By Bola A. Akinterinwa
Nigeria is an extraordinary country. Extraordinary, because it is specially a terra cognita of unlimited opportunities. It is a land of everything can be tried or experimented. It is also a land of thousands of good Samaritans and thousands of underground men. The most critical challenge for many Nigerians and, particularly the Nigerian State, is the mixture of very transparent indisciplined attitudinal disposition of government officials and the acquiescence of most people of Nigeria. And perhaps more disturbingly, it is very easy for an innocent person to be induced into error and very easy to be labelled a fraudulent person as a result of official remissness. In fact, with the case of Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, it can be rightly posited that ‘there is a ‘Kemi Adeosun’ in most Nigerians, and particularly in the members of the Nigerian elite.’ How do we substantiate this observation?
Let us espy one experience of mine as an opening illustration of the nature of management and conduct of political governance in Nigeria. I served as Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) from November 16, 2010 to November 30, 2015. At the end of four years of the service in 2014, I applied to the Accountant General of the Federation in March 2015 for the payment of the furniture allowance of the second term beginning from December 2014.
As provided in the Public Service Rules in Nigeria, furniture allowance can only be given once in four years. I was given the first furniture allowance in 2011. If after four years, I applied for a fresh furniture allowance, it was perfectly in order. And rightly too, the then Accountant General of the Federation responded to my request by asking me to provide a copy of my Letter of Appointment, which I did. On this basis, and in the strong belief that I was qualified for a fresh furniture allowance, the Accountant General of the Federation graciously approved the payment of the entitlement. There was no problem with the determination of my eligibility for the payment of my second furniture allowance.
However, in early 2015, when pressure was mounted on me to condone acts of serious misconduct of staff by the General Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council of the NIIA and I resisted the much pressure, campaigns of calumny were levelled against me by the staff I accused of indiscipline and serious misconduct. The campaigns became the order of the day. In fact, ethnic politics became another feature. This was why and how governance on the basis of rule of law became difficult.
It is important to note here that a panel of inquiry comprising representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in its capacity as the Supervising Authority, the Public Service Commission, the Department of State Security, the Head of Service of the Government of the Federation, etc, was set up. The panel was set up by me as Director General when all efforts to get the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then with Ambassador Bulus Lolo, as Permanent Secretary and acting Minister, to respond to the acts of indiscipline by some staff was not forthcoming.
The supervisor of the NIIA refused to act on the report of the panel of inquiry. Perhaps, more ridiculously, the Ministry, which sent an official representative to participate in the inquiry later came out to disown its own representative. Why? The Permanent Secretary reportedly claimed not to know about the sending of the representative. But the truth of the matter could not be far-fetched: no one was interested in seeing my appointment renewed because of my policy of no-compromise with societal indiscipline, and particularly corruption. There was need to allow room for the accused to make a case, especially in light of the condoning attitude of the Governing Council.
But happily enough, nobody ever raised any question about the implementation of the mandate of the NIIA under my administration. Management was effectively responding to the challenges of research and development. I did not steal any government money and I also did not allow anyone to steal government money in whatever form. This was why hostility against me became the hallmark at the institute.
Perhaps it should also be noted that I applied to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation for the deployment of a qualified chartered accountant to come and help in the management of financial matters in the NIIA. The then Director of Administration and Finance, Ms. Agatha Ude, was quite good in the management of administrative questions but not in any way good in financial matters. Every time there was official visitation to the NIIA to check the institute’s financial records, there were always queries. I discovered that the main rationale for this situation was the non-accounting educational background of the director. This was the first reason that prompted my requesting for the deployment of an experienced staff from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
Another basic reason was the extant regulation that only qualified chartered accountants can be appointed as a Director of Finance in Nigeria. Ms. Agatha Ude was not a chartered accountant. Intelligence wise, promptness in action and administrative regulation, she stood out She was good. However, her poor knowledge of accounting matters created many problems for me as Director General, being the accounting officer of the institute. I had to accept all blames of hers as the accounting officer.
Apart from this, many were the cases of serious misconduct: forging of promotion examination results by the Director of Administration and Finance, multiple dates of birth by administration staff and research fellows, etc. I drew attention of the Governing Council to them but it was not only very smartly, but most unfortunately, covered up by the Governing Council. And true enough again, the complaints were also quietly condoned by the very Buhari administration which is claiming to be fighting tooth and nail corruption.
The summary of the foregoing is that, because I took a principled stand on the issues, and because of my belief that there has to be a new Nigeria that is completely free from political chicanery and conscious serious misconduct, a belief in a new Nigeria where there is public probity, administrative efficiency and public governance-driven by honesty of purpose, the accused members of staff wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation alleging that I was not entitled to a second furniture allowance. To my surprise, I learnt that investigation was carried out. I asked why the investigation was not extended to me as the main complainant and also as an accused. What I later found out in the letter sent to me after I had left office was that I should pay back the second furniture allowance and that my severance package should be used to offset it.
