The Presidency on Tuesday distanced itself from the comments made by Itse Sagay, chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) on allegations of certificate forgery leveled against the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun.
Femi Adesina, spokesperson to President Muhammadu Buhari, made the clarification while appearing on Channels Television breakfast show, Sunrise Daily, Tuesday. More than 50 days after the scandal broke out, Mr Adesina also claimed that the Nigerian government is not silent on the allegations.
In July, PREMIUM TIMES exposed how Mrs Adeosun skipped the mandatory national service for all Nigerians who graduated from universities or equivalent institutions at less than 30 years of age. The investigation also revealed that Mrs Adeosun presented a fake exemption certificate to cover her track.
In addition to being a requirement for government and private sector jobs in Nigeria, the enabling law prescribes punishment for anyone who absconds from the scheme or forges its certificates. Eligible Nigerians who skipped the service are liable to be sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and/or N2,000 fine, according to Section 13 of the NYSC law. Section 13 (3) of the law also prescribes three-year jail term or option of N5,000 fine for anyone who contravenes provision of the law as Mrs Adeosun has done.
The revelation elicited a public outrage from Nigerians, with the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, a nongovernmental organisation, petitioning the police inspector general demanding an investigation into the claims against the minister.
More than 50 days after the scandal broke, neither Mrs Adeosun nor the Nigerian government has reacted to the development.
But Itse Sagay, chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) had on August 9 said the minister should not be sacked because she is “damn good”. Although he clarified that the position was entirely his, Mr Sagay, a law professor, also said it is irrelevant if Mrs Adeosun didn’t observe the mandatory youth service.
“I’m telling you now. If you ask me – If I were President Buhari, I would never, ever touch that woman because she’s damn good,” he said. “The enemies of this government want to reduce his capacity to provide good governance by engaging in social media attacks and trying to get rid of her. It will not work.”
But Mr Adesina, speaking on Tuesday, explained that Mr Sagay’s comments were his personal opinion and not the stance of the president.
“It was a personal comment, that is not the position of the Government and Professor Sagay has a right to his opinion,” Mr Adesina said. “No, no… It will not be down the alley of Professor Sagay to advise on that matter because it is not a corruption matter, so to speak.”
The presidential aide also argued that the Nigerian government is not silent on the issue.
He said: “Then to the second part of your question: you used the word silence; that can’t be right. Silence means you say nothing. Hasn’t government spoken a couple of times?
“Of course, NYSC has spoken, it’s an agency of government, saying it is investigating. The minister of information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has spoken a couple of times on this matter. So I wouldn’t call that silence.”
When probed on why it is taking the government and its agency, the NYSC, that long to come out with a position on the issue, he said, “(It is) Not how long but how well, and that wouldn’t qualify as silence… I am sure NYSC also has a spokesperson that you can follow up with.”
Mr Adesina’s comment is coming more than a month after the scandal broke without any definite reaction from the Nigerian government. It is unclear why the government, which prides itself as anti-graft, has not done anything over the matter. Similarly, it is also not clear why the NYSC has remained mute over the issue.
The corps only response was a terse statement on July 9 saying that it would investigate the claims. Nothing has been heard of the matter ever since.
Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, told reporters in July that he would not add anything to the terse response given by the NYSC.
Two weeks ago, a civic group, the Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) sued the NYSC over its failure to disclose details of the certificate paraded by the minister. The group had earlier made a freedom of information request to the NYSC which the agency refused to honour.
Last Sunday, exactly 50 days after the scandal broke, many Nigerians took to their social media platforms to condemn the silence of the minister, the Nigerian government and other affected parties.
Yemi Adamolekun, executive director of Nigerian civic group, Enough Is Enough, said they are trying to ensure that the story doesn’t go away by making sure it remains on the front burner.
“50 days later, there’s been no response either from the minister or the government, which basically means you either get over it or you forget it,” Ms Adamolekun told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview.
“The main thing is the impunity of it, that government had been asked to address the fact that a serving minister did not fulfill the requirement to be a minister of the country and there has been no response.”