By Festus Adedayo
Last week, media reports indicated that at the end of filing of personal information before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), many of Nigeria’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates informed the electoral body that they had “lost” their academic certificates. If you think the gale of missing certificates that currently afflicts Nigerian politicians is a fable that began today, then you apparently haven’t gone into Nigeria’s rich political maggot history. The truth is that certificate forgery, identity trickery and fraudulent misrepresentation have become a meme of Nigerian politics, even from the pre-colonial times.
While the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu and his running mate, Kabiru Masari, through their non-disclosure of the primary and secondary schools they attended, claimed that they lost their certificates, the vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, also claimed that his secondary school certificate was lost. The same is the story of the presidential candidate of the Young People’s Party (YPP) Prince Abdul Malik Ado Ibrahim whose claim was that he lost all his certificates. On his own, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in an affidavit he swore to, informed INEC that he changed his name from Siddiq Abubakar which his West African School Certificate bore to Atiku Abubakar. In the same vein, the presidential candidate of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Sani Yabagi, in an affidavit, claimed that he had changed the name he bore on his degree certificate and West African School Certificate to the one he bears at the moment.
In the 1940s, with the colonial government underscoring the essence of certificates, Nigerians’ ingenuity as fabulists, contortionists and fraudsters assumed frightening notoriety. On the social plane, one such character who the colonialists made an example of his academic fraudulence was Prince Modupe, known also as Modupe Paris and David Modupe. Modupe lived in America under a number of fantastical disguises.
In 1935, Modupe claimed that he had graduated from the Jesuit College, Oxford. Confronted by this fabulous claim, Oxford denied having any name of such variant in its record. In March 1947, Modupe appeared in San Francisco, claiming that he was “His Royal Highness Prince Modupe of Dubrica”. Seven months later, in the same San Francisco, he claimed he was the “Crown Prince of Nigeria”. His soul mate in confidence trickery was another Nigerian by the name Prince Peter Eket Inyang Udo who lived in America and Britain for about 17 years. The colonial government had him on its record for his dubious commercial claims.
The highest-ranking among politicians who made dubious claims about their academic attainment was a man called Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani. A strong member of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and a major Nnamdi Azikiwe acolyte, Ikejiani was appointed by the federal government of which Zik was president, as the pro-chancellor of the Ibadan University College. A visiting University of Toronto scholar was said to have raised issues with an ascription for a Doctor of Science degree that Ikejiani flaunted. Ikejiani was later appointed chairman of the Nigerian Railways Corporation. Ibadan, the capital of the Western Region, immediately erupted in chaos. Calls were made for Ikejiani’s sack for misrepresentation of his attainment. While he was certified to have earned a medical degree as a doctor from the University of Toronto, Ikejiani’s claim to DSc. was found to have been doctored.
A letter-to-the-editor opinion piece published in the Daily Service of October 13, 1951, and written by one Aina Adetokun, from Ekotedo, Ibadan, had castigated Ikejiani thus: “In fairness to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, bearing one or two occasions in which he collected public money without rendering any accounts, he has been trying to make an honest living. He is on the whole earning his keep. One of the things that vitiate Dr Azikiwe’s leadership is the type of noisy and dishonest colleagues who proclaim him the ‘god of Africa’. And who are these disciples? One Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani, former chairman of the Ibadan University College, returned to Nigeria about three years ago with a lot of fanfare. He claimed to have obtained a doctorate degree in medicine. It was later proved that the degree was a fake. Consequently, the quack expert was kicked out of the University”.
Though the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Ibadan Judicial Division, under Mr Justice Miles Abbott, ruled in his favour in a libel case Ikejiani instituted before it on September 12, 1952, Ikejiani resigned from the Nigerian Railways and was immediately made the personal physician to the president and in 1964, decorated with the award of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). Was that acronym a pun?
