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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.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @@ [email protected]; www.emmanuelonwubiko.com.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko