Discomfort over Nigerians’ continuous involvement in certificates/documents forgery
Before ex-minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun’s NYSC certificate forgery scandal became an issue of public discourse, she has used the certificate to pass a screening test for her appointment as commissioner of finance in Ogun State.
Even when the forgery scandal was first reported by a popular online media not everybody believed it. Some perceived it as blackmail, while others even tried to defend it at a time she (Adeosun) was very calm and sober about it. Now that Adeosun has owed up and resigned her appointment, many believe that there are so many Adeosuns in both private and public sector that have not been identified. This is as a result of increasing rate of certificate/document forgery and the inability or failure of the relevant authorities, including security agents to identify it in time.
It is shocking and disappointing that even when it is a public knowledge that forgery of certificates and official/government documents is a criminal offence that attracts capital punishment, many Nigerians have continued to engage in the illicit activities unabated.
So worrisome is the fact that in most cases, forged documents passed through government agencies, including security agents unidentified. This has once more raised question on the integrity and credibility of the country’s security agencies in curbing the menace.
From school to church, marriage registry to even court, Nigerians have continued to cut corners by forging official documents and using them to get what they want without minding the consequences.
It appears that hint about such forgery by Nigerians only come to fore when those involved or affected occupy public offices or have differences with their collaborators in the crime.
Before Adeosun’s case, Nigerians have witnessed that of the former Speaker, House of Representatives, Alhaji Salisu Buhari, who forged Toronto University certificate. The list is endless. It all depends on whose own has become a public knowledge like Adeosun, Buhari and others.
Inside Thriving Industry Of Documents Forgery
Gone are the days when one had to struggle to obtain an ‘Oluwole’ medical or doctor’s report as getting it now has become very easy. Whilst some Nigerians are still faking medical reports from non-existent hospitals, most patronisers are now wise as they realise they could get a genuine medical report without stress.
Jola (surname withheld) was about to go for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) but she disliked Yobe State where she was posted. “When I saw where I was posted, I burst into tears immediately as I did not want to move away from Lagos. So I asked my friends what I could do and they introduced me to a doctor that wrote a report for me saying I was suffering from asthma and diabetes and had to remain close to receive treatment. So when I went to camp, I presented the report and the deal was done!” Jola is one of the thousands that present fake medical reports yearly to NYSC in a bid to manipulate their postings to preferred locations.
On several occasions, the former Director General of the scheme, Johnson Olawuni had vowed to punish corps members falsifying medical reports to secure deployment to new stations as it was discovered that most reports presented were fake. Years after this fire and brimstone pronouncement, nothing seems to have happened as fake medical reports has grown to become big business for many health practitioners.”
Chuks (surname withheld) is a young doctor in a private hospital in the suburbs of Lagos. Claiming that he has been trying to get a better hospital where his service will be better remunerated while simultaneously trying to leave the country for greener pastures, he has a side hustle: preparing medical report for those who need it. Speaking indignantly, he said, “I do not give people fake reports, all the reports I give can be confirmed by anybody, it is the sickness stated therein that is unconfirmed.” Noting that people need medical reports for a variety of reasons and not just NYSC, he agreed that giving medical reports to corps members is quite lucrative. “Now that there are several streams and batches, things are better. If I tell you my salary, you will cry for me, so I have to look for alternative sources to make money. It is just that some bad people are spoiling this business. They are not doctors and will want to be giving people fake medical reports; they are the ones drawing unnecessary attention to us. If you present a ‘real’ letter-headed report from me, I can defend it anywhere because I am real and the hospital I work with is real as well, so, you won’t have any problems.”
A corps member who spoke on the condition of anonymity revealed that the situation has become so bad that even lab technicians now write medical reports. “If you want to avoid all those trainings and hard work, get a medical report that states that you mustn’t involve yourself in strenuous activities and you will be let off the hook,” she said.
