Like sea creatures in ocean’s depth, prominent Nigerians have been grappling not to sink in the murky waters of certificate scandals, BAYO AKINLOYE writes
“I’ll never resign!” his gentle voice echoed through his expansive office, as his body shook like a man being led inevitably to the gallows as he addressed journalists in a press conference.
The grandeur of his office as the Speaker, House of Representatives, was unmistakable with his retinue of security details and aides.
There were five rooms adjoining and leading to his expansive official personal office: the security details, receptionists, private secretaries, aides, chief of staff and aid-de-camp.
As the Number Four citizen of Nigeria, he could wield enormous power and would do anything to remain in power – as he had already lied his way to become the fourth most powerful person in the most populous black nation on earth.
The Ahmadu Bello University connection
Erstwhile Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari’s way to the lower chamber of the National Assembly was fraught with forgeries. To become a federal lawmaker, he claimed he was 36 years old as of 1999, though he was born in 1970.
The minimum required age to be a lawmaker in the House, according to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, is 30.
He also claimed to have attended University of Toronto in Canada and graduated with a degree in Business Administration, but the university denied he was ever a student of the institution.
And for falsifying his credentials to gain admission into Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, he was kicked out and never had the opportunity to participate in the one-year National Youth Service Corps exercise.
In 2000, the lid was fully blown open and the defiant Buhari broke down in tears of confession before the nation, owning up to allegations of forgery and perjury.
“I apologise 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 my zeal to serve the nation. I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again,” he begged.
To date, Salisu Buhari has remained the poster boy of certificate scandal in the country’s political space, with the latest accusation levelled against a one-time anti-corruption activist and now senator, Dino Melaye.
Forty-three-year-old Melaye, bald-headed with a well-tended moustache to boot, was accused by an online news medium, SaharaReporters of not graduating from the same ABU. One of his colleagues, Senator Ali Ndume, called for the upper legislative chamber to probe him for forgery and perjury.
“SaharaReporters, please sue me and ABU if it is true that I did not graduate from Zaria. Tell (the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) Magu (Ibrahim) to arrest and prosecute me. I’m presently a student of ABU pursuing my seventh degree,” Melaye retorted.
However, Harvard University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, which Melaye had reportedly claimed to have graduated from, told SaharaReporters that Melaye did not study degree courses with them, and hence, couldn’t have graduated.
As it is customary, the Senate has referred Melaye’s case to the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions. The committee’s report is expected to come in towards the end of April.
Just a fortnight ago, the firebrand politician was breathing fire and brimstone, hankering that Magu’s confirmation should be dismissed because he did not pass the Senate’s “integrity test.”
But the spokesman for northern delegates in the last National Conference, Anthony Sani, does not think it is a problem peculiar to politically exposed persons.
“Certificate scandal is not an exclusive preserve of politicians but manifestations of corrupt practices that have distorted our sense of what is right and what is evil in the polity. Consider the prevalence of exam malpractices, among our youths in order to have realistic appreciation of the unsavoury situation,” he told SUNDAY PUNCH.
A scandal that rocks even presidents
In an animated manner, Sani dismissed an allegation that President Muhammadu Buhari did not have a certificate to show that he finished his secondary school education. He had told SUNDAY PUNCH in 2015 that it was an insult to say the man – a general – that would soon be the nation’s president did not have such a certificate.
Even though the respected former Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade (retd.), in defence of President Buhari, had expressed disdain for those who accused the President of not having the Cambridge West African School Certificate Ordinary Level in 1961 as he claimed, the allegation left much a chink in the armour of Buhari than any other issue as the 73-year-old has yet to present the certificate.
Few months to the 2015 presidential poll, Buhari defended himself, saying that he attended the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, with many prominent Nigerians, including the late General Shehu Yar’Adua.
Certain of not forging his certificate, Buhari said he sat for the University of Cambridge/WASSCE Examination in 1961, with the examination number 8280002, which he reportedly passed in the Second Division.
He also submitted an affidavit to the Independent National Electoral Commission that all his academic credentials were with the Military Board. However, the army issued a curious disclaimer that it did not have the original, certified true copy or statement of results of the retired general.
In the ensuing claim and counterclaim, one Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe instituted a lawsuit asking the court to disqualify Buhari from running for president because he did not have the minimum qualification required to contest for the presidential election.
There was raucous noise across the nation as opponents and supporters awaited the court’s pronouncement but before the case could be decided, the former head of state won the election and was sworn in as a democratically elected president.