My first problem is not the refund, because I intend to handle the matter at the appropriate level. The critical issue is that, in the letter sent to me, the Office of the Accountant General insinuated that I was fraudulent by asking for a second furniture allowance, which prompted the staff I had queried for engaging in various sharp practices to capitalise on it and to give me names that are not mine. I am also addressing the matter appropriately.
In this regard, however, no one is talking about what prompted the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation to have approved the payment of second furniture allowance to me. If there was an error in decision-making at the level of the of Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, why is there no one courageous enough to admit the error? Why should anyone shift his or her official remissness to me for asking for the payment of my entitlement? Why should my severance package not paid correctly, even if the refund has to be made by conversion of my severance package? I served an extra year and two weeks as Director General, why was the principle of pro rata not applied?
And most interestingly, it is only in a country like Nigeria that enquiries are made without engaging the very people involved. I levied allegations of gross misconduct against some staff. No governmental response. Inquiries were reportedly made but no one ever asked me questions on any of the issues raised. And yet, reports of enquiries were still written. This is the nature of public governance in Nigeria and this is why Nigeria’s problem has always been very chronic and recidivist.
No matter for how long the people of Nigeria may wish to fast, asking God to have mercy, I am not left in any scintilla of doubt that such fasting and praying is not likely to have favour in the sight of God. This is because the Bible frowns at sins deliberately committed, especially when one has been forewarned. Hebrew 10:26 refers. The bitter truth is that Nigerians, both in government and in the private sector do know about the various societal ills with which the country is faced. Yet, they not simply condoned it, but also do aid and abet them consciously. This brings us to the issue of ‘Kemi Adeosun’ in most Nigerians.
The Kemi Adeosun NYSC Certificate Saga
There are many issues involved in the Kemi Adeosun NYSC certificate saga. The NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) was put in place by the General Yakubu Gowon military administration as a special mechanism to essentially foster national unity. Participation in it is mandatory for all graduates of tertiary institutions at home and abroad. But there is provision for exemption from the service on the basis of age qualification. At 30 years of age or above, graduates are to be exempted.
The critical problem here is that no graduate can be lawfully employed into the public service without a certificate of participation and discharge in the NYSC programme. In the absence of a participation and discharge certificate, there must be a certificate of exemption. This is where the case of Mrs. Adeosun falls into. What are the issues?
First is the position of the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government of Nigeria. Can it really be rightly argued that President Buhari is much interested in Kemi Adeosun’s certificate saga? Mrs. Kemi Adeosun was Finance Minister before she resigned her appointment on Friday, September 14, 2018. She was publicly accused of having forged her NYSC certificate of exemption or discharge. My view is that the Buhari administration does not appear to be favourably disposed to investigating any of its ministers involved in acts of indiscipline and in other cases in which government has vested interest.
For instance, it took a long time for the Government before talking about the public outcry on Adeosun’s matter. It was on Monday, September 10, 2018 that Mr. Garba Shehu, the presidential spokesperson, told the public on the platform of the AIT breakfast platform that ‘the Minister of Information has spoken on the matter and that a process is ongoing to address the allegations. When that process is complete, Nigerians will know the outcome.’ Additionally, Mr. Shehu said ‘some people want a particular outcome and because they are yet to see this outcome, they are not happy,’ arguing that ‘it s an allegation. If it is proven, you will see what will happen.’
What has really happened? Mrs. Kemi Adeosun has simply resigned. Is the resignation a resultant of government’s pressure? Did she resign voluntarily? How do we explain the decision of resignation after many months of public complaints? In fact, what is the outcome of government’s inquiry into the matter? Why is the public not informed about the outcome of the inquiry as promised by Mr. Garba Shehu?
Secondly, why is it difficult for the Buhari administration to sanction visible cases of corruption? The opposition party has always drawn attention to such cases. As noted by the National Publicity Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, ‘Nigerians already know that the Presidency is a citadel of iniquity with inherent proficiency in stealing, forgery and manipulation of processes.’ This is a very serious indictment. But what justification has the PDP’s National Publicity Secretary?
He has submitted that ‘President Buhari has not relieved his Special Assistant on Prosecution and Chairman of the Special Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, of his appointment in spite of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) confirmation that he forged his Secondary School Certificate.’ Has the Government any moral credibility if Ologbondiyan’s point is valid?
What is interesting about the foregoing observation is also the general reaction to the resignation of Mrs. Adeosun. Many Nigerians praised her courage-taking in resigning. Many even sympathise with her in the belief that she might have been led into error. And true, she might have not known that her certificate was fake. However, if we admit that she might have not known, how do we explain the fact that she did not know that she made efforts to acquire through the back door her certificate of discharge? She graduated at the age of 22 years but was not readily available to serve in the NYSC scheme as she was based in the United Kingdom. Who facilitated the issuance of the certificate, genuine of counterfeited? Why is there no effective mechanism for verification of certificates before appointments?
