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Cotonou Degrees and Our Wimpy Education Policy 

By Hassan Gimba

Last week, we got a dose of what investigative journalism ought to be. Umar Audu, a promising young journalist, proved to be an outstanding student of his mentor, Ja’afar Ja’afar, an investigative journalist of the first order. Reporting for Daily Nigerian, Ja’afar’s online newspaper, Umar Audu went underground to bag a degree in Mass Communication from a university in the Benin Republic. It is a report worthy of the highest award in the land for investigative journalism.

“This certificate will be delivered to you just like you ordered a pizza or something, and you give them your location, and it is delivered to you. That was what motivated me to conduct this investigation.

“We did a similar investigation in 2018, which led to the government taking certain decisions. These things keep going on despite pronouncements by the federal government,” he said.

In his investigative report entitled, “How Daily Nigerian reporter bagged Cotonou varsity degree in 6 weeks,” released by Daily Nigerian on 30 December 2023, Umar Audu exposed a booming certificate racketeering syndicate in neighbouring African countries like Benin Republic and Togo which specialises in selling university degrees to willing buyers from Nigeria.

The certificate and transcript which came at the affordable sum of ₦600,000 bore the authentic scan code of Ecole Superieure de Gestion et de Technologies, ESGT, Benin Republic. He was able to get the certificate without having to apply, register, study, or take any tests.

According to the certificate issued, Umar Audu commenced his programme in 2018 and graduated on September 5, 2022. And with the fake certificate, he participated in the National 

Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme without being detected.

To participate in the NYSC scheme, despite him never crossing any Nigerian borders, an immigration officer managed to get his passport stamped by both Nigerian and Beninois immigration officials.

Following the expose, the chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Dr Musa Adamu Aliyu, met with the reporter “to verify details and move beyond speculation,” according to a statement by ICPC spokesperson, Azuka Ogugua.

The report forced the government to ban the validation of certificates from the country and Togo, followed by others from Niger Republic, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, the UK and the USA.

Even though this is not the first time the Nigerian government has promised to descend on those who procure “Cotonou Certificates” or the institutions that offer them, the will to act has always been lacking.

To beat a system that emphasizes paper qualifications, Nigerians, therefore, try the shortcut method by paying, some through the nose, for these certificates bypassing standard academic procedures like application, registration, coursework, and examinations. And as long as the emphasis would always be on certificates, corrupt government employees would enable the fraudulent business of certificate racketeering.

The deification of certificates, without which one’s political and economic growth may be dwarfed, our impatience and penchant for cutting corners coupled with compromised officialdom – aggravated by harsh economic conditions – ready to short-change the system for pecuniary gains – all combine to fuel the network.

Not only that; most of those who graduate from our tertiary institutions at home do so through dubious and dishonest means. This is why it is not surprising these days to see a university graduate who cannot string three good sentences together.

The past governments’ nonchalance to education also contributed in no small measure to driving our citizens into the hands of such unscrupulous elements. The last regime did not give a hoot when, for almost a year, the Academic Staff Union of Universities was on strike. Such strikes always push some students who can afford to go to such institutions that give degrees within two months. Here, it takes about four years under normal conditions but can take more because of strikes.

It is a good idea that this time around, the government has taken up the issue squarely and hopefully the measures are not going to just stop at banning the schools but that their products would be sieved out of our system as they are currently ensconced in all sectors of our society.

Beyond that, the government must also look into a situation where an academically deficient student here goes on to become a medical doctor or an engineer abroad, leaving his more brilliant and promising student here with no future because of the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board’s policies.

Let me explain further. Two mates complete secondary school, one with eight credits and the other with three. None of them could get admission to study medicine or engineering because they could not reach the required JAMB cut-off marks. However, the one with three credits could go abroad, where nothing is asked of him, to study medicine or engineering and return to Nigeria to practise.

A nation is just as developed as the education it imparts to its citizens. And a civilisation’s life is dependent on the education driving it. The foundation for a nation’s greatness is quality education. For Nigeria to join the top 20 world economies, it must reappraise the value it places on education.

For instance, what is the annual budget we allocate to the education sector? What is the focus of our education? What do we want to achieve and what values do we want to inculcate in students?

It is time that we make products of our education imbibe the culture of honesty and self-reliance. A person who goes to school from primary to tertiary level should be able to be proficient in some skills so that there would be no need for them to be pounding the streets in search of government jobs. A situation where quality (skills and merit) is relegated to quantity (certificates) does not make for a meritorious society.

Lest I Forget

What is so special about the Humanitarian ministry that women, assumed to be humane, who are placed in charge of, including its agencies, show to the world that they are stone-hearted? Or is it that the sector is meant for them to push their husbands into political relevance?

This is a theory we should look at.

Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.

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