Long before Senator Dino Melaye got into certificate scandal, there were Bola Tinubu, Andy Uba, Salisu Buhari, Goodluck Jonathan, Muhammadu Buhari, Ayo Fayose, Domingo Obende, Maurice Iwu, Gabriel Suswam, Adam Oshiomhole, Godwin Obaseki, Ndi Okereke-Onyuike, Evans Enwerem and Stella Oduah.
The academic requirement for the highest political office in Nigeria, the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is High School Leaving Certificate. Lower level positions also require the same level of education. Most people would not know this by a look at a cross section of Nigerian politicians that have been implicated in certificate scandals since the return of democracy in 1999. The people involved are the who is who in Nigerian politics over the years, including President Muhammadu Buhari.
President Buhari: During the 2015 elections, then candidate Buhari was unable to produce his University of Cambridge/West African School Certificate. He argued that the military authorities had it on record but the then government in power would not let the military release it. He later released something from the 21st century that was not a copy of what he obtained as a high school graduate in Kastina in 1961. His defenders argued that his military trainings were equivalent to a Master’s degree. A lawsuit to force him to release his original University of Cambridge/WASSCE was withdrawn under questionable circumstances. Since he became president and took control of the military, he has not found, and has not released, the original of his high school certificate.
Bola Tinubu: As governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007, he was caught in a certificate scandal when he claimed to have graduated from Chicago State University in his election campaign filings. A check with the University showed that he was never a student there. Just like the case of Dino Melaye, his defenders came up with the argument that he changed his name. Then there was the other argument that he made a mistake: that he actually attended another university in Chicago. As the story developed there were questions about whether he actually graduated from secondary school and under what name? Bola Tinubu’s age was also questioned. At one point Gani Fawehinmi filed a lawsuit asking the Inspector General of Police to investigate Bola Tinubu’s certificate claims.
Andy Uba: As domestic help of then President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Ubah wielded so much power in the Obasanjo administration that when he led thugs to Anambra state capital to destroy government properties, President Olusegun Obasanjo looked away. With the support of Obasanjo, he later ran for governor of Anambra state. During that run, it was revealed that none of the degrees he claimed to have earned was authentic. He allegedly bought a doctorate degree from a degree mill. Even his bachelor degree from California State University was not authenticated. Despite concerns raised, he "won" the election and served as governor of Anambra state for 17 days before an electoral tribunal removed him. He is currently a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Amongst all the people so far implicated in one certificate scandal or another, only Salisu Buhari, a former Speaker of the House of Representative, has paid a price. Buhari resigned for claiming that he attended and obtained a degree in Business Administration from Toronto University in Canada when he did not. What also emerged was that he falsified the credentials he used to gain admission to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and was kicked out. Buhari also claimed that he was 36 years old in 1999 when he was less than the 30 years old required to be a law maker in Nigeria. Buhari was forced to resign as the speaker of the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, another speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, was trained as a hairdresser at the time she was elected speaker of the House of Representatives in 2007. So having high-flying degree has never been an obstacle to attaining a high political office. Unfortunately, in her case, she was forced to resign due to corruption scandal.
So why are Nigerians obsessed with titles, degrees and certificates that many of them will go to any length to obtain one, including getting degrees and certificates from unaccredited universities and colleges around the world?
Saharareporters sought the opinion of some Nigerian public intellectuals on the matter. Here are their reactions.
Pius Adesanmi, PhD: professor, writer and political commentator. He is the author of “You are Not a Country, Africa” (2011); “Naija No Dey Carry Last” (2015).
I don’t think that there can be one straightforward explanation for the epidemic of self-inflation in Nigeria. It is perhaps the most democratic of our national ills in terms of its spread across all classes and social milieux. However, it is much more prevalent in the ruling class, among the political elite. I think you will need to go to sociology, history and even psychoanalysis to understand the problem. Why does a Nigerian, and especially a member of the political elite, need to keep on purchasing traditional chieftaincy titles till he practically draws his last breath on earth? And not content with chieftaincy titles, why does he need to make a fraudulent claim to academic degrees – especially foreign academic degrees? And why do they do this in the most unnecessary of circumstances? Salisu Buhari had enough education. He did not need to fraudulently claim an additional degree from the University of Toronto. He did. Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not need his fraudulent Chicago State University degree embellishment. But he did it anyway. Babatunde Fowler is so accomplished that he did not need any fraudulent claims to any honorary degree abroad. But he did anyway. Dino Melaye did not need any fraudulent claim to any University degree. All you need for the Nigerian Senate is a secondary school certificate. Now, I consider him a crook and fraud and I am utterly embarrassed that he is representing me in the Senate. However, there is one thing you have to give to him. He is very well spoken, confident, and articulate. His command of English is at roughly 90%. These are very rare attributes in the Nigerian political sphere. So, he would have been a very good advertisement for secondary education if he had stuck to his identity as a Senator with a secondary school certificate. But he, like the rest, could not resist this national pathology of self-inflation through chieftaincy titles and fraudulent claims to University degrees.
I think the personality issues, the inadequacies, the inferiority complex that is manifest in all these people is tied to the disconnect between our self-image as the “giant of Africa” and the material report card of our condition as an “open sore of the continent” (apologies to Wole Soyinka). Nigeria’s leadership is populated by some of the crudest, pedestrian, and most unsophisticated humanoids in Africa. They rate very poorly in comparison to their peers across the continent. So, the only way they can be the “giants” they claim to be is to strut around the continent and the world wearing dozens of purchased chieftaincy titles and fraudulent University degrees. In Nigeria, self-inflation is, tragically, the only solution we have found for our inadequacies as a country.
