Nigerians on Saturday welcomed the resignation of finance minister Kemi Adeosun, accused of forging a document to avoid compulsory national service, as the opposition called for her to be prosecuted. The scandal surrounding the key cabinet member was seen as a blow to President Muhammadu Buhari who is seeking re-election in February.
British-born Adeosun, 51, said in a letter to Buhari late Friday she was quitting to protect government integrity. Appointed in 2015, the minister had come under pressure in recent weeks since independent online newspaper Premium Times accused her of obtaining a fake exemption certificate from the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC).
Under the scheme introduced in the 1970s to foster unity after a 30-month civil war, graduates under 30 serve the nation for one year. Adeosun, who studied abroad, did not return to Nigeria until she was 34 and did not serve the mandatory one year.
The main opposition party replaced by Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2015 said on Saturday the resignation was belated. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) called for her “immediate arrest and prosecution for deserting national service”.
The party accused the Buhari administration of “shielding its many fraudulent and corrupt officials” alleging it would now help her evade prosecution.
Lagos lawyer Ebun-olu Adegboruwa told AFP the minister’s departure had left “an indelible mark on the integrity and anti-corruption crusade of this government”. He said she wouldn’t have resigned without pressure from civil society groups.
“For four months, the presidency was dilly-dallying on the matter until the civil society groups mounted pressure on her to resign,” he said.
“Now that she has admitted that the document was forged, the security agencies should do the needful by arresting and prosecuting her.”
Debo Adeniran of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) lobby group said the minister should have quit as soon as the scandal broke.
“She waited until a panel was raised which indicted her. Perhaps she was hoping Buhari would intervene to save her,” he said.
Adeniran however commended Adeosun for resigning and appealed to the government to pardon her: “That she resigned at all means she is a woman of honour and other senior government officials with similar infractions should follow suit,” he said.
In Nigeria, it is not common for indicted public officials to resign from their jobs. Eze Onyekpere of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) saw the alleged forgery as “a dent on the image of President Buhari who has simply left it to drag for so long.”
Adeosun is credited with helping Nigeria out of recession, plugging leakages in finances and shoring up foreign reserves.
Buhari, who came to power in 2015 on an anti-graft platform, faces a formidable election challenge next year from an array of PDP candidates, including former vice president Atiku Abubakar and Senate president Bukola Saraki.