I had planned to devote my column today to paying tributes to two great Nigerians of the same generation: Alhaji Adamu Ciroma who died last week at 84 and Prof. Wande Abimbola, who recently marked his 85th birthday. But against the background that Nigerians are unwittingly being told that it doesn’t matter if those who preside over our affairs break the law to secure personal advantage—the ultimate corruption—I am sure my readers will also want me to wade in on a vexatious issue that will not go away no matter the underhand dealings going on in Abuja to cover the scandal. We will come to that shortly.
In the late Ciroma we lost a national icon. Although I had known him from distance, having covered the transition to civil rule programme of General Ibrahim Babangida in which he was a major actor, my association with him started following a column I did in 2003 or thereabout where I illustrated my point with the story in Prof Kole Omotosho’s book, ‘Just Before Dawn’ on how he (Ciroma) was appointed Central Bank Governor (CBN) by ‘mistake’. That day, I got a call from a distinctive voice I couldn’t immediately place. “Segun, I am surprised and disappointed that even you would rely on a work of fiction to base your argument.”
Without being presumptuous, I asked, “Who is speaking please?” to which came the reply: “My name is Adamu Ciroma”. He took time to explain the circumstances that led to his appointment as CBN Governor from New Nigeria Newspaper on the same day Alhaji Aliko Mohammed, a chartered accountant, was appointed Daily Times Managing Director. The late Ciroma said it was just a coincidence as he had been a member of the CBN Board prior to his elevation to becoming governor. I believed him.
In subsequent years, I would have several opportunities to interact with Ciroma whose daughter, Fatima, happens to be my very good friend. But what endeared Ciroma to me is that for him, and incidentally many members of his generation, material things count for little. For instance, Ciroma was appointed the pioneer editor of the New Nigeria Newspaper at age 31 in 1966, became its Managing Director at age 35 in 1969 and was appointed CBN Governor in 1975 at age 40 (the youngest Nigerian ever to hold that position which he voluntarily resigned two years later to contest for the membership of the Second Republic Constituent Assembly). Ciroma was also a member of the federal executive council, manning different portfolios between 1979 and 1983—all of these before the age of 50!
Despite occupying such important public offices which in the parlance of today would be deemed very ‘juicy’, Ciroma never allowed the trappings to affect him as he lived a disciplined life that was devoid of any scandal. He was to the very end of his life a very simple and contented man and we don’t breed many of them in Nigeria today. Meanwhile, as I was reflecting on Ciroma’s life and times last week, I got a mail from Harvard Professor, Jacob Olupona, containing a tribute he wrote on the former Obafemi Awolowo University Vice Chancellor, Professor Wande Abimbola, who recently turned 85.
Abimbola, Senate Majority Leader in the ill-fated Third Republic, once shared an experience which sheds light on how public expectations impact negatively on politics and governance in Nigeria and tells of his own character. “…I had two Mercedes Benz cars that were at home for 15 years before I gave them out. I was using taxis to go out. I went to Lagos twice in Danfo (commercial bus) as a Senator. On one occasion, I sat in the front seat. In the bus, people were talking about me. They said that I went to Abuja and I returned a poor man, taking taxis each time I went out. When the bus stopped, I looked back and greeted them. I introduced myself to them and they were shocked. The people make the politicians thieves. I don’t cherish material things. My father built the house I live in 1918 after he returned from the World War. I only built more houses in the compound to be comfortable. That is all I have.”
Born and raised in the tradition of ‘Orisa’, Abimbola is one of the greatest scholars in Yoruba culture and traditional religions and he is also of the old school—the vanishing clan of Nigerians for whom public service is about making a difference in the lives of others without self-enrichment. Incidentally, as Vice Chancellor at Ife in the eighties, there were insinuations that Abimbola was deploying his knowledge of Ifa to remote-control the campus and while there may be no evidence to prove such things, there was no doubt that the students loved him. The popular song on campus whenever he needed to address us in those days was, ‘Babalawo mo wa bebe, alugbinrin’.
The song itself comes from one of those moonlight tales for which the tortoise is the protagonist. But it also has a moral side which speaks to two issues: One, the choices we make as individuals have consequences and two, there are ethical mores that guide every society which, once broken, would attract severe strictures. In so many ways, that tortoise song provides an understanding of the scandal involving the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun for which neither she nor those who gave her the position of trust can afford to keep silent, especially against the background that this administration is already notorious for punishing bad behavior only when it concerns the opposition.
