Certificate Racketeering: How Not To Treat A Cancer – By Kazeem Akintunde

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The Federal Ministry of Education wielded the big stick last week, when it announced that it would no longer recognise certificates from some universities operating in Republics of Benin and Togo.

The directive came on the heels of an investigative report in which a reporter allegedly enrolled for a four-year course but ‘graduated’ within six weeks after negotiating and paying for the certificate.

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The report literally set fire on the behind of Tahir Mamman, a Professor, Lawyer, and Education Minister, who has vowed fire and brimstone over the embarrassing revelation. But Oga Minister, certificate racketeering from Benin Republic and elsewhere is not new, nau! Even within Nigeria, the practice is widespread. It has been part of our education structure since the 70s. It has simply taken a wider dimension now.

Some of our leaders, both past and present are known to have paraded fake certificates in the course of their political lives. Although they were ‘wise’ enough to use countries outside the shores of the continent. It is their footsteps that other less privileged Nigerians are towing by making use of African countries to achieve the same purpose.

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It is on record that there are over 12,000 Nigerian students in Benin Republic and Togo combined, studying various courses. Several others are in Niger Republic, Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Ghana etc. Many of them found their way to these neigbouring countries because they could not secure admission into universities in Nigeria.

The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), under Professor Isaiq Oloyede, ensured that cutting corners that was prevalent in the system before he assumed office were removed. But some of the not-too-gifted students, rather than applying to a Polytechnic or Colleges of Education, are bent on university degrees.

With three or four credits, many of them are offered admission into universities in these neigbouring countries. Again, within three years, they are through with their studies, as they would have escaped the perennial ASUU strike in Nigeria. Back home, they get mobilized for the compulsory National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) from where they move to the labour market to use such certificates to seek employment.

It is also a lot cheaper for them to get the certificate compared to those bent on studying in advanced countries such as the United Kingdom, United States of America, and Canada.

Some of these neigbouring universities were purposely set up with Nigerians in mind due to our huge population. With relatively low fees and less rigorous academic work, most of them have become very popular among Nigerian students many of whom are bent on playing the system in their bid to acquire university education at all cost.

Those who have the cash and are not ready to waste time are awarded their degree certificates within the twinkle of an eye. It is all about the cash. Such practice is also not limited to neigbouring African Countries. There are universities in Nigeria that gives admission to celebrities and top politicians to study for a ‘fee’. Of recent, such a scandal was uncovered at the Lagos State University (LASU), which led to the dismissal of the Dean of Student Affairs, Professor Tajudeen Olumoko. With a tidy sum of between N2M and N3M, one can purchase a certificate from LASU. What was the response from Tahir Mamman and his staff when the LASU incident became public? What is the outcome of the probe panel set up by the Lagos State House of Assembly to look into the matter? There are many shady deals going on in our universities but Mamman, who has been looking elsewhere, is now ready to wield the big stick just because other neigbouring African countries are involved.

Umar Audu, the investigative reporter that brought the story to light only has to pay N600,000 and in six weeks, his certificate was mailed to him. He never stepped out of Nigeria. In his report, he described the process as if “someone was ordering a pizza from a fast-food joint”.

However, rather than using a holistic approach in tackling what has turned to a cancer in our educational system, Tahir Mamman and his staff in the Ministry have added universities from Kenya, Uganda and Niger Republic to the list of countries whose certificates would no longer be recognized in Nigeria.

He is simply chasing shadows. The Minister should ask himself why Nigerian students are trooping to neigbouring countries to acquire higher education at all cost; what are the contributing factors, and came up with a plan on how to tackle the crisis.  He should also think deeply of the rot back home to see how it was possible for Audu to serve in the NYSC scheme twice within five years. No data base?

Now, he has directed several government agencies including the Directorate of State Services (DSS), Foreign Affairs Ministry, among others, to fish out those that may have acquired such certificates illegally and using same to work in the country for sanctions. I wish him luck.

The craze for paper qualification at the expense of vocational training and trade work is one of the major reasons for the proliferation of many fake and substandard educational institutions in Nigeria and by extension, Africa.

Nigeria is rapidly becoming a huge joke in the international arena, and I do not understand the huffing and puffing from the Education Ministry. Are they going to tell Nigerians that they are just hearing about the huge, illegal business of the large-scale certificate forgeries and racketeering going on in Nigeria and our neigbouring countries? Is it the exposé from Benin Republic that blew off the lid for the Ministry to realise the existence of the multi-million naira fraud in the Education sector?