Tolu who works with a financial institution in Lagos said she had to get a medical report because she wanted to stay away from work for a day. “You cannot be absent from work and if you claim you were ill, you have to present a medical report stating you were indisposed on that day, so I arranged one. I doubt if they checked if it was authentic or not, but they were satisfied.” A thread on social networking site, Nairaland, boldly asks users, “How do I obtain fake medical report?” because he missed an exam in school and someone replied by asking him to go to Ikeja General hospital and speak to the touts or security men at the gate to help him out. This is not untrue as checks by The Guardian at a general hospital in Yaba show that you can obtain referral letters to see a specialist, purportedly written by a doctor in the general Out-Patients Department (OPD). The letter is signed and stamped. The process costs N1000.00 only. When you get to the clinic, you will be asked if you have a letter or not. If you do, you would be allowed, otherwise, you would be told to speak with the security man who would arrange how to procure the required letter.
Tolu confirmed that getting a fake report or a backdoor report is easier and less stressful. Unlike going through the official channel that is always cumbersome.
A medical doctor who did not want his name in print lamented that some doctors were giving the profession a bad name by issuing fake reports for people, using the hospital’s name. “Asides the fact that it is highly unethical and they are ridiculing the profession, if you are discovered, you would be disgraced and the person you gave such report to could land in a big trouble. We don’t even think of the implications of these things in the long run. What manner of hunger would drive you into telling lies and putting your honour and dignity at risk? It saddens me to see that everybody is presenting all manners of medical reports these days like bread, even from reputable hospitals, yet, they are fine and in good health. We need to discourage the misconduct, it will get us to nowhere.”
How Importers, Clearing Agents Defraud Nigeria Yearly With Falsification Of Documents
If there is anything that has given the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) much trouble, over the years, it is the issue of falsification of documents by importers and clearing agents.
Ranging from false declaration of cargo to fake insurance documents, the Federal Government is losing billions of Naira to such unwholesome practice.
False declaration of goods is the act of giving false description about the nature, type, quantity of goods imported into the country.
Importers or clearing agents, many times, made false declaration in a bid to smuggle banned items into the country or reduce the amount of duty payable on such goods, since rate of duty are charged based on category of goods.
Statistics by the customs indicated that less than five per cent of importers processed their consignments with genuine invoices, meaning that 95 per cent of imports engage in falsification of documents.
This lack of trust by importers and traders is the major bottleneck in fast-tracking the clearing of goods in the ports. This, according to Customs explains why it insists on 100 per cent physical assessment of goods imported into the country.
The Comptroller–General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali, said: “Our major problem today in the issue of clearing container within 24 hours is false declaration. Many people are not honest in dealing with the Customs. How can someone bring in a container containing motor parts and rice, but it was declared to be rice only.
“Last time we caught some containers loaded with arms and ammunition, if we didn’t do a thorough job they could have entered into the country. Only God knows how many trucks of such have entered and about to enter, we must do our job to safe this country.”
However, further revelations on smuggling of arms showed that series of falsifications permeates the system.
President, National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero in a chart with The Guardian bemoaned a situation whereby importers and agents falsify documents and thereby deny the government of due revenue.
He said the act of false declaration is a criminal act as it contravenes the Customs Act, adding that any one found wanting should face the music in the court of law and if found guilty such agent will automatically forfeit his certificate and can no longer practice.
He applauded the Customs for their efforts towards combating the menace, adding that their association also warns members frequently to desist from such an illegal act.
Founder of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Boniface Aniebonam urged freight forwarders to earn their living by getting paid legitimately as agreed with importers, rather than falsifying declaration to determine customs duty as it suites them.
He said: “We advise all freight forwarders to follow the Standard Trading Conditions as approved by CRFFN and Import Guideline of 2013 as amended.
“Every importer is expected to retain the services of a freight forwarder with all relevant import documents and evidence of Customs duty thereto.
“You are therefore expected to receive professional or handling charge as may be agreed upon by both parties in that regard.
“It is wrong for practitioners to determine Customs duty payable under falsehood as a result of unhealthy competition among freight forwarders.
“The need for genuine declaration for Customs purposes is the tonic needed for a professional freight forwarder to be afloat in business.” He said.
Affidavits Could Cost Less At Litigation Registry
At the vicinity of the Lagos High Court in Ikeja where affidavits are processed, the beehive of activities could confuse a first timer. It was an open market scene, so, the service providers were beckoning to prospective customers. The Guardian approached an elderly woman who agreed to get the affidavit done at N1500. She had earlier pleaded: “Please patronize me, it is a genuine affidavit, I will quickly get it typed and stamped!”