On June 16, 2016, a Federal High Court in Abuja adjourned the suit indefinitely seemingly putting an end to a nail-biting controversy that may be forever associated with a president who built his claim to the presidency on the platform of integrity.
But before Buhari was subjected to this scrutiny, former President Goodluck Jonathan had also been caught momentarily in the web of a certificate scandal.
Like a salvo, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo hauled a bombshell that must have unsettled and rattled the leadership of the PDP and others who revered Jonathan and never ceased to laud him as the first doctoral degree holder to lead Nigeria.
Obasanjo had said, “Even Jonathan did not finish his PhD course but when it was presented, we stated that it does not matter but many people did not know because it was a PDP thing.”
Coming from arguably Nigeria’s most respected leader and global statesman, the accusation was weighty and left the sitting president’s integrity and image in a precarious state.
Jonathan reportedly holds a BSc in Zoology with second class honours; an MSc in Hydrobiology and Fisheries Biology; and a PhD in Zoology, all from the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
His supporters felt Obasanjo was making desperate efforts to discredit the then president ahead of the 2015 presidential poll to ensure he would not win the election.
In a response to an inquiry by The PUNCH, the university had dismissed such accusation as having “neither legs nor grounds to stand on.”
The institution, through its Deputy Registrar, William Wodi, had said concerning information on Jonathan’s qualifications, “We have absolutely nothing to hide as an institution that has a statutory mandate to advance the frontiers of knowledge.”
Yet, when civil society organisation, Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, requested for Jonathan’s academic records through the Freedom of Information law, the university replied, “The Management of the university has carefully considered your request vis-a-vis the FOI Act.
“It is my instruction to inform you that your request does not come within the relevant provisions of the FOI Act for its practicability or for the university to provide such details as requested. Details of the PhD Degree of President Goodluck Jonathan in the University of Port Harcourt cannot therefore be made available to you.”
That put paid to Obasanjo’s accusation.
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu
Since 1999, only few men have bestridden Nigeria’s political landscape like a colossus as the current National Leader of the All Progressives Congress. As the ultimate kingmaker, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has anointed governors and frustrated the ambitions of those who would not kowtow to his political vision.
A formidable political fighter and strategist, loved by many and hated by as much, the allegation that he forged a certificate may always dog the APC leader.
In 1999, one Dr. Waliu Balogun had written a petition against Tinubu that he did not attend Chicago State University as indicated in his INEC form 001 filled when he contested the Lagos State governorship poll and that he also lied in the affidavit he attached to the INEC form, in which he declared that he lost his university degree certificate while he was in exile between 1994 and 1998.
Balogun’s litany of complaints included accusations that Tinubu’s claim of attending Government College, Ibadan, was false; and that he lied in the INEC form about his age – that he was born in 1952 as against the 1954 he filled in the documents at the Chicago university. Tinubu was also accused of not participating in the compulsory one-year NYSC exercise.
Generating a lot of furore, Tinubu was forced to present the original copy of his certificate while he dismissed the allegations as “baseless, wicked and unfortunate.”
Notwithstanding, that year, a firebrand lawyer and human rights activist, Gani Fawehinmi, went to court to compel the Inspector General of Police to investigate Tinubu. Fawehinmi did not live long enough to finish the lawsuit.
In 2013, however, one Dr. Dominic Adegbola filed an unsuccessful application seeking to reopen the suit.
Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, means many things to many people. Some hail him as a courageous politician daring the APC–led Federal Government. Others see him as an impostor using populism to take advantage of the Ekiti people – this is partly based on a 2013 certificate scandal that he was embroiled in.
Flamboyant Fayose had claimed that he attended The Polytechnic, Ibadan and bagged a Higher National Diploma certificate but he was left in a state of disbelief when the institution issued a disclaimer that he was never a student of the polytechnic and that the certificate he claimed as his actually belonged to a different person.
Not a few people asked for his prosecution just as Fayose prepared for the governorship election.
In an intriguing volte-face, the state polytechnic ate their words, admitting that Fayose was a graduate of the school and he eventually won the election in October 2014 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party.
With chubby cheeks and usually wearing a smile, former two-time Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam was accused of forging his West African School Certificate which he used to gain admission to the University of Lagos to study Law.
Ahead of the 2007 governorship poll in Benue, Suswam submitted the certificate to INEC as prerequisite to contest in the election.
No sooner had he done that than it was alleged that his original certificate showed that he passed five subjects, excluding Mathematics and English, which are mandatory for admission into a Nigerian university.
