Opinion

Faking it to make it, By Victor Anazonwu 

As I sat down to write this article, news broke that two teenage sisters, aged 13 and 15, had been nabbed in the Akoko area of Ondo State, Southwest Nigeria, for faking their own kidnap. The girls had locked themselves in a hotel room and attempted to get a ransom of N100,000 from their own mother by claiming that they would be killed if she didn’t pay up. This was neither a movie nor fake news.

 

Before them, a teenage girl in Nnewi, Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria, had been trending for weeks for the wrong reasons. She single handedly cooked up her Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam scores to make her the highest performer nationwide. Although she actually scored 249, Mmesoma Ejikeme boosted her score to a whopping 362 points out of a possible 400. With that, she became an instant celebrity as individuals and corporate organizations queued up to present gifts to a new-found genius. When JAMB overlooked her to announce another candidate as national champion, she persuaded her school principal to accompany her to the state Education Commissioner to assert her rights as the special one. Well, the dust eventually settled. The young lady owned up to her crime and is now pleading for leniency.

 

If ever there was any doubt about the effects on children of the behavior of parents, teachers, elders, leaders and other authority figures, the Nigerian experience in the last few years puts that doubt firmly to rest. We’ve shown the world that to make it, it’s alright to fake it. And our children are picking up the gauntlet.

 

For some time now, the moral fountains of our country have been systematically poisoned by the conduct of men and women who hold authority with questionable credentials and track records. First, we ignored them. Then we tolerated them. Now we swear them into office and threaten those with reasonable claims and objections to “go to court.”

 

According to wisevoter.com, Nigeria ranks 5th highest in “annual crime rate” out of 187 countries studied in 2023. In another study of 144 countries worldwide, Nigeria ranked 14th in “crime index by country”, according to Numbeo.com. More frightening than the statistics perhaps is that in Nigeria criminality has rapidly shifted south into younger demographics which were hitherto considered unspoilt. In other words, we are grooming them younger to last longer.

 

But all hope is not lost. There is a glimmer of hope in the horizon. In the coming weeks and months, federal and state Election Petition Tribunals, and ultimately the Supreme Court, will be deciding the fate of men, women and institutions who are standing trial for literally inspiring the current wave of forgeries; people accused of either faking their way to the top or helping to falsify results for others in the general elections of February and March 2023. The outcome of these trials will set the moral compass for Nigeria over many years to come.

 

Of the many post-election petitions pending across the land, the cases of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Peter Ndubuisi Mbah hold a special fascination for me – especially as it relates to NYSC. Tinubu has been sworn in as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, my country. Mbah has assumed office as Governor of Enugu, the state where I was born and raised. The NYSC is one of the few enduring national institutions with some integrity still left in the bank.

 

Both Tinubu and Mba contested elections and were declared winners by the electoral umpire under heavy clouds. Both men were dragged to election petition tribunals by the same political party (Labor Party). Both men are now facing similar charges bordering on certificate forgery and collusion with the electoral umpire to fraudulently manipulate the outcomes of elections in their favor. Both men are fighting for their lives as you read this.

 

Established by decree in 1973, the NYSC is Nigeria’s equivalent of a compulsory military draft for countries in a state of war. The enabling law requires all Nigerian graduates of universities and equivalent institutions of higher learning worldwide to submit themselves to compulsory one year national service, after which they are issued a certificate of discharge and may then be lawfully engaged to work anywhere in Nigeria. Effective August 1985, the law was amended to make room for a few exemptions on the basis of age or prior military/paramilitary service.

 

In their petition to the Presidential Election tribunal, Atiku Abubakar and the PDP allege, among others, that in filing his application with INEC to contest for the office of president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu submitted an NYSC discharge certificate bearing the names Bola Adekunle Tinubu. Plus a degree certificate from an American university which belongs to a certain Bola A. Tinubu, identified in related documents as a female. They want the court to rule that Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not the same person as Bola Adekunle Tinubu and Bola A. Tinubu (F); and that for submitting a false document Bola Ahmed Tinubu was not qualified in the first place to run for the 2023 presidential election.

 

In the case of Peter Mbah, he is said to have submitted a copy of an NYSC discharge certificate dated 2003 alongside his application forms to INEC. His political opponents went sniