In two days, it will be one week after the online newspaper, Premium Times, published a story alleging that Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, may be in possession of a forged certificate of the National Youth Service Corps, yet there has not even been a whimper of response from the minister. Now that is not likely to be something you would find in anyother country that claims to be fighting corruption actively.
In places where people are determined to put an end to corruption in a sustainable way, those who are closest to power are in the most precarious position. Their response to accusations and the reaction of the ultimate custodian of power to the conducts and slips of such people are more effectual than the imprisonment of a million other people for misconducts.
Everyone talks about the Eldorado that Singapore has today become and the good work of late Lee Kuan Yew. But, there were sacrifices, including the loss of close friendships that the Singaporean leader made to drive home the message of his determination to stem out corruption and instill a culture of pubic probity in his country.
There is story of The Cheang Wan, who was accused of corruption. Wan, an architect, Minister of National Development and long term associate of LKY was in 1986, investigated for accepting kickbacks from two real-estate developers. He committed suicide one morning leaving a note in which he apologised to Lee Kuan Yew and explained: “It is only right that I should pay the highest penalty for my mistake.” He was clear about the vision of the national leader and knew the consequence of being caught at marring same. The symbolism of his remorse to the seriousness of the war against corruption would not have been lost on anyone.
That is not to suggest that Adeosun, who is perhaps the most manifestly westernised minister in the current administration, is guilty as accused, as there is no conclusive evidence of that yet. But where she is coming from, the minister must know the importance of accountability and the supremacy of the people that she serves at the pleasure of the President.
To pretend, as if this fly in the ointment before her is not a dent until it is clear, is a mockery of everything that the office she occupies represents. And what is that?
A finance minister in an administration committed to probity is the very essence of that fight. In the United Kingdom, where Adeosun was said to have lived for the first two decades of her life, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is easily the most powerful political office after the Prime Minister. The one who superintends over the finances of a nation and must without any doubt be a person of impeccable integrity. And in saying that, it must quickly be added that integrity in public is not only about the fact, but the fact that is seen and perceived by all. This brings up two really upsetting things about the public office holder in Nigeria.
The average public officer in Nigeria does not understand that they should owe their allegiance to the cause of the country. Apparently, because politics has become a major source of survival in Nigeria, they defer to their appointer because of the power to hire and fire, which may see them out of office for perceived disloyalty. Although President Muhammadu Buhari has once shown his capacity to live above this petty tendency of leaders not to condone dissent, the head honcho himself is guilty of repeated discountenancing giving no heed to public opinion, no matter how urgent, no matter how rife, no matter how expedient.
This is why several days after this revelation, there is no word from the lady under the spotlight or the government that she serves. This does not just come across as total disrespect for the sensibility of Nigerians; it specifically deals another deadly blow on the already weakened anti- corruption war.
Members of the senate alleged to have been privy to Adeosun’s irregular NYSC exemption certificate have also betrayed the confidence of the Nigerian people. And this is not just because they allegedly overlooked the misconduct for personal gain, but also that they have refused to speak up since this story broke last weekend. What these leaders show is sort of arrogance of office that is totally alien to popular democracy.
The second frustrating thing about our public office holders, especially in this administration is what seems to be a misunderstanding of what corruption is. From the recurring grandstanding of most of the politicians in the ruling All Progressives Congress, corruption is nothing but the pilfering of the resources of state at the ungodly scale that the members of the Peoples Democratic Party are currently being accused of, but that is not all.
Transparency International, the global civil society organisation classifies corruption under three broad categories namely: Grand corruption which “consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good”; Petty corruption which refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies,” and; Political corruption which “is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.”
This shows that you do not really need to steal a penny from the national treasury before you can be guilty of corruption. Every act of compromise or intent to circumvent the law no matter how insignificant they appear become part of the little foxes that congregate to spoil Nigeria’s vine.
An evident corollary of the lack of appreciation of what constitutes corruption in the country is the failure of the institution of state to stand up to their responsibilities.
As we speak, the National Youth Service Corps, which is able to give clarity on this matter has continued to play the ostrich. In spite of repeated attempts that Premium Times called to get the NYSC to comment on the issue since April, 2018, the body would only just issue an opaque statement on Tuesday.
It is the misjudgment of roles that accounts for the failure of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation or an agency like the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission from having ordered an investigation into this allegation. The message that these institutions pass across to Nigerians is that they only serve the interest of the government in power and not that of people.
But even that negligence and failure of duty does more harm to the corruption fight of the government than anyone can imagine. Ignoring rare opportunities to prove the commitment of the administration to its own pledge is a loud of testimony of one of two things; an unfortunate lack of understanding of what corruption is or a partisanship that ignores the log in the eye of a family member but identifies the speck in the neighbour’s eye. Whichever of the two it is, the nation loses in unquantifiable ways.