His accusers also accused Suswam of writing to WAEC in 2005 claiming that his certificate was missing, attaching photocopies of the missing certificate, a police report and an affidavit of loss of certificate to the letter.
A PDP aspirant and opponent of Suswam, Terver Kakih, took the matter to court claiming that WAEC issued the accused a new certificate that indicated he passed English and Mathematics, raising suspicions it might have been forged.
The case literally dragged from that point until Suswam completed his tenure as governor with the examination body standing by the certificate it issued Suswam.
The lawsuit moved from the High Court to the Supreme Court and in 2014, the apex court cleared Suswam of any wrongdoing.
For many a Nigerian governor, unease lies the head that wears the crown. Like his colleagues mentioned earlier, former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, also walked the often tight rope of a forgery scandal in 2012 when Major General Charles Airhiavbere (retd.) challenged the authenticity of his academic records.
Airhiavbere, who was contesting governorship on the platform of PDP, had said Oshiomhole’s primary and school certificates were forged.
In a case that went before elections tribunal, Airhiavbere argued that all certificates presented to INEC by Oshiomhole were not authentic.
According to him, Oshiomhole attended Iyamoh Primary School, Iyamoh, from 1957 to 1962, with Edo State Ministry of Education’s record indicating that the school was founded in 1963, a year after the then governor said he graduated from it; and that his name was not listed among graduands of Blessed Martins Secondary Modern School, which Oshiomhole was said to have graduated from in 1965, among other issues.
Though Airhiavbere lost his case at the tribunal, he got a reprieve at the Court of Appeal, as the court ordered that a new tribunal should be convened to revisit the petition he had earlier filed.
As time fled past, what used to be a legal tussle between Oshiomhole and the retired general turned into a case of camaraderie because in 2015 during the former’s seventh anniversary as governor, Airhiavbere praised him, saying, “The platform created by Oshiomhole is strong and tenable and one upon which the APC as a party should allow all aspirants to contest to fly the party’s flag in the 2016 governorship election. The governor’s crowd of supporters and the relevance of the party in the state have been deep-rooted even in opposition, before that election.”
Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, succeeded Oshiomhole in running the affairs of the state. He is also like his predecessor in another sense.
Obaseki’s profile indicates that he attended the Columbia University and Pace University in New York, US and has an MBA in Finance and International Business.
Like his forerunner, Obaseki was accused of using a doctored certificate to seek admission into the university.
Chairman of the PDP in Edo, Dan Orbih, had said about him, “He claimed he entered university the year he left secondary school. How could he have gained admission with such result? The result was not even good enough for any form of preliminary studies.
“This can only mean that Godwin Obaseki forged certificates to gain admission to the university. It is obvious that the man has no academic qualifications as he had only three credits.”
In response, Obaseki produced an affidavit from an Abuja High Court which stated that all of his educational certificates, including his NYSC discharge certificate were missing and in their stead he produced photocopies of the original documents.
The claim was dismissed as “flimsy” and “unconvincing” by the PDP.
Staunchly defending himself, Obaseki said, “The truth is that I have not had any reason to look for them in the last 25 years. I know that I kept them somewhere in a safe box and I had photocopies. When I needed them for the exercise, I could not find them. So, I swore to an affidavit that I cannot find the originals.
“So when the whole controversy started raging, my cousin called me from New York and said, ‘But your originals are here.’ I said, ‘Please, send them to me now’.”
For Obaseki, all is well that ends well.
Evan(s) Enwerem was the Senate President on June 3, 1999 but he did not hold the position for long as he was embroiled in a scandal involving forgery and perjury.
He was accused by colleagues in the Senate, said to be led by Senator Chuba Okadigbo (who eventually replaced him and was also booted out in a similar fashion), of using a fake name and falsifying academic records.
The allegation against Enwerem was that he falsified his name and a debate ensued as to whether Enwerem’s real name was Evan or Evans.
Eventually, he was removed as the senate president on November 18, 1999 but remained as a senator until 2003 and was never prosecuted. He died in 2007.
Aged 55, according to Senator Stella Oduah’s profile on the National Assembly’s page, she reportedly went to St. John’s Primary School and graduated in 1974 with a First School Leaving Certificate; Zixton Secondary School and graduated in 1978 with West African School Certificate; and St. Paul College and finished in 1982 with no certificate received indicated.
A former Minister of Aviation, Oduah is not one to be frightened in times of scandals – she was accused of being among the privileged few women who influenced the decisions of ex-president Jonathan and that she allegedly bought bulletproof automobiles for personal use with government money.
