By Reuben Abati
The number of persons involved in certificate scandals under the Buhari administration may speak to something far deeper in our society, even beyond the administration, but it is to say the least, disgraceful and embarrassing. Ordinarily considered some of the best educated black persons in the world – one US report indicates that Nigerians are among the most educated immigrants in the United States, vertically and horizontally – it is now shameful that Nigerians today are also ironically poster-characters for fake certificates, 419 qualifications, and dubious academic affiliations. This whole saga started, this time, with the President himself whose school certificate qualification became an issue of much speculation and histrionics. The Constitution requires any office-seeker in Nigeria to have the minimum of a secondary education. You are required to go to school till about the age of 16: extremely small education in my reckoning but good enough to enable you read and write, and be able to sign documents.
The focus on this President’s educational qualification, and the opaqueness that grew around the matter ended up motivating nosey-parkers to begin to look for certificates in the corridors of power, including certificates of participation in the National Youth Service Corps. One of these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if investigators begin to turn their searchlights on birth certificates! In the past, we had the Chicago scandal, we also had the Toronto scandal, today we are a country of too many “Chicagos” and “Torontos.” You will recall that Ms. Kemi Adeosun was accused of dodging the compulsory one-year national service for higher institution graduates. She was pushed to resign her exalted office as Minister of Finance, but her case served the country well in the long run: it brought up issues of citizenship and the value or non-value of the NYSC. Ms. Adeosun would probably be remembered more in Nigerian history for the manner in which her example generated a conversation around the rights and citizenship of Nigerians in diaspora, their relationship with their ancestral country, the character of supposedly “trusted associates”, and the long-term relevance of the National Service scheme in a country where there is very little service but a greater obsession with self, entitlement and gratification.
Ms. Adeosun has since moved on and Nigerians have left her alone. But there is still the unresolved matter of Okoi Obono-Obla, the President’s Special Adviser on Corruption. He has been accused by a Committee of the House of Representatives of parading a doctored school certificate result. They argue that the School Certificate Result that he holds does not belong to him but to a dead cousin. And that he used that certificate to gain admission to the University of Jos where he studied law. The West African Examinations Council (WAEC), the examining authority that should know the truth has also allegedly said that there is something fishy about the certificate in question. In Okoi Obono-Obla’s case, I am a bit confused.
As Chairman, Editorial Board and Editorial Page Editor of The Guardian newspapers for more than 10 years, I published opinion pieces, letters to the editor and essays from a certain Okoi Obono-Obla which were always very well written, well-made pieces, and fit for publication. Not one piece from that Okoi Obono-Obla’s sounded like something written by a man who needed to dodge a WAEC examination. Obono-Obla’s response to the current allegations is that the matter is already in court and that this is a case of “corruption fighting back” but whatever the truth is, and it is the duty of the court to determine that, the Obono-Obla case makes the Buhari government look really bad. It reinforces a growing narrative that there are too many persons in high places who cannot defend what they claim they are, under a government that flies integrity as a proof of innocence and virginity.
And there is Adebayo Shittu, the voluble, bearded Minister of Communications – the guy didn’t participate in the National Youth Service Corps. Ms Adeosun’s defenders talked about citizenship and her betrayal by “trusted associates”. They put up a spirited defence for her. In Adebayo Shittu’s case, the guy has the stupid effrontery to come forward to say that he did not enroll for the NYSC because he thought his membership of the Oyo State House of Assembly was the equivalent of a National service. I have heard a lot of stupid comments in my short life-time but this certainly must be the worst of them all. To worsen matters further, Shittu is said to be a lawyer, duly called to the Nigerian Bar. And he talks like that? Too many of this type are all over the place defending illegalities, and yet they would be the first to tell you I am a Barrister even when every year at Call to Bar ceremonies, fresh wigs are advised not to go about threatening people with the redundant title of Barrister this and Barrister that. The APC has had cause to disqualify Adebayo Shittu from participating in the APC Governorship primaries in Oyo State. Good for him. He has also been quoted as saying he is now ready to enroll for the NYSC. As the Yoruba will say: “Igbayi laaro”. In pidgin: “na now him just dey realize say NYSC important?” In street talk: “commot there, no dey talk nonsense”. The NYSC Act is very clear. It needs no golden interpretation. Shittu has committed a felony. He has convicted himself with his own mouth. He has raised further questions about the administration’s commitment to the rule of law.
