What is in a certificate?

Posted by News Express | 5 April 2017 | 2,107 times

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Certificate Forgery or what has become popularly known as “Oluwole certificate” is not a new trend in Nigeria.

To tell you how much of a big industry fake certificate syndication has become I will like you to remember that a very popular street in Lagos Island, Oluwole Street, is used to epitomise fakery in academic and a plethora of other certification, because of how notorious that part of Lagos became with such criminal and under-world activities like the forging of certificates of different dimensions.

But, again, certificate forgery is not limited to academic types, because there was a time and season that the Federal Capital Territory became a ‘pilgrimage’ ground for parading of forged certificates of occupancy, because Abuja land is as juicy and expensive as crude oil.

There was a time in Abuja that a sitting Senate president was defrauded and sold a fake certificate of occupancy by a professional fraudster, who was later arrested by the anti-graft agency and jailed. 

Prior to the advent of the Mallam Nasir El-Rufai-led Federal Capital Territory  administration, during the president Olusegun Obasanjo’s era, acquiring a land in a choice area of Abuja, and even erecting a mansion backed up by a lovely copy of the certificate of occupancy was not a guarantee that you are the owner. This was because there may be as much as five other different editions of same certificate of occupancy being paraded by land speculators and scammers. 

El-Rufai, who is an estate surveyor by scholarship and profession, undertook a successful scheme which brought some level of sanity to land ownership, thereby driving away at least a greater chunk of fake land certificate marketers to the background.

But one type of certificate forgery that has refused to go away is the practice of parading fake academic certificates. Today, parading fake academic certificates has become a multi-billion dollar industry because of the constitutional stipulation that any prospective political office-seeker is expected to possess a minimum academic certificate. 

Because of the notorious fact that politics in Nigeria is a do-or-die affair, prospective seekers of juicy political offices are prepared to even visit the devil to put a hold to or to get the academic certificate. Of all jobs, it's only in political office that someone who borrowed from his villagers to run for office suddenly becomes a millionaire overnight, as soon as he assumes office. 

Certificate forgery among politicians has gained notoriety. But this is just a tip of the iceberg, because of the hidden truth that certificate forgery amongst public/civil servants in all ramifications of Nigeria’s public service has become cancerous. 

Do you know that even some citadels of learning have found out that some of their professors forged their entry level academic qualifications? The other day a professor who was sitting for a second master’s degree in another field of study at the University of Jos was caught red-handed dubbing (copying) from a textbook she smuggled into the examination hall. Ironically, this person used to be a member of an anti-graft advisory committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari. She was only kicked out when the newspapers reported the scandal. 

Seriously, if a surgical overhaul of the certificates paraded by civil servants is to be undertaken, it is possible that at least 25 per cent of the currently engaged workers have fake certificates.

If you think it is as easy to catch a certificate thief the same way it is to catch a stupid pick pocket then, you are in for some damn shocker. Certificate forgery is almost in the same line as drug trafficking, in that it is a multi-billion naira industry, which spreads its tentacles across both the civilians, military and police sectors.

The other day when Mike Okiro and his Police Service Commission carried out the politically ill-fated recruitment exercise, hoping to get 10,000 young Nigerians to enlist in the police, they saw what they never bargained for. 

There were series of fake certificate holders that showed up and were arrested, apparently because they don’t have god father in top places to be able to scale through.

In this same country, persons have risen to higher ranks in the police and military aided with fake certificate. Certificate forgery in the police and military sectors is much easier because merit and competence are neglected to the background, even as godfathers smuggle in their misfits as potential recruits who are usually deployed to do some dirty jobs for the powerful forces in the society. They cut across geo-political divides. 

Then, talking about certificate forgery in the political circle is as cheap as talking about condoms among the circles of prostitutes.

From Sokoto to Yenagoa, there are many in political offices who parade fake certificates. But due to their connections in the highest political network, they are spared the odium and opprobrium of exposure and prosecution. Even the police are bribed to shut the trap up.

It was in this country that a man who never went beyond Kings College, Lagos laid claim to a non-existent Canadian university degree and rose to become the Number 3 citizen, as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Alhaji Salisu Buhari who, nevertheless appeared to be very charismatic, was caught pants down with a fake university certificate. On many occasions, many elected politicians who have spent years collecting heavy salaries have been disgraced by the courts, for gaining their political advantages through fake academic certificates.

But what really is the worth of an academic certificate that some Nigerians are keen on obtaining? 

Academic certificate is everything in Nigeria because without it you have no future in any public service jobs. Again, it is easy to parade fake certificates because the prospect of severe sanctions other than naming and shaming is remote. There is no precedence whereby high profile persons caught with fake certificates have gone on to serve real terms in prisons. Big-men convicts don't actually go to prison in Nigeria. For example, Salisu Buhari who was convicted by a competent court of law in Abuja, literally got a slap on his wrists as legal punishment: he was asked to pay a fine and, within a year, then president Olusegun Obasanjo gave him a clean bill of health, through the exercise of prerogative of mercy, even as his conviction was wiped out from the legal lexicon of Nigeria. 

