Former finance minister Kemi Adeosun cannot be making a carnival over vindication alone this moment. She must be thinking many other things. She must wonder if she could have escaped any whiff of scandal if she were not a woman. Why did she uproot herself from her British roots of upper lip accents into the slimy tide of her other roots, the Nigerian roots? What was going on, a gang-up against a woman, a political equivalent of a gang rape, or a conspiracy against a principle? What principle?
Did it have anything to do with the sudden evaporation in the money she left in the coffers? It suffered a dry run. An account that was about $2.4 billion was, within a month of her leaving office, a paltry $750 million. Was that the reason or principle for all that witch hunt?
Witch hunt? For sure it could not be witches going after her. In a patriarchal, male-suffused environment, we must look for a liberation of women in the rhetoric of oppression. Wizard hunt? Maybe. Men skulking in nights of stealth, muscular spirits in conspiracy.
Did she also think politics had a hand in this? Did she get into a position that forbade anything right, including an NYSC certificate of exemption?
The verdict of the court of Taiwo Taiwo said a few things that even her detractors had not anticipated. They did not expect that the court would say she was a British citizen when she was 30. That means she did not even have to say she was exempted. The court affirmed that no minister needed to show NYSC eligibility because a university degree is, in the eyes of the constitution, no precondition for a ministerial toga.
The woman was born in the shadows of Queen Elizabeth’s palace. She schooled in one of their universities. She, like some Nigerians who are British born, answered the call of her kin in Ogun State, and became a commissioner, also of finance. She trained in the language of money.
But when she resigned as finance minister, it was not money. It was not fraud in the chess game of accounts. It was not a contract mess or amiss, or an open or underhand duel over who deserved an allocation. It was about language. Forgery?
But she was not even supposed to offer a letter of exemption. Exemptions are for people who ordinarily should present themselves for the service.
So why did it become a big deal in the Buhari administration? Why was she allowed to resign? Why not squelch the fury in its first flickers? What it means is that she was in a hostile ambience in her own administration. The public only fattened on what the media fed her? The media failed the woman. The facts lost public traction. The media did not unveil the facts as the courts did last week. No diligence of investigation shed light on the crevices. She might not have had to resign. She might be finance minister today. Maybe not. Maybe they would have clutched at another ballast of accusation, another excuse for her to recuse.
She might have saved those billions of naira, and have kept on an even keel her other doings in government, including removing about 45,000 fictitious names from the federal payroll.
Adeosun’s brother said she resigned because of an investigation on the matter in the federal government. She might not have resigned because she was not guilty. If she was, she would not have gone to court. She left because the very basis of engagement in government had left her office: trust.
For this essayist, it is not a matter of whether she was supposed to serve a year for a fatherland, or whether she presented a certificate of exemption, it was why it became a matter at all.
When Buhari was running for the office of president, the point was made, also in this column, that the query of his eligibility had little to do with the facts of certificate. It was politics of bitterness. I am not happy that in the case of the pivotal female in his cabinet, he did not rise in the woman’s defence. He accepted her resignation.
Was it a case of making Adeosun a sort of Greek Iphigenia, the daughter slaughtered as sacrifice for some sort of Trojan war in the government?
In retrospect, the government defended the former chief of army staff Buratai. They stoked the fire for Pantami. They lost their lips when another female presided over billions of feeding money for absent students, and others. When an innocent woman fell in the cauldron, they left her to boil in the juice.
Women are an intricate species in this democracy. And they should not be left in the high noon to roast. If they should not be coddled, they should not be in the cauldron. If the law looks away from them, we should not turn the majesty of justice against them. When no law railed against her, they made her a transgressor. We should have had the attorney-general of the federation stand up for one of their own, especially if a woman, when she was in the favoured bosom of the law. But we have an attorney general who looks askance at a republic of just men. A man who is so shameless as to preface his announcement of Kanu’s arrest with an impudent swoop of his native tongue in a nation of nations, in a multi-ethic democracy! He cannot understand empathy, or even justice. He is straining at justice. Justice is supposed to be natural. Nature works on its behalf. It does not have to be popular. It has to be right. As William Penn, the Quaker and writer after whom the state of Pennsylvania in the United States was named, said, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”
What does vindication mean today? Adeosun would say she got her name back, she did no wrong, the system bastardised her image, made her a moral pariah, and she retreated into a silence of pain. But it makes her successor a technical impostor. But we must learn that justice, especially of the type that Adeosun suffered, should not be allowed to be the norm. The media should be more suspicious of authority by lending a censorious eye to every query. Or we shall incarnate a Kafkaesque world in his novel The Trial where the innocent one looks like the guilty one, and even it is not only the public who believes in the guilt of the innocent, even the innocent one believes in her own guilt.
That is not the justice we want. That is what Adeosun fought.
– Omatseye is a respected columnist with The Nation