I have no NYSC Discharge certificate. Yes, you read that right. And I graduated long before I was thirty. Before you reach out for your whistle or recommend me for trial, hold your peace. I served. I was originally posted to Bauchi state but later redeployed to the then University of Ife in the old Oyo state because Prof. Wole Soyinka requested for my services. Through no fault of mine, I was never issued a discharge certificate. I wrote several letters to NYSC and paid follow-up visits but nobody knew what happened to my certificate between Bauchi and Ibadan. All I got was a letter of attestation to confirm that I actually served! That is almost forty years ago! I still carry the crumpled piece of paper around!
In 2007, I applied for the renewal of my Driver’s License. For close to two years, I was paying visits to the Oyo State Secretariat office of FRSC for photo capture without success. In all that period, all I had was the duplicate of the form I filled to show proof that I had actually applied for a renewal. The story throughout the period was either no light to operate the generator or when there was light, the relevant officer was not on seat. But I knew that my dilemma was because I refused to play ball by going through a third party, tout or FRSC official.
In 2009, I relocated to Lagos. One of the first things I did was to go to the headquarters of the Local Government in Agege where I lived to see if I could process the renewal there. I went through all the required processes and eventually got my “license”. Or did I? Three years later when I needed to do a renewal, I went to the FRSC office in Ekiti where I moved to in 2012. Shock of my life; I was told that the license I was holding which had all the watermarks and imprint of an authentic license was FAKE!!! The system had NO RECORD of it! Yet, I did not obtain it through a third party. So, through no fault of mine, I who obtained my first Driver’s License in 1982, was now being treated as a fresh applicant for a license in 2012, thirty years later! In the period that I used that license, I would have boldly tendered it to any officer of the law on demand, not knowing that it could have landed me in trouble!
Sometime in 2009, I got a car. The former owner, a respectable member of the society, took the pains to complete its registration in my name and sent me the documents. Upon expiration of the particulars, as is my custom, I PERSONALLY went to the Licensing office in Lagos to renew them. To my utter chagrin, it turned out that the documents I was carrying were fake, even though the person who gave me the car, being a person of integrity had processed the papers through what he believed to be legitimate channels! He was scandalized upon hearing what happened. But we had to go through the process afresh to legitimize ownership. Had I had an issue with the law before then, the car could have been impounded!
When the IG of police issued the directive on permit for tinted windows, I took my car to the Police Headquarters in Ado-Ekiti to process the application. A few months before then, I changed from the old number plate to a new one. So I went with the “valid” documents. To my utter amazement, when the officer keyed in my car details with the new number, it said that my number had not been allocated to any vehicle, meaning that I was technically driving a car with a fake plate number! But for the goodwill I enjoy in the society, my car would have been impounded as a stolen vehicle while I could have been arrested as a receiver of stolen goods. The officer explained to me why. It turned out that my insurance certificate was not genuine and so was not captured in the system. Yet, I remember telling them at the Licensing office that I wanted a genuine certificate with a reputable insurance company when they offered me options that could have meant paying half the statutory amount to get a certificate. I insisted on paying FULL VALUE and still got a fake certificate in the name of a registered insurance company! In rage, I immediately headed for the licensing office. The supervising officer apologized but of course, no one was willing to take responsibility for the gaffe. I had to pay again for another certificate but this time around, I practically stood on their neck until I was shown proof that the details were captured in the FRSC system that would interface with their own transactions. Thereafter, I went back to the Police Headquarters to process my permit and with one click, the officer was able to access my information. Yet, not once in all of the narratives above did I patronize touts or a third party/agent! I went to those offices personally because I wanted to do what I believed to be right!
I am sure many of you reading this may not even know that it is possible that the Customs Papers or other documentation of your vehicles may not be genuine even though you were charged full value and perhaps more for their processing! Imagine the shock that would envelope you when, on a routine stop and search by any of Customs, Police or FRSC, you are pointedly told that the documents you so confidently threw at them on demand were fake! Assume that they follow due process and charge you to court. You are either made to pay a fine or sent to jail for forgery. Even if it is only for a week, you have become an ex-convict, unfit to hold public office for life except by a judicial pardon. For no fault of yours, you become persona non grata, an institutional untouchable! This is the precarious situation that pervasive institutional corruption exposes ALL of us to!
That is the kind of experience I am sure Kemi Adeosun, immediate past Finance Minister must have fallen victim to.
When the story of the ‘forged’ NYSC Exemption Certificate first broke, I, like many people, was totally flabbergasted and outraged that someone of her caliber would ever do such a thing. But I felt a restraint in me and so did not immediately make any comment because I felt that to do so would be highly prejudicial. My position was further justified when NYSC issued a public statement to the effect that Kemi actually applied for an exemption certificate. I am glad I obeyed my instincts.
Reading the context and content of her resignation letter, I felt sorry for Kemi, an unwitting victim of a system rigged for incompetence and wired to serve the greed of some miscreants who ensure that the system never experiences seamless operations.
Anyone listening to Kemi speak would know that she did not grow up here in Nigeria. That much she confirmed in her letter. She had her first Nigerian passport at the age of 34! What this means is that as at 22 when she graduated, she was technically NOT a bona fide Nigerian citizen! She was BRITISH! I am not a lawyer and hold no brief for her but if she technically did not become a Nigerian citizen until 34, should the law on compulsory service for anyone under 30 have been retroactively applied? I would like to believe that this was the basis of her applying for an exemption!
A few questions emerge here:
1. If indeed, Kemi applied for an exemption as confirmed by NYSC, how long does it take for NYSC to give a response, positive or negative to such a request? If she hadn’t, I would have been worried. But she did! Kemi served as Commissioner for Finance in Ogun State for FOUR years and another THREE as Minister at the Federal level and yet, no official response to her request! I can identify with that. NYSC NEVER replied any of my enquiries on the whereabouts of my Discharge Certificate almost forty years ago till today!
2. Could a staff of NYSC have scammed Kemi, taking advantage of her naivety, to produce and present the forged certificate to her, purporting it to be the response of the NYSC to her request, a possible reason why she did not bother to pursue the matter further with NYSC?
3. Did Kemi, not having lived or operated in Nigeria before she was headhunted by Governor Ibikunle Amosun, have a way of knowing what an authentic exemption certificate looks like for her to discern that the one she got was fake? I have lived in Nigeria all my life, used several cars, renewed several driver’s licenses over a 36-year period, yet, I was scammed by officials of the relevant agencies!
4. Was it out of place for Kemi to have relied on the certificate she was given, especially when there was no subsequent communication from NYSC granting or refusing her exemption?
5. Is the NYSC not complicit in the entire process? If you ask me, I think that the NYSC is the real culprit here! That body has a case to answer!
6. Would Kemi, with her pedigree and her exposure, have deliberately committed a fraud over an exemption certificate? I doubt it. She never claimed that she served. Her claim was that she sought an exemption. NYSC confirmed that much.
7. Why the special focus on Kemi? Why did the story break just shortly after her tiff with the Senate as well as NNPC and its opaque operations? It reminds one very rudely of Lamido Sanusi’s travails. He was hailed as the whiz kid of Nigerian banking until he started prying into NNPC issues! He was promptly pilloried and sacrificed. Ditto Nuhu Ribadu, czar of anti-corruption, poster boy of institutional probity, until he started trying to fish in ‘sacred’ waters! Coincidence? A Presidential aide, Okoi Obono-Obla has allegedly had his Secondary School Leaving Certificate repudiated by WAEC. He continues to be on the roll of Nigerian lawyers and a presidential Special Adviser. It has not generated the same hoopla as Kemi’s case has. Yet, thankfully, none of Kemi’s academic credentials is suspect.
8. If indeed Kemi carried a British passport until the age of 34, would it then be right to technically refer to her as a Nigerian until that time when she chose dual citizenship by obtaining a Nigerian passport? Lawyers can help me out here. I want to be educated.
Until I have reason to be otherwise convinced, going by my experiences shared in the first and second parts of this write-up, I believe that Kemi Adeosun, like many other Nigerians, including possibly YOU reading this, was just a pawn in a chess game where the Grand Masters have learnt to prey on the intelligence of a people who hardly interrogate issues beyond hype and hoopla, even when they themselves are also mere pawns.
It is Kemi today. She is the dog being called a bad name. Technically, she has just been hanged. Perhaps she is culpable and is stewing in her own juice. Maybe she was just a victim of her own “ajebutter” naivety. It may be YOU tomorrow. Did you say it cannot happen to you?
Maybe. But before you make that boast, go into your own records and those of your children if they were issued in Nigeria before the chess players do so for you. Every single one of them. Birth certificate. Primary School Leaving Certificate. Secondary school. University. NYSC Discharge Certificate. Marriage certificate. Driver’s License. Vehicle particulars. Land purchase documents. Property documents. Certificate of Occupancy. Import Duty certificates. Tax records. Verify that they are all genuine. Maybe then, you can join those who pillory Kemi Adeosun.
If you are not able to do that and you are currently throwing stones at Kemi, watch your back. Just do not venture into public office. Keep throwing your stones by the sidelines. Otherwise, on the day the wind blows to expose the behind of your own fowl, get ready for arrows and javelins to be hurled in your direction while you wonder what on earth happened!!!
Kemi Adeosun leaves Nigerian public service space with her head held high. She has my respect for honorably resigning, one of the very few public officials to ever do so instead of being kicked out with ignominy, a sacrificial lamb on the altar of our collective systemic dysfunctionality which should have engaged our attention instead of the largely shallow-minded nitpicking that attended this whole saga. To those who may be clinking glasses tonight at her resignation, your victory is phyrric! You may be the next lamb!
Today, Kemi returned to Britain, the first place she knew as home, signposting to foreign-born Nigerian diasporans who would like to return home to serve their fatherland that this is a land that eats up its good inhabitants.
Again, our loss becomes their own gain! Very sad!