Some musings on “degree mills” and other issues

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By Andrew A. Erakhrumen

On the 30th of December 2023, an online news media published a damning report from its reporter, who went undercover to investigate successfully how “degrees” (and result transcripts) could be obtained, in six weeks or less, from a foreign “university” without stepping on that country’s soil! We mean without receiving any lecture, on-site or otherwise! Without taking any examination in whatever form! Without knowing where the “university” is located (in the Benin Republic, to be specific)!

This story elicited a series of reactions, but for us, it was, and still is, not a surprising one! What appeared big to us was that the said reporter (Umar Shehu Audu), with support, was able to pull the undercover investigation through as against the speculative reporting that we are mostly familiar with in Nigeria. We congratulate this reporter for this feat!

There are other investigative journalists in Nigeria; we believe that with support and an enabling environment, they can also perform excellently. It may be intrusive and/or disrespectful for those who do not know much about a profession to be teaching professionals in such a line of work how to do their job. Professions are supposed to have ethics that guide them. However, for those who do not like to conform to ethics, such as those involved in unnecessarily speculative and brown envelope journalism, we advise that they should talk to themselves; although this last point is important, it is not the main focus here.

The focus of this article is mainly on the “degree” obtained by the reporter from the foreign “university.”. As earlier stated, we are not moved by this discovery! It is not a “big deal” to us! The reader may ask why we took this position. This is simply because it is not really a “new” discovery. There had been silent rumours of the existence of such higher educational institutions (not only in Africa but also in those places referred to as developed countries) that are reputed for issuing (selling) questionable certificates to willing buyers through their local and international agents who, collectively, are racketeering syndicates!

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These claims were, at best, unverifiable gossips until the above-mentioned reporter went undercover to provide the public with undeniable facts; the types of facts that rattle the shrewdest roguish public officials and civil servants who collaborate with criminal racketeers! Or, what do we call those aiding and abetting the buying and selling of academic and professional certificates? It will be very difficult to convince us that those racketeering syndicates do not have supports in high places in Nigeria!

This exposé has contributed in exposing the dirty underbelly of Nigerian society. Again, like others, it confirmed that no unscrupulousness is beyond some people. These crooks may be few in number but their activities help in reverberating negativity about the country. With thorough investigations, it is not unlikely that those behind the certificate scam are predominantly Nigerians! Yes, some Nigerians are soiling Nigeria’s name!

These reprehensible activities start in bits and pieces. They may have their legal implications but we are more concerned, here, with morals. We cannot help it but to moralise! The moral values in this country are unbelievably increasingly becoming what to be ashamed of! Immorality is now displayed openly! If you are not involved in the madness, it means you are a “mugu”! That means you are not smart! We must tell ourselves the naked truth that, morally, Nigeria has sunk very deep!

The people in government are involved, but the followers are not exempt. In fact, they are seriously complicit in the rot! For instance, is it news that some schoolchildren, wards, and their parents or guardians engage in all sorts of cheating, even at the level of nursery or primary schools? Is it news that parents and guardians, in collaboration with their children and wards, ‘arrange’ for leaked questions and “miracle centres” in order to pass examinations? Can these students defend the certificates they submitted for admission into higher educational institutions? Can they defend the certificates they subsequently obtained, through crooked means, from higher educational institutions? Truly, the cowl does not make the monk! This desperation for unmerited paper qualifications by some people can be terrifying! The mentioned and unmentioned illicitness in all sectors has drastically reduced Nigeria’s integrity, such that law-abiding, hard-working compatriots are now victimised. These dubious certificates are also contributing factors in complicating this integrity problem.

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As this piece is being written, in line with the well-known predictable knee-jerk responses by Nigerian governments, newspaper reports have it that eighteen (18) foreign universities without licence to operate in the country have been shut down while some others are being investigated. Further, an eight-man inter-ministerial committee had been inaugurated to investigate the activities of private universities established in the last fifteen years. This committee is also mandated to probe allegations of degree certificate racketeering by both foreign and local universities in Nigeria. Unfortunately, fraudulent beings are already among the crooks in charge of the running of people’s lives in the civil and public service!

We hope that the beneficiaries of academic frauds being investigated will allow these investigations to succeed. We are still struggling to be hopeful against hope, but if the current investigations go the way similar ones in the past did, then one may be left with no choice other than to agree with those asking in Pidgin, “Whose school epp?”? They even concluded that “school is a scam!”! That is the quality of mind possessed by future Nigerian leaders! That is what they are inheriting from the current warped system! There is no need to be evasive when discussing these academic frauds that are gradually getting normalised! The products of these scams are in all professions—in Nigeria today! Many Nigerians may not know or may be living in denial, but sooner or later, it will be clearer that they (we) are in trouble!

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Definitely, we have problems with those unnamed valueless predatory mushroom educational institutions—both locally and foreign—that are exploiting the inadequacy in the Nigerian system. Nonetheless, it should be stated clearly that not all those who are studying in foreign lands, or those with certificates from those places, are frauds! Not at all! There are those with high cerebral capacity and moral integrity who can be vouched for among them! There are different reasons for seeking training and certifications outside of the country. These push and pull factors are multifaceted, but the constraints of space will not allow us to analyse them here. Yet one fact stands out for us. That is, Nigeria’s public higher educational institutions need serious funding support in order to be able to admit more applicants and deliver deliverables in line with global best practices!

Consequently, it has been, and will continue to be, gross irresponsibility for Nigerian (federal and sub-national) governments to abandon existing public educational institutions (especially universities) while creating multiple new ones (glorified secondary schools) that do not have any verifiable funding plan! We now agree that many Nigerians have not accepted or imbibed the reasons for, lofty ideas behind, and culture of a university! Also, there are misfits within the university system! It is that serious! In closing, we ask: what differentiates the proliferation of poorly-funded public universities from the nefarious activities of those “universities” that Nigerians now tag as “degree mills”?

Andrew A. Erakhrumen currently teaches at the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.

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