Another crookery associated with a First Republic politician was that of Dr Abyssinia Akweke Nwafor Orizu. Orizu became Nigeria’s first senate president and acting Nigerian president. A Nnewi royal family member who though went to the United States in 1939, he earned a degree in government from the Ohio State University and an M.A. at Columbia University. Orizu, however, got caught up in 1953 in a theft and fraud allegation totalling 32,000 pounds. He was arraigned before a Nigerian magistrate court which jailed him for seven years. He had collected the said money from parents who, through his American Council on African Education, (ACAE), had promised to take their wards to American schools. Like Ikejiani, Azikiwe didn’t care about these allegations and nominated Orizu to represent Nnewi in the 1959 federal elections.
So many such characters have lived and survived under false identities due to the long immiseration of the Nigerian mind in the belief that certificates define a man. Many of these rogues have been celebrated as national mascots and today, it looks as though being a bona fide crook is a passport and indeed, one of the criteria of eligibility for Nigerian heroism. This fakery is also fueled by a conspiracy of silence in Nigeria. Many who fake certificates work in critical sectors and their fraud is known by all, without any whistle-blowing, thereby lionizing them to inflict their frauds on the people. They then continually harvest victims of their concocted identities in the process.
In the current Fourth Republic, Salisu Buhari, who became the first speaker of the house of representatives, was swept off by a gale provoked by his allegation of certificate forgery. The young man, born in 1970, had had his fakery busted on February 16, 1999, by The News magazine whose investigation found out that Buhari’s misrepresentation of his date of birth as 1963 was dud. It also found out that he did not attend nor graduate from the University of Toronto. The investigative story claimed that Buhari not only never graduated, but never even attended the university. Section 65(1) of the Nigerian constitution (as amended) stipulated that anyone who would occupy that office must not be below the age of 30. Buhari’s claim of having gone through the mandatory National Youth Service at the Standard Construction in Kano was also a concoction. While the flip-flop was ongoing, the University of Toronto disclaimed Buhari.
On July 23, 1999, trapped like a hapless mongoose, Buhari owned up to his serial falsifications and in a statement, said: “I apologize 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 a zeal to serve the nation, I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again”. He therewith resigned from the house of representatives and was later convicted by the court, sentenced to two years imprisonment but with an option of a fine. Buhari later got pardoned by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Today, such Salisu Buhari contriteness is gone among Nigerian political malefactors. Rather, they assert their rights to the top echelon of political offices, instead of their natural rights behind the gallows.
That same outset of the 4th Republic incinerated the political aspiration of Evan Enwerem. Elected to the Nigerian Senate of 1999 to represent the Imo-East senatorial zone, Enwerem was elected the first president of the senate, beating his arch-rival, the mercurial Chuba Okadigbo, on June 3, 1999, by 66 votes to Okadigbo’s 43 votes. However, Enwerem had a short time to stay in the office as the senate committee began to investigate him on allegations of corruption and falsification of his name. A controversy erupted as to whether Enwerem’s real name was Evan or Evans. In the midst of the melee, Enwerem was spiked from office on November 18, 1999.
While the Nigerian press, at the commencement of the republic – perhaps due to the fervour of activism it bore, having single-handedly dismantled the military dictatorship of 16 years prior – fought the goblin of fakery, forgery and self-fabricating identity tricksters among Nigerian politicians, revealing their identities and dismantling their anthills in the process, the Nigerian press has today gone into somnambulism, even being in bed with these political fakesters.
Those who argue that Nigerian politicians with low-sounding certificates have achieved far more than those who come into office with high-falutin certificates are right on track. Apart from Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, the Borno State governor, who wows the world with his depth and grasp of governance, Nigerian governmental cemeteries are suffused with political office holders who claimed they had a vision but were/are lean on certifications, and who were or are a disaster. President Obasanjo, known more for his vision than his certificates, out-performed a Goodluck Jonathan who flaunted a PhD. Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, with a PhD, is a disaster in Abia State while Muhammadu Buhari, who would have been a poster boy for raw governance vision without a certificate, became a disastrous advertisement for anyone who wanted to preface vision above certificate. Another, who shamelessly goes by the prefix “Prince Dr.,” not only doesn’t have a certificate attributed to him, he struggles to swim off a jail conviction allegation against him.
