Fakery in the ivory tower
The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) Professor Abubakar Rasheed has just announced the discovery of about 100 fake professors in Nigerian universities. These people have been parading themselves and posing as professors which they are not. This piece of news is not fake news but the professors are fake, very fake.
Professor Rasheed revealed this shocking secret to Vice-Chancellors at the 2019 retreat in Abuja. He said that the fake professors were discovered during the compilation of a directory of full professors in Nigerian universities. Fakery has over the years become something like a growth industry in Nigeria. We have had to contend with fake policemen and soldiers, fake certificates, fake drugs, fake designer handbags, fake workers otherwise known as ghost workers, fake ballot papers and fake election results. This list is not exhaustive. You can add your fake items to them. But to those who understand the rigorous process through which lecturers plod their way to the professorship chair, it seems unthinkable that the art of fakery has reached the ivory tower. It is even more unthinkable that the number is as huge as 100.
Let us interrogate the process of getting to be adorned with the enviable title of a professor. It is either you start from the lowest rung of the ladder as an Assistant Lecturer or an entry-level lecturer or you are employed as a recognised professor with an impressive array of published works in recognised and respectable academic journals. If a lecturer is working his way up from the ground floor, his upward movement is monitored and supervised by his bosses who ascertain that his works have been published in reputable academic journals locally or abroad. In that case, there is no room for the breeding of a fake professor.
If someone came from some other university and lays claims to being a professor it is expected that his claims would be investigated, his referees contacted and his publications verified by the university to which he has applied for a job. In the university system, the slogan is “publish or perish.” If an academic has been publishing so copiously that he has risen to the position of a professor why wouldn’t the evidence be available for any potential employer to see? It is baffling therefore that these fakes exist at the professorship level without their being detected. Is it a product of absent-mindness or corruption or lack of due diligence or all of the above on the part of the university authorities? Whatever is the reason for the presence of these fakes in our universities we certainly have every reason to worry. This incident has opened a new horizon of doubt about the efficiency and integrity of our university system. This incident will increase the wrinkles of worry that we all have about the quality of education in our universities. If our students are taught by fake professors then the graduates that they produce are equally fake or at best products of idiocy.
Over the years the stock of our universities has been plummeting due to a number of factors. These factors include incessant strikes, sex-for-grades allegations, money-for-marks complaints, irregular admissions, low cut-off marks, poor equipment, overcrowded classrooms, absenteeism of some lecturers who spend time combing government ministries for contracts or producing pure water for sale during school hours. These complaints have compounded the problems of our universities and are regarded as the principal reasons for the falling standard of education in our universities. This is a country that is victimized by corruption. Everywhere you turn corruption stares you in the face. The situation is not helped by the cut-throat competition for the Vice-Chancellorship chair in most of our universities which leaves the institution divided and politicized at the end of the day.
In the process, academic freedom is sacrificed on the altar of gaining entry by unorthodox means to the Vice-Chancellor’s office via some political godfather. When Vice-Chancellors then turn around to complain of the erosion of academic freedom they fail to remember that they are the ones who laid the blocks for the erosion of that freedom in the first place. Our universities have appeared for years to be perpetually in the eye of a tornado. It is only a handful of universities that have a regular university calendar. In the sixties and seventies, any student enrolling in the university knew from Day One when he would graduate if he did not have a carryover in his course. Today, a student’s graduation date is a subject for speculation because of the uncertainty of the university calendar. Students cannot plan their future well because there is no basis for such planning. The withering criticism that our universities are subjected to is well deserved eventhough we would like to admit that the various governments, State and Federal, are remiss in the matter of funding their institutions properly.
The National Universities Commission must do much more than announce the presence of fake professors in some of our universities. These fellows and the universities that employed them must be named and appropriate punishment dished out to them. This lapse means that there is a lack of rigour either in the employment or promotion process in those institutions. It means that there is a failure in the monitoring and cross-checking of credentials. It means that there is a loss of academic integrity in appointments, confirmations or promotions of individuals to the professorial cadre.
It used to a rigorous and energy-sapping process in the past. Now it appears that there is a drop in the standard of everything. So if we cannot trust our universities to be thorough in the recruitment or promotion of professors who ought to be the cream of the cream, the bedrock of the university research system who should we trust? This discovery of fraud is a very sad day for our universities but we are happy that it has been uncovered.
No one knows for how long these fellows have been parading our campuses, dressed in the borrowed robes of professors and teaching our children nonsense. Obviously they have been teaching them nonsense because they cannot give what they do not have. We keep talking about the falling standard of education in the country. When we discuss it we concentrate our attention on the low funding by the governments that own these institutions. Yes, funding is an issue, an important issue, that can contribute and has contributed to the falling standard of education. But little did we know that there existed a more devastating blow to our education from a source we did not know: the university itself.
It is possible, very possible, that in the larger society there are lots of people carrying fake certificates all over the place undetected. Some of them have obviously submitted them to INEC. Some have been discovered. If all employment agencies should do due diligence and cross-check the certificates of their employees I am almost certain that there will be a deluge of fake certificates expertly forged in this day of smart technology. Probably there are some non-professors in the universities who are fakes too. If the Vice-Chancellors decide to do a check they may be rewarded with a harvest of fake non-professors in the system. I am ready to bet on that.