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Lessons From Adeosungate – By Reuben Abati

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Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance (2015-2018), Kemi Adeosun threw in her letter of resignation on Friday, September 14, to bring to a temporary closure, the public outcry and the embarrassment that her possession of a fake National Youth Service Corps Exemption Certificate had generated since July, when it was first reported. Her letter of resignation in which she blames “trusted associates” for the mishap and explains her innocence, reads like the abstract of a future memoir in which she is likely to do her utmost best to ensure that her non-participation in the NYSC scheme does not become the defining marker of her public service career. She will, of course, in that book do the damage control of telling us that she was a victim of many conspiracies, the breach of trust, and the mischief of a sensitive and heavily politicised Nigerian public, seeking to hurt a holier-than-thou government as it seeks a second term in office.

I have no doubts that Kemi Adeosun was eventually pushed. Since the matter hit the headlines, she had been studiously silent. But her employers having seen that the NYSC scandal may be used against President Buhari during election season, she must have been advised to tender her letter of resignation. No political leader can willingly risk the cost of a serious collateral damage in an election year. It would not have been in President Buhari’s best interest to take the bullet for his own minister. It must also have been painful for President Buhari to let her go. Out of his entire collection of faceless, impact-less and colourless ministers, Adeosun was one of the very few whose name and face many Nigerians could recognise, and who could be given some marks for effort and commitment.

Often compared unfairly and sometimes unnecessarily with her more celebrated predecessor, Adeosun could not be accused of sleeping on the job. Under her watch, the federal government established an Efficiency Unit (E-Unit) in the last quarter of 2015, to monitor the ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDAs) in order to check wastage and leakages. There was also the initiative on continuous audit, the introduction of a whistleblower policy, the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, a more rigorous insistence on the use of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), and the decision on financial bail-outs for ailing states. These initiatives may not have produced a robust or healthy economy, due to macroeconomic distortions or what the HSBC has identified as “fiscal fault lines’ in the Nigerian economy. Adeosun also borrowed rather heavily, leaving the country with large indebtedness, a choice she defended as the best option out of corrosive recession.

In the course of her work, Adeosun also showed a determination to step on toes, taking on powerful figures and departments such as the leadership of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for the opaque manner in which those institutions were being run. She further threatened tax defaulters with prosecution, and spoke openly about building a data base of the asset of the wealthy, their failure to pay tax as due, and bringing them to justice. Adeosun apparently has lost out in the power game. Her lack of a proper NYSC certificate is her Achilles’s heel. Entrenched interest and groups in Nigeria, as elsewhere, take the power game seriously. There had been whispers about Adeosun’s NYSC certificate. The matter was unearthed to checkmate her. Is she guilty? Yes. The only innocent party is the media house, PREMIUM TIMES, which saw in this an opportunity for investigative journalism and chose to do its work as watchdog. Kudos to PREMIUM TIMES for the determination with which it pursued the story. There are lessons here for all of us, in whom may reside a “Kemi Adeosun.” There is indeed a “Kemi Adeosun” in all of us.

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The bone of contention is her non-participation in the NYSC, her non-entitlement to an ex

The third issue is that of certificate. Nigerians are very emotional about certificates. The country is blessed with so many educated persons, holding a file-load of certificates. When they hear that someone is holding a fake certificate, even if it is that of the NYSC, they become completely hysterical. Kemi Adeosun is not the first highly-placed person to lose her position to a certificate controversy. Her own case is unfortunate because she got into trouble, not because of her academic qualifications, but because of NYSC certificate, which some of her sympathisers claim should not be such a big deal. But the emotional attitude out there is: How can I go through NYSC and they will go and make someone who did not, a minister? Meanwhile, there would most likely be thousands of Nigerians out there who either did not participate in the NYSC or are also holding fake or original exemption certificates that they do not qualify for. Adeosun has used that same certificate as a company executive in Nigeria, as a commissioner in Ogun State and would have survived with it as minister, if someone did not blow a whistle. This is ironic considering that she was the chief promoter of the whistle-blowing policy. Lesson: Always double-check your certificates. You never know.

The fourth issue is that of trust. One of the points in Adeosun’s letter of resignation is that she was misled by a “trusted associate”. This may not be a strong point when deconstructed, more so as the NYSC exemption Certificate can only be collected in person and not by proxy. But is it not the case that many of us in Nigeria rely on others to help us sort out a lot of paper work? I don’t know any big man or woman in Nigeria who would go personally to a vehicle licensing office to renew vehicle papers. Or to the tax office to update tax certificates. If it were possible to send a personal assistant to obtain a voter’s card, our big men and women would gladly do so, but they do this by themselves because of biometrics. Perhaps if Adeosun had personally gone to the NYSC office herself at the time she wanted an Exemption Certificate, she would have been able to make necessary enquiries and be properly guided. This should be a lesson to all well-placed persons. There are very few trustworthy aides in Nigeria: drivers cheat, housemaids steal, assistants tell lies, gatemen are often absent-minded, security men sleep on duty, they drive you crazy all the time, and when they mess up, everyone holds you liable. You are told you cannot offer any excuses. “The big man syndrome” comes with its own risks. Stop being big, take charge of your own affairs.

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The fifth point to be made is about the power game that I referred to earlier. No matter how conscientious you may be as a public official, there will always be persons who are seeking your downfall. They may not like your style, or they may simply want your job, or they are aggrieved that the job was given to you. If you are a powerful minister or the architect of policies that they consider unfriendly, you could become the target of an established “Pull-Him-Down-Syndrome”, which is the easiest way to destroy anybody seeking to raise his or her head in Nigeria. Whoever blew the whistle on Kemi Adeosun has succeeded in pulling her down.

Power brokers do not moralise; they take advantage of every situation. Remember Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. As Nigeria’s minister of finance under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, the moment Okonjo-Iweala led the administrator’s efforts to reform the downstream sector of the oil and gas sector, and the oil subsidy regime, her 82-year old mother was kidnapped and Iweala was asked to resign as minister of finance by the kidnappers. She has told her story in a book titled Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines. Kemi Adeosun may not be able to make the same claims, because the whistle-blower correctly identified her Achilles’ heel and put her on the spot. The lesson here is that

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