“That will be difficult here but I can’t say it can’t be done. I can try pulling it off.
‘Lagos for Show’
He was right. It is really easy to obtain official documents in Lagos courts; not through the touts that often litter court premises, but from judiciary workers.
As Nigeria grapple with the lack of a central database of its citizens despite claims that billions of naira have been spent to build such a system, anyone, even foreigners, can change their identity for as little as N500.
The procedure is also that “deponents to an affidavit must appear in person before a commissioner for oaths. Articles 108, 115 and 117-119 of the 2011 Evidence Act describe the procedural requirements for obtaining an affidavit provides that deponents are required to state their full name, trade, profession, residence, and nationality.
Most times – some say all the time – law officers circumvent these procedures exposing the nation and innocent citizens to potential and insidious harm.
THISDAY checks showed that requirement of the registrar or commissioner for oaths identifying the person who is swearing to the oath by means of national identity card, national driver’s licence, passport, voter card or passport photograph and “that identification of the deponent must be ascertained before the affidavit is commissioned”, is hardly ever followed.
Same Rotten System in Ogun
After obtaining the legal documents in Lagos, Angela proceeded to Ogun State where she repeated the same process successfully.
At the high court in Ota, she was able to obtain the sworn affidavit without deposing to it. In previous, she told the reporter, in obtaining the documents, she had invented signatures at will. She also did the same change of name at the Customary Court, Grade 1, claiming the deponent is her ‘husband’.
No Photograph Required for Affidavits in Ibadan
“The CJ doesn’t take trash. They account for every kobo. Receipts come from the secretariat. If there’s no receipt, they won’t do it (give you the affidavit).
“I know him as a strict and God-fearing man. Anyway, you pay at a point, collect the receipt and someone else authenticates payment then you are moved to the commissioner for oaths,” he added.
“The statement has been typed. Where’s your passport photograph, madam?” the typist asked.
“I don’t have,” the intermediary replies matter-of-factly. In less than 60 minutes the freshly stamped and signed sworn affidavit was ready – and without a passport photograph presented.
“Do they retain the passport at the court?” someone asked to know.
The intermediary said no. “The court keeps no record. It’s a failed system.”
FCT Rolling in the Same Mire
At the high court of the FCT in Maitama, there is a lady in the process office that people see if they do not want to wait too long.
“I’ve patronised her couple of times recently. You pay her about N2,000 normally rather than the regular N500,” Hajara, the intermediary in Abuja, said.
But when she handed the name to be changed to the lady, the female government official’s forehead formed a crease. Looking at the passport photos, realising it was someone else, the lady said, “You go give me better oh.”
About 45 minutes later, the lady showed Hajara the affidavit but she had a look of worry. One of her superiors had refused to sign the affidavit without the declarant first appending a signature.
“Can I sign it?” Hajara volunteered. The lady defiantly said no.
She said another superior that might sign the document had stepped out to eat. She made repeated calls and asked the intermediary to wait.
Presuming, the intermediary was in a hurry, she asked, “You’re in a hurry?” to which Hajara answered in the affirmative.
She was actually the one who seemed more pensive, perhaps anxious that the intermediary might change her mind and ask for her money back and leave if she could not deliver.
About 15 minutes later, she came out again and said she would try getting the strict supervisor to sign the document. She went into the superior’s office but she was unsuccessful.
After another five minutes, an unassuming man dressed casually came by. Apparently the “big man” he pulled out a pen and signed the document.
Like Maitama, like Apo
With N1,000 (though the official fee is N500), Hajara was able to obtain sworn affidavits for the change of name and date of birth at the High Court in Apo. The transaction did not take more than a minute. The intermediary was then directed to the commissioner for oaths’ office.
“I won’t sign it!” she said, walking out of her office.
She returned after five minutes. Looking less angry, she appended her signature to the document.
Here’s Another Worry
In the sworn affidavits issued by Nigerian courts, checks revealed that there are no security features of any sort to prevent fraud. One police source stated that it is “almost impossible” to determine the authenticity of such a legal document on the spot. However, legal experts argue that an affidavit often carries the signature of the deponent and that of the commissioner for oaths. It also carries the seal of the court.
Yet, the policeman argued further that the seal does not establish an affidavit’s authenticity as all fake ones also carry the seal and that civil servants working in courts sometimes forge the signatures of the commissioner for oaths.
Court records are also not reliable because the judiciary relies heavily on filing papers which become damaged due to bad weather and time. There is no central database to check against insidious multiple changes of name and date of birth.
This situation, many believe, has made it easy for Nigerian politicians to change their names – to hide a hideous past – and their dates of birth to qualify for a position. Many politicians and employees are said to have ‘official’ age often different from their real age.
Even job seekers in Nigeria carry multiple age declaration certificates obtained from courts and use them to apply for a job depending on the age requirement. Sometimes, this fraud is taken to an international level and it all boils down to the country’s judicial system issuing questionable affidavits.
‘Football Age’ a la Sworn Affidavits
In local parlance, there is what is called ‘football’ age. In developing countries where scouts usually go looking for young talented players to sign for a European club, the players know that there is a lesser chance of being signed if they are, for example, 23 years old as opposed to 17.
In what appeared like state-sanctioned practice, Nigeria’s national teams have been found wanting in this area.
In August 2016, ahead of an African qualifier between Nigeria and the Niger Republic, MRI scan was carried out on the Nigerian contingent with the revelation that 26 members of the Nigerian team were above the age limit and subsequently disqualified from the tournament. This discovery came barely one year after Nigeria had won the Under-17 World Cup.
It is the opinion of many people that age fraud is prevalent in Nigeria because of the poor compliance with the civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system in the country. Despite Nigeria being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and prior legislation establishing compulsory birth registration since 1917, many children are still not registered with the authorities at birth.
Yemisi Grace Oyebo, a document management expert, who believes that crime rate, is increasing in the country due to lack of a central database said in an interview: “Our focus should be to have legacies for the coming generations. Other countries have a central database; we don’t have that in Nigeria.
Are There Really no Records Kept?
“How do you expect me to know the number of changes of name that has been done in the country? If you need any such information, you’ll have to go to the National Population Council (NPC). I have gone around asking people which department handles records of change of name. I have spoken with my colleagues in the legal department and they told me that they don’t have such records. I know there should be somewhere where the records are kept. It’s an assignment I will see the end of it. Nigeria is not that bad,” the Director of Press at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Modupe Ogundoro, replied to THISDAY when asked how many changes of name and date of birth were processed in the last five years.
Olatunji, a former director general of the NPC, disclosed that registrations for 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 had already been scanned and transferred electronically into the database.
He, however, pointed out that the scanning and transmission of vital statistics outstanding from 2009 to 2013 would commence as soon as money was released by the federal government.
Nigerian Government Reacts
Mr. James Sunday, the spokesman for the National Immigration Service (NIS), does not seem to see anything wrong with the way Nigeria’s judiciary issues sworn affidavits for the change of name and date of birth.
When contacted to comment on the crisis of credibility that acceptance of sworn affidavits originating from Nigerian courts places on NIS’ issuance of passports, Sunday expressed unshakeable faith in the system.