According to information gleaned from online sources, Oduah claimed she attended St. Paul’s College, Lawrenceville in Virginia, US, from 1978 to 1982, obtaining a first degree in Accounting and a master’s degree in 1983. But St. Paul’s College did not seem to have run a master’s programme.
On Wikipedia, the senator was also credited with having received an honorary doctoral degree in Business Administration from Pacific Christian University based in Glendale.
That claim too said was said to be preposterous.SaharaReporters had, through a story it published, accused Oduah of falsely claiming to attend the academic institutions.
According to the online publication, the then President of St. Paul’s, Dr. Claud Flythe, refused to deny or confirm the senator’s claim when contacted.
It added that efforts to verify Oduah’s academic claim was fruitless as the institution’s Office of Alumni Affairs said the college had been closed since June 2013 due to loss of its accreditation.
In spite of these weighty allegations, the delectable senator has kept mum. The citation of the degree has however been yanked off from herWikipedia page.
According to his photo-less profile on the National Assembly’s official website, Andy Uba is 59 years old; he went to St James Primary School, Uga Aguata, Anambra State and Union Secondary School, Enugu State. SUNDAY PUNCH observed that the space for dates he attended those schools was vacant. He also claimed in the profile that he went to California State University, Los Angeles in 2013 with qualifications that read, “Ba, p.hd, dpa award.” His profile like many other federal lawmakers did not say much.
In 2006, there were claims that Andy Uba did not have a first degree in Geology which he said he obtained from Concordia University, Canada, in 1984.
His master’s degree from California State University was also said to be doubtful; so was his claim to have acquired a doctoral degree from Buxton University in the United Kingdom, as the institution was said to run unaccredited online degrees with an address in Portugal, which was not recognised by the United Kingdom.
Ikechukwu Obiorah had made these allegations in a bid to overturn Uba’s election as the senator representing Anambra South Senatorial District in 2011, asking the election tribunal to invalidate his election and order a rerun poll.
While the legal battle continues in the court, the senator relishes his privilege as one of the nation’s federal lawmakers.
The senator representing Edo North senatorial district of Edo State, Domingo Obende, of the APC was one of the nation’s lawmakers with a moral burden to prove that the documents presented for election into public offices were not forged.
A PDP candidate, Yisa Braimoh, had accused Obende of forging his primary school certificate for the 2011 National Assembly election.
A lawsuit Braimoh filed against Obende was dismissed in 2012. He appealed the judgment but the ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal.
For the senator, that was not just an electoral victory, it was a vindication of his integrity.
Professor Maurice Iwu was INEC’s Chairman between 2005 and 2010. Last year, the National Human Rights Commission recommended his prosecution for conducting what international observers perceived as one of the most bizarre elections ever held in the world.
The outcome inaugurated the strange staggering of governorship elections now in vogue in the country and affecting Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Kogi states, where election tribunals upturned the fraud-tainted results.
He bears more burden than that; even his personal integrity was under question asSaharaReporters questioned whether Iwu was actually a pharmacist and if he had a first degree from a university in Cameroon.
The online publication claimed that Iwu attended Biafra Holy Rosary School of Pharmacy, Ummuna Orlu from 1968-1969 where he dropped out in Class 4, coinciding with the same period he indicated to the University of Bradford to have graduated from a university in Cameroon.
Following his stint at the school of pharmacy, the ex-INEC boss was said to have undertaken a course, Dispensing Pharmacy Technician in Compounding, in Côte d’Ivoire, under the Biafran-Ivory Coast training scholarships for Biafrans. The course was for two months. Following the end of the Biafran war, he landed a job as a dispensing chemist (though he was alleged to have paraded himself as a medical doctor to many of his ‘patients’) in Enugu at 35 Zik Avenue, Uwani, opposite Leventis stores, Enugu. He held this job between 1970 and 1973.
Iwu has neither refuted or confirmed these allegations and INEC, too, has remained silent on the matter.
Following the role he allegedly played in connection with the N23.29bn bribery of INEC officials, the EFCC is said to be on his trail.
A LinkedIn profile of Iwu indicated that he went to “Lagos University” between 1972 and 1977. But another record, according to SaharaReportersshowed that the ex-INEC boss obtained his undergraduate, master’s and PhD degrees from University of Bradford between 1972 and 1978.
