It’s no longer news that there is a proliferation of fake degrees within the Nigerian socio-economic space due to over-dependence on certificates at the expense of competence. With the raging outcry on the seamlessness of acquiring such degrees, is there any end in sight? Kuni Tyessi writesThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
The fake degree saga in the last days of the year 2023 seemed to be the icing on the cake of key events in Nigeria. Although the news was not entirely unfamiliar, the speed in which the degree of a four-year undergraduate programme in Mass Communication from the ESGT- Benin University in Republic of Benin was offered to the undercover journalist within six weeks of application, without attending classes has left Nigerians in awe. More shocking is the fact that the registrar of the institution, Mr. Ogunniyi Oluwaseun, a fellow Nigerian has chosen to further dent the image of a country that is struggling to come out of the doldrums. With this action which has been supported by his elaborate signature on the admission letter, suspicion on Nigerian certificates, locally and internationally will not end anytime soon.
It must be noted that this is even for persons who genuinely want to seek tertiary education at all costs, and who can be said to be gullible, hence in need of sympathy when the lid blows off. But in this case, the degrees are for persons who desire to flaunt certificates and reap where their inputs have not been felt academically, save for the investment of good sums of money that have been paid to unscrupulous members of the institution’s management who have continued to make nonsense of degree certificates in Nigeria. These are schools outside Nigeria that ride on the limitations of the National Universities Commission (NUC) to investigate if courses and institutions have been fully accredited. Indeed, after fulfilling the stipulated requirements which should be universal, regulating bodies may then serve provisional licences in their respective home countries.
But, the recent unveiling of the purported degree which had passed all forms of academic tests and even embraced by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has given Nigerians the understanding that just when they think they have seen it all, another shocker takes everyone by surprise and creates an atmosphere for questioning of degrees acquired from African countries and some European countries, particularly those from eastern Europe. Also, it has further encouraged the resurrection of a seemingly dying debate on the academic qualifications of top Nigerians in sensitive positions, particularly those in the legislative chambers and executive arm of government.
The inspiration for such an investigation could not have come at a better time than now when the attention of the Federal Ministry of Education has been overwhelmed with escalating cases in the number of out-of-school children, curriculum review/upgrade, mechanisms to reduce or even stop incessant strikes by university lectures amongst other issues screaming for its attention and which it hopes to solve.
The Ministry, after the submission of reports by a committee it inaugurated to develop a roadmap tagged ‘Education for Renewed Hope Agenda: Roadmap For the Nigerian Education Sector 2024-2027’, did not include the issue of fake certificates or even unaccredited institutions in the to-do list of the ministers despite the huge implications it portends to the nation and even beyond. This could arguably be the least of its worries since merchants of fake degrees and their clients are hardly known, particularly when such degrees have passed the originality test. More disturbing is the calibre of persons involved in such unworthy racketeering.
The question to be asked is: does the government have the capability and wherewithal to go after such dubious persons with fake degrees? Can they be prosecuted and removed from their positions of power in order to serve as deterrents to others, particularly young people who are said to be owners of the future? Or is the Nigerian value system preaching against such unwholesome practices on the one hand and yet supporting it on the other hand with ineffective policies that promote impunity?
The Minister of Education, Prof. Mamman Tahir, has directed the suspension of accreditation and evaluation of degree certificates from francophone Benin Republic and Togo and has revealed that sanctions will be extended to more countries like Uganda, Kenya and neighbouring Niger Republic.
Referring to students who patronise such institutions as criminals, the minister further states that he does not pity such people. He added that security agents will go after those with fake certificates from foreign countries already using them to secure opportunities in Nigeria. Now, as optimistic and daring as his declarations may sound and look, how far can he go?
In the same vein, the acting Executive Secretary of the NUC, Chris Maiyaki, had during a television interview stated that the commission had listed 37 institutions which have not been given operational licences, adding that Nigerians must not patronise them. This measure is not enough as the commission must come up with a more workable solution to end this menace. This will involve collaborating with the Nigerian police and even the DSS to thoroughly investigate and harvest workers in the payroll of the Nigerian government whose degrees are from such institutions, particularly the aforementioned. New intakes into government establishments with certificates from questionable African ivory towers or even those with European flavours should be subjected to thorough scrutiny.
The investigation can also serve as a clarion call to government at all levels to desist from the irredeemable emphasis placed on degrees at the detriment of expertise. With this in place, the quest for fake certificates which cannot be defended will be a thing of the past or brought to the barest minimum and with its condemnation be accepted by all. With the elevation of competence being subjected to the brandishing of degree certificates, the government can harvest nothing outside of fraudulent practices.
The government must ensure that moving forward, degree certificates that will be accepted and recognised in the country, particularly those from African countries, must have strict regulations which have stood the test of time. The NUC must insist that it is not enough to present certificates from other countries, but that the qualifications must pass through the Nigerian academic fire of scrutiny to be certified perfect for employment and other conditions attached.
The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) made use of the aforementioned technique in sifting the chaff from the genuine a few years ago and several medical graduates with certificates from other countries failed its test. These and more are mechanisms that can be put in place to stop, or better still, reduce the menace. Above all, political will is needed to end the menace.
While the NUC is taking action against these African universities, many are also calling on it to be aware that such malfeasance equally exists in abundance in universities and other higher institutions in Nigeria. They therefore urged the regulatory body to swiftly move against some Nigerian universities that are in habit of certificate racketeering. They further urged it to shut down study centres, and satellite campuses of universities, saying that they are all breeding grounds for nefarious activities.
Above all, with the revelation, it means that the NYSC has to be stricter with the graduates they mobilise for national service each year. They constantly need to be aware that it is every degree certificate that is brought before them that they should accept.