Certificates are a big deal in Nigeria. From parents to corporates and the civil service, people attach as much value to educational certificates as to the skills, experience and attributes one has to offer.
This obsession with certificates has created a culture in which most school-goers are much more concerned with getting good grades than they are with acquiring the actual skills and competencies that would stand them in good stead after graduation. And this – the overwhelming desire to rack up excellent grades – has stolen the joy that comes from studying to acquire a firm grasp on an academic discipline. It has also led many people to falsify their academic records for personal gain.
This madness, as many have called it, has crawled into every sphere of public life in Nigeria, including politics. In fact, in the political realm, it has gained a strong foothold, with several politicians having been embroiled in scandals involving the faking of qualifications and certificates.
Madness in the Political Realm
One prominent politician who immediately comes to mind when this topic is being discussed in Nigeria is Salisu Buhari, the former Speaker of Nigeria’s lower parliament, which is called the House of Representatives. Buhari claimed he graduated with a business administration degree from the University of Toronto in Canada, but the university denied that he ever attended the institution. In 2000, following investigations by the Nigerian media, Buhari finally owned up to the allegations of certificate forgery and perjury.
“I apologise to you. I apologise to the nation. I apologise to my family and friends for all the distress I have caused them. I was misled in error by my zeal to serve the nation. I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again,” he said at the time.
Many people have falsified their academic records for personal gain.
Other top politicians in Nigeria who have been enmeshed in scandals involving false qualifications and certificates include President Muhamadu Buhari, former president Goodluck Jonathan, political godfather Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, former two-time Governor of Benue State Gabriel Suswam, former Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole, Senator Stella Oduah and, most recently, lawmaker Dino Melaye.
In most of these cases, the politicians involved denied the allegations and Nigerians moved on without making a fuss. But there is no denying that these allegations are an indicator of the growing decline of the value of education in a country that has 10,5 million out-of-school children – the world’s highest number.
A Collapse of Values
I once visited an Internet café in southern Nigeria, where I met a young man in his early 20s who was busy colluding with the operator of the café to alter his original senior secondary school examination certificate. He wanted to create a replica of the certificate with better grades so that he could get a better job. I was taken aback, but the man explained that it was “normal” and “very common” for people to use fake certificates in order to get a job or go a step higher on the job ladder in Nigeria.
“Today, the attainment of wealth, power or educational influence is the mark of success, which is not necessarily a bad thing, except we are no longer concerned with the process of attaining success,” Nigeria’s vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, was quoted as saying at the 65th Annual Council Meeting of the West African Examinations Council in Abuja.
“Often, cheating is with the collusion of parents and teachers. Cheating in examinations and the attainment of fake certificates among Nigerians has become a normal thing because of collapse of values in the society.”
This is not a Nigerian issue alone, as is evidenced by Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s sacking in late April 2017 of nearly 10 000 civil servants for having fake educational certificates. The government’s report into fraudulent qualifications in the public sector showed that some had been using their relatives’ school certificates, while others never appeared on any official records at all.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli sacked nearly 10 000 civil servants for having fake educational certificates.
“These people occupied government positions but had no qualifications… They robbed us, just like other common criminals,” Mr Magufuli said. “We have been working hard to create new jobs while there are people in government who hold fake degrees.”
To create an environment where people value education and do not see using fake certificates as an alternative, teachers and schools must be properly funded. Business, government and other organisations must come up with measures through which there can be proper checking up on potential and existing employees’ qualifications to stymie this proliferation of fake certificates.