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Adeosun: Integrity matters


Kemi Adeosun. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

As the dust gradually settles over the resignation of Mrs. Kemi Adeosun from her position as Minister of Finance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, one of the lessons from the entire saga which must not be lost on all is that public offices are held in trust for the people and their occupants must at all times, over all things, be openly accountable to the people, their employers.

Adeosun’s exit is regrettable but had it come earlier, with the above lesson in mind, greater weight would have been lent to her sense of integrity and she would have earned even wider sympathy. Alas, she curiously kept an undignifying silence, held on for too long and allowed the scandal to practically consume her.

No doubt, Mrs. Adeosun brought her bright, articulate and confident self to her job and she did reasonably well. In the face of distracting shenanigans by major public and private sector players within the Nigerian economic space and the vagaries of the global economy, the country’s economy did not keel over on her watch.The federal tax net was widened with the attendant increase in revenue and she introduced not a few good initiatives that earned her admiration as a steady hand at the exchequer. With sound convictions and the courage to pursue such, she caused some sacred cows, persons and federal institutions, hitherto untouchable, to be queried for infractions against the Nigerian state and for injuries to her economic well being.

Of course, things could have been better – with lower national debt, far more creative deployment of available resources to creating jobs, strengthening the real sector of the economy, expansion of production and hiring more competent hands, generally to contribute more to the nation’s economic performance. But no one can deny her commitment to her job and the fact that she was a star of an administration that parades a phalanx of average characters.

Unfortunately, a certain hubris and tactlessness in handling the matter of her forged service exemption certificate, brought her down.Certainly, there are significant lessons for everyone from the dramatic exit of so promising a public officer. It is a truism that ‘you pay for a short cut in the long run.’  The NYSC law requires that any Nigerian who graduated before the age of 30 anywhere in the world must come home for a compulsory one-year service to the fatherland. It is mandatory, especially for entry into the public service in the country. The service is a creation of law – since 1973.

Whereas her parents are Nigerians, she erroneously averred that she did not acquire the Nigerian passport until she was 34 and, ipso facto, not subject to the NYSC law. Since she was born to Nigerian parents abroad, she and her parents should have known that some day, she could be called to serve her country of origin. And so, her Nigerian roots at birth even outside had implications. That too is a great lesson to parents who have all been aloof from this thing called national service. They should all know now that citizenship comes with responsibility and such must be discharged by all.

The use of largely unscrupulous ‘middlemen,’ commonplace in transactions in Nigeria, prone to higher cost as well as misdirection, as Mrs. Adeosun has unhappily found out, is an ailment all Nigerians must seek to purge themselves of. She apparently did too many things by proxy. She related with the National Youth Service Corps Directorate (NYSC) headquarters not in person but through  third parties, admitting in her resignation letter  that, ‘on the basis  of …advice and with the guidance and assistance of  those I  thought were trusted associates, the NYSC was approached  for documentary proof  of my status. I then received the certificate in question.’  Even so, it is important to ask: Would the former finance minister have done things this way in England from where she came? Certainly, this is very much doubtful in a jurisdiction that places a premium on openness and thoroughness.

There is, however, no question that Nigeria’s institutions of governance have advertised themselves as disgracefully week and their failures at all levels reek throughout this entire sordid matter. The institutions failed her and indeed the nation. First, the NYSC has insisted that certificate of exemption is not directly applied for. The documents submitted to the office by a graduate automatically reveals who qualifies for service or for exemption. So, from where was the exemption certificate in question issued?

What is more sordid, the NYSC admitted receiving Adeosun’s written request for an exemption certificate. As noted in an earlier editorial, did the organisation send a reply to her in writing as she was entitled to? If it did, it should have produced a proof. If it did not, the NYSC failed in its duty to a citizen and deserves to be sanctioned for corporate irresponsibility and dereliction of duty.

Second, the documents presented by Mrs. Adeosun to secure jobs in private and public institutions were, as a convention, vetted and ascertained to be genuine even until she became the minister of finance. Indeed, a sufficiently thorough institution must have gone so far as to claim to have dispatched its officials to confirm the authenticity of some of such certificates from the issuing authorities. Under the NYSC law, employers are required to ascertain that a new employee meets the provisions of the law as failure to do this carries, on conviction, a fine or a jail term.

It is, therefore, a terrible dereliction of duty that none among the vetting security agencies, the state and federal legislatures, the private organisations which ought to have observed the flaws in Adeosun’s document ever did so. Was this a genuine failure to detect or a convenient oversight?  

A case such as this is sufficient to necessitate an overhaul of the specific departments responsible for the authentication of documents. Whatever it is, however, the point is now made for employers of labour to be more diligent not only in scrutinising, but also in independently authenticating the documents of prospective employees. This would save them and their employees the kind of embarrassment that Adeosun has been subjected to: image of corporate shoddiness on the one hand, and personal dishonesty on the other.

Adeosun is not only a victim of her poor judgment; she is also a victim of advisers who misguided her. Her associates, in and outside government, should have advised her to take the honourable path of owning up to the forgery that her NYSC exemption certificate was and resign sooner than several months after the story broke. Her attempt to sit through the matter was a needless courage that has not paid off, after all.

Apart from the Adeosun case, it is on record that this government is having to deal with too many fake certificate-related matters in respect of some of its high officials. This speaks loudly and disastrously about the quality of thoughts over the selection of personnel entrusted to manage the affairs of Nigeria. A system can only be as good as the quality, in character and in competence, of the people that run it. Is it any wonder that the country is in so sorry a state? 

On the whole, the Adeosun saga is a wake-up call on the Federal Government to reform the public service system, already a failure that keeps failing.In this age of the big data, institutions of governance such as the NYSC should have an accessible database that will enable firms and public offices authenticate holders of their certificates and documents.

So, the time has certainly come for the Muhammadu Buhari administration to begin an ‘operation authenticate your certificate’ for all its appointees in public office. Nigeria’s image has taken more than a fair share of bashing all over the world. It can do without the stigma of being led by dodgy characters with fake certificates.For all Nigerians, young and old, the lesson must now be etched on the hearts: In all things, big or small, integrity matters.

In this article:
Kemi Adeosun
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