IN the past three weeks, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, has been in the eye of the storm over the allegation that she submitted a forged National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate to the National Assembly during her confirmation as minister. According to an exclusive story published by a leading online newspaper, Premium Times, Adeosun did not participate in the mandatory one-year national youth service scheme, a programme mandated by law for all Nigerians who graduate from universities or equivalent institutions before age 30, instead opting to forge an exemption certificate purportedly issued in September 2009. The paper further alleged that some members of the National Assembly, apprised of the alleged forgery, had used the information to advantage by causing the minister to grant them series of illegal largesse.
Going by her curriculum vitae, the former Miss Folakemi Oguntomoju graduated from the Polytechnic of East London in 1989 at age 22, having been born in 1967. Prior to her appointment as minister in November 2015, she had worked in a string of private companies and also served the Ogun State government as Commissioner of Finance. But going by the provisions of Section 13 of the NYSC law, eligible Nigerians who skip the NYSC scheme are liable to 12 months imprisonment and/or N2,000 fine, while anyone who illegally obtains the NYSC certificate risks three years imprisonment. Thus, having graduated at 22 and with no record of service in the military or paramilitary agencies for a period not less than nine months, Mrs. Adeosun could not have been qualified for an exemption certificate.
Surprisingly, however, apart from a cryptic statement indicating that it stood by the NYSC’s position that the Finance Minister indeed applied for an exemption certificate, the Federal Government has consistently refused to address the issue. On her part, the minister has maintained disturbing silence, refusing to provide Nigerians with any explanation on the matter, regardless of the fact that her integrity and that of the administration in which she holds a key position are at stake. Certainly, silence cannot be golden in this case because she is in charge of public funds. Surely, the minister is not unaware of the outcry by concerned Nigerians over the issue? Or is she keeping quiet in the hope that the scandal in which she is currently embroiled will go away with time, as the nation confronts very serious existential crises?
By any standards, the minister’s conduct is utterly reprehensible. An allegation of certificate forgery is not a matter that anyone, let alone the Minister of Finance, can keep quiet about. Mrs. Adeosun’s silence amounts to contempt for the Nigerian public on whose behalf she is occupying public office, and it is tragic, to say the least. But more fundamentally, the attitude of the Federal Government to the certificate scandal is obnoxious.Pray, how does the government hope to persuade Nigerians that its anti-corruption mantra is not a hoax when it has failed to decisively address such a weighty allegation as certificate forgery? The government stated that it stood by what the NYSC said, but the NYSC only indicated that the minister applied for an exemption certificate, and nothing more. Why is the government seemingly uninterested in finding out if the NYSC indeed issued the minister an exemption certificate, and on what grounds?
If the NYSC has nothing to hide, it should have come out with a comprehensive statement on the certificate saga by now. That it has failed to do so up till now is disturbing, but it should not task the patience of the Nigerian public any further. The task before it is no rocket science. In case the government needs any reminding, the matter has to be properly addressed, if only because of the far-reaching implications for the country. The country is bigger than the government of the day and will remain long after it is gone. Besides, public trust and confidence are among the fundamental issues at stake. A government that has not earned the trust of its people is no government. Clearly in this case, there are the overarching questions of moral burden and integrity. Let the truth be told.