Several civil society activists on Sunday criticised the Nigerian government for its continued silence on the certificate forgery scandal involving the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun.
The activists who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said the government’s response has exposed its “actual commitment” to the fight against corruption.
PREMIUM TIMES on July 7 exposed how Mrs Adeosun, who was appointed in 2015, obtained a forged National Youth Service Corps Exemption Certificate.
Some Nigerians, including the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, had called for the sack or resignation of Mrs Adesoun.
More than one week after the scandal broke, the minister in the eye of the storm has refused to respond to the allegations.
And the Nigerian government continues to maintain that it “had nothing to add” after the NYSC last Monday issued a vague, 49-word statement saying it would “investigate the origin of the purported Exemption Certificate in question.”
‘A psychological climate’
On Sunday, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project urged Mrs Adeosun to “without further delay show responsibility and clear the air over the damaging certificate forgery allegations against her and settle the facts of the case once and for all.”
According to SERAP, suspicions of certificate forgery involving a senior member of the government if not urgently and satisfactorily addressed would weaken public trust in the government’s oft-expressed commitment to transparency and accountability.
“Clarifying the allegations of certificate forgery would show a commitment to doing the right thing, and a natural disposition toward openness,” the group said in a statement by its deputy director, Timothy Adewale.
“The continuing failure and/or refusal to speak to Nigerians on these allegations amounts to a betrayal of public trust. If she can show the courage to clear the air on the allegations, Mrs Adeosun can be a strong promoter of the values of transparency and accountability, something which the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has regularly expressed commitment to embrace and achieve.”
Mr Adewale said the failure to address the allegations could create public anger and lead to accusations of a cover-up.
“The public can become passive and cynical if it believes that people in a position of public trust are out for themselves,” he said.
“It is the core responsibility of any senior public official to prevent that cynicism. When those in position of public trust refuse to speak up on allegations bordering on certificate forgery, it invariably creates a psychological climate, a moral culture in which citizens are more likely to embrace illegal actions and choose to undertake them.”
Lanre Suraj, the chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, said the minister’s silence is an admission of guilt.
“It also tells you there is a whole plan already going on both within the government – at least you can see by extension that the government is culpable as far as it is – to try and find a way to either manipulate the whole situation or cover up the whole mess or possibly consulting legal persons who can give the government some legal excuses or escapes for the lady under the current circumstances.
“It is clear the fact that she is guilty as she is already charged. It is clear that the government as it is is also shameless in condoning people with such shady character and background. It is also undermining the whole integrity of the whole system and the government.”
Mr Suraj said it is a “major blight” to the federal government’s anti-corruption efforts that a person with the status of the finance minister would be connected with any form of forgery and perjury as well and also manipulation of documents.
“Beyond the shores of this country, the international community will be watching and observing how the government will respond to this situation and I’m sure by now they would have been disappointed by the failure of the government to respond to this issue or to come out with an official statement under the circumstances.
“As a matter of fact, those holding the government in high esteem will definitely also be reducing that respect based on how they have handled this issue and I don’t think the government will be able to follow the backlash that will follow.”
Abiodun Aremu, the secretary of the Joint Action Front, said the scandal has exposed the “hypocrisy and the deception of a regime that has nothing to offer.”
“The lesson is that the real change that the Nigerian people requires can only come through their own concerted efforts,” Mr Aremu said.
“We need to shrug off this question of election every four years because what is clear is that the country has been sold to one-chance of irresponsible office holders and it’s time that people learn the lesson of not being fooled all the time. Nigerians are now turning to be fooled all the time and it is important to take that lesson very serious.”
Reacting to the scandal, Monday Ubani, a vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association, said the incident shows manifestly that there is something fundamentally wrong about the certificate itself if the owner of the certificate had not spoken for almost a week after the news broke out.
“If you are a public officer and there is an allegation concerning something that you have and up till now you have kept very mute about it, to me it speaks volumes and it’s not normal,” said Mr Ubani, a former chairman of the Ikeja chapter of the NBA.
“It’s clearly strange and the eyes of the world are on the government of Buhari, he actually told Nigerians that he is here to fight corruption and fight all manner of ill behaviours that have kept us a nation retarded.”
In the wake of the allegations against the finance minister, several former top officials of the NYSC, including a past director-general, had maintained that the corps couldn’t have issued an exemption certificate to a graduate who was below the age of 30 upon graduation.
Some supporters of the minister have, however, claimed that her silence could be due to the fact that she’s still consulting with her lawyers for an appropriate response.
But Mr Ubani said a response that had been delayed for more than week tells that there is more to the situation than meets the eyes.
“Because consulting with a lawyer over a matter about how you obtained a certificate, she should be aware how she got the certificate, that they gave it to her and she couldn’t have forged it, that would simply shift the burden to NYSC.
“Up till now, it has taken almost one week to consult a lawyer, so something is fundamentally wrong with the matter itself.
“What I would have expected by now is that in the light of this allegation against a very top government official and especially for a government that has this credibility and toga of being against corruption in all forms is to set up a two- or three-man committee to investigate and report back to the president.
“Just like what the president did – even though it was belated – in this issue of Ikoyigate scandal. A committee was set headed by the vice president and a timeline was given within which to report to the president. Maybe on the side of the side of the government they don’t think it’s a moral burden or it is anything worth responding to.”
Malachy Ugwummady, the chairman of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, said the conspiracy of silence from both the NYSC and the alleged perpetrator of the offence has heigthened the curiosity of the Nigerian people regarding what may have happened.
“It is very intriguing, I must say, that this has affected a serving minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and therefore we watch very closely to see how the government of the APC led by President Muhammadu Buhari who is reputed to not just be transparent and upright but who will not tolerate certain levels of transgressions within his own rank,” Mr Ugwummadu, a lawyer, said.
“We watch closely to see not just how it is resolved but the time within which this is settled. So far, there has not been disputation of the allegations, the allegations are clear.
“One would have imagined that if there are contrary provisions or versions of the story, by now we would have heard it. Because we knew the spirited efforts that the same minister had put across on virtually every issue that has affected her ministry. Now that this one is affecting her personality, we are a bit surprised, indeed taken aback, that no comment has been made and therefore we are watching.”
A Nigerian academic and scholar, Farooq Kperogi, said the entire scandal has put a question mark on Mr Buhari’s integrity.
“Any person who is possessed with proclaiming his ‘integrity’ at the slightest opportunity but won’t investigate, much less fire, shady characters he has appointed to work with – and for – him can’t possibly be truly a person of integrity,” Mr Kperogi, an associate professor, wrote in his latest column, ‘Notes from Atlanta’, published on Daily Trust newspaper.
“From PTF to The Buhari Organisation, Buhari has consistently protected corrupt close aides from the consequences of their ethical and legal infractions.”
According to Mr Kpeogi, the presidency’s “shame-faced silence” over the minister’s certificate scandal has added to a long list of tolerance, by the president, of questionable characters in his government.
“This attitude of mollycoddling corrupt but loyal aides and appointees while pretending to be a man of ‘integrity’ who is ‘fighting corruption’ is getting worse by the day and indicates that, in spite of self-righteous declarations to the contrary, Buhari is himself indistinguishable from his crooked cronies.”