NIGER State’s education foundation stands on an unedifying falsehood. The farce is boldly substantiated in the report of a panel, which discovered that more than three quarters of the primary and secondary school teachers secured employment using forged certificates. This is inexcusable, but the state government has taken a bold step by empowering the panel to uncover the charade. To attain a beneficial outcome, the government should institute a deep reform, ensure a foolproof recruitment system and prosecute all those connected with the fraudulent scheme.
Forgery (also known as “uttering a false instrument”) is a serious offence, punishable as a felony. Specifically, the screening committee ascertained that 80 per cent of the Ministry of Education workforce had counterfeit certificates. This number is huge, and puts the learning process in the state in a dangerous peril. “During the exercise, many of them could not even write their names or speak correct English,” Ibrahim Panti, the panel chair, stated. Those involved were sacked and replaced with genuinely certificated teachers, he said. It is the first step, but it is not enough to let them off the hook without receiving any punishment for their delinquency.
In an earlier review, the 2020 Staff Audit Committee constituted by the Niger State Universal Basic Education Board said no fewer than 2,286 primary school teachers were using questionable certificates that “they purchased from the roadside.” For so long, this counterfeit army must have inculcated harmful, adulterated knowledge and perverse ideas into the impressionable minds of the pupils. Simply employing a new set of teachers cannot solve this quandary. To renew the mindset of these young pupils, the governor, Sani Bello, and the state MoE should build a holistic action plan.
Certificate forgery is a national epidemic in Nigeria. Partly, the culture of forgery thrives because the system relies heavily on paper qualifications without an efficient methodology to detect fraud. In 2019, about 100 candidates were caught with fake degrees and National Certificate of Education certificates during teachers’ recruitment in Kebbi State. Civil servants, public office holders, basic schoolteachers and tertiary institution lecturers exploit the loose system. Worse, many of them escape punishment when they are exposed. This does not serve as a deterrent.
Kaduna State suffered the same fate as Niger in 2012. The then governor, Patrick Yakowa, said no fewer than 2,000 teachers were caught with fake certificates in the public school system. Of that number, the government dismissed 1,840. At the tertiary level, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission detained the rector of Igbajo Polytechnic in Osun State in 2018 for allegedly securing the job with a forged PhD certificate. A senior lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Peter Ekemezie, was suspended by the authorities on allegations of certificate forgery and plagiarism in 2019.
In 2012, forgery became a national concern during recruitment into the police force. In one week, 22 applicants were charged to court in Ilorin for allegedly presenting forged certificates during screening. Twenty-three applicants were also charged for similar offences at the Lagos centre. It is a misnomer for potential law officers to gain employment with fraudulent academic documents.
The Lagos-based Federal Institute for Industrial Research was engulfed in a leadership crisis in 2019 after the acting director-general was accused of having a fake PhD certificate, a fact confirmed by the ICPC. In the political arena, Salisu Buhari was forced to quit office in 1999 shortly after being sworn in as the Speaker, House of Representatives, because of having a fake certificate from the Toronto University and false age declaration. There is more.
Early in 2020, the Supreme Court sacked the All Progressives Congress governor-elect, David Lyon, on the eve of his swearing in after his deputy was cited for certificate forgery. Under this regime, a minister quit the cabinet of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) on allegations of possessing a fake NYSC discharge certificate. In Niger State, the APC lost four House of Assembly seats to the rival Peoples Democratic Party at the tribunal after the 2019 general election because of certificate forgery. Governors, senators and Reps have been in the eye of the storm on accusations of certificate forgery.
The forgery mess in the civil service is disgusting. Apart from the civil service at the state level, the Federal Government has uncovered 70,000 “ghost” workers in its service. They were exposed with the aid of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System. Through this, the Federal Government sliced N206 billion off its wage bill in the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years.
Yet, there is a critical missing point. Forgery is a criminal offence. Until these governments cast sentiments aside and embark on the comprehensive prosecution of those culpable, there will be nothing much to deter the offenders. But the consequences are dire. In contrast, Finnish education enjoys a global recognition for its excellence principally because of the top quality and reward system for the teachers.
Certificate forgery is assuming a dangerous dimension globally, but countries are reviewing their laws and policies to combat it. People are really taking advantage of the new technology to forge education certificates from universities and other higher institutions across the world and use them to secure jobs. It is time governments in Nigeria reviewed their recruitment processes to make them tighter. It is argued that every society should rely heavily on the ability to produce and exchange legitimate and trustworthy documents. Forged documents can have serious and far-reaching negative consequences on businesses, individuals, and political entities. This is why forgery is punished harshly. Apart from prosecution, the federal, state and local governments and public agencies should review their recruitment process to block the loopholes being exploited by forgers. Forensic examination and stringent screening procedures of documents will limit the damage forgers are inflicting on the system