Fake foreign degrees in circulation

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National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Director-General Brig.-Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim dropped the bombshell with concern all over his face: 95 Nigerians found with fake academic credentials are on trial. Gen. Shuaibu added a clincher: 16,580 foreign graduates of the 20,000 who uploaded their certificates online, failed to turn up for verification. FRANK IKPEFAN examines the menace of mushroom higher institutions in the West African sub-region.

Nigeria is under attack. Not only by Boko Haram, Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) or any militant groups but by supposed higher institutions in Africa, mostly West African countries. The country’s already troubled education system is further threatened by this development.

The trouble is with the proliferation of mushroom degree-awarding institutions in most West African states, which now serve as ready options for some Nigerians who could not make it into Nigerian universities and related higher institutions. They are earning ‘degrees’, which are on programmes not accredited or recognised by the National Universities Commission (NUC), the agency regulating university education in the country.

Despite this drawback, some of these holders of these questionable degrees find their way into public institutions as employees and are even allowed to participate in the National Youth Service Corps NYSC) scheme. The trend is growing every day with little or no strict measures in place to arrest the development.

Unknown to many, degrees obtained by Nigerians from foreign countries ought to be screened by officials of the Federal Ministry of Education for validation and certification. The validation process is meant to interrogate and ascertain that people brandishing such foreign certificates actually participated in the programmes and obtained the degrees. Sadly, these “smart” individuals have devised a way of sidestepping this arrangement, intended as a quality control measure.

A report by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) revealed that global academic mobility is on the increase, with more than four million students studying outside their home countries. UNESCO said this figure could increase to eight million in the next two years.

 

Mushroom universities

Former NUC Executive Secretary Prof. Julius Okojie noted that most of the institutions attended by Nigerians outside were not up to the standard expected back home.

Okojie’s observation was, some years later, repeated by the incumbent Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Is-haq Oloyede.

Only recently, the current Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, accused some of these African countries of establishing mushroom universities to swindle Nigerian students.

Rasheed noted that these mushroom institutions were established to target Nigerian students, who leave their country in droves to study in some neighbouring countries on account of inadequate space in local institutions, coupled with their desire to study abroad.

Speaking at the 11th International Conference and Workshop on Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Africa, held in Abuja, Rasheed said a lot of institutions from Africa come into this country to source for intakes by placing advertisements in national dailies, asking people to apply for Ph.D programmes that could be awarded them in one year or one-and-a-half years.

He said: “We are pained when we are confronted by employers of labour in this country trying to get us to interpret qualification. In Africa, many countries allow their universities to graduate their students with degrees in less than two years.”

Rasheed warned that anybody who goes outside to acquire a degree in less than three years would not be recognised in Nigeria. He added that NUC will also be more aggressive against those coming into Nigeria to promote illegal universities.

Nigerians pay N500, 000 to buy fake degrees

While many had thought the only problem was with the standard of the universities, the Director-General, NYSC, Brig.-Gen. Ibrahim revealed that some African institutions sell degree and Higher National Diploma (HND) certificates and transcripts to some Nigerian students at a cost of between N300, 000 and N500, 000.

Ibrahim, during a meeting with representatives of 159 African institutions presenting corps members to Nigeria, said there had been an upsurge in the number of graduates from foreign countries who cannot defend the degrees and HND certificates in their possession.

Officials from institutions from Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Chad, Niger, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Togo, attended the two-day meeting in Abuja.

The NYSC D-G said the scheme would henceforth prosecute any person who presents fake credentials to serve as a deterrent to others. He threatened to blacklist all institutions found culpable in the sale of degree and HND certificates to Nigerians.

He said: “In order to check this ugly trend of certificate racketeering, we strongly recommend that the Federal Ministry of Education liaise with the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that all degrees and HND certificates obtained outside the shores of Nigeria are authenticated at the Nigerian consulate in the country of study.

“Therefore, with effect from the 2019 Batch C service year, only academic certificates authenticated by the Nigerian Consulates in these countries of study will be accepted for national service.”

 

95 face prosecution, risk jail term

Already, 95 of such individuals with fictitious credentials are now awaiting trial. They were arrested in orientation camps across the country by NYSC officials during the Batch B streams one and two services in August this year. A statement by the NYSC said those arrested have since been handed over to security agencies for prosecution.

The NYSC boss said: “Regarding fraudulent certificates, we have arrested 65 fake students from universities in Nigeria and from other West African universities. We have arrested about 30. We have handed them over to the police for prosecution.”

The D-G warned that if not checked, the practice has the potential to taint the credibility of the NYSC mobilisation process, adding that the action had grave implications for the socio-economic development of the country.

 

NYSC steps up measures to curtail trend

Ibrahim said his agency was working on ways to improve on its screening process.

The D-G said the NYSC would soon commence the inclusion of qualification and course of study on the Certificate of National Service as a measure to address the unacceptable practice.

About 16,580 foreign graduates shun certificates defence exercise.

The NYSC began a policy of physical verification of foreign-trained graduates with its Batch C orientation programme this year in order to prevent individuals with fake credentials from being mobilised for the service.

The NYSC said only 3,420 foreign graduates out of the 20,000 who uploaded their certificates online, came to defend them.

Another measure being deployed by the NYSC is to direct foreign-trained graduates, with questionable degrees from institutions in the Benin Republic and some other African countries, who were not issued Certificates of National Service to visit its headquarters for further scrutiny. This initiative was introduced on October 4, this year.

 

Trend not good for Nigeria’s image, economy – ASUU

The President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi expressed displeasure about the trend. He said the trend was not good for the image of the country as well as its economy.

Ogunyemi said: “We missed it along the line when we do not validate the credentials people bring back to the country. There was a time in this country when degrees from some universities, even from India were not recognised. If we could do that to countries that are outside Africa, what stops us from doing it to some of these mushroom universities around us in West Africa and some other parts of Africa?

“We are aware that NUC has done some work. There was a time they published some universities that were not recognised but is there a synergy between what NUC is doing and what NYSC is doing?

“To further validate the process, I think there is a unit in the Ministry of Education that is supposed to double-check some of these certificates. If those who are expected to undertake these processes of validating credentials and certificates brought from outside Nigeria can just be up and doing, I am sure we will see the end of this process and people will be ducked.”

Federal Govt sets up committee

The Federal Government expressed concerns over the growing trend. The government noted that a national committee has been set up to look into it.

Permanent  Secretary Federal Ministry of Education,  Sonny Echono said: “We have activated a National Committee on Standard and Curriculum. It will accredit not just approved programmes or even those coming from other countries because one of the trends we discovered was that some of those courses are not being offered in those countries.

“We hear that some of the so-called universities operate in business centres in those countries. You go to a shopping mall you will see two campuses there all for Nigerian degrees. It is very sad.

“We are going to blacklist the schools that we know have issued fake degrees.

“We are going to make it public so that Nigerians do not waste resources sending their children to such schools. That is what we decided in our last meeting.”

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