By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
According to erstwhile Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, “When you fight corruption, it fights back.”
When Mrs. Kemi Adeosun assumed office as Minister of Finance on November 11, 2015, she exuded such confidence that she would make a significant mark in the economy which was, at the time, heading into recession. She told the ministry’s staff at the minister’s conference room that she would pursue economic policies capable of checking the prevalent massive corruption, raise tax revenues and return the economy to a positive growth of the Gross Domestic Product, GDP. Little did she know that she would be forced out of office by the same corruption she so vowed to tackle.
To fight corruption, there were many fronts requiring tough decisions. Among civil servants, the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System, IPPIS, started by former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, needed further push, as many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were clearly unwilling to join the platform. The scheme itself was to eliminate the ghost workers’ syndrome in which corrupt government officials in the Personnel Departments collaborate with their counterparts in Accounts, specifically, Salaries and Wages, to steal funds by paying non-existent staff.
With her approach to heavy deficit financing of the federal government budgets, huge borrowings were made and, somehow, the economy exited recession under her – though with huge debt costs.
Justifying the policy, she told journalists in an interview, “I said from the beginning that we have two choices to make when confronted with a problem. Either you wait and see or you take a bold action. We chose to be bold. We said to everybody, we have to spend our way to get out of this problem (recession).
“To spend that money, we have to borrow. And it was controversial but it was the right decision because if we had waited, I am not sure the damage would have ceased. Maybe, we would have remained in recession for four or five years. We went through recession through five quarters. Yes, it was very painful but our decision was the right way to go. It was as short as possible and fortunately, we are now moving in the right direction. There is no secret and the Nigerian people are very resilient. They kept fighting, encouraging the administration until we got out of recession. Now the turnaround has come, they are going to be the ones to reap the reward.”
Everything appeared fairly stable for Mrs. Adeosun until she began to have issues with top government officials about utilisation of funds. It started with the alleged financial impropriety in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) where the then Director-General, Mounir Gwarzo, allegedly paid himself about N115 million severance allowance and car grant while still in service.
However, Gwarzo took on the minister and claimed he was being targeted for suspending Oando Oil Plc and ordering a forensic audit of the company.
It was an allegation Mrs. Adeosun denied before the Tajudeen Yusuf Committee that probed the matter, saying that the ministry authorised the forensic audit.
Gwarzo and Zakawani Garba, a Commissioner in the organization, were later dragged before an Abuja high Court by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
Then, suddenly, her own can of worms was opened.
The National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, Certificate scandal was made public following her insistence that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) be more transparent with oil revenues accruing to the Federation Account. That was not even all. She went a bold and courageous step further. For the first time, Nigeria witnessed a minister of finance, taking sides with finance commissioners from the states, on the dodgy NNPC remittances, which she described as being “unacceptably low.”
The Federation Account Allocations Committee, FAAC, which distributes federation revenue among the three tiers of government held three meetings that were deadlocked at the peak of the problem of poor remittances by the NNPC. At a point, President Muhammadu Buhari, who doubles as Petroleum Resources Minister, had to convene a meeting between the minister and some of her officials, and top management of NNPC. Minnyou, the Chief of Staff, CoS, to Presient Buhari inside Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Alhaji Abba Kyari, also doubles as the chairman of NNPC’s board of directors. The matter still remained unresolved until another committee had to be set up to review the income and expenditure of the NNPC. That review has still not been concluded. Curiously and inexplicably, the drive to clear the impurities that pervades NNPC’s operations in the area of remittances which informed Adeosun’s outburst against a Corporation where her appointing boss, Mr. President, is the general overseer in the form of super minister, and where his CoS doubles as the board chairman, did not enjoy the benefit of realpolitick in an environment of clashing interests. The NYSC scandal broke the week after her outburst.
Mrs. Adeosun was also said to have querried attempts by a minister to pay $17 million two lawyers as legal fees over an Abacha loot case. A member of the House of Representatives representing Gwer East/Gwer West Federal Constituency of Benue State, Hon. Mark Terseer Gbilla, brought the matter to the public in the Green Chamber via a motion. Gbilla called for an investigation into the proposed payment of the $17million to lawyers, noting that one Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer, was engaged by the Nigerian government since 1999 to work on recovering the Abacha Loot.
According to the motion, the sum of $321 million was a part of the negotiation and that the Swiss lawyer had finished the Luxembourg leg of the job since.
That case was said to have been decided long ago and that the foreign counsel who represented Nigeria in that matter has been fully paid. A media organisation that sought Mrs. Adesoun’s clarification on the matter did not receive any useful information as she was reported to have said she had no information on it.
It was also gathered that Mrs. Adeosun may have plunged into deeper troubles with a very senior official of government described as “the power behind the throne” who wanted to take over the multi-billion Naira Infrastructure Fund. She was said to have strongly resisted the move, insisting that a whimsical adninistration of the funds would not achieve the desired outcomes. Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that the very senior official did not like that.
Adeosun’s push for tax revenue from wealthy individuals and corporate organisations have also been seen as a style that pitched her against very powerful interests outside of government.
She introduced the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration (VAIDS) under which tax defaulters were asked to pay up their tax obligations or face prosecution.
She pursued assets held by wealthy Nigerians beyond the shores of the nation.
Having built the database of such assets and their owners, she announced that the list of defaulters were being compiled with a view to taking legal actions against such people. With her exit, it remains to be seen what becomes of the federal government threat to bring such powerful people to justice.
The fake NYSC certificate, therefore, became a veritable tool to ease out Mrs. Adeosun, who could have been seen as shouting too loud, while she herself was carrying a baggage.
Information at the disposal of Sunday Vanguard suggests that the certificate issue was not all that a secret afterall. It was discovered that from the early stages of screening, there had been an amber light on the certificate. It was also gathered that during her screening at the Senate, some legislators were suspicious of the certificate but the need to speedily confirm President Buhari’s ministerial nominees after almost six months since inauguration, created an easy passage for her.
On Friday evening when the news of her resignation broke, she was initially not forthcoming.
It took journalists uptill about 10 pm, that night, before the Presidential Villa confirmed the resignation through the president’s media team.
For all of Adeosun’s good works against undue process, graft in high places and a pilferage of the nation’s oil revenues through “unacceptably low” remittances from NNPC, all it took for her to lose out was an NYSC certificate scandal.
Minister jets out of the country – Premium Times
Interestingly, Mrs Adeosun, sources close to her told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday, has left the country, a day after her resignation
According to PREMIUM TIMES, “Mrs Adeosun explained in her resignation letter that the PREMIUM TIMES investigation was true, but said she did not know the certificate was forged as she relied on associates who helped obtain it after she returned from the UK.
“The former minister expressed her gratitude for the honour to serve her country.
“Although Nigerians welcomed her resignation, which many even complained was long overdue, they also demanded her immediate prosecution. Some civic groups have already instituted legal action to compel federal authorities to file charges against her.
“But a day after she stepped down, Mrs Adeosun, who was born and raised in England, departed the country, according to her associates who notified PREMIUM TIMES of the development Saturday evening.
“She has left Nigeria,” a source said. “She most likely is in the UK by now.”
“When PREMIUM TIMES called her Nigerian line several times Saturday night, it rang through each time in the Europe internal phone ringing effect.
“Telecoms experts who also dialled her number at PREMIUM TIMES’ instance Saturday evening also said the telephone certainly did not ring in Nigeria.”