By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The resolution of three episodes of corruption between 1999 and 2005 in the federal legislature and the executive arm of government under the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo had initially indicated the seeming gravitas of that administration. But, to be sure, it was not Obasanjo’s persona or the magnitude of his philosophical swagger that gave fillip to the seriousness attached to the anti-corruption actions, which fatally extinguished the luminous epochs of some politicians and public office holders at the time.
The soberness, in fact, derived from the interplay of the unfortunate tomfoolery in government and the collective appreciation as well as interrogation by Nigerians of the universal concepts of good and bad or right and wrong that defined public perception of governmental interactions in the ecology of the nation’s prevalent cloak-and-dagger politics. The whiff of that political correctness had conferred on the administration a false garb of propriety in official conducts and public finance management.
But, significantly, the general attitude against felonies at that time has continued to benefit from the narrative of a nation that has the inherent capacity to reinvent and reorient itself. In fact, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was yet to be established when two public office holders caved in under the weight of evidential facts of felonies to resign from office. The pioneer Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, did not have to wait to be removed from office in 1999 before tendering his resignation on account of forgery and perjury.
His perjured claim that he graduated from Toronto University in Canada did not only damage his persona but also erode the moral high ground on which his speakership rested. For resigning via a penitence and emotion-laden speech, Buhari benefited from both government and public empathies. Ordinarily, he should have been charged to court with perjury and sentenced in accordance, but the Obasanjo administration allowed him to go and sin no more.
Conversely, in the Senate, members had to forcefully remove the senate president, the late Evan(s) Enwerem, after a committee of the Senate had indicted him for perjury. His official records reportedly bore, at different times, Evan Enwerem and Evans Enwerem. One of the names was purportedly impeached for wrongdoing in the United States of America while the other name was not, but the contention was that he bore the names at different times. Enwerem’s oppositions in the senate wanted to know whether their senate president was Evan or Evans.
In both instances, Obasanjo was the ultimate loser. He had successfully installed Buhari and Enwerem as speaker and senate president respectively in his calculated bid to control and subjugate the legislature to the supremacy of the presidency. He had waged a proxy war and ensured that an independent-minded Senator Chuba Okadigbo who replaced Enwerem was also removed from office through the instrumentality of the Senator Idris Kuta-led Investigative Committee report on the N55-million streetlight contract scam in which Okadigbo was indicted for giving anticipatory approvals.
In 2005, Adolphus Wabara resigned as senate president due to his complicity in the N50-million-bribe-for-budget scandal that rocked the National Assembly. Obasanjo had to address Nigerians on the issue via a nationwide broadcast. Although the political undertone of the entire saga had connection with Obasanjo’s ill-fated third term agenda, it is worth recalling that Wabara toed the path of honour by resigning from his position of senate president. Obasanjo also dropped the Minister of Education, Professor Fabian Osuji, who gave the bribe money, from his cabinet.
Wabara, along with the others, was charged to court in continuation of the alleged political plot to keep him out of the calculations and permutations for the 2007 presidency. There was a purported report at Obasanjo’s disposal that indicated Wabara was becoming very popular in the Southeast and could be in a pole position as southeast’s presidential candidate whereas Obasanjo was planning a tenure extension beyond 2007 and did not want any strong and credible opposition from any zone.
It is also instructive to point out that Obasanjo’s perceived insincerity in his anti-corruption fight was writ large. For instance, he caused his Attorney General and Minister of Justice to enter a nolle prosequi in the multi-million corruption suit against the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Mr. Joseph Makanjuola, who was said to be his cousin. These entire sagas, which were in conflict with what ought to be, confirmed the seeming anti-corruption actions by Obasanjo as a flash in the pan.
Since then, the fight against corruption has been more of paying lip service to it until the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari. The fight, under him, assumed a little more seriousness, except that it has been largely characterised as selective. The opposition politicians have arguably become targets of the fight, thus discounting the integrity capital of the crusade.
Incidentally, the administration is faced with the scandal of forged National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate by the Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun. This came on the heels of the alleged forgery by the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono Obla, of his West African School Certificate (WASC), an allegation over which the presidency has vacillated. The House of Representatives is, however, investigating it.
Nigerians are waiting to see how the administration handles the Adeosun felony. The forging of her exemption certificate, when she was not qualified for exemption in the first place, was deceitful and criminal. Whereas, she graduated at 22, she should have presented herself to the NYSC authorities for mobilisation even if she was over 30 years. Adeosun sidestepped the law and enjoyed the provisional benefits of that action for nine years or thereabout. Today, she is being haunted and hunted by the very law that she willfully violated.
But, having been educated and worked for so many years in London, a society that cherishes and upholds integrity and accountability, it is assumed that Adeosun must have imbibed these time-tested public service virtues that have continued to see public officials who run afoul of them resign honourably. In the circumstance of her pitiable conundrum, she will do well to resign. That is how to be honourable and as a Yoruba, to be an omoluabi (a well-bred). It should not matter that others whose hands had been caught previously in the cookie jar of crimes are despicably sitting tight in their positions.
Her resignation must be voluntary. She does not need President Buhari’s directive to do so as that would throw up its own problems. The president had been enmeshed in a secondary school certificate scandal during his 2014 presidential electioneering. A court case was filed in Abuja against him. The matter, which was withdrawn from court, has again been listed as a fresh suit before an Osun State High Court in Osogbo, which recently gave a nod that the National Assembly should commence his impeachment. I am thus at great pains not to surmise that there is a deliberate condonation of wrongdoings by the Buhari administration.
Truth is, Adeosun has lost her moral high ground to continue to occupy that very important office. A perjurer and dodger cannot be a fit and proper person for the position of the nation’s “chancellor of the exchequer”. Facts and figures about the economy and finance, which have always been sexed up, may consistently suffer from lack of public credibility and confidence. Like Salisu Buhari, Adeosun should issue an emotion-laden statement to own up to her felony and plead penitently for forgiveness. The president should consider pardon for her sin. She should thereafter proceed on her compulsory one-year service to the nation in final restitution. Nothing can be more salutary to mitigate the circumstantial mischief.
- Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes via email@example.com