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    Saturday, January 6, 2024

    Nigerian Universities also Guilty of Certificate Racketeering

    With so much emphasis on paper qualifications at the expense of the skills people possess and what they can deliver, it is not a surprise that everybody wants to possess one certificate or the other. Also, many Nigerians are not satisfied with having the title of a simple Mister before their names, they want bigger titles like honorary doctorate degrees that will earn them some respect in the society.

    The title, ‘Dr’ has since become two for one kobo. Getting these degrees and certificates has led some to toe the unholy path of certificate racketeering. ADESINA WAHAB reports.

    Before the expose about how an undercover reporter obtained a first-degree certificate in six weeks from a university in Benin Republic, the nation was startled by the certificate racketeering scandal that broke out two months earlier at the Lagos State University, LASU.

    It involved some teaching and non-teaching staff who were selling certificates to people for about N3 million. They were inserting names of people who never attended the university’s defunct satellite campuses into the list of graduates to be cleared by the Senate of the university. The university shut down the satellite campuses and was trying to clear the backlog of certificates to be issued to those who attended them.

    The situation was so bad and the echoes of the malfeasance got to the attention of the then Vice Chancellor, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, SAN, who, in 2020, had to order a sting operation into the matter. At the end of the day, some teaching and non-teaching staff were indicted.

    If you think such ugly development is new or that it is peculiar to a particular university, then listen to Eddy Megwa, the Director of Public Affairs of the National Youth Service Corps Scheme, NYSC. Megwa, who appeared on a Channels Television programme, recalled his experience when he was the Lagos State Coordinator of the scheme some years back.

    “There was a particular period when over 4,000 corps members were posted to the state and I had this suspicion that some of them could have presented fake certificates to get enlisted in the scheme. So, I told them during a parade that anyone who knew he or she did not truly possess the certificates used to mobilise them for the scheme should gently opt out before they would be fished out.

    ”I also added that policemen, soldiers and other security agents were around with hand cuffs and their vehicles to take such fake certificate holders to custody and I gave them some time to think over it. Don’t be surprised that some left unceremoniously. I also recall that in 2006, the then Director General of the NYSC, Brig.- Gen. Yusuf Momoh, went to an orientation camp and asked a supposed corps member the title of his final project, the answer he gave was incredulous and further investigation revealed that his name was smuggled into the list of graduates from a particular university,” he said.

    The main channels through which such evils are mostly perpetrated are study centres and satellite campuses. About two years ago, the then Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, said the commission had discovered 67 illegal universities and study centres in the country, and that they would be shut down. Those who didn’t know the havoc the existence of such centres wreaked on the system felt the decision was too harsh. To the critics of the commission, such centres were sources of employment and income for some people.

    Roles of NUC, Federal Ministry of Education

    The NUC is the regulatory body for the university system in the country. It registers and accredits universities wanting to operate in the country, whether they are local or foreign and whether they want to operate fully or in partnership with other universities.

    However, the approvals are subject to ratification by the Federal Executive Council, FEC. The Federal Ministry of Education has a list of approved foreign universities and the courses they offer among others while its Department of Evaluation also grades certificates brought by foreign students.

    Why certificate racketeering thrives – Lecturers

    The National President of the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, opined that desperation for certification at the detriment of relying on competence to reward people, had driven many to commit unholy acts such as forgery, impersonation among others.

    He said, “What comes to mind is the desperation for certificate acquisition. The decline in the quality of education was brought about by the myriads of problems such as strikes, poor funding, lack of resources to teach and to motivate lecturers. It is not everybody that is cut out for academics, but unfortunately, we have placed so much emphasis on certificates.

    “Look at how people want to be called doctor, how they want to acquire honorary doctorate degrees. Some people think until they get to that level, they would be seen as nobody. We need to begin to place emphasis on skills, what people can do, not the certificates they all carry about. We have drifted from competence to certification.

    We have depreciated as a people. We no longer value hard work. One is left wondering when we are going to get out of the mess”, he said. On the role of the NUC, Sunmonu said the commission should brace up to its responsibilities.

    “The NUC is empowered by law to resolve such issues and get rid of mushroom schools. It has to tackle the problem. There must be no sacred cows or media trials. Moreover, the NUC must block the loopholes and be ingenious in its actions and steps to be taken, “ he argued.

    We are not sleeping – NUC

    The spokesman of the NUC, Mr Ayo Haruna, told our correspondent that every now and then, illegal universities and study centres were being shut down when discovered. He said, “If you are a foreign university and you want to operate here, you can come, build your structures and submit yourself to our accreditation process.

    You can also go into partnership with local universities here for the operation of your centres, all these processes are to be approved by the NUC. As for local universities, they can operate the Department of Open Distance and E-Learning. Those ones are also subject to accreditation by the NUC.

    For foreign universities and even local ones to start operating, the Federal Executive Council will also approve. The Federal Ministry of Education evaluates foreign certificates. We work in concert with regulatory bodies in other countries too”.

    He added that the commission started clamping down on satellite campuses and study centres because the proliferation of satellite campuses was resulting in lower academic standards and were being set up primarily for profit motives and not to provide quality education.

    Those circumventing the process are criminals – Education Ministry

    The Director, Public Affairs, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Ben Goong, stated that those breaching the system to acquire fake certificates should be seen and treated as criminals. “To say that our universities are poorly funded and that is why people go abroad to attend fake universities and come with fake certificates is not correct.

    Budgets are allocated to education yearly and the sector is running. We have a system in place to assess foreign certificates and to know if a foreign school is recognised to run any particular course, but how many Nigerians take the pain to find out which is which? “Somebody who is trying to get educated should know what to do.

    If you have secondary school certificate and you want to acquire a degree in a foreign institution, such a person should know what to do.

    Or is it a first degree holder hoping to go for further studies that should not know how to do due diligence about the school he wants to attend? The appropriate government agencies are monitoring study centres and satellite campuses and they are doing the needful,” he added.

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