To put into proper context that tortoise song, ‘Babalawo mo wa bebe, alugbinrin’ and the embedded message therein, I enjoin readers to Google Pius Adesanmi’s November 2012 seminal lecture, ‘Reparations: What Nigeria Owes the Tortoise’ which interrogated the complex tortoise persona and the greed that pushed him into eating a preparation (‘aseje’) meant for his wife, before he had to make the supplication in that famous song. Although Adesanmi used the tale to illustrate the ‘Banana fall on me’ greed that defines public office in Nigeria today, we can also look at it from the context of the consequences that follow when those who ordinarily should uphold the law willfully break it, since the ethics of a functioning society are embedded in the ideals by which members would be held accountable to ensure social harmony.
According to an investigative story published by Premium Times last weekend, Mrs Adeosun graduated at age 22 in the United Kingdom where she was born. But to work in Nigeria as a Nigerian, anybody who had their first degree before age 30 must undertake the compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme. Apparently to get around that problem, Mrs Adeosun in September 2009 procured what the newspaper says is a forged NYSC certificate of exemption. Also, according to the Premium Times story, members of the Senate were well aware of her predicament at the confirmation hearing but chose to look the other way by deploying the information (of her alleged forgery) as an instrument of blackmail.
Five days after the publication, Mrs Adeosun is yet to defend her integrity. There has also been no word from the Senate on that very damaging allegation to its leadership and the legislative institution in Nigeria. For a matter that borders on criminality, you expect the authorities to wade in but this is an administration that finds it difficult to do the right thing when one of its own is involved. We saw it with the manner in which ‘Mr Grass-cutter’ was defended and protected by the presidency until the issue became almost an international embarrassment. Now, some hired guns in the media are obfuscating the real issue with their preachments: Nobody is querying the competence of Mrs Adeosun, the question is: did she forge her NYSC certificate without which she could never have been appointed a Minister in the first place?
What most people find rather disturbing about the Buhari administration is its selective approach to morality. Unfortunately, when a government allows its friends and allies to make justifications for their wrongdoings, bend rules to suit predetermined ends and excuse egregious unethical behaviour from those who ordinarily should be held to the highest standards, any claim to fighting corruption is but a big joke. And that is where the Buhari administration is today, regardless of all the pretences and deceits. The question that should worry critical stakeholders therefore is: If the Finance Minister of a country could forge a certificate, as being alleged, what else would she not forge?
As things stand, Mrs Adeosun has a moral burden which is ordinarily easy to discharge. The fair assumption would be that she indeed obtained exemption from the NYSC scheme and that the certificate in her possession is in fact genuine. We are waiting for her. For the Buhari administration, this is the time to prove wrong the assumption that those in the inner circle can get away with any crimes. But the hedging by the NYSC and Mrs Adeosun’s prolonged silence on the matter point to the ugly conclusion that both parties are hiding something from the public.
On the whole, the Adeosun NYSC saga raises many important issues. The first is the tardiness in pre-appointment screening by relevant security agencies, despite all the drama that usually attended the exercise. The second is the question of fit and proper persons to occupy public offices as a matter of deliberate state policy in our country. The third is the place of individual integrity in the anti-corruption scheme of the current administration, given the number of senior officials alleged to be parading dodgy credentials. The fourth is the question as to whether political loyalty should override transparency in the assessment and tenure of senior public officials.
On the matter at hand, Mrs Adeosun is not qualified for NYSC exemption certificate so there is a problem if she indeed got the one displayed by Premium Times. If she got it in error, her position still remains untenable. A good test for her: If this happened in the United Kingdom, where she was born and grew up, would she still be on her seat as Finance Minister? Finally, at the level of individual morality, public decency should dictate that when otherwise good people are found wanting, the only path of honour is to take responsibility and spare the system of needless stress.
Fayemi for Ekiti
I am not from Ekiti so it can be easily argued that I am not a stakeholder in the gubernatorial election that will hold in the state on Saturday. But as a firm believer in good governance, especially one that will advance the interest of the people, I am rooting for Dr Kayode Fayemi to win. If our society is to advance, governance should be based on the interplay of ideas and the promotion of public good. And I can attest to the fact that in his first term as governor of Ekiti State, Fayemi demonstrated that. What he failed to understand was the operating environment and how local politics can make or mar even the best of ideals. I hope he has learnt his lessons. I wish him success at the poll on Saturday.
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