Beyond the Diplomacy of Leadership Certificate Forgery: Political Governance as a Magouille in Nigeria

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

In 1987, Professor J.S. Cooker traced the genesis of the bane of the Nigerian society to corruption and indiscipline which began in 1967. He made this observation in the report of the Political Bureau, of which he was the Chairman and which was set up by military president Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Since 1967, in other words, since more than 56 years ago, Nigerians have been living with societal indiscipline and corruption. Corruption deepened to the level of its being institutionalised without strenuous to meaningfully containing it. 

A British Prime Minister once described Nigeria as ‘fantastically corrupt.’ Is the description of Nigeria as fantastically corrupt an insult, a compliment, or a request for readjustment? Whatever it is, Nigerians generally and consciously acquiesce to it, implying that being a thief, a criminal, professionals of public embezzlement, document forgers, etc., does not mean much as a condition for eligibility to serve in the public service. Dishonesty has become an accepted way of life, particularly in political governance of Nigeria. It is against this background that we do not see the alleged certificate forgery by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT) as a big deal. Political governance in Nigeria is more than 80% predicated on deliberate acts of corruption and specifically rewarded with undue promotions, award of traditional chieftaincy titles and political appointments.

One common saying amongst struggling Nigerians is that ‘if you cannot beat them, join them.’ One truth about this saying is that it is not even easy to join them for various reasons: new comers are seen as threats, as not trust worthy to be initiated. The religious people fear their relationship with God, and hence want to stay off. Those who are on the periphery fear that they would be killed. It is only the corrupt people and their relations that are often allowed to be engaged in such sharp practices. Explained differently, Nigeria’s polity is fraught with fraud and corruption by design and we can justify this observation with some examples at the federal and state levels at this juncture. 

Political Governance as a Magouille

First, at the level of the Federal Government, how do we explain the fact that Government advertised the construction of housing estates in April 1994 and invited applications from interested Nigerians to purchase? The houses were scheduled to be allocated in December 1994 and the then Minister of Housing and Works was the incorruptible Alhaji Lateef Jankande. I paid fully for the first initial and second deposit for a medium detached bungalow in Festac town. Up till this time I am writing, nothing is heard from Government. I paid a deposit of N165,000, thanks to my wife’s UTB loan. No construction of such houses in Festac. No information. No attempt to refund. No attempt to provide another alternative in the event of governmental challenges. Yet, the Federal Government is claiming to be fighting armed and pen robberies in Nigeria, when the first robber is actually the Federal Government so to say. What does the Government want me and others in the same category to do? People say, if you cannot beat them, follow the corruption approach, but I will never follow.

In 2004, the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration came up with the monetisation policy programmed by which the Federal Government wanted to discontinue responsibility for housing public servants and by which public servants who had lived in their Government-funded accommodations were given the first priority to buy or reject. I was lucky to buy my own flat in Wuse Zone 1. My payment was well receipted for. However, Government has not bothered to issue a Certificate of Occupancy to that effect. People again tell me to go and sort out the problem the Nigerian way. What is this Nigerian way?

Perhaps more interestingly, is the allocation of land to people in Abuja based on merit or who knows you and who you know? Abuja is designed to be a federal territory, implying that every Nigerian by ius sanguinis (blood descent) or by ius soli (place of birth) has the right to seek a place for shelter. This was never so when I applied in the mid-2000s. I did not bother as I will never bribe or beg any government official put in place to serve the people.

Even at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, where I did my NYSC, and served as Research Fellow II, passing through Research Fellow 1 and Senior Research Fellow 11 and 1 and becoming a substantive Professor in 2001, the General Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council compelled me in my capacity as the Director General of the NIIA to follow very fraudulent practice in the assessment of professorial candidates. In fact, I was instructed not to send the publications for professorial appointments outside of Nigeria for evaluation unless I could not find assessors in Nigeria. The Council dictated the contents of the letter to be sent to assessors.

In the academic tradition, papers are normally sent to leading specialists or experts to evaluate the extent to which a candidate is suitable for professorial appointment. Professorship is a very serious business. It is governed by meritocracy and not by Federal Character. Most unfortunately and perhaps, more disturbingly, a Member of the Ike Nwachukwu Council exaggerated his position by speaking directly with one of the assessors. Imagine how the Council could intimidate me and dictate the writing of a second letter to be sent to all the assessors to replace the one I sent out earlier which was 100% in line with the academic traditions of the University of Lagos. The NIIA had been applying the academic conditions for promotion 17 years before the appointment of the Ike Nwachukwu-led Council. 