There is also the case of the Governor of Adamawa state, Jibrilla Bindow, who has been accused of forging his school certificate qualification. Bindow is seeking a second term as Governor of Adamawa state. His opponents, principally named Global Integrity and Crusade Network (GICN) have now chosen to tell us that the man did not even complete secondary school. They have given WAEC an ultimatum to tell Nigerians whether or not Bindow who had served previously as Senator of the Federal Republic, has a Secondary School Certificate in accordance with the laws of the land. They claim he has not been able to make any difference as Governor because he is a secondary school drop-out.
But surely, it is not only the ruling All Progressives Congress that has this problem. Senator Ademola Adeleke, the Governor the people of Osun state wanted but the APC blocked, also obviously has issues with his academic qualifications. They say the man did not have a School Certificate. WAEC confirmed he had one. Then the Police accused him of having sat for the 2017 National Examination Council Examination (NECO) via a proxy. What we remember though is that he allegedly had an F9 in the School Certificate Examination. He didn’t deny that and yet he wanted to be Governor! Under President Buhari, Nigeria is at the level of F9 and fake certificates.
Let me nail this down. These stories, either from the APC or PDP or any other side do not help Nigeria’s image. I imagine that if any Nigerian were to go anywhere in the world today, and present the best, most impressive credentials, the relevant authorities would still go behind to double-check. Many of our students today who go abroad for additional educational opportunities are routinely asked to take extra tests that candidates from other countries are not required to take. When the rest of the world hears that Nigerian political leaders, the same persons who are supposed to take serious decisions about national, bilateral and multilateral relations are a bunch of semi-illiterates, draft dodgers, and uneducated semi-illiterates, they are bound to look at the rest of us as imbeciles. Japan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and the United States have some of the best educated persons in the world. Every serious country promotes its best people. In Nigeria we promote the worst of the pack in a country where there are more than enough people with credible qualifications. We don’t’ recognize such people. Instead we send to the international community, people who could not pass School certificate, the equivalent of the IGSCE in the United Kingdom, school drop-outs who have no clue about important governance issues – these are the ones we send out to go engage better educated and more enlightened persons.
In the end, the Buhari government prefers to take its time to respond to this issue that has become a major issue of his time as President. It may be said that President Buhari is a bad judge of character – he should never have associated with or recruited all these characters giving him problems in the first place, but how about the institutions whose job it is to screen political appointees and every other person in the public sphere? Senator Abiola Ajimobi has been Governor of Oyo State for two terms but I understand someone is also saying he too, does not have an NYSC certificate. If he has an NYSC certificate, he should display it right-away and put his accusers to shame. I really don’t understand what is going on. What is the meaning of this certificate problem in a country where there are people who can put every needed certificate on the table and yet they are the ones who are unemployed and the one who have issues are the ones running government? The relevant security agencies continue to disappoint the country and a lot of political crises are generated in part because the security agencies are politically compromised. Nobody can aspire to public office in Nigeria except they have been screened by the security agencies. What happened to that process under President Buhari’s watch?
For, the forgery of school certificates is a form of corruption. I am saying that certificate scandal is the worst form of corruption. Right now, our political representatives are no longer respected abroad Who wants to talk to a diplomat whose basic education is uncertain? Who wants to take a country seriously where a state Governor says “We works” instead of “We worked”. And you have a President who is very comfortable with all of these?
President Buhari needs to clean up his cabinet, do a complete audit. He should appeal to all the men who have certificate problems in his cabinet to do him a favour and ship out voluntarily. I won’t be surprised if the same investigative journalists who ousted the cases mentioned have even more scandalous examples in their file and may release bigger blows in the day ahead. Who are these people? Common certificate they don’t even have and they want to rule Nigeria! The diplomats serving in Nigeria must be laughing at us in the dispatches they send home.
The President has a responsibility to act on all of these cases, to determine the credibility of these allegations and to prove that his government is sincere about the anti-corruption campaign across all genres.