The ‘fake universities’ Syndrome

Posted: April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

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By Chido Onumah

Last July, shortly after the horrific Dana Air crash that killed over a hundred Nigerians, I did a piece titled, “Murder Incorporated”. The thrust of the piece was that the government ought to take the larger blame for the incident. Why? Because ours is a country of “anything goes”.

There are laws, but people break them with impunity and no one gets punished. That really is what separates us from the rest of the so-called developed world. The lack of respect for laws by citizens and the inability of government to uphold the rule of law make all the difference between a stable and prosperous state and one poised to fail.

While working on the article referenced above, I came across a National Universities Commission newsletter that had a list of 44 “fake universities” in the country. That piece of information was meant as a cautionary note for students and parents as well as the public. It is hard to say how many of those concerned saw and benefited from the NUC alert. From all indications, not many.

Just last week, close to a year after the NUC highlighted the issue of “fake universities”, I visited the NUC website only to discover that the list had grown to 49 and counting. It is either that, in response to the country’s glorification of paper qualification, business is thriving for “fake universities” or those who are supposed to rein in these illegal entities are not doing what is expected of them.

That the NUC had to issue another warning recently is a pointer to how menacing the issue has become. The latest information about “fake universities” and “degree mills” in the country came via a public announcement signed by the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Prof. Julius Okojie.

“The National Universities Commission wishes to announce to the general public, especially parents and prospective undergraduates, that the underlisted “Degree Mills” have not been licensed by the Federal Government and have, therefore, been closed down for violating the Education (National Minimum Standards, etc) Act CAP E3 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004,” Prof. Okojie noted.

The list of “fake universities” included such incongruous names as may not be needful to mention here.

For good measure, Okojie added, “For the avoidance of doubt, anybody who patronizes or obtains any certificate from any of these illegal institutions does so at his or her own risk. Certificates obtained from these sources will not be recognised for the purposes of the National Youth Service Corps, employment, and further studies. The relevant law enforcement agencies have also been informed for their further necessary action. This list of illegal institutions is not exhaustive”. How reassuring!

It is heartwarming that the NUC appears to be tackling the menace of “fake universities” frontally. But there are many questions begging for answers. What type of “investigations” is the NUC conducting? Universities are not daycare centres. How did these “degree mills” start off? Is there a “cabal” behind these “fake universities”? Are there no regulations/requirements before universities are accredited? Did the NUC accredit the universities it is investigating?

The NUC has a list of legally recognised universities in the country and any institution that purports to be a university that is not on the list should be closed down immediately and its proprietors prosecuted. That is the easiest way to put an end to this scam. In this regard, does the NUC have the support of the government and its relevant agencies to prosecute the proprietors of these illegal universities?

Coming on the heels of the Federal Government’s appointment of Salisu Buhari, discredited former Speaker of the House of Representatives, to the governing council of a federal university, it is easy to see the kind of support the NUC would get from the government. For those who need reminding, Buhari was the first speaker of the House of Representatives when the Fourth Republic took off in 1999. He came to that position having lied about his age and qualification. He claimed a degree from the University of Toronto, Canada, which he never earned.

When Buhari bowed to public pressure and tearfully tendered his letter of resignation to the House, claiming to be motivated by his zeal to serve his country, he received a thunderous applause from his fellow colleagues who agreed to pardon him. That pardon did come eventually through his mentor, then president Olusegun Obasanjo.

The other day, I watched presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, on TV trying labouriously to defend the appointment of Buhari. According to Abati, “The thing about pardon is that it turns you into a new man. Out of the 251 persons appointed to governing council of federal universities, I don’t think we really have to worry ourselves so much about one man”.

Perhaps, in tackling the problem of “fake universities”, the government needs to borrow a leaf from its own playbook. Only recently, through one of its agencies, the National Film and Video Censors Board, the government banned the airing and distribution of the documentary, “Fuelling Poverty”. The 30-minute film documents the corruption in the country’s oil industry, its impact and the response of Nigerians to the waste and obnoxious policies it has engendered.

The NFVCB says the documentary “is highly provocative and likely to incite or encourage public disorder and undermine national security”. It warned the filmmaker and his associates about the consequences of violating the order, saying “all relevant national security agencies (including the Department of State Services and the Police) are on the alert”.  I would think the menace of “fake universities” is a greater threat to us than a 30-minute film that merely documents what Nigerians already know.

We look forward to the outcome of the NUC’s “investigation” and hope that at the end of the day, we actually see people punished for violating the Education (National Minimum Standards etc) Act CAP E3 Law of the Federation of Nigeria .

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