Today, those who laid the foundation for two categories of professorship at the NIIA (NIIA Professors and Governing Council-enabled Professors) are now pontificating in national politics as patriots. The foundations of dishonesty laid down and the ethnic jingoism left behind is still hunting the NIIA as at today. The Director of Administration and Finance, Miss Agatha Ude, not only changed the dates of birth for many members of staff, especially from her area, but also removed all the queries in her confidential files contrary to the Public Service Regulations. I drew the attention of the Governing Council to it but the Council protected the Director. Yet, many Members of the Council now have the effrontery of preaching the sermons of non-corruption, patriotism, and even reportedly condemning PBAT for certificate forgery. Indeed, Nigeria’s problem is more than ‘Oluwole Certificates.’

Secondly, at the state level, there is little or no difference when compared with the Federal Government’s corrupt and inefficient services. Let me give another case in which I have been involved. When Brigadier-General Buba Marwa was Governor of Lagos State in 1996, he came up with the Isheri North Housing Project. The size of a plot was 800 square metres. The project could not be completed before he left. When Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu succeeded him, he reduced the size of the plot to 700 square meters. The payment for a plot was about N500,000 under Brigadier Buba Marwa. Governor Tinubu raised the cost price even though he had reduced the size of each plot. What was not questionable about the new policy was that all those who had made full payments were exempted from paying the new rates. 

Good enough, I was not affected by the new policy as I had fully paid before the advent of the Tinubu administration. Most unfortunately again, the Lagos State Government collected our monies and kept quiet. Reasons of water lockage were given and we can understand this to an extent. However, what is the situation of the project? No one is talking about it. Is there any need for lobbying, bribing in order to know what is happening? Letter of allocation was first given. Reallocation was done but no further paper notification to that effect. No fresh letter, no land. Who is the thief in this case? Is it the citizen applicant or the Government? The political system is rotten in the rivers of corruption and indiscipline in Nigeria. It is by these rivers of corruption and indiscipline, flowing around every nook and cranny of the world of politicians that we should analyse the many other cases of magouilles in political governance in Nigeria.

There was also the 1999 Toronto certificate saga of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Salisu Buhari. He was born on 3rd January, 1970 and elected on 3rd June, 1999 as Speaker. On 16th February, 1999 The News Magazine informed that Salisu Buhari was actually born in 1970 and not in 1963 as he claimed. The Magazine also reported that Salisu Buhari never attended the University of Toronto as claimed. If the honourable Salisu Buhari, so to say, claimed to have been born in 1963, one reason might be the provision of Section 65(1) of the 1999 Constitution which disqualifies any candidate less than 30 years of age for membership of the House of Representatives. As at 1999, he was less than 30 years old.

Salisu Buhari threatened to sue The News Magazine but to no avail. The Magazine made enquiries at the university and tendered the reply to its inquiry from Carlo Villanueva of the Toronto University who said ‘regarding your request for confirmation of degree for Ibrahim Salisu Buhari, we have searched our records and could not find anybody with the name you are inquiring with’ (vide Segun Akande’s article, www.pulse,ng, February 22, 2018). More disturbingly, Salisu Buhari also claimed to have done his NYSC at the Standard Construction in Kano but which was false.

On 23rd July, 1999 Salisu Buhari not only resigned his membership of the House of Representatives, but also apologised publicly.  As he put it, ‘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 zeal to serve the nation, I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again.’ By resigning, he lost his immunity. He was arrested, tried and convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment with an option of fine. He opted to pay the fine and President Obasanjo eventually pardoned him, thus condoning criminal offences. What is particularly noteworthy is that in 2013, Salisu Buhari, described in the media as the ‘face of a liar,’ was later appointed a Member of the Governing Council of the University of Nigeria by President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. This was a complete bastardisation of the academia for a non-university graduate to serve as a Member of a Governing Council.

