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Fake degree epidemic, student loans and education matters

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With the funding support of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation, Umar Audu, a reporter with the  newspaper carried out a sting operation to ascertain the veracity of fake degree mill in Benin Republic. According to the story published in the December 30, 2023 edition of the newspaper, Audu, in December 2022, reached out to a racketeering syndicate that specialises in selling the infamous degree certificates from the neighbouring countries to willing buyers at an ‘affordable rate.’

The agent, however, gave him the option of ‘studying’ for a year or month, but he opted for the month option. His choice of mass communication from any ‘university’ in Cotonou was premised on the fact he could easily sail through the screening as he had knowledge of the course. The agent gave the reporter the breakdown of the amount to pay, which included tuition fees, an evaluation letter, a resident permit, immigration stamps at the border post and transportation. On December 27, 2022, the reporter made the payment and was issued a payment receipt. True to the agent’s words, the certificate and transcript of Ecole Superieure de Gestion et de Technologies, Cotonou, Benin Republic, were delivered to his office on February 17, 2023. The transcript indicated that the reporter commenced study in the institution in 2018 and graduated on September 5, 2022.

Unbelievably, the reporter ‘finished’ the four-year degree programme in less than two months without application, registration, studying, writing exams or crossing the Nigerian border. Apart from acquiring a fake university degree, Audu was also mobilised for the mandatory National Youth Service with the fake degree. This is despite the fact that he had previously ‘served’ after his previous graduation from another university in 2018.  According to the news report, “In separate letters dated and 26, 2023 addressed to the Director General of the National Youth Service Corps, the Federal Ministry of Education confirmed that the ESGT is on the ministry’s list of accredited institutions. The letter, which was signed on behalf of the minister by the Deputy Director of Evaluation and Accreditation, Koli Salihu-Mongodiba, also cleared 51 ESGT graduates to participate in the NYSC, “having met all the requirements set by the ministry.”

investigation revealed that agents of these mushroom universities connived with some corrupt officials at the Federal Ministry of Education to get evaluation letters for a fee ranging from N40,000 to N70,000 per “graduate.”

Before anyone will think that fake degrees are only issued from foreign universities, a similar scenario had previously played out at the Lagos State University. The management of LASU, Ojo, confirmed removing the Dean of Students’ Affairs, Tajudeen Olumoko, a professor, as part of the investigation into the allegation of certificate racketeering in the institution. Oluwayemisi Thomas-Onashile, Coordinator, Centre for Information and Public Relations, LASU, said this in a statement on Friday, November 10, 2023, in Lagos. The suspension followed a media report that a syndicate sells certificates for between N2m and N3m, depending on the course of study.

The report had recalled that a sting operation, spearheaded by the school management during the administration of Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, and the Department of State Services exposed certificate racketeering in the institution, with some members of the syndicate allegedly confessing to the crime.

Fake degrees or certificates have been a hydra-headed monster plaguing our academic institutions. Many civil servants got their jobs through fake certificates while a number of high profile politically exposed persons have also lost their exalted seats due to the same reason. In December 2021, the Kaduna State Universal Basic Education Board dismissed 233 teachers in public schools in the state who presented fake certificates to get jobs. The Chairman of the board, Tijjani Abdullahi, said the affected teachers would also be prosecuted. Recall that Hon. Salisu Buhari was forced to resign after he was exposed by media reports for parading a fake University of Toronto degree in 1999. A former Minister of Finance under President Muhammadu Buhari, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, was forced to resign, and fled Nigeria in 2018 after investigation revealed that she actually got a fake NYSC Exemption Certificate.

The procurement of fake degrees or certificates shows how morally bankrupt some Nigerians are. This menace is the reason our certificates are no longer commanding respect in the private sector and even abroad. There are a significant number of Nigerians who cannot write simple and correct sentences despite claiming to have graduated from reputable tertiary institutions. It is scary when someone procures a fake degree to work as an engineer, doctor or in other medical science professions which have to do with human lives.

The earlier referenced newspaper reported that, “In April 2018, the Federal Government, in a bid to tackle the menace of the proliferation of substandard degrees, announced the blacklisting of some questionable institutions in Benin, Cameron, Ghana, and Togo. Adamu Adamu, the then Minister of Education, set up a 16-member committee to screen 40,000 Nigerians with degrees obtained from foreign tertiary institutions. But despite the measures, the business seems to be thriving – no thanks to corrupt officials in the Federal Ministry of Education, Nigeria Immigration Service, and other government agencies who collect bribes to lower the bar.” I do hope something stringent is done by the Tinubu administration to halt this menace.

Away from that, one of the laudable flagship programmes of the Tinubu administration is the reintroduction of the Students Loan Scheme. Last week, the President made a slight modification to the list of beneficiaries. According to a news report, Tinubu has directed the management of the Nigeria Education Loan Fund to expand its focus area by extending interest-free loans to Nigerian students interested in skills development programmes. The President issued this directive after he received a briefing from Akintunde Sawyerr, Executive Secretary of NELFUND, in the build-up to the launch of the programme later in the month. Today is the last day of the month and the flag-off of the programme meant to commence in January 2024 is yet to take place. Furthermore, it is doubtful if the knotty issues in the law such as repayment to commence two years after graduation and qualification criteria have been sorted out. The last I heard was that the National Assembly was going to further amend the law.

Meanwhile, I strongly condemn the move by the National Assembly to establish 47 new universities. News has it that the number of federal-owned universities in Nigeria may hit 99 in the coming months as a bill to establish 47 new ones has sailed through the second reading. This is just as about 56 bills have passed for the second reading to establish Federal Medical Centres in different parts of the country. The House is also considering various bills to establish about 32 Federal Colleges of Education, 11 Federal Colleges of Agriculture and five Federal Polytechnics in addition to the already existing institutions. At present, in addition to the 52 federal universities, there are 22 federal medical centres, 27 federal colleges of education and 40 polytechnics in Nigeria.

This is preposterous! How will the Federal Government fund these mushroom academic and medical institutions in the face of dwindling revenue? The ideal thing is to mobilise funds to increase the carrying capacity of the extant ones so that they can increase student intake. Tertiary institutions should not be turned into constituency projects of politicians. There are enough glorified secondary schools being called universities already. I laud the Federal Government for acceding to the request of the Academic Staff Union of Universities to exempt lecturers from the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System. This is heart-warming. What is left is to grant full autonomy to these institutions in terms of recruitment, discipline and promotion of their staff. Government at all levels should also do everything in their power to stem the tide of brain drain in our tertiary institutions.


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