By Oluwabunmi Ogunmola
These are indeed interesting times with the recent acquittal of the former minister of finance, Kemi Adeosun, by a federal high court in Abuja. In its ruling, the court averred that the ex- Finance Minister, being a British citizen, was not qualified to take part in the NYSC as she graduated at the age of 22.
The court held that since the 1979 Constitution, which was in force when Adeosun graduated, did not recognize dual citizenship, she could not have participated in the NYSC scheme, being a British citizen. This is indeed very interesting, and one wonders if some of these judges live in Nigeria or are from outer space. This is a topic for another day.
The fact of the matter still stands on certificate forgery and not eligibility for participation in the NYSC scheme. This is where I think it’s too early for Madam Kemi Adeosun to dance because she hasn’t been cleared of the allegations of certificate forgery.
This is the crux of my piece and why the government must do the needful in putting her to trial for forgery, culminating in her resignation from office as minister and her subsequent disappearance from the shores of Nigeria obviously to evade justice. It suffices to state that in her resignation letter, Adeosun did admit that the NYSC exemption certificate she presented to the Ogun State House of Assembly and the Secret Police was not genuine.
In her words, she stated thus, “Your Excellency, kindly permit me to outline some of the background to this matter. I was born and raised in the United Kingdom; indeed, my parental family home remains in London. My visits to Nigeria until the age of thirty-four (34) were holidays, with visas obtained in my UK passport. I obtained my first Nigerian passport at the age of thirty-four (34).
When I relocated, there was debate as to whether NYSC Law applied to me. Upon enquiry about my status relating to NYSC, I was informed that due to my residency history and having exceeded the age of thirty (30), I was exempted from the requirement to serve. Until recent events, that remained my understanding.”
“Based on that advice and with the guidance and assistance of those I thought were trusted associates, NYSC were approached for documentary proof of status. I then received the certificate in question. Having never worked in NYSC, visited the premises, been privy to nor familiar with their operations, I had no reason to suspect that the certificate was anything but genuine. Indeed, I presented that certificate at the 2011 Ogun State House of Assembly and in 2015 for Directorate of State Services (DSS) Clearance and the National Assembly for screening. Be that as it may, as someone committed to a culture of probity and accountability, I have decided to resign.”
Two things came out instructive in her submission; one was the fact that she admitted that she relied on “trusted associates” and she had no reason to suspect that the certificate was anything but genuine.” The implication of the above is that she admitted to committing a crime, but out of ignorance. But ignorance is not an excuse in law.
The maxim ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse” has much to answer for. Defendants arguing that they did not know or misunderstood the law have been told that their ignorance or mistake made no difference to their liability. The institutional writers have laid down as much. The courts have repeatedly emphasized it. As such, justice must take its full course, hence why the government must begin to put her to trial since she has voluntarily returned to the country from her sojourn.
In my considered opinion, the implication of non-action by the government would make a caricature of the government commitment to the rule of law, and the consequences might come back to haunt us if utmost care is not taken.
It is not Uhuru for Kemi Adeosun. It would do her well to desist from the grandstanding any further with the recent court pronouncement on her eligibility to participate in the NYSC scheme.
Her recent resurgence in Nigeria is also suspect to coincide with the questionable court judgement. Again, it seems her trusted associates have not briefed her well as to her liability.
The crime of forgery is as grievous as the crimes committed by Boko Haram insurgents. Some might not understand that forgery under Section 467 provides a general punishment of 3 years for forgery, and life imprisonment is provided for forgery of seals of the federal and state government of Nigeria.
In her case, it is a forgery of the seals of the federal government because the NYSC certificates are seals of the federal government. If this is the case, I wonder why Kemi Adeosun and her bandwagon of ignoramus associates would turn the volume high in celebration, when in truth, there is more for her to be sober about. I can bet that many schemings are ongoing with the active connivance of some influential people in government.
But these individuals, in my considered opinion, do not mean well for her. Some of them know the position of the law in this case but have elected to insult our sensibilities.
Two questions are begging for answers; are Nigerians that gullible? Should there be sacred cows in the interpretation of the law? The custodians of the law should not feign ignorance of the law as the whole world is watching. It would be tantamount to saying the Boko Haram group and other militant organizations have not committed any crime. As such, they should be allowed to roam the street freely.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration is presented with a unique opportunity to show Nigerians that nobody is above the law and that its commitment to preserving the rule of law is sacrosanct. If the needful is not done in this case, we might just come to the sad reality that anything goes in Nigeria.
I will conclude this piece with the words of Edward Snowden “The rule of law doesn’t mean the police are in charge, but that we all answer to the same laws.”
Ogunmola is an educationist and wrote from Kabba.