By Comfort Obi
I don’t know who advised former Minister of Finance, the sassy Mrs Kemi Adeosun, to issue a public statement in celebration of her recent victory at a Federal High Court, Abuja. In her shoes, I wouldn’t do that. To me, the statement was like waking a wild dog from sleep. It drew an unnecessary attention to her. And reminded people of the untidy circumstances which surrounded her resignation from President Muhammadu Buhari’s Cabinet in 2018.
For the period she was Nigeria’s Minister for Finance, I met Adeosun twice. Both times were at stakeholders’ meetings in Lagos to which I was invited. She was not the only member of Buhari’s Cabinet present. There were about five others. But my focus was on her. I had eyes and ears only for her.
Here is why.
I have a lot of admiration for women who are not only beautiful but professionals and brilliant. Adeosun stole my heart on both occasions – just as she stole it the day she was screened by the Senate for her ministerial appointment.
I can still see her as she climbed down the stairs, making her way to the Senate floor to be grilled by Senators. She was young. Beautiful. Classy. And sassy. She wore a skirt that was a little above the knee. As she climbed down, she oozed self- confidence, self-esteem and more. “There is no way anybody would fail this one”, I said to myself. As she took their questions, she did not disappoint. She was in charge. She took charge.
During the two times I met Adeosun, she and her colleagues came to discuss Nigeria. I am terribly bad when it comes to the economy and things that follow it. I hardly understand them. Or how they work. As long as I can put food on the table for my family, and meet-up with the ever present demands of life, the economy is okay.
I hate the big grammar and figures associated with explaining it. I neither have the patience nor the brain for figures and big words. I hardly listen when it comes to that. But not this time.
For the two times Adeosun spoke, I listened. I followed. I understood. And, even contributed by making reasonable comments.
Here are why.
She simplified her presentation. She made it as easy as ABCD. There were no big words. No complicated figures. Her illustrations came from things I could easily relate to, and with. I was, at once, cool and comfortable with everything she said.
My interest in her was to later force me to pay attention to things I ordinary ignored. I began to read business stories, stories that had to do with economy. You can imagine my heartbreak when, excuse this cliché, she ran into stormy waters while in office. I was downcast. As the pressure piled on her, I prayed I would wake up and read that it was all a mistake.
You already know her story. Why she resigned from her high profile job. But for the purpose of this write-up, a brief recap.
Mrs Adeosun, no thanks to those “nosey parkers” who hardly mind their own business, was discovered not to have participated in the mandatory National Youth Service. She is a British citizen, and acquired the Nigerian passport at the age of 34 years.
At the time she graduated in London, she was 22 years old, but she was not a Nigerian citizen. And, obviously, not entitled to the fun that was the NYSC.
It used to be fun. When I participated, I couldn’t wait to do so. I was posted to Bauchi State. And even though my mother of the blessed memory worried about the distance, having lost her husband, my father, a year earlier, I couldn’t wait to leave her clutches. And did I have fun? When I remember our adventures now, my heart skips.
We went to everywhere. We explored. We went to Jos, just for picnics. We went to Kano, just to see the walls of the Emir’s Palace. We went to Maidugiri. A group of us went to Yankari Game Reserve. We just wanted to see the animals. Our excitement was infectious when we saw elephants, lions, tigers, leopards, giraffes, the lot. We were screaming like kids. We ended up spending the night in the chalets there.
That was when Bauchi was Bauchi. That was when North was North. That was when Nigeria was Nigeria. And that was when NYSC was NYSC.
Nigeria has lost its fun. And so has the NYSC programme. Both have become dangerous. Imagine going to the Yankari Game Reserve now.
Or Kano and Maiduguri, just for the fun of it. We would have bandits to answer to.
Nigeria has been reduced to a country of bandits, kidnappers, rogue herdsmen, unknown gunmen, and Boko Haram.
No Region in Nigeria is safer than the other.
Mrs Adeosun missed all that fun. But quite often, the old saying, “East or West, North or South, home is the best”, rings through. In her case, it rang through when she had a need to acquire a Nigerian passport to be able to work in Nigeria after she had worked in London for years. So, at the age of 34, she acquired a Nigerian passport. But to work in any Government establishment, she needed the NYSC certificate, either for participating or for exemption.
Since she was more than 30 years old when she first came home, she needed only an exemption letter from NYSC. She badly needed it, or so she thought, or was meant to believe, when her home State, Ogun, appointed her a Commissioner under the Government of Senator Ibukunle Amosun.
According to her, she applied for an exemption letter. The Management of the NYSC confirmed. One was brought to her. But it turned out it was forged. Meaning it was procured for her from wherever. In our country, that’s easy.
At the notorious Oluwole, Lagos, for example, its two for a kobo. Everything is “forgeable” there. Even Doctorate degrees from any University in the world. You have to give it to those people. They are geniuses. A number of people one sees parading some of those certificates are flaunting fake. They got it from the “University of Oluwole.”
