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Inside Nigeria’s ivory tower where fake professors ‘nurture’ tomorrow’s leaders

By Editor
20 December 2019   |   3:05 am
Nigeria has a history of endemic corruption and the announcement by the National Universities Commission (NUC) that there are over 100 fake professors in the nation’s tertiary institutions that leave much to be desired. In this piece, Iyabo Lawal, Ujunwa Atueyi (Lagos), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Kanayo Umeh (Abuja), Muritala Adewale (Kano), and…

Nigeria has a history of endemic corruption and the announcement by the National Universities Commission (NUC) that there are over 100 fake professors in the nation’s tertiary institutions that leave much to be desired. In this piece, Iyabo Lawal, Ujunwa Atueyi (Lagos), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Kanayo Umeh (Abuja), Muritala Adewale (Kano), and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan) examine how the system toys with fraud and academic dishonesty

One of Nigeria’s most corrupt institutions is presumably the ivory tower. It is, therefore, little wonder that the recent announcement by the National Universities Commission (NUC) that there are over 100 fake professors in the nation’s universities was not greeted with opprobrium. Wonders will never cease fake universities, fake students and now fake professors. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) hardly goes militant on issues like this.

The revelation was damning. But the Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, appeared to have treated the ignoble development with kid’s glove.

According to the NUC’s bulletin, Rasheed at a recent retreat for vice-chancellors by the commission’s strategy advisory committee disclosed, “The updated version of those documents will be published by December 2019 and professors in their respective universities uploaded their CV on the website which was used in the compilation of the directory.

“About 100 fake professors also uploaded their details but we detected them. This measure helped in identifying fake professors in the system. The fight against fake professors is a collective responsibility.”

Could the NUC be flying a kite? Not likely. Yet, it is worrisome that the regulatory body did not name and shame the rogue professors; even more important, submit their names to appropriate security agencies to prosecute them for fraud.

Since the November edition of its bulletin was made available, the NUC has not made public the identity of the fake professors and their institutions.

In March 2019, it was reported that the academic fraud investigation committee of the University of Calabar, Calabar (UNICAL) was probing two professors of law over academic frauds. Professors Israel Worugji and Emeka Uhuka, the accused, were both of the Faculty of Law.

There were questions over Prof Worugji’s promotion to the rank of a reader (associate professor) in 2006 without a PhD and his status as a professor of law in the university with the suggestion that he has no degree in law.

It was alleged that he holds a PhD in African Peace Studies and not Law from the University of Ibadan after several failed attempts to get a PhD in Law from UNICAL and others.

His counterpart, Prof Uhuka, was alleged to be “grossly under-qualified to be a senior lecturer”, for having “zero teaching experience in any university before his appointment straight to the rank of professor at the University of Calabar”.

He was said to have published less than five academic articles with unknown publishers but had not supervised an undergraduate or post-graduate student prior to his appointment as a professor of law in the university.
However, there were more shocking incidents and ridiculous repercussions regarding the perpetuation of fraud in Nigeria’s higher institutions.

Take, for instance, the issue of 15 lecturers with fake doctoral and master’s degrees at the Ebonyi State College of Education, Ikwo. According to reports, the affected lecturers were demoted for alleged involvement in certificate forgery and false declaration of doctoral degrees from foreign universities.

The then spokesman for the college, Nkwuda Otukobelu said the lecturers would not be allowed to run any promotion course packaged by the college until after three years.

“That as regards their present positions, nine of them have been demoted to lecturer III; two to assistant lecturers and the remaining two to non-academic staff for not possessing relevant qualifications to be in the academic cadre,” said Otukobelu.

He added, “That six of them who enjoyed financial benefits with the controversial certificates are to refund such benefit which accrued to them in excess of their present new position.

“Findings by the committee and letters from the National Universities Commission, NUC, and the Federal Ministry of Education show that the institutions the lecturers claimed to have acquired the fictitious qualifications were neither approved nor recognised by the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

One of the lecturers with a fake PhD, Fidelis Ogbaga, had three credit passes and a pass; he failed Mathematics and English Language. He was demoted from senior lecturer to assistant clerical officer II.

Others with fake doctoral degrees were Cletus Akpagu, Fidelis Nwoke, Joseph Nweke, Paulinus Ojiuzor, Nwanekwe Valentine, Nwigwe Elias, and Nwebonyi Raymond.

“A lot of processes were followed in verification and evaluation of the certificates of the lecturers involved. Six of the affected lecturers who had their PhDs from the institutions should stop parading themselves as PhD holders and stop adding the title, ‘Dr.’, to their names,” the college’s spokesman said.

Those with fake master’s degrees were Catherine Onuoha (demoted from lecturer I to lecturer III); Joseph Nwigwe (demoted from lecturer I to lecturer III); Bernard Ike (demoted from lecturer I to lecturer III); Martin Ndaba (demoted from lecturer I to lecturer III); and (demoted from lecturer II to assistant lecturer). Others demoted were Sylvester Awan, Sunday Oboke, and Chima Okporie.

There was no criminal charge pressed against them. Crime seems to pay in Nigeria.