The abuse of this prerogative of mercy by holders of executive offices seems to have increased the potentials of certificate forgery in Nigeria. Section 175 (1) (a) of the Constitution states thus: “(1) The President may – (a) grant any person concerned with or convicted of any offence created by an Act of the National Assembly a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions.”

Because sub-section two of the above-mentioned provision stated that “the powers of the president under prerogative of mercy is to be exercised after consultation with the Council of State.” It has become politically cheap for politicians who are convicted of parading fake academic certificates to be pardoned by their political godfathers, since politics in Nigeria is a family affair.

The question now arises: What is in a certificate?

 Just like the dismissive question of what is in a name, a certificate not merited is as good as someone who has damaged his public brand. A good name is worth more than silver or gold. But, a good name is usually damaged when somebody gains a political office by the parade of forged academic certificate. In Igbo cosmology, it is believed that Ife si naha eme. That means,   your fortune or misfortune in life sometimes follows the name you bear. 

This, perhaps, is the reason why politicians accused of using fake certificates usually do different kinds of things to untie their necks from these disgraceful accusations.

For instance, Senator Dino Melaye is Nigeria’s best known legislator at the upper chamber of the national Assembly. He is visible, outspoken, youthful and, definitely, the most well-known extrovert on the political stage of Nigeria, who courts controversies. With so much fame, fortune and respectability, Dino is now battling hard to extricate himself from the widely circulated allegations by an online news portal that he is parading a fake university certificate from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

While we will dedicate another piece to analyse the merits and demerits of this litigation, suffice it to suggest that Nigeria must do more to sanitise our educational and political sectors. By way of information, the Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria has just told the National Assembly that Dino Melaye graduated from that school and, therefore, is holding a genuine academic qualification. 

However, because of the damage that fake certificates brings to bear on Nigerians, it is time to carry out a huge forensic investigation of all the academic certificates being paraded by public office-holders, police and military operatives/officers, and civil servants to fish out the misfits from among them. This important, in order to avail those positions for Nigerians who merit such, and adequately deploy the law to punish persons proven to be romancing fake academic certificates. Do you know how many patients will die if treated by a quack medical doctor? Many quacks have been found in our hospitals. Indeed, in the Federal Ministry of Health, a man with fake medical qualification was recently caught by the police. 

Forgery of academic certificates amounts to political corruption. Reading through the book: The Crime of Corruption in Nigeria: Laws, Issues, and Solutions, Dr Ben Igwenyi classified fake credentials as such.  He reminds us that the author of the Encyclopedia Americana, defines political corruption as “a general term for the misuse of a public position of trust for private gain. Its specific definition and application vary with time, place and culture.”

In other words, we can see it as a type of corruption perpetrated by political leaders in the society; not necessarily for the good of the citizens, but the private interests of those involved, Igwenyi noted, even as he affirmed: 

This is where we may find such vices as vote-buying, vote rigging political assassination, manipulating of the country’s Constitution or law, in order to gain political advantage and all manner of illegal and unethical acts towards election winning targeted at political opponents or political parties.”  

 In these instances, he submitted that due regard to political decency, value and ideals of democracy and the rule of law are willfully neglected. Igwenyi recalled that recently when writing on how the rest of the world viewed political corruption, Etim Imisin, a journalist, stated that in a report by Transparency International (TI):

 “Politically corrupt countries are seen as cultures where political parties or candidates bribe voters or election official. Directly or indirectly, the electorates are offered gift, food, alcohol and even short-term job. 

“Illegal political donations are accepted without question. These could come from organised crimes, such as rewards for political contributions. States’ resources, such as money and infrastructure, are used by office-holders to advance their electioneering goals. In other cases, candidates are required to contribute large sums to party coffers or to finance their own election campaign. More often than not, political parties impose fees on office-holders and elected members. Politics then becomes a rich man’s game, and elected representatives accumulate unnecessary funds to pay for the next election by taking percentage on secret commissions and accepting bribes.”

It is, therefore, not surprising, according to the author, why Transparency International, in the said report of 2004, rated Nigeria in this aspect of corruption as the third most corrupt in the world.

He summed it up thus: “Hence, political corruption, in our humble opinion, covers all manner of unethical practices that are aimed at getting political power at all cost by all means. It covers election rigging in all its ramifications, stealing of public funds for use during election; harassment or outright intimidation of political opponents, false declaration of election results and total misuse of powers when acquired. When political corruption is entrenched in a system, it radiates to affect negatively all aspects of national life: be it economic, judicial, technological, and scientific.” 

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source: News Express

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