At the NIIA, whenever any research fellow is employed, it does not take six-months before the institutions claimed by such new employees are contacted in order to confirm the extent of truth of education and certificates of those concerned. In the context of Mrs. Adeosun, there is no disputing the fact that NYSC staff and those who paved way for her employment were accomplices in the act of forgery. The epicentral question which is hardly
addressed in Nigeria is why the Government of the day always decides to keep mute on or aid commission of crimes?
Who has forgotten the case of the Petroleum Minister, Diezeni Allison-Maduekwe, under former President Goodluck Jonathan? Was she not accused of corruption? Was she not protected by President Jonathan? What about the many cases of serving public officials under the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari? Why has the president not responded to the public outcries?
It is not only the Federal Government that has this problem. Many State governments are also guilty of exploitation and extortion of citizens under the use of manu militari. One most recent example will do here. I indicated interest in contesting for the Local Government chairmanship of the Ile-Oluji/Okeigbo Local Government. One of the conditions required in the submission of the expression of interest form is the provision of certificate of tax payment or clearance covering the immediate past three years.
I explained to the Area Office of the Ondo State Ministry of Finance (Revenue Section) in Ile-Oluji that I was not supposed to pay tax, not only being a retiree but particularly that I had not been receiving any taxable income in the past three years. My children were keeping me alive. And true, I have not received any pension or gratuity as entitlement. And besides, tax is only payable on income. If I have to pay tax, it has to be minimum tax in the spirit of assisting Government in national development.
In any case, I submitted my evidence of retirement from the public service. I was initially asked to pay N170,000 (One hundred and seventy thousand naira, and later, I was told that, since I was contesting for the position of a Local Government chairman, I was to pay the sum of N200,000 (two hundred thousand naira only). I asked for the modalities for the computation of the amount. There was no explanation beyond that it was a directive from above. I managed to pay the amount. This was not the real problem.
The problem and, of course, the fraudulent dimension at the level of the Ondo State Ministry of Finance is that, very consciously, the name of the payer of tax did not reflect my own name, but that of my father who died about two decades ago. I complained about it and, of course, refused to accept the certificate. I was told that, once payment is made, the financial platform cannot be altered. In fact, payments were made without receipts given at the time of payment. It took very serious arguments before evidence of payment could be given. The explanation given in this case was that receipts could only be given in Akure. But this was not the only problem I had.
When receipts were eventually to be given at the First Bank, Ile-Oluji, I told the officers dealing with the matter there that my father could not have come from heaven to come and pay tax, and that there was no good reason to have unconsciously left my own name which appears first on all the documents submitted, only for the tax agents to consider the name of my father appearing on the third lines of the documents.
When the Bank was issuing new documents to reflect the totality of all my payments, I discovered that my profession was written as ‘trading.’ I again complained and showed non-preparedness to accept such undeserved and imposed profession on me. I am an academic by profession. I expressly indicated that on my nomination forms. But for very clear reasons of extortion and subjectivity of purpose, people are made to pay for taxes that are not computed on the basis of honesty of purpose.
People should pay tax but the payment must not be shrouded in secrecy and unnecessary fraud. Worst still, the argument was made that tax must be paid as at time and when due. Consequently, in the first two years of required payment, ‘not applicable’ was written for me, thus making it look as if there was no income in those years and that I am paying the required N200,000 for the year 2017. Everything was fraud. I have refused to collect any document indicating that my father paid any tax after his demise about two decades ago. I am also not accepting that I am a trader. Why is it difficult to be truthful in Nigeria? What about the implications of untruth?
The implication of the foregoing is that, in the future, no one will want to believe that one had not been dishonest. Put differently, who will want to believe that the mistake is not from the Ministry of Finance? At the NIIA, Professor Fred Aja Agwu, for instance, went to the Bar Beach Police Station in 2015 to allege that I had sent a killer after him because he complained against my tough rule. The telephone number of the alleged killer which is provided by the MTN is yet to be identified up till this time. After many pressures on the Bar Beach police station, a report was given to me that the inquiry is still on. What is quite apparent is that efforts are being made to kill my own efforts to uncover the atrocities committed in the NIIA both by the staff and the then Governing Council.
Government is the first and most fraudulent person in Nigeria. If the Government is fraudulent, if it continues to aid and abet fraud and corruption at various levels of political governance, no one should make any big deal out of the Kemi Adeosun saga. There are many emerging cases of certificate saga under the Muhammadu Buhari administration. The dust over the case of the President’s own certificate is yet to settle. What I have come to believe therefore, following my experience at the NIIA is that honesty of purpose, unrepentant patriotism and dint of hard work does not pay in Nigeria. I now care less about whether I am paid my entitlements but I will not relent on fighting tooth and nail to ensure that, one day, what is being suppressed under the carpet will be uncovered. The Nigerian polity is institutionally very dishonest and fraudulent.