However, in 2018, the rector of Igbajo Polytechnic in Osun State, Akinola Olaolu, did not appear to have received a slap on the wrist when the University of Ibadan (UI) wrote to the school management regarding a fraudulent PhD certificate obtained by him.

The letter addressed to the Chairman of the Governing Council, Prof. Olu Odeyemi, stated that Olaolu did not have a Masters and PhD in Economics from UI.

Olaolu assumed duty in the school in December 2015 as a deputy rector and when he brandished a notification of
results of PhD in Economics he allegedly obtained from UI, he was handed the reins of the institution because the then rector had just a master’s degree.

Trouble began when Olaolu was asked to present the PhD certificate. UI disowned him and his notification of the result.

At the University of Lagos, where the embattled rector claimed he obtained a BSc in Economics, Olaolu’s story was regarded as fiction.

Enter the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which arrested and detained Olaolu.
Facts later emerged that Olaolu obtained his first degree in Biology from the University of Lagos, Akoka, in 1977 and completed his National Youth Service Corps in 1978.

UI added that Olaolu was offered provisional admission for MBA during the 1992/1993 academic session.

“From the available information in his file with the records office of our postgraduate school, he was admitted by the Senate of the University of Lagos to the degree of Bachelor of Science (Biology) with a Second Class Honours (Upper division) on June 29, 1977. However, his academic transcript was not recorded to have been verified to confirm its genuineness,” said the university.

The minimum entry requirement for an MSc in Economics is BSc from a recognised university. Therefore, he could not have used the Bachelor of Science (Biology) to secure admission for MSc Economics. To obtain a PhD in Economics from the University of Ibadan, BSc and MSc degrees in Economics were prerequisites.

UI added, “The name of Mr. Olaolu Akinola Olugbenga could not be found in the thesis bank of our Department of Economics; our certificate room confirmed that the certificate purportedly issued to him is misrepresented, and therefore did not emanate from the University of Ibadan.”

Some four years ago before Olaolu’s case, Nigerians woke up to the news of a ‘professor’ of statistics who was arrested by the NUC while trying to set up a private university.

Identified as Ambi P.N, the man said he got his professorship from Obong University, Akwa Ibom State and studied at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana up to PhD level. He also studied at the University of Ewe, Ghana and claimed that he was an employee of Covenant University, presently on sabbatical at Obong University.

In fact, in 2013, former President Goodluck Jonathan was said to be guilty of appointing a ‘fake’ professor, Dr. Seidu Mohammed, as the director-general of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).

Mohammed was purportedly appointed as professor of Remote Sensing and Geo-Spatial Science by the Kaduna State University at its 45th Governing Council meeting held on in July of that year.

The council cited Mohammed’s “exceptional”, “scholarly merit and distinguished service” to Nigeria as his qualification for the appointment as a professor.

In Nigeria, the more you look, the less you see as many individuals in public and private institutions often forge their way to the top.

However, when The Guardian sought the opinions of university administrators and other stakeholders on the NUC claim, the scholars were divided on the matter. While some dared the NUC to publish the names and stop ridiculing the university system, others applauded the move saying it is high time sanity prevailed in the sub-sector.

Deputy vice-chancellor (Academics), Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Prof Adamu Idris Tanko, doubted the possibility of Nigerian universities producing fake professors, saying the fundamental rules guiding the production of professors are absolutely difficult to adulterate. 

Although the professor of geography noted that we have some institutions that are fake, hence may have fake lecturers, Tanko pointed out that becoming a professor in the nation’s university system is not an easy thing.
“NUC made the statement without being specific, let me say in Nigeria anything can happen truly. We do have universities that are fake, so we can have fake lecturers. Many people like different titles. Today, you see many people who are not engineers but want to be addressed as one, the same way you find people who are not professors but claim to be one but I can tell you that to be a professor is not something that is so easy. 

“NUC at the moment has the list of all the professors in Nigeria at least in the last three years. The commission went through all the universities to get that and for each university like BUK, we have the list of all our professors. It will be difficult for anybody to claim to be a professor within the university if he is not one because all the professors are members of the university’s senate for which it will be absolutely impossible for anybody to claim to be one if he is not but that could happen outside the university especially this time when you have different universities, especially the private ones which are so desperately looking for manpower to teach in their institutions.

“In my field, for example, there is no professor that I have not heard of, it will be difficult. I am a geographer, I’m a Nigerian professor of geography, and it will be difficult for anybody to claim to be a professor of geography anywhere in Nigeria that I have never heard of. I must have read your work or gone through his publications, literature it may be a different theory. And I might have met you during one of the conferences, so with this system, it will be difficult for someone to claim what they are not.

“ I am not sure if the discovery by NUC is actually talking about fake professors. They may be referring to people that find pleasure in attaching all sorts of titles to their names and I want to challenge NUC to unveil the identity of those fake professors, let us see and know those fake professors then we know where to go from there. 

I know people do make different claims, this is Nigeria, but until the names of the fakes are released, I want to believe we hardly have them in our university system.”

For Prof. Isaac Olawale of the University of Ibadan (UI), the NUC should have named the “fake” professors and their institutions.