Additionally, former Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning of Nigeria, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, forged the exemption certificate of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which she presented for her appointment in 2015. Mrs Adeosun, born on 9th March, 1967 in London and educated at the University of London, was compelled to resign her appointment on 14th September, 2018 following the report of Premium Times in September 2018. She presented the same fraudulent certificate for her earlier appointment as Commissioner for Finance of Ogun State in 2011. 

PBAT’s Certificate Forgery and Foreign Policy

PBAT’s alleged certificate forgery is a tip of the iceberg in the political governance of Nigeria. In fact, on 20 February 2023, eighteen Nigerian nurses were charged to court for certificate forgery. On 13 March 2023, The Vanguard newspaper (Lagos, Nigeria) reported another case of 43 Nigerian nurses charged for certificate forgery. They were accused of engaging in a scheme to sell false and fraudulent nursing certificates. And perhaps more disturbingly, the Texas Board of Nursing has also charged more than 75 Nigerian nurses to court for engagement in falsification of certificates. This situation shows clearly that PBAT’s case is not really a big deal at the Nigerian domestic level, but more than a big deal in terms of foreign policy implications. Certificate forgery is now both for educational and political survival. It is now very rampant. But why?

At the domestic level, there was the first case of Evan or Evans Enwerem who had the same problem as PBAT today. Evan Enwerem was elected to represent the Imo-East Senatorial Zone in the Fourth Senate of the Fourth Republic inaugurated in May 1999. He was elected with the active support of President Olusegun Obasanjo to the detriment of the more popularly- supported Senator Chuba Okadigbo. Enwerem won with 66 votes while Chuba Okadigbo scored 45 votes. Evan Enwerem was ousted from power on November 18, 1999, that is, five months after his inauguration as Senate President. He was impeached due to his first name identity arising from falsification of his documents which had his first name as Evans, and not as Evan. Documentary name is different from name in usage.

An August edition of The Tell Magazine claimed that the first Senate President had falsified his name which prompted the establishment by the National Assembly of an investigation committee. Evan Ekwerem simply argued that it was a typographical error which was not accepted. The Chuba Okadigbo supporters posited that he feigned his age and name ‘for a dubious gain.’ He was also accused of sharp corruption and was removed when he followed the presidential entourage to the airport to see President Obasanjo off. Senator Khairat Abdulrasaq (PDP, representing the FCT) led some other Senators to mobilise signatures and remove Evan Enwerem. Senator Chuba Okadigbo expectedly succeeded him. More notably in this case is the fact that Evan Ekwerem was deposed. It is more interesting in terms of intellectual enquiry. Ekwerem remained a Senate floor member until the end of his tenure in 2003 while Chuba Okadigbo was impeached in 2000 similarly for corruption charges.

In essence, is Evans Ekwerem the same person as Evan Ekwerem? Is the problem a typographical error? Whatever is the case, there is no disputing the fact that several political leaders have a political lifestyle that is fraught with chicanery, conscious dishonesty of purpose, attitudinal bigotry, and romance with political dishonesty. These are the people that have always found their way to leadership positions in Nigeria and who the security agencies have always cleared for election purposes.

Unlike Evan Enwerem, PBAT’s alleged certificate forgery is more interesting in terms of intellectual posterity. PBAT’s case is not the first of certificate forgery. What makes it very interesting is that nothing has been done institutionally to nip in the bud the commissioning of fresh potential crimes of certificate forgery. It also raises three main problems: extent of importance of a name identity, constitutional eligibility in a presidential election, PBAT’s changing narration of the presumed truths, and foreign policy implications.

As regards name identity, it should first be noted that PBAT is not the first person to be confronted with queries about his true identity. Besides, he also has the problem of age in addition to identity problem like Evan Ekwerem. So a name is not simply for identification. It is also a reflection of personality and character. A name must never be taken for granted, including order of arrangement and presentation of the names. If there was a serious problem with Evans and Evan, why should anyone be talking about a typographical error as an excuse? 

PBAT’s true age has been subject of public debate. His origin has also been subject of query: Lagos or Iragbiji? Again, is the name Bola Tinubu that of a male or female?  Apparently, there might have been a male Bola Tinubu and a female Bola Tinubu. The male Tinubu was born in 1952 while the female Tinubu was born in 1954 and she is said to be alive. Questions are also being raised as to why the female Tinubu has not come out to speak on the alleged forged certificate reportedly carrying the status of a female? Professor Wole Soyinka is also being publicly queried for keeping silent on PBAT’s alleged forged certificate, considering that the Nobel Laureat has always been seen to be completely detribalised in his attitudinal orientation. He is always arguing on the basis of objectivity of purpose. He also strongly believes that PBAT won the 2023 presidential elections.