Although her fee appeared moderate compared to N2,000 another young man had charged earlier, the insistence to be directed to the Litigation Registry paid off as it was discovered that the document could be procured with just N500.
But an encounter with Ikenna Okorie revealed why customers would still prefer getting the affidavit done outside the court premises. “Why do I want to go inside and waste all of my day when I can get it done here quickly? This is more cost effective for me. Besides, the people here guide you on what to do. I will not want to get the document typed and then carry it about looking for how to get it stamped.”
Driver’s License Applicants Still At The Mercy Of Touts
On a visit to Federal Road Safety office in Ojodu, Lagos, The Guardian gathered that there were different illegal ways of obtaining a driver’s license, going by the experience an anonymous applicant shared on the premises of the commission.
She said her license had just expired over a week ago and so “I opted for the five years option and was told to pay N15,000 for a ‘by-pass license’ to retain my old photograph since I didn’t want to go through the stress of returning to the office for capturing.
“I quickly transferred the money into a bank account I was given. Then I requested for a breakdown of the amount because the official amount for five years license is N10,450. I was told that the N4,500 was for VIO. Quickly, I called my Aunt, who works with FRSC in Abuja. Upset about the situation, she asked to speak with the head of the unit. After the phone call, I was taken to an office, given a VIP attention and my balance of N4,550 refunded.” But failure to renew the license within six months after expiration attracts a sum of N4,500, which goes to VIO.
‘How To Identify Original Driver’s Licence’
Carrying around a fake driver’s license is illegal. Due to impatience and the cumbersome process in getting one, corruption in some of the government parastatals, some Nigerians unknowingly get issued with fake driver’s licenses.
Unfortunately, there is a possibility that you have been issued a fake Driver’s License without knowing. This can result in an embarrassment if stopped by Vehicle Inspection Officers or FRSC personnel.
However, there is need for Nigerians especially the motoring public to know how to identify an original license as compared to fake.
According to Wikipedia, a driving licence is an official document permitting a specific individual to operate one or more types of motorised vehicles, such as a motorcycle, car, truck, or bus on a public road. In some countries, the driving licence goes beyond the above, as countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have no national identification cards. As many people have driving licences, they are often accepted as de facto proof of identity.
In all countries of the world, be it developed, developing or underdeveloped, driving goes beyond just putting cars on the road. No country allows one drive without being issued a driving licence (which signifies the approval of a driver’s ability to drive on the road). It is expected that the holder of a driving licence would have undergone a series of training, such as proper driving skills, acquired basic knowledge of road signs, adequate knowledge of traffic rules and regulations, understanding of owner manual requirements and proper eye test among others.
The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the government agency saddled with the responsibility of issuing driver’s license in the country, said there are security features in the licence known to the FRSC officials. Besides, driver’s licence is a legal document that serves as a proof that an individual is certified to drive motorised vehicles on a public road.
Regulations 45(2), 52(1) and (2), 50(1) and 45(3)(e) of the National Road Traffic Regulations 2012 provide that an applicant for the driving licence should be 18 years and above, be physically and mentally fit, pass a driving test and pay the prescribed fee.
However, the law also makes special provision for age limit of applicants for commercial or professional driving licence (not below the age of 26 – Regulation 45(4)).
After this, such an applicant will then qualify for a licence valid for three years. However, in the face of the spate of road crashes in the country and the need to conceptualise new ideas in keeping within global best practice, the corps, through the driving school standardisation programme made it mandatory for fresh applicants to attend a certified and approved driving school.
Aligning with this, the Lagos State Motor Vehicle Administration Agency (MVAA) went a step further to break the federal monopoly to make issuance and collection of driving licence easier and accessible to the motoring public in the state by creating a platform with the FRSC and the Vehicle Inspection Service.
The tripartite arrangement works in such a way that the MVAA is the first and last point of call for all new applicants and renewals. Applicants attend training at any accredited driving school; the driving school presents training records to the MVAA where applicants will fill the driving licence application/LASG P1 form. Applicants make payment for three years or for five years at any designated bank.
The MVAA confirms payment and refers applicant to the Vehicle Inspection Service for vision and driving test. Physical photo capture and biometrics are then done at any Federal Road Safety Corps office. Driving licence can be obtained in any of the 98 MVAA stations located across the five divisions of Lagos State in collaboration with FRSC.
To identify an original license, the Corps Public Education Officer, FRSC, Bisi Kazeem, said original licence is verifiable in the database, while the fake is non-existing. The verification can be done through any cell phone anytime any day.
To verify the licence card, Kazzem said applicants are to forward their licence number to 33324. Response will come within a minute.
The Lagos Sector Commander, FRSC, Hyginus Omeje, said the process of obtaining a licence for a fresh applicant begins with going to a driving school. Such applicant is expected to have 26 days contact sessions not less than one contact session per day. At the end of the 26 days session, a certificate would be printed, which is auto generated.
He said the certificate has a code, which would be taken to MVAA. At the MVAA you are expected to fill your data form or if you are computer literate, you can access the data form online and inputting your information. After that you pay.
“As a fresh applicant, FRSC can only issue three years, which is N6, 350. The N350 is the bank charges while the N6, 000 is the approved fee. The MVAA authenticates the payment and endorsement. They will now push you to the vehicle inspection officer. The officers are the one that tests if an applicant truly went through a driving school.
“In Lagos, you will be expected to do two forms of test. Electronic based test and practical based test. You must have come with your vehicle for practical checks and answer some questions. It is like theory and practical. When you pass the exam, you are being moved to FRSC. FRSC is at the backend. It is until when the officers in charge at the MVAA have certified you, we can now capture your biometrics. After the biometrics, temporary slip would be printed, this is usable for 60 days. After the 60 days, the original would have been sent back to the MVAA for collection. Whatsoever you paid in the driving school, which is the mistake most people make to pay N15, 000 to a driving school to teach them how to drive and sit back. It is not correct! I call it school fees.”
Omeje said the process of obtaining a driving licence is what I call “Do it yourself.” People must create time to process their drivers’ licence; either for renewal or a new one. It is a case of lack of awareness and information that makes people fall victim of fake licence. People should learn to do it themselves without any third-party. The process of getting a licence takes 30 minutes minus the driving school days. Maximum one hour because of the E-testing that has started.
He called for the cooperation of citizens in order to have a seamless process admonishing citizens to walk into any of the MVAA stations closest to them.
We Receive Large Volumes Of Fake Certificates From Embassies, High Commissions, Says WAEC
WEST African Examination Council (WAEC) on their part stated that yearly the council receives large volumes of fake/forged certificates from Embassies and High Commissions of foreign countries in Nigeria.
Head of Public Affairs of WAEC, Mr. Demian Ojijeogu, in a chat with The Guardian on high level of fake certificates and documents being circulated in the country, said the council through its Online Result Verification Portal is determined to enhance the security of its certificates.
He explained that the the Council in Nigeria, with effect from the May/June 2014 WASSCE, introduced the inclusion of Quick Response (QR) Codes, a feature that encrypts the biometric details as well as results of candidates on their certificates. This feature, he added, has made it impossible for any WAEC certificate to be falsified.
According to him, “The Council deployed an Online Result Verification Portal. This is an online web result-checking portal that provides a platform where organisations/institutions can verify the results of candidates. It provides an avenue for verifying results without the use of offline CDs or the carriage of result data from one place to the other. Tertiary institutions, Embassies, etc, have keyed into this initiative to help them distinguish genuine certificates issued by the Council and fake ones.”
He dismissed the assertion that the stress and cumbersomeness often created by officials of agencies that are in-charge of the certificates most times lure some people to seek short cut and end up obtaining fake documents, adding that the process of obtaining certificates from WAEC offices are seamless.
He said: “That is not true. Certificates of the WASSCE for School Candidates are collected from the schools. We only issue certificates of the WASSCE for Private Candidates from our Zonal and Branch Offices across the country. In an effort to bring our services closer to our stakeholders, the Council in Nigeria now have offices in 32 states and FCT, Abuja. Efforts are being made to build offices in the remaining states. The process of collecting a certificate in a WAEC office is very simple and takes a few hours.
“You know the fire brigade attitude of people. They wait till there is an emergency before they remember they have not collected their certificate. There are four categories of people that forge their certificates: those who do not have certificates; those with incomplete results; those who have lost their certificates and those who have not collected their certificates and are desperate to have one because there is an emergency.”
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