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Adeosun-gate: James, Salisu … other public officials not so lucky to go scot-free with forgery

AFTER sixty-nine days of awkward silence following an allegation of NYSC exemption certificate forgery, former Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun finally admitted wrongdoing and resigned on Friday. 

In her letter addressed to the president, Adeosun said the investigative report came to her “as a rude shock” and she deemed it fit to “do the honourable thing and resign” in line with the federal government’s focus on integrity.

In a statement released by presidential spokesman Femi Adesina to announce the president’s acceptance of the resignation, he said, “the President thanked the Minister for her services to the nation and wished her well in her future pursuits,” suggesting no further legal consequences should be expected.

Lending credence to allegations by the People’s Democratic Party that the government “had perfected plans to secretly move Adeosun out of the country to evade prosecution”, Adeosun in fact departed Nigeria unrestrained hours after she tendered her resignation.

According to a source who spoke to The Guardian, “after turning in her resignation letter, Adeosun worked throughout the evening till about 11pm when she left her office… Thereafter, she was taken to her home. Hours later, her protocol team returned to her home and took her to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, where she boarded a flight out of Nigeria.”

There are others also accused of forgery who were, however, not as lucky as the former Finance Minister to have been allowed to travel abroad without prosecution.

Lebi-Ayodele James

In July, James, a former staff of the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for obtaining and tendered a fake certificate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).

The verdict was given by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), following the arraignment of the defendant by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), which accused him of forgery, possession of false document and providing false information.

The defendant was additionally asked by the court to pay the sum of N100,000 as restitution.

Nse Ekpenyong

In March 2017, Ekpenyong, a member of the House of Representatives representing Oron Federal Constituency, Akwa Ibom, was charged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for forging a national ordinary diploma certificate of the Abia State Polytechnic, Abia.

The lawmaker, according to court documents, filed the forged documents with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) while contesting in 2015. He was later remanded by the court in Uyo Prisons after he failed to satisfy bail conditions.

The following June, the EFCC also arraigned and docked Okon Bassey, “who allegedly wrote WAEC examinations for the lawmaker”.

Salisu Buhari

One prosecution, which remains a landmark case in the country’s political history, is that of Salisu Buhari, pioneer speaker of the House of Representatives following Nigeria’s return to democracy.

Months after his election into office in 1999, the young businessman was accused, in a report by The News Magazine, of falsifying his age and university certificate.

The magazine claimed Buhari was born in 1970, not 1953 as claimed, and so was not qualified age-wise to be in the legislative house. It also published a response from Toronto University, Canada, denying that the lawmaker ever attended or graduated with a degree in Business Administration from the institution.

Not only these, Buhari was also discovered to have evaded participation in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, though he claimed to have completed his service at Standard Construction, Kano.

On July 23, 1999, he finally admitted culpability, apologised to Nigerians, and resigned from the House of Representatives. He was convicted for certificate forgery, and sentenced to two years in prison but with an option of fine.

Possible jail time

Adeosun may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for 14 years if prosecuted. Shuaibu Sule, a legal practitioner, has listed five offences for which the former minister is liable: forgery, possession of the fake document, uttering, giving false information and skipping the national service, having respective jail terms of one to 14 years, according to the relevant laws.

According to section 467 of the Criminal Code Act, the general punishment for the forgery of any document is imprisonment for up to three years.

Also under the NYSC Act, anyone who does not participate in the compulsory scheme is “guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N5,000 or to imprisonment for a term of three years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

Forging of the NYSC certificate attracts a similar punishment under section 13(4) of the Act. It, however, remains unlikely that Adeosun will be charged to court by the federal government to face the law.

Moreover, Okoi Obono-Obla, Buhari’s Special Assistant on Prosecutions and Chairman, Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, remains in his position despite a proven case of forgery of WAEC certificate.

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