In actual fact, many of our neigbouring countries woke up late to the money-spinning business as many universities in most of the advanced world are beneficiaries of the desperation of most Nigerians for paper qualifications. Some of our leaders are in actual fact, beneficiaries of these fake certificates which are usually acquired fraudulently outside the shores of the country.

The National University Commission (NUC), on its website, has the names of over 50 unrecognised institutions within Nigeria. Yet, we lack the political will to close down those institutions, which keep getting students to attend them annually. Tahir Mamman and his staff in the Ministry would do Nigeria a whole lot of good if they shut down those institutions and those who manage them arrested and prosecuted. We cannot have several illegal and unapproved schools in our backyard and be running after those trying their luck across the borders. Charity, they say, begins at home. As the giant of Africa, we should lead by example by removing the log in our own eyes first, to see clearly, the speck in the eyes of others.

Perhaps Tahir Mamman will move to ban certificates from Europe and America, where some of our leaders go for seminars and conferences and come back home with certificates and degrees to enrich their CVs. Some of them also return home with fake certificates. Others simply cook up ‘Oluwole’ certificates, knowing fully well that our security agencies do not have the means to detect fakes from the original.

In the past, some of our Lawmakers have been caught parading fake certificates on the floor of the National Assembly, with some of them disgraced out of office. Leading the pack is Salisu Buhari, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who was elected in 1999. Months after his election, Nigerians learned that he had falsified his age and University certificate. Buhari had claimed that he graduated from Toronto University, but an article published on the 16th of February 1999 by The News Magazine, indicted the then Speaker for lying about his age and his university education. The speaker, who claimed that he was born in 1963, was in fact born in 1970, and never attended the Toronto University as claimed. Salisu Buhari as the Speaker of the House of Representative was the fourth powerful person in Nigeria at that time. He was screened by the various security agencies, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Police, and the DSS before assuming office. Yet, he was given a clean bill of health by those organizations to occupy a position of power.

Buhari was forced to step down after a public apology to the nation when it became obvious that he had lied his way to power. He eventually returned to school, and was later pardoned by the Olusegun Obasanjo’s government.

Salisu Buhari is not alone in the Hall of Shame of certificate forgers in Nigeria. A Federal High Court in Jos had to sack a Plateau State lawmaker, Ibrahim Hassan, for forging his academic certificate. The lawmaker had claimed to have obtained a Business Administration Diploma from the University of Jos which he used to run for office in the 2015 general elections. But the registrar of the University disowned the certificate paraded by the lawmaker as fake. The lawmaker, who was representing Jos North-North in the Plateau State House of Assembly, was taken to court by his opponent, Abdul Saleh. The Judge, Musa Kurya, in his ruling, said that there was no proof that the diploma submitted to INEC by Hassan was genuinely obtained from the University of Jos. Mr. Kurya said based on direct and oral evidence submitted by the registrar of the school to the court, it was true that the certificate presented by the embattled lawmaker to INEC in 2015 was not authentic. He granted all the prayers sought by Mr. Saleh, and ruled that Hassan was never qualified to seek office as a lawmaker.

Another Nigerian lawmaker, Foster Ogola, was also accused of having  fake credentials from an unaccredited university in Nigeria. Ogola, who represented Bayelsa West senatorial district, claimed to have acquired a PhD from the GMF Christian University in Nigeria. But it is on record that there is no official site for the university, neither is it accredited by the NUC. Also, Senator Dino Melaye, included Harvard University and the London School of Economics and Political Science as some of the schools he attended. This turned out to be false, as both institutions denied his studentship.

Yet, Malaye contested the governorship election in Kogi State on the banner of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), although he lost the election. Another member of the House of Representatives, Nse Ekpenyong, was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, for the alleged forgery of a Polytechnic Diploma.

The rot has been on for a very long time and well known to many Nigerians. It would be better for Mamman to come up with a holistic approach to tackling the persistent and embarrassing problem. A good place to start is to de-emphase paper qualifications, and pay more attention to technical skills and vocational education.  Authorities also need to be strict in the implementation of our laws such that those found culpable of playing the system are dealt with appropriately. In every society, there will be crooks. It is how we handle such that would separate a modern and growing society from a Banana Republic.

See you next week.

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