It was John Grant, an American singer who declared few years ago that “a bad forgery is the ultimate insult”. This statement seems to be the best description of what has been happening on Nigeria’s political turf in the last few years. This week, the battle between Edo State governor elect, Godwin Obaseki and his opponent in court centres around allegations of certificate forgery. Although the case has been adjourned after Obaseki closed his presentation with his third and final witness on Wednesday, it leaves one to wonder the rate at which certificate forgery, especially among political elites, is fast becoming a norm in Nigeria. It is quite disheartening to see people aspiring to guide and provide direction for the citizenry forge their way to success.
From the last Bayelsa State gubernatorial elections when the winning APC team lost because of a case of certificate forgery involving Deputy Governor elect, Sen. Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, through Senator Ademola Adeleke of Osun State, and now Obaseki of Edo State, the issue of forgery seems endless.
It seems a good number of Nigerian politicians, aspiring for positions but recognizing their deficit, resort to the cheap option of forgery as the easiest way out. Even politicians who have met the minimum requirement of a secondary school certificate or its equivalent as stipulated by the constitution still take to certificate forgery to boost their ego and chances of securing nomination tickets. They believe the minimum requirement will not only reduce their reputation, but mar their chances, and bring down their perception in front of the voting public. So they go ahead forging various University degrees and even NYSC certificates. For this category, it is basically a matter of reputation and how they would appear before the eyes of the unsuspecting public to solidify their candidacy.
As much as certificate forgery should be condemned, it brings to bear certain concerns especially in an area like politics that is largely about leadership. For instance, there are people who feel that leadership goes beyond educational requirement. This position informs the bulk of arguments on the relevance of education in qualifying a candidate for an electoral position. Such questions that have emerged from this polemics include: what is the basis of insisting on specific certificates for leadership positions? What is the success ratio or connection between educational background and performance? That is, does having a certificate mean the selected candidates would do remarkably more than others when they assume office?
Don’t the achievements of such outstanding leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Jacob Zuma and others who had no formal education cast shadows on those attained by “certificated leaders”? This is further compounded by research from the labour market which shows that those who possess “premium” certificates do not deliver commensurate with what they parade.
Whether it is also a question of ego or pride, many educated Nigerians resent having semi-literate or uneducated person in positions of authority, especially when their decisions can remarkably affect their lives. They just cannot imagine having an illiterate lord over them. Others have said it doesn’t really matter provided the candidate can do the job.
While it is good to engage in such arguments, the place of education in a modern dispensation like ours cannot be overemphasized. One cannot afford to give leadership positions to someone who has little or no educational background. The Nigerian constitution is even a bit “lenient” as it insists on school certificate level as the minimum educational requirement for the highest leadership position in the country, which is the presidency.
For the position of the president, Section 131 of the 1999 constitution provides that “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if (d) he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent.” Candidates vying for other electoral positions must also possess a similar qualification. This is in view of the prescription in other provisions of the Constitution that candidates to elective post must have been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent. For instance, Section 177 (d) prescribes that gubernatorial candidates must have been educated up to at least School Certificate Level or its equivalent. The same applies to Vice President and Deputy Governors by virtue of the provisions in Section 142(2) and 187(2) on educational qualification. Section 65(2) (a) and 106(c) of the Constitution also prescribes that candidates contesting elections as National Assembly and State House of Assembly members respectively must also have been educated to at least School Certificate level.
Section 318(1) offers an interpretation of Section 131 of the constitution: “School Certificate or its equivalent” means – (a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or (b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or (c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and- (1) service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of ten years, and (11) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totalling up to a minimum of one year, and (111) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission; and (d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
The question therefore is, with so many options and “soft landings”, why would Nigerian politicians still go ahead to forge certificates, defrauding the general public, just to boost their candidacy? Although considered a criminal offence, the trend has, in fact, eaten deep into every fabric of the Nigerian society. Virtually, all sectors are bedeviled by this menace.
In Lagos, there is a place called ‘Oluwole’, notorious for forgery. It is believed that at that place, one can create any document: international passport, Driving License, Marriage Certificate, Birth Certificate, Certificate of Occupancy, Tax Clearance Certificates and even counterfeit currency.
There is therefore a strong need for collaborative effort to put an end to this menace that is killing the integrity of the Nigerian elites and politicians. Those who are in the racket of procuring fake and forged documents for people should be arrested by law enforcement agents and prosecuted. Those who have also used fake or forged documents to win elections, get appointments or promotions should be made to face the full wrath of the law. They should be made to refund whatever financial benefits they enjoyed all through the time they used those bogus credentials. These severe measures will serve as deterrent to others who may want to indulge in it in future.