By Uji Abdullahi Iliyasu
Recently the Federal High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, acquitted former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, who in 2018, resigned her appointment following an allegation of forgery of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate, needed to qualify her for appointment in public office.
For many Nigerians, the case had been out of legal files when she had chosen the honourable path and resigned, until recently when she refused to let a sleeping dog lie. Will the dog now bite?
The Adeosun acquittal by the Abuja High Court judge looks, to a layman, a mockery of the Nigeria’s justice system. If the Adeosun case is not well handled, it will set in motion legal infractions that will weaken the NYSC as an institution.
In 2015 when she was appointed Minister of Finance, there were many qualified, patriotic Nigerians with higher certificates and probably more experience (that could be drawn from university communities or among technocrats), but among the mob of candidates for the office, she was picked to steer Nigeria to economic development. Alas, her promising contribution to national growth and development was thwarted by avoidable circumstances.
Many Nigerians will surely view her as a child who refused to do domestic chores in the family, but when the food is ready, she sits before everybody else on the table. But public opinion is different from opinions in statutory books.
Question, at the time Adeosun took the appointment was she still British? And what law says a British citizen is above the laws of Nigeria? If the national service was not compulsory for her when she was a British citizen, why was she desperate to obtain the revered certificate of national service from questionable source as she admitted in her resignation letter.
In her resignation letter on September 14, 2018, she stated, “I have, today, become privy to the findings of the investigation into the allegation made in an online medium that the Certificate of Exemption from National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) that I had presented was not genuine. This has come as a shock to me and I believe that in line with this administration’s focus on integrity, I must do the honourable thing and resign.”
Was Adeosun begged to come to Nigeria to take up the appointment on contract basis? Why would the Attorney-General of the Federation, who is the sole defendant in her case, hold her only for eligibility for national service and overlooked the other side of her story?
The judge said the law is not Father Christmas to delve into what was not in the case file. Probably what the former minister had done is not criminal in the eyes of the law, even though she had confessed in her resignation letter that she was not aware the exemption certificate was not genuine.. But ignorance was no excuse before the law.
The offices of AGF or NYSC have a job at hand. She had sought justice in a court of law and got it. Nigerians are waiting to see if the judgment will stand. Her case will decide the desirability of NYSC programme now and in the future.
If the law is blind and this case is allowed to lie low, who will the law now hold for evading or using the national service certificate that is not genuine?
Before Adeosun’s case, in July 2019, Supreme Court sacked a House of Representatives member from Adamawa state, for non-participation in the national service.
Is Adeosun’s case different? Her own case, to many, is even more grievous. Authorities concerned should pursue the case to the Supreme Court for clearer interpretation in order to set precedence and to avoid miscarriage of justice now or in the future. I might be wrong, but methinks those who want NYSC discontinued are the one manifesting in the Adeosun case.
However, it is hard to blame the court for the judgement in Adeosun’s favour. Mr Taiwo Taiwo ruled that the issue of questionable exemption certificate was not part of the suit filed by the former minister, of which the Attorney-General of the Federation was the sole defendant. The judge also noted that the AGF, in hiscounter-affidavit, did not challenge the prayer of the plaintiff.
“I am of the view that denying the plaintiff of the relieves sought is not going to be doing justice to the matter,” the judge said.
According to reports, President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha, to investigate Mrs Adeosun’s NYSC exemption certificate scandal.
Mustapha wrote to the NYSC authorities and got a response that Mrs Adeosun’s certificate was indeed not genuine.
A lawyer, Mr Effiong, in his remarks during a TV interview, said, “I do not see the judgement of the Federal High Court as a vindication because what led to her resignation was the allegation of forgery which she has not been tried for,” So what are the authorities concerned waiting for? Is Adeosun so powerful that the law must bow for her?
“The ruling vindicates me after a very traumatic spell. It is,however, not only a personal victory; it’s also a victory for many Nigerians in the Diaspora under similar conditions who are desirous to serve their country,” the victorious Adeosun said in a statement posted on social media.
Adeosun’s acquittal, is a dangerous precedence for NYSC. Authorities should take the case up to the Supreme Court for justice to be served. If the Supreme court finds she was not a Nigerian during the planting
season, but when the food was ready after harvest, she appeared on the table, she should be punished, and if acquitted, FG should apologise to her and reinstate her to her former duty post.
Uji, a commentator on national issues, writes from Abuja