Funmilayo Odude, Legal Practitioner, Damod Law Practice

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Fighting corruption goes hand in hand with accountability 16 Oct 2018

The resignation of the erstwhile Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, over the allegation that she presented a forged Certificate of Exemption from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) for her ministerial screening has generated a lot of debate and controversy. The same forged certificate could have been provided for her screening when she was appointed as Commissioner of Finance in Ogun State.

Not too long after her resignation, Senator Ademola Adeleke, gubernatorial candidate in the Osun State governorship election (which went into a rerun as at the time of writing this article) was also alleged to have presented a forged certificate from the West African Examination Council (WAEC).

The Nigerian Police actively investigated Adeleke’s alleged forgery, visited the Senator’s alma mater, Ede Muslim High School in the process, and even arrested the principal. Following rumours of an impending arrest of the senator just days before the elections were to hold on September 22, President Muhammadu Buhari issued orders to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to desist from the planned arrest.

It was suggested that the President prevented the arrest of Senator Adeleke to forestall accusations of partisanship and bigotry against the security agencies, given that no arrest or prosecution was carried out in the case of Adeosun who practically admitted to the forgery in her resignation letter.

The Buhari administration is currently faced with a similar situation involving the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, who has admitted to not participating in the one-year compulsory NYSC scheme for holders of undergraduate degrees or Higher National Diploma (HND).

In the debate that ensued as to whether or not Adeosun should be prosecuted, a lot of Nigerians were sympathetic towards her. A compelling reason that could be adduced for this disposition is that many of us are willing accomplices in giving and accepting inducements to acquire government-issued documents or process applications.

NYSC certificates, land documents and other papers are often ‘facilitated’ using government agents. But how many of these documents can we vouch for their authenticity, having acquired them through such unofficial processes? This is one of the ills the Presidential Enabling Business Environmental Council (PEBEC) was set up to address. In one of the first Executive Orders issued by then-Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, the government directed certain agencies of government to simplify their application processes, thereby avoiding the need for touts and middlemen.

Whether or not she was forced to resign, the former finance minister has taken the honourable path of resignation. What is the honourable path to be taken by the government? Is accepting her resignation enough? What would it do when it is faced with another official who, rather than resign when an infraction is confirmed to have been committed, choses to make excuses as Adebayo Shittu has done?

The Minister of Communications has made distinctions between his situation and that of Adeosun. In his defence, he said he didn’t present any certificate at all because he didn’t serve. While the scenarios are different, both cases are felonies under the NYSC Act and punishable by a fine of N5,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of three years, or both.

These developments raise an important question about what performance the Buhari administration hopes to record for one of its core campaign agenda – which is the eradication of corruption. The government’s inaction about the incidence of forgery and the criminal evasion of NYSC by members of its administration is a damning indictment on the President.

One of our nation’s core essence is not so much what the private citizens are able to accomplish in spite of their country. It is about what culture the government allows to be institutionalized in the country.

Nigerian brand strategist, Charles O’Tudor once said, “Branding cannot be conjured or invented by mere logos and sloganeering. A brand is built through an internal processing of its brand’s DNA based on empirical research. As a country, we need personal, corporate and institutional reformation to achieve a transformational repositioning of our national brand identity. The internal process is what automatically reflects in the external processes.”

There is grave danger in waiving penalties for crimes committed by public officials who should know better. This debate is not about the person of Kemi Adeosun. This is a golden opportunity for this administration to change an endemic culture of unaccountability. We must not ignore corruption in our daily activities of ‘facilitating’ government-issued licenses and documents just because we have not been successful in prosecuting the looters of millions of dollars from our treasury. Zero-tolerance to corruption should not be amenable to making exception.

Mrs. Adeosun – and the ‘trusted associates’ that she referred to in her resignation letter; Adebayo Shittu and Senator Ademola Adeleke should be investigated and prosecuted where found wanting. If any form of partiality or preferentialism is to be shown at all, let it come in the offer of a plea bargain to prevent the embarrassment and stress of a trial and an offer to pay a fine rather than imprisonment since the options are provided for in the NYSC Act.

Sacking officers who have been found to have contravened the law or committed criminal acts – or accepting their resignations as their employers – is not enough. As the executive arm of government with a mandate to eradicate, or more practically reduce corruption in the country, the Federal Government must go ahead to ensure effective prosecution.

It is pertinent to add that as an employer, the Federal Government itself violated the NYSC Act in the case of the Minister of Communications. Though the government is yet to respond to this situation, it is noteworthy that the NYSC Act places a duty on every prospective employer to demand and obtain from any person who has obtained their first degree, a copy of their NYSC certificate or a copy of their exemption certificate. Such employer must do so before employment and must be ready to produce such certificate upon request to a police officer not below the rank of an Assistant Superintendent of Police.

An issue-based discussion, which Nigerians should be having, would focus on demanding accountability from government officials as a way of strengthening our institutions. The narrative lies with the government and it is its responsibility to spin it to a nationally-desirable outcome.