Many ended last year and started the New Year badly. By “many” I mean majority of Nigerians. I don’t want to start my first article this year by adumbrating some of the calamities that are now mainstreamed as norms in our pitied existence as a nation and as humans. But as a passionate teacher, and for my admiration for scholarship, I find betrayal of scholarship, any where, too cringeful to ignore. Similarly, I consider those who aid and abet academic corruption as worst enemies of God and of our dear country (Nigeria). I always find it difficult to relate with these terrible species of people even when it becomes necessary to relate with them—for being colleagues at work, being neighbours within the neighbourhood, and being family members. Thus, this column shall focus on certificate racketeering which plagues Nigeria due to the general institutional collapse. I struggle, disappointedly, to find a sector that functions efficiently in Nigeria.
First and foremost, I join like minded Nigerians to celebrate Umar Audu, the Nigerian Daily reporter, for his brilliant undercover journalism. For 2023, he is my man of the year. I understand he is the most hated and despised Nigerian, not just journalist, in some circles for his landmark investigation. This is why he expressed fear for his safety; for, he has stepped on many rotten toes. Many devilish and ungodly people with cancered hearts must be in pain already due to this exposé. However, these criminals who aid and abet the awarding of unmerited certificates need not harbour any fear. Nothing will happen. The noise will soon subside. Is it not Nigeria where everything goes? Yet, they may spit their venoms against Umar. I am writing from personal experience. But Umar’s ability to do what he did makes him a man. I earnestly ask God’s protection for him as I encourage him to be fearless and live honourably.
Breaking news like this triggers that spontaneity in me to react. The worst crime, only if we understand, is to give to someone what they do not deserve. It is, in our tradition as Muslims, a significant sign of the end of time. And those who are culpable are among the worst existing humans even if they put on admirable appearance. Our noble Prophet (SAW) said: “When authority is given to those who do not deserve it, then wait for the Hour” (Bukhari, 6496). Certificates criminally awarded—not on the basis of knowledge and performance—is similar to giving an awardee authority to claim what they never deserved. It is an invitation to calamity. We have seen the calamity in Nigeria. The Prophet further said: “It is from the conditions of the Last Hour that knowledge will be taken away and ignorance (in our case, empty certificates) would prevail.”(Muslim: 6451).
But why the noise about Cotonou degree certificates? Certificate racketeering is rife even in Nigeria. I have written quite number of articles on this. The most recent one I wrote about was that of Lagos State University (LASU) where some staff in the ICT department—in connivance with some terrible lecturers— were caught in the ugly act. The most disturbing thing is that perpetrators are hardly deservedly punished because it is believed, rightly or wrongly, that those in authority who should punish culprits are also guilty. I don’t know who bewitched us to think we must have some sorts of certificates to be successful and relevant. The fact still remains that the most revered position today in Nigeria only requires primary school certificate. One is over qualified to be president of Nigeria if they were educated up to the secondary school level. It does not matter if you got F9 in all your O-level subjects to rule over 200 million people. What matters is the evidence that you wrote it and the ability to present the certificate. While this might sound crazy, that is the law.
That said, Nigerians want degree certificates by all means. For what? I am yet to fully understand. Or am I feigning ignorance? I know prestige is one of the reason. It is not even about first degree anymore. Many elite in Nigeria—both the literate and the illiterate—want their names prefixed with Dr. As if that is becoming too common since it is being awarded “honorarily” even to the most useless but rich Tom, Dick, and Harry, the trend now is to scramble for professorial title. Who did this to us? Those in academics know the gulf distance, in years, between earning a PhD and becoming a professor. I learnt someone in one Nigerian university earned his PhD in 2021 only to become a professor sometime in 2023—less than two years. Though it is said to be a private university, there are many cases of similar academic frauds.
After the Cotonou certificate racketeering uncovering, the Federal Government of Nigeria swung into action to immediately suspend accreditation and evaluation of degree certificates from Benin Republic and even beyond to include certificates from countries like Togo, Kenya, Uganda, and Niger Republic. Not only that, the National University Commission flagged about 58 certificate milling universities across the country—declaring them illegal. I am not thrilled. I see it as recycling of known ritual which does not address the root of the problem. Sometime in 2018, the federal government did the same thing. It blacklisted some questionable universities in some countries without solving the problem.
Government should address the problem from the root. Attention should be focused on primary and secondary education. Many, if not most, of the school leaving certificates used to seek admission or buy degree certificates from these certificate milling industries are themselves questionable. Only few Nigerian senior school students can write and pass WAEC and equivalent exams unaided. The rate at which students’ performance nosedived after the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) tidied up its house in the conduct of its exams is a clear testimony to the fact that our educational system is in mess. JAMB deserves our commendation but before we shower encomium on it, we were told one does not need to pass JAMB to gain admission into our higher institutions. All you need to do is to register and score F9 (120 out of 400)! You are good to go! Let me ask again; who did this to us?
Before the government declare war on Cotonou degree certificates, it should declare state of emergency on our public primary and secondary schools. These schools are in shambles and are good at churning out ignoramuses and criminals who are dangerous to national development. Possibly, year in, year out, a few students excelled in these schools. But they are too few to reckon with. And I should add, they excelled not because of the schools but despite the shambolic state of the schools. A serious government would focus on education at this level. A responsible government would desist from establishing unnecessary universities it cannot fund when class rooms are needed in our primary schools. One of the major achievements of APC’s phase one regime under Buhari is the creation of one thousand and one universities while it practically sent lecturers who would supposedly teach in these universities to grave by starving them. As I write, bills to establish 47 more universities have passed second reading. No single bill to provide classes and chairs in our primary and secondary schools.
It is high time we de-emphasized this crazy demands for degree certificates. Whoever needs a degree should be made to work for it. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) needs also to tidy up. I cannot imagine that a corps member would serve two times undetected. That speaks a lot about our dysfunctional system. The rot is overwhelming and all-encompassing. Altogether, if we do things rightly, we can make Nigeria great.