But what is in a certificate?

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Certificate Forgery or what is popularly called “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 epitomize fakery in   academic and a plethora of other certification because of how   notorious that part of Lagos became with such criminal and underWorld   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 going by the facts that 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 Nassir ElRuffai-led federal capital   territory  administration during the president Olusegun Obasanjo’s   era, owning  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 is  because there may be as much as five other different editions   of same certificate  of occupancy been paraded by land speculators and   scammers.

Elruffai 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 atleast 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 multibillion   dollar industry going by 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 amongst politicians has gained notoriety but this   is just a tip off 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 her examination hall and 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 atleast 25 percent   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  because certificate forgery is almost in the same line as   drug trafficking in that it is a multibillion dollars 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 these powerful forces in   the society who cut across geo-political divides.

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

From Sokoto to Imo, there are many in political offices who parade   fake certificates but who due to their connections in the highest   political network 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   in Lagos laid claim to a non-existent Canadian university degree and   rose to become the number 3 citizen as the speaker of the federal   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, lots of 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 time in prisons. Bigmen   convicts don’t actually go to prison in Nigeria.

The case of Salisu Buhari who was convicted by a competent court of   law in Abuja, he literally got a slap on his wrists as legal   punishment by way of payment of a fine and within a year, the 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 subsection two of the abovementioned 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 is 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 even as a good name is   usually damaged when somebody gains a political office by the parade   of forged academic certificate. In Igbo cosmology it is said that:   “Ife si naha eme” meaning that your fortune or misfortune in life   sometimes follows the kind of NAME you bear.

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

For instance, Mr. Dino Melaye is Nigeria’s best known legislator at   the national stage. He is visible, outspoken, youthful and is   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.

Whilst we will dedicate another piece to analyze the merits and   demerits of this litigation, suffice it to suggest that Nigeria must   do more to sanitize 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 theefore 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 amongst them and provide those positions for   Nigerians who merits 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 ot ad 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 States.      “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”, he affirmed.

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 the report by the 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 organized 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 the   transparency international (TI) 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”.

This writer couldn’t agree more.

Written by Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)

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Godwin Okafor is a Financial Journalist, Internet Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Naija247news Media Limited. He has over 16 years experience in financial journalism. His experience cuts across traditional and digital media. He started his journalism career at Business Day, Nigeria and founded Naija247news Media in 2010. Godwin holds a Bachelors degree in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos. He is an alumni of Lagos Business School and a Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists). Over the years, he has won a number of journalism awards. Godwin is the chairman of Emmerich Resources Limited, the publisher of Naija247news.

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