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A nation weighed down by certificate scandals

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With Nigeria as a haven for corruption, a wave of academic frauds in the country may have further dented its already battered image, Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal reports.

Fifty-one-year-old Daniel Ishola Owaodemi sat in the dock, with a forlorn look. He seemed to have lost some weight due to shame and the likely harsh sentence that awaited him. For years he claimed to be a lecturer and had taught students in the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) in Bauchi. For 12 years, Owaodemi had been an impostor in ATBU until the bubble burst.

The so-called lecturer, in 2011, was discovered to have forged certificates to teach in the ivory tower.

As he shook in fear and shame in court pleading guilty to his crime, his lawyer appealed to the presiding judge for leniency, arguing that the fake lecturer was “a pastor and a family man.”

He was slammed with 30 years imprisonment but slapped on the wrist with an option of N60, 000 fine by Chief Magistrate Isah Mohammed. But Owaodemi was not alone in ivory tower certificate scandal.

A female lecturer at the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBU) Lapai in Niger State was also caught in the cheating circle of academic forgers. She was given the boot by the institution because she used a forged master’s degree certificate from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, to teach students in IBBU.

With the development, the dark and hidden path of fraudulent and illegitimate academic documentation is extensive. Forgery is a fraud and according to the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, it is the wilful misrepresentation or alteration of a written document to deceive others.

Recently, Nigerians were caught in a frenzy of one of their federal lawmakers, Senator Dino Melaye, being accused of certificate forgery – unlike the two shamed forgers mentioned at the outset, the senator was exonerated by the vice chancellor of ABU, Prof Ibrahim Garba.

In the course of its chequered history, not a few Nigerians – prominent and obscure – have been enmeshed in forgery of academic credentials.

In a private school in Abuja, 18 out of 25 employees there had at least one or more fake certificates or statement of results. What about in other schools?
Forging academic certificate has become a cankerworm in the country with an army of fake lawyers roaming around the nation’s courts, even the Supreme Court; a gang of fake medical doctors superintending over hospitals and performing surgeries; and fake pharmacists dispensing drugs with reckless glee.

The issue of certificate forgery in the country borders on the sublime to the ridiculous with the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari being accused of not having a secondary school certificate while former President Goodluck Jonathan’s University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) doctoral degree was questioned.

Nigeria, according to Charles Eguridu, former Head, National Office of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), has the highest number of examination irregularities among the five-member countries of the examination body.

That thought was shared by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Mac John Nwaobiala, who lamented recently that the increasing rate of examination malpractice in the country is high.

Even more telling was the view of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during the 65th Annual Council Meeting (ACM) of WAEC.
Alluding to rampant forgery of academic credentials, he said, “Today, the attainment of wealth, power or educational influence is the mark of success which is not necessary a bad thing except we are no longer concerned with the process of attaining success.”

In Kano alone, last year, WAEC indicted 121 Schools over allegations of examination malpractice with warning letters issued to 97 of the schools. Twenty-four others were banned as venues for its examinations.

In Nigeria, there is academic fraud everywhere.

Little wonder WAEC Branch Controller for Kano State, Zubairu Ayodele, said, “The end ,It appears today, justifies the means; which explains why cheating in examination and fake certificates simply do not generate the sort of outrage that such conduct would have generated years ago. Often, cheating is committed with the collusion of parents and teachers.

“This only reflects the failure of values in our larger society. Educational policy within that milieu of collapsed value, failure is a totally different type of task when values in our society have collapsed. When values in the society have been upturned, the role of the policy maker is completely different from when values are maintained by and large.”

President Buhari underscored that point when he also said : “It is much more important today to emphasise on how we should teach which will obviously impact how we should examine. What questions we should be asking and what we should be looking for in our students. But regarding what we should teach. It is my respective view, more important now than ever before to redefine success.”

As part of the issue fuelling academic forgery, an academic scholar, Kanu Success Ikechi, noted that conferment of honorary degrees is part of the fraud going on in tertiary institutions.

