the publication of the story (and all her documents) by Premium Times for her to come up with that explanation, after reckless comments in her defense like that of Professor Itse Sagay, means the eventual resignation is anything but charming and glorious.
Would she not still be holding on to her post without an urging from president Buhari, and after a South West governor finally withdrew support of her? Going into re-election season, the president’s supporters know better than to allow a repeat of the baggage effect exerted on the Jonathan 2015 campaign by clouds of corruption in his cabinet. They would have reminded him that the former president was slow in making up his mind about Prof Barth Nnaji’s conflict of interest in the award of operational licenses for electricity generation in 2012. They would also have noted that Jonathan was chastised for waiting for Diezani Alison-Madueke to press him into reluctantly demanding Stella Oduah’s resignation in 2013 for the bullet-proof BMWs saga. As Minister of Finance, Ms Adeosun is unarguably of much influence to the present administration as Nnaji and Oduah were to Jonathan’s and to have let her stay on could produce the same effect on Election Day.
Resignations are rare in Nigerian public service and it is not surprising that when one comes around, it generates much conversation, even sympathy. The standards on integrity are low regardless of the facts of the matter where the person of interest may, in fact, have been culpable. Ms Adeosun will almost be free of any charges relating to her forged certificate, and will quietly slip out of public consciousness as election season heats up. After all, she was simply misadvised and Buhari may be willing to see only innocence. He may be advised to not go the route of President Yar’Adua ordering the arrest of Adenike Grange in February 2008 (before she resigned in March of same year) for not accounting for unspent funds and issues relating to award of contracts, only to see her discharged and acquitted of any wrongdoing by a court in 2009. He may be told that punishing people who come back to contribute to Nigeria may send a wrong message to others who may be as qualified to do so, or that he will be acting to a degree that may not be employed if a (northern) man were involved.
But if Ms Adeosun resigned on her own without coercion, as she wants to be understood in the letter likely to be her last public statement, then unlike Nnaji, Oduah and Grange before her, she admits wrongdoing. And what is the consequence of wrongdoing in a nation of laws under the dispensation of an anti-corruption administration?