Dr. Peregrino Brimah, MD: Dr. Brimah is Clinical Instructor in the Department of Medicine at SUNY Downstate.
I'll say it is emptiness. Before I come back to that, I must say that I am thankful that I was able to become a medical doctor and have another graduate degree in addition. However, interestingly, my group of friends in medical school all said that the degree was just to satisfy our parents. We planned to hang the degrees for them and become who we felt we were inside; the greater men of our dreams. Some of us to be entrepreneurs, some advocates, some underground doctors for the US mob and all sorts of other things with no use or dependence on the accolade of the degree. To be honest, more than half of us branched out entirely or are atypical doctors. So why do Nigerians love degrees? It is brainwashing of the colonial master. We want to become master and we were taught that degrees make you the man. That your success, happiness and prestige depend on them. Mystic 13th century poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi described the two kinds of intelligence. The out-to-in via memorizing, studying "through conduits of plumbing-learning." The one that is commonly associated with rise and rank in the world, and the other type of intelligence: the in-to-out, already "completed and preserved within you." The "fountainhead" from inside you that flows out to the world, he called it. When your inside is empty, you fill yourself up with worldly degrees for the wrong reasons. This is my humble opinion. You end up dying unknown and soon to be forgotten if not regretted.
Wumi Akintide, PhD: Dr. Wumi Akintide received his doctorate in Political Science from the University of Connecticut and a Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Yeshiva University.
President Buhari once said and I quote that “if Nigeria does not kill Corruption, Corruption will kill Nigeria.” I crave your indulgence to improve on that statement by saying that if Nigerian political leaders would not check or resist their irrepressible urge and appetite for fake certificates and empty titles, there is a chance that the observation we have seen in Senator Dino Melaye of Kogi would remain a tip of the iceberg.
What the hell does the Senator need all those certificates for? The best Parliamentarians Nigeria has produced was arguably the late Anthony Enahoro. The charismatic leader earned just one Diploma in Journalism and not a multiplicity of meaningless certificates and titles. The great man had the honor and privilege of moving the motion for Nigeria's Independence for October 1st 1960.
Okey Ndibe, PhD: professor, writer and commentator. He is the author of “Arrows of Rain” and “Never Look An American in the Eye” amongst other books.
Why do some Nigerians, especially public figures, hanker after degrees and other preferment they have not earned? I think we can find the psychological roots of this sick desire in the kind of society we have spent decades incubating and fertilizing. In many, if not most, quarters in Nigeria, whatever glitters is deemed gold. It doesn’t matter if this thing is bauble or some other kind of frippery, once it has a shine to it, some of our folks deem it of extraordinary value. This Nigerian obsession with appearance over substance, with melodrama rather than tested character, is reflected in the rush for every self-aggrandizing, self-inflating possession. That explains our excessive and vulgar appetite for cars. It explains our depraved accumulation of chieftaincy titles, knighthoods, and, finally, academic credentials we did not work for. In many societies, people with two or more PhDs would simply introduce themselves with their names. In Nigeria, many men and women who never earned a first degree just go ahead to affix “Dr.” to their names. And some of them would print business cards in which they are “Chief (Dr.) Sir etc, etc.” What’s at play is a certain kind of moral collapse, a culture that venerates the most reprobate species of criminal, a system that permits people to flaunt what they have not earned. Some among us arrogate degrees and other titles to themselves, but they hardly demonstrate the refinement, moral restraint, intellectual curiosity, learning and cultivated wisdom that are—should be—the hallmarks of academic degrees. When you look into the lives of these Nigerians who adorn themselves with unearned degrees and other honors, you often see that their psyches are plagued by a deep hollowness.
Obiwu(Obi Iwuanyanwu), PhD: professor, writer and poet. He is the author of “Igbos of Northern Nigeria” and “Tigress at Full Moon” amongst other works.
The first emergency, out-of-tradition, titleholders in Nigeria were the Warrant Chiefs, who were invented by the colonial masters. The same colonizers also dethroned any, and all, traditional rulers and leaders who proved uncontrollable or rebellious, and quickly replaced them with more amenable and pliable loafers or taskmasters.
In other words, there is always-already something unnatural, in effect untraditional, about all postcolonial titling and titleholders. They are more like empty vessels that have to overcompensate for bearing that which is not rightly theirs. They shout and yell and make the loudest noise just to be noticed. How else will anyone know that they are there if they do not go overboard to draw attention to themselves?
The Igbo society, like the Hausa and Yoruba societies, is reward oriented. As the Igbo say, when a child washes his hands, he dines with elders. How could any young folk with a sense of self-regard and self-worth want to dance to the Ijele drums, when they have nothing to show that they belong with the elite of the community? It’s just like Warrior sings in his highlife song, that he who has no money but desires to eat Owerri soup is an “Odoko,” a troublemaker. The wise is exhorted to keep away from such thugs.
When any man desires titles that he is neither materially nor intellectually equipped to acquire his next best option would be to cheat, lie, forge, fake, steal, or even kill for it. Since the old chieftaincy titles have become a dime a dozen, the shameless loafers among us have stepped up to the next big thing: the fake Ph.D. or Doctoral degree. Every Dick and Harry now wants to be called a “Dr.” In Nigeria where politicians actually fake high school senior certificates, what would they not do for a university degree?
It is a well-known fact that people who have deficiencies often overcompensate. Overcompensation is an attempt to go beyond what is needed to make up for what is lacking. Each academic year, Nigerian universities expel thousands of students who gained admission with forged WAEC certificates. Those who escape such scrutiny end up becoming characters in this long running certificate drama. In psychology, overcompensation is considered an extreme neurotic condition driven by inferiority complex in pursuit of unearned power and prestige.