He said what the commission has succeeded in doing is to further demonise the system.

He said, “I belong to UI and I do know that we don’t have any fake professors amongst us. The process here is very rigorous. The university prepares you for the rest of the world when Nigeria is tired of appreciating you and you seek to go elsewhere. The papers are assessed quantitatively and qualitatively. The process starts from your department where all your papers are considered according to the very tight promotion guidelines. After the general assessment at this level, your papers are given to three assessors. If you have two positive reports, your case gets to the faculty level. If you have a prima facie case at this level, the papers are sent to three assessors within the university. If you have two positive reports, your case gets taken to the central university appointments and promotion committee (A&P) meeting. If the committee considers the case positive, your papers are sent to three assessors outside the university. In most cases, two of the assessors come from outside Nigeria (most especially the US and Europe). If you have two positive reports (mine took three years to arrive), then your professorship is announced. In other words, there is no way any Ibadan scholar would wake up one day and start calling himself or herself a professor. But the blanket statement from the NUC demonises all of us.

“But the matter could be looked at from another angle. In the United States, you are a professor immediately you are appointed to teach in a university: even with a Masters’s degree. The progression is from assistant professor to associate professor and then full professor. In the English system, which my university uses, you start from the rank of an assistant lecturer to lecturer 2, lecturer 1, senior lecturer, reader and then professor. Our own reader is an American associate professor. We have situations where some readers go outside their universities to address themselves as Professors as the Americans do. There was even a time one of our colleagues (a reader) was made a minister and people started addressing him as a professor. He was wrong and right; it all depends on the angle from which you looked at it. NUC was probably referring to this kind of person. 

“The point I am trying to make is that a Nigerian professor should be able to name the university that pronounced him or her a professor and under what circumstances. Professorship is not a chieftaincy title that people get whimsically. You (journalists) need to challenge NUC to tell you where these fake professors are located. Otherwise, it should be advised to stop demonizing our university system.” 

A former vice-chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Prof. Benjamin Ozumba stated that the discovery by the NUC would go a long way in strengthening the system.

He stated however that it was wrong to conceive that the discovery was a collapse of the university education, stressing that the number of professors in the higher institutions far outnumber those involved in the act.

Ozumba said there was no institution in the country that had not been affected by faking, adding that they exist everywhere.

He said: “Fraud does not discriminate and exists in every agency and facet of the society. So I will not be surprised if there are fake professors in the university system. But I want to add that it depends on what we have seen that made us qualify them as fake.”

He continued, “To be appointed a professor, you must go through due process. I am not aware of any fake professor at UNN throughout my tenure. That does not mean it does not exist elsewhere. There has always been the process of appointment that includes scientific excellence and research publication or medical papers. But that the commission discovered this number does not mean that the system is in trouble. It means we need to do more to get the best out of the system.”

Also speaking, former vice-chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, Prof Hilary Edoga called on the NUC to publish the affected universities where the fake professors exist.

But Edoga believes that the idea of jumping from one university to another for the sake of positions and filling up requirements for accreditation may have triggered the development, stressing that he had always observed that the attitude was not in the best interest of the universities.

“Somebody like me has refused to jump from one university to the other. If you are looking for adjunct positions or part-time positions, you jump into one institution and there, you could be called anything to satisfy a requirement. It does not pay in the long run.”

He praised the NUC for the discovery, stressing that the challenge for the country was for the stakeholders to come together to find workable solutions to issues confronting education in Nigeria.

“The only thing the NUC should do is to point out such institutions and go there and apportion blame and not to generalize it. I don’t know any university where such fake people are.”

Former vice-chancellor, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Tolu Odugbemi, noted that the university system is part of the present-day society where there is impunity, reaping from where one did not sow, ‘gifting’ and acquiring underserving titles misleading some segments of society.

Prof Odugbemi noted that the implications of having fake professors in the university system are that Nigeria will have fake students, the country would remain backward while the society is undeveloped and problems will keep on multiplying until the society collapses.

To serve as a deterrent to others, the former vice-chancellor said the NUC could publish names of such “fake professors” and those who peer-reviewed their works in national dailies as a way of blacklisting them.

Besides, he tasked the commission to set up a competent body of experts with integrity to regulate the processes of appointments of professorships and principal officers of university system in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, NUC spokesperson, Ibrahim Yakassai said the commission would sanction institutions that offer professorship to unqualified individuals.

Yakasai noted that some of the fake professors who were recently unearthed by NUC have been prosecuted, adding that a number of them are currently serving different jail terms.

He pointed out that no serious university in the country would engage the service of any fake professor.

Yakassi explained that a huge number of the fake professors uncovered by the commission are those who claimed to have obtained their professorship from universities abroad.

He said the commission has advised universities in the country against employing such fake professors.

“We have in the course of our job in the past one year discovered a lot of fake professors, the number may even be more than 100, we have prosecuted some of them and a number of them are in jail. When we discover many of these fake professors, we alert the system. We have had occasions to question their claim of professorship and when we put them to test, normally they fail,” Yakassai stated.

The clean-up has started, whether or not the battle will be won is a matter of time.