“Nigerian universities don’t give a hoot about the reputation of an honorary degree recipient. This is all the more surprising since even the award of the first degree by academic endeavour is typically predicated on good character.

“But our universities have been conferring honorary doctorates with neither rhyme nor reason. Corrupt, incompetent public office holders, unscrupulous businessmen and political figures with no visible achievements or scruples are bestowed with the coveted degrees,” he said.

Ikechi also expressed concern about the number of first-class degrees various higher institutions churn out, especially in private schools.

“We have to apply some caution here. There is the need to review and maintain standards by all and sundry. It is an aberration to hear that some of our first class degree holders cannot pass ordinary aptitude tests and oral interviews,” the lecturer warned.

Similarly expressing his disdain about the development, Dr. Idris Oyemitan of the Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences at the Walter Sisulu University in South Africa, noted that pupils who failed to obtain anything close to 250 in their Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) scores or Post-UTME examination end up graduating with first class degrees. His grouse was primarily directed at private institutions.

“I want to criticise these questionable awards. The senior secondary certificate examination grades of these glorified first class graduates cannot match those in public universities. They scored below average or minimum scores that would not have qualified them admission into leading universities in Nigeria.

Most of these private universities cannot boast of standard laboratories, qualified and competent technical staff despite the fact that they have few students,” Oyemitan claimed.

Speaking further he said, “I will suggest that the National Universities Commission (NUC) and other regulatory agencies should look into this issue, intervene and restore sanity to end treacherous acts of our private universities.”

An international expert, while shedding light on certificate forgery noted that academic credentials are altered in a variety of ways, from a simplistic whiteout to a sophisticated creation produced in-house by personnel of academic institutions, to identical reproductions of legitimate diplomas and transcripts.

But how can the country be saved from the perennial embarrassment of cases of certificate forgery?

Education experts have urged the public – private and government-owned organizations, to scrutinise security symbols and seals of academic institutions; and also look out for the designation of the authority that signed the certificate as well as structure or chain of the expressions on the certificate.

They also urged academic institutions and other employers of labour to contact issuing schools to verify the authenticity of certificates presented to them.

The Electronic Transcript Exchange (ETX-NG) and certificate verification system for Nigeria may be useful in this regard.

The ETX-NG verifies the higher education, university education and professional certification qualifications claimed by a graduate or member. Using highly secure Internet technology, the service provides an immediate response.

“This replaces the manual methods traditionally used by the country’s tertiary institutions, making the experience better for universities and better for employers. The primary purpose of verification is to confirm the academic record of those claiming to be successful students and to enable the truly qualified to secure the most rewarding positions.

“A significant proportion of job applicants admit to having exaggerated or embellished their academic qualifications. A smaller number have been found to have blatantly lied and invented totally fictitious qualifications. Some have performed no study at all and have purchased a bogus degree from a bogus institution,” the academic fraud buster said.

Speaking on the position of the law on forgery and penalty, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dayo Akinlaja noted that forgery in whatever form is a criminal offence which attracts criminal sanctions.

The legal luminary however clarified that the penalties vary from imprisonment to imposition of fine.

A retired director of the State Security Service (DSS), Mike Ejiofor in his remarks said every political office holder is supposed to have a background check of schools attended and qualifications obtained which the DSS effectively carried out until 1998 when some politicians at a conference stripped the DSS of any power to carry out such checks.

Ejiofor added that the Electoral Act as amended also ratified it by stating that anyone dissatisfied with the qualification of any candidate should go to court.

“Since then, we don’t really do background check of elective office holders except some political appointees that government makes specific requests on. That is why we are having challenges of certificate forgeries.

The former DSS official cited the case of former Speaker, House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari who was found to have lied about his qualification and was subsequently removed, expressing regret that the security outfit no longer has the power to do such.

While efforts are being made to name, shame and nail academic fraudsters, morally bankrupt Nigeria is still in search of a value system that lays emphasis, not on academic qualifications but on skills acquisition and good character.



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