What these tell us is that those who quarrel with quarrels over alleged certificate forgeries, certificate losses and misrepresentation of pasts by current presidential hopefuls are off-tangent in their anger. Beyond those certificate misrepresentations are far more suggestive national issues that should be tackled. While certificate possession or non-possession has proved incapable of solving our national challenges, we must be bothered about why Nigeria has often ended up in sewage of implacable corruption and why intelligence has proven very timid in asserting the integrity of public affairs. The truth is that, unbeknown to us, we have allowed crooks to determine the chemistry of public offices and thus, the destiny of the Nigerian people suffers indefinitely.
Founded as a teacher’s college in 1867, the Chicago State University, (CSU) a 146-year-old institution, which one of the presidential candidates claimed to have attended, according to the Chicago Tribune, has been plagued by “scandal, financial mismanagement and poor graduation rates,” and indeed, became a laughingstock among institutions. Continued the Tribune, about the mid-20th century, CSU gained a reputation in the diploma mill as “it turned out poorly educated students and employed an apathetic faculty. In the early 1970s, it was beset by allegations of bribery and financial misdeeds.”
Western democracies know the danger of allowing a falsity to determine the tenor of national aspiration. Barack Obama, the first African American to become president of the United States and its 44th president, spent his adolescent time smoking marijuana with a group of friends known as the “choom gang” who were basically basketball players. “Choom” meant “to smoke marijuana”. Obama owned up to this blight in his past as he wrote in his memoir: “I had discovered that it didn’t make any difference whether you smoked reefer in a white classmate’s sparkling new van, or in the dorm room of some brother you’d met down at the gym, or on the beach with a couple of Hawaiian kids…you just might be bored or alone. Everybody was welcome into the club of disaffection”. Obama also admitted to using cocaine in his youth. As Illinois Democrat Senator, Obama said: “When I was a kid, I inhaled”. Bill Clinton was subjected to the same question of his past dalliance with reefers by the American public. Why do we think it is an anathema to scrutinize the past of our own prospective public office holders?
In America, the past of those who want to occupy frontline offices is made an issue of discourse. The question of drug use and the past of public persons are standard questions to be answered by politicians. It is seen as a test of their ability to be straightforward. For instance, if the politician used drugs while growing up, the conventional wisdom is that he probably may have lost the values on which any civilized society must anchor. In Nigeria, the Roman plebeians who applaud these politicians think it is not an issue. Someone who once answered to charges of drug couriering in America and who is known to be a consummate drug user must be allowed to go and sin no more. What nonsense!
Our bother about allegations of certificate falsification against our intending political barons isn’t much about a fascination with or preferencing of certification over vision. We must however not keep or allow falsifiers in the system. They are pollutants that must be thoroughly clean or prevented from wreaking havoc on our fragile political system.
Today, many governors and legislators who claimed to have obtained higher degrees shamelessly fill in ordinary secondary school certificates when they confront the Almighty INEC forms. The question posed to them is, didn’t they attend those schools they glibly claimed to have attended and got higher certificates from? It is a pointer to the rot of certificate falsifications and fake academic apparel worn by Nigerian politicians to excite and impress their constituents.
While anyone is prone to losing their certificates and documents, when a presidential candidate cannot provide his primary and secondary school certificates or has changed his name over time as Atiku Abubakar has done, this raises a rebuttable question of fraud and misrepresentation. Alternative answers to this must be found and certainly not from the Nigerian affidavit system which is not only grossly questionable but open to abuse and misrepresentation. Raising issues about the integrity of certificates presented to INEC and the ones that are claimed to be missing is not about saying that certificate ownership is a sine qua non to performance in office. It says that fraud of whatever shape and form must not be allowed to stay afloat in the Nigerian governmental river. Fraudulent claims to office are a spiritual pollutant and may just be responsible for why our leaders often cannot find their paddle immediately after they enter the canoe of the Nigerian state.