So, Adeosun had one like that. She was deceived. She was promised an Exemption latter, and she got one without asking questions. It happens.
From when the story broke, I always held the view that since she is a British citizen, not a Nigerian citizen, at the time she graduated, she didn’t need the NYSC Exemption letter. My problem was that she had a forged one. That sounded desperate and fraudulent.
However, once she knew the status of the Exemption letter, Mrs Adeosun did the un-Nigerian. She resigned. Nigerians don’t resign from their positions. Examples abound. It doesn’t matter how much humiliation they had been subjected to, they hold tight. They know very soon, nobody will remember. And it continues to be business as usual.
But not Kemi Adeosun.
She followed the footsteps of another exceptional woman – Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, now the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO. When President Olusegun Obasanjo, during his Government, reassigned Okonjo-Iweala from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she quit after a couple of months. That was not her beat. And, before anybody knew anything, she was back to “the world where she belonged.” The day Adeosun resigned from office was the day she left Nigeria.
From then, nothing much was heard of her as such, until she launched her pet project, a Foundation -“The Dash Me Store”, meant to help the less privileged in the society. I was excited.To prove that her dignity and credibility remain undiminished, no less a person than the Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was the Chairman of the event. See, her heart is still in Nigeria.
But last week, she entered our consciousness, again, with a bang. It was a bang to clear her name, and clean up the NYSC mess which put a stain on her, otherwise, glittering life.
Giving judgment in a suit at a Federal High Court, Abuja, which she instituted against the Attorney General of the Federation, Honourable Justice Taiwo Taiwo, gave Adeosun a clean bill. The Judge said she didn’t need an NYSC certificate to serve as a Minister. He said Adeosun was not qualified for the programme because she was over 30 years when she came back to Nigeria.The Judge declared that if she had participated in the programme, she could have broken the law.
I was happy for her. But I kept saying to myself that for many people, her qualification to serve, or not to serve, was not the main issue. The issue was the criminal aspect of that business – forgery. But I was happy to ignore it. I prayed other people would too. In heart of hearts, as the saying goes, I knew she couldn’t have endorsed forgery. She seems too polished for that. One smart Alec, capable of selling ice blocks in the Artic region simply deceived. A smooth operator. But I was surprised when Adeosun drew attention to herself, and to her aborted Ministerial journey to Nigeria.
She took to a celebration. Sure, why not? But I expected her to celebrate quietly. With her family and friends. But no. She went public. And mispoke, perhaps, in relief and excitement.
Mrs Adeosun issued a statement, and said she has been vindicated. She said she always held the view that she didn’t need the NYSC certificate to serve. She said her battle was for all Nigerians in the Diaspora. Well?
Actually, my view, recently, is that those of them who studied abroad should be given the choice of taking part in the NYSC programme or not. For them, it should not be compulsory, especially when they had passed the age of the service, like in Adeosun’s case.
But Adeosun did not stop there. She crossed the boundary. She threatened to sue. She said she would sue those who put her through the trauma she went through. Part of her statement read: “I wish to add, in the light of the Court’s ruling, I will at the appropriate time, and without hesitation, take all further steps necessary within the law to protect my reputation.”
This was where Adeosun lost me. I thought the Court had done that for her already, without bringing up the forgery aspect.
I have been asking myself since then who she would sue to protect her reputation. The person(s) who blew the whistle? The Media House which investigated, found it to be true, and published it? The Federal Government? Or who?
She found a strong support in the Pan Yoruba Socio-political Organisation in Canada and the United States. In a statement it issued, signed by its President and Secretary, Engr. Babatunde Shinaba and Dr Durojaiye Akinduri, respectively, the Organisation asked the FG to apologise to Adeosun. The question are: for what? Over what For? For her resignation? I’m not so sure anybody forced her to resign. Seeing the untidiness of the situation, she took the wise and appropriate decision to resign.
For the records, the Court which gave her a clean bill did not touch the forgery aspect of what pushed her to resign. No Court has touched that yet. My hope is that no Court should be asked to do so.
If Adeosun is looking for those to sue, I will give her a list. Number one on that list is the person who procured the forged exemption certificate for her. Number two is the person who forged it. Number three is the “Oluwole company” where it was forged. I am surprised nobody has taken anybody to task on those. Who forged that Exemption Certificate and gave it to her. I’m sure she knows who.
I have an unsolicited advice for Mrs Adeosun. She should let sleeping dogs stay asleep. She should not wake them up. And, she should not, but I guess she already knows, think of accepting any Government appointment in Nigeria.
Knowing Nigerians, and how “wisened-up” we have become, she will always be reminded that her NYSC exemption certificate was forged. That, really, is the crux of the matter.