The fall of Adeosun from the top of the greasy pole of Nigerian politics as a result of something many until now did not consider a serious public offence
When in 2011, her name appeared on the list of nominees for commissioners submitted to the Ogun state House of Assembly by Governor Ibikunle Amosun, one of the questions in the media was: ‘Who is Kemi Adeosun?’ It was not for nothing that such a question was raised. It was a legitimate question asked, perhaps out of curiosity, especially when someone’s name comes into public consciousness for the first time like a silent mystery.
Until then, only Amosun and a handful of others in Ogun state knew her. She had no name recognition, indeed, in a manner of speaking, Kemi Adeosun was an ‘unknown quantity’. But, she proved to be one of the shining stars in Amosun’s cabinet. Everyone who followed her closely as Commissioner of Finance, agreed the governor made the right pick. She initiated policies that made Ogun one of the highest revenue generating states in the country. It was not surprising four years later when her name popped-up again among President Muhammadu Buhari’s list of ministerial nominees presented to the National Assembly in 2015. Even her harshest critics agree she is one of the few honest, high-minded and courageous Ministers in Buhari’s error-prone government.
But how time can change in an era of ‘Change’. After over two months of stonewalling and tight-lipped over allegations that she presented fake certificate of exemption purportedly from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), she threw in the towel last Friday. Wherever she is right now, this must be the most anxious and strangest time in the life of the immediate past Minister of Finance, full of personal humiliation and disgrace.
Whether she is in the United Kingdom – or elsewhere – it must be like living in a nightmare, agonizing over what exactly went wrong that saw her rising star dimmed suddenly. Time may have changed, but the basic moral truth of life remains that nobody wants his or her flourishing public life end in tears as is now the case with Adeosun.
On a larger canvas, the fall of Adeosun from the top of the greasy pole of Nigerian politics as a result of something many until now did not consider a serious public offence, is also a stunning demonstration of our weak public institutions that ought to do an error-proof background checks of every nominee for public office. The failure of our public institutions, including the Directorate of Security Service (DSS) to detect the fake certificate of exemption that she had been parading speaks volumes of the institutions charged for this purpose.
To say this is not to suggest that what she did was excusable. That her “trusted associates” misled her is also not an excuse. Her resignation is the appropriate thing to do. But when all the unknown events that led to her resignation unfold, the most enduring lesson will be: Never neglect to pay serious attention to the little things in your life. As Richard Nixon captured the grim events of Watergate that brought his downfall as President of the United States, it is the little, terrible mistakes you ignore that can bring you down.
Adeosun recognised that much, belatedly though. In her letter of resignation wherein she explained how she got the fake NYSC exemption certificate, a story that was first reported by Premium Times, an Online newspaper, she said her “trusted associates” got her the questionable document, because, according to her, she wasn’t “familiar with the NYSC operation”. She also noted that on her enquiry as to her status relating to NYSC, she was informed that due to her residency, history, and having passed the age of 30, as required by the NYSC Act, she thought she was exempted from the “requirement to serve”.
Until recently, she said that remained her understanding, adding that on the basis of the advice, guidance and assistance of those she thought were credible people, the NYSC was approached for documentary proof of her status, after which she received the certificate that has now become a subject that may criminalise her personal life and haunt her for the rest of her life.
To be fair to Adeosun, hers is a painful story which many people not conversant with how ‘things work’ in Nigeria can become a fall guy. Again, this is not to suggest that she was right to have accepted the exemption certificate without making personal effort all these years to cross check the genuineness of what her “trusted associates”(whoever they may be) obtained for her. Premium Times has accomplished what the DSS could not find.
As Adeosun may have learnt the hard way, she was foolish and should take the shame of her foolishness. I say this with the profoundest respect for her courage and undeniable contributions to our economy, and indeed, standing firm against the dark forces that have held successive governments down. History will be kind to her, but historians maybe not. Let me recall one incident George Stephanopoulos, erstwhile aide of President Bill Clinton highlighted in his memoir: All Too Human, about his own background check. He said, “Judging how the world will judge what you do – how a position will “play” – is an essential political skill. If you can’t predict what will work, you can’t survive in office”. The danger, Stephanopoulos, cautions,” is when you stop caring about the difference between being right and being employed, or fail to notice that you don’t know what the difference is anymore, you can’t achieve what you think is right”.
I am inclined to believe that Adeosun was caught in the high-wired politics of Nigeria, a victim of her own error, exploited by powerful forces on whose toes she had stepped. To survive in Nigerian politics, you don’t follow a natural and easy path. It’s hardball politics. And strangers and newcomers don’t stay long on such greasy pole. Therefore, for me, the fall of Adeosun is a combination of conspiracy and coincidence. With the arsenal of weapons at the disposal of those on whose toes she had stepped, the fake exemption certificate provided a perfect coincidence to deploy their weapons against her. And they hit their target. What are the lessons to be learned from her travails? From now on, Adeosun gate will serve as a vivid reminder to public officials to stay vigilant about the dangers of keeping skeletons in their closets. This is because, as one American politician, James Mann from South Carolina said many years ago, “the next time there may be no watchman in the night”.
There are other high-profile government officials who have committed much more serious infractions but are still sitting pretty tight. This government should deal with such matters. Truth is, if not for intense public pressure, maybe, Adeosun would not have resigned. But leaving the country immediately is where she lost me.