In 2011, according to an online medium,Nigerianvillagesquare.com, the US Securities and Exchange Commission had sent a request to the City University of New York’s Graduate School asking to know if a former Director General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Okereke-Onyiuke, had a PhD. The response of the school’s Director of Student Services and Senior Registrar of CUNY’s Graduate School, Vincent De Luca, was startling.
The statement of the school obtained by our correspondent from the website quoted De Luca as saying, “On January 18, 2011, I caused a search to be conducted of our student records (including graduation records) at The Graduate Center, at the request of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, to determine if Ms. Ndi Okereke–Onyiuke was ever enrolled in the PhD programme in Business and if she received a PhD in Business at The Graduate Centre.
“A thorough search of our electronic and paper files for the names, Ndi Leche Okereke, Ndi Okereke, Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke and Ndi Lechi Okereke–Onyiuke was conducted. No record was found that Ms. Ndi Okereke–Onyiuke ever enrolled in the PhD programme in Business or received a PhD in Business at The Graduate Centre.”
That the former NSE boss earned a first class honours degree in Business Administration, Computer Science and Economics, from Baruch College of the City College of the City, University of New York in 1975, is also said to be contestable – as the institution was said to be non-existent at least in the US, according to SaharaReporters.
The “Amazon” of the NSE still has all the academic records glowingly displayed on Bloomberg’s Executive Profile for big guns. She has also yet to counter the rebuttal of the CUNY’s Graduate School; and no law enforcement agency in Nigeria is known to have looked into her issue.
This month, the Supreme Court ended the dreams of Christian Abah of enjoying the privilege of making laws for the country.
Abah, a member of the House of Representatives representing Ado/Okpokwu/Ogbadigbo Federal Constituency of Benue State, was kicked out of the legislative chamber.
He was earlier given the boot by a Federal High Court in Abuja in 2016 for submitting a forged certificate of academic qualification to INEC.
The court had ordered INEC to issue fresh certificate of return to Abah’s first runner-up in the PDP’s primary held in 2014, Hassan Saleh.
The apex court affirmed that he had forged the Ordinary National Diploma certificate purportedly issued to him in 1985 by the Federal Polytechnic, Mubi, Adamawa State.
“It is a must, to take the lead, righting the wrong in our society if and when the opportunity presents itself as in this appeal. Allowing criminality and certificate forgery to continue to percolate into the streams, waters and oceans of our national polity will only mean that our waters are and will remain dangerously contaminated.
“The purification efforts must start now and be sustained as we seek, as a nation, to now change from our old culture of reckless impunity. The Nigerian Constitution is supreme. It desires that no one who has ever presented a forged certificate to INEC should contest election into the Nigerian National Assembly. This is clear and sacrosanct,” the court had said while delivering its judgment.
Abah was said to have, in addition to tendering a forged certificate for the 2015 election, falsely claimed in the INEC’s Form CF001 ahead of the 2015 general elections that he had never submitted a forged certificate to INEC, contrary to an earlier judgment of an election petition tribunal in 2011, declaring that the certificate submitted by him was forged.
The Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the Nigerian socio-economic and political system is set up to encourage fraud.
Adeniran, expressing his disdain for the government’s inability to provide access to free education to Nigerians and blaming such for forging educational certificates, said, “This is not to say that it is correct to forge certificates for the purpose of getting into elective offices or any other purpose. No; this is because the act itself is not just criminal, it is morally wrong and depicts a low sense of self-respect and esteem about the forger. It shows lack of self-confidence in one’s inherent abilities and the false need to parade oneself as what one is not. It is moral bankruptcy. An honest person would not lie about educational qualifications no matter what.”
What the laws say
Concerning perjury, Section 118 of the Criminal Code says, “Any person who commits perjury is liable to imprisonment for 14 years. If the offender commits the offence in order to procure the conviction of another person for an offence punishable with death or with imprisonment for life, he is liable to imprisonment for life.”
On forgery, Section 465, of the Criminal Code Act, says, “A person who makes a false document or writing knowing it to be false, and with intent that it may in any way be used or acted upon as genuine, whether in the state or elsewhere, to the prejudice of any person or with intent that any person may, in the belief that it is genuine, be induced to do or refrain from doing any act, whether in the state or elsewhere is said to forge the document or writing.”
But Nigeria’s wheel of justice may grind too slowly to exact punishment on culprits of perjury and forgery, especially among politically exposed individuals.
“One needs not to be told that anyone capable of forging a certificate to get into office is extremely likely to perpetrate corruption if elected into office. This is one of what is responsible for the rampant corrupt and sharp practices we witness in public and elected offices on daily basis,” the CACOL boss pointed out.