On constitutional eligibility for presidential election, Section 137 (1) (J) of the 1999 Constitution as amended in 2010 provides that ‘a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if he has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission.’ As noted by the Registrar of the Chicago State University (CSU), the certificate of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT) was dated June 22, 1979 and tendered to the INEC on June 17, 2022 but the certificate was not issued by the school.

More important, the registrar noted further in his oral deposition at the US Court that on the certificates tendered in the documents given to Atiku, ‘the University only has Diplomas that students didn’t pick up in its possession. The University does not typically keep Diplomas. I have the Diploma that was made available to Mr. Enahoro-Ebah in our possession because Mr. Tinubu did not pick it up. I do not have the Diploma that was submitted to INEC in our possession because he had picked it up.’ 

The issue to address by Nigerians in the CSU registrar’s deposition is not whether PBAT truly attended the Chicago State University but whether PBAT forged any certificate or document to enter the Chicago State University. If he did forge a document, was the forged document presented to the INEC for electoral purposes? This question is quite relevant here because PBAT was involved in a similar certificate and identity controversy in 1999. He succeeded to manage the crisis and he escaped untarnished. The 2023 renewal of the problem is generating a more heated debate and seriously threatening national cohesion. 

In fact, PBAT has been given different names: a drogue pusher, a certificate forger, etc. But why is he so referred to? Is he more terrible than other politicians in spite of what his many controversies and his personality have been generating? Our simple answer is that the politico-administrative system, and particularly the conduct and management of public affairs, is largely driven by attitudinal magouilles, a French word for ‘jìbìtì’ in Yoruba language and malpractice in English language.’ 

Concerning the changing narratives of the truth, PBAT’s lawyers first posited that former President Abubakar Atiku was only going on a fishing expedition by going to the United States court. When the US court confirmed the studentship of PBAT, it is argued that there was no mention of forgery and fake certificate in the deposition before and by the court. Currently it is argued that the issue of fake forged certificate is not before the Supreme Court of Nigeria on which PBAT’s men now heavily rely. This is a situation of shifting the goal post as convenient.

But without any shadow of doubt, the Supreme Court can only admit consideration of the new discovery in the event of a fresh evidence. Even though PBAT made a mistake that he obtained a BSc degree in Economics from the University of Chicago and his associate, Tokunbo Afikuyomi, later said it was a mistake and that the degree was from the Chicago State University, the problematic to address still remains whether there is a case of perjury or forgery 

As there is still a case of controversial forgery, the implications cannot be far-fetched. For instance, on the arrival of a KLM airline from Lagos in Amsterdam, the chief hostess announced that all Nigerians in the aircraft should be seated until all other passengers have left the plane. After, every Nigerian on the plane had his or her passport re-checked. This is one major implication of PBAT’s certificate forgery saga.

The trending perception today is that PBAT forged his certificate of entry into the Chicago State University (CSU), based on the submission of the CSU and on the attitudinal disposition of PBAT, who has vehemently opposed the release of his academic credentials to the public, fearing that such a release might permanently damage his political career and taint his personality. Another implication is that every Nigerian in various educational institutions will be suspected henceforth. PBAT cannot earn any international respect anymore without reservation. His international image has been damaged beyond repair. Domestically, we contend here that PBAT’s personality is not and cannot be damaged in Nigeria because, a friend sleeping with the wife of another friend, engaging in public embezzlements, whose lifestyle is corruption- and indiscipline-driven, and whose behaviour is irrational are generally always celebrated regardless of government’s anti-corruption agencies which are fighting crimes, societal corruption and indiscipline selectively. The handling of whether President Muhammadu Buhari has a West African School Certificate is a mute question. People not found guilty of corruption and crimes in Nigeria are tried, convicted, as well as sentenced to imprisonment abroad. Why is Nigeria’s polity built on dishonest infrastructures? Why should anyone not happy with the situation told to go to the court in which people do not have much trust? After all, Salisu Buhari was pardoned. Is it not a life of magouilles in Nigeria which goes beyond the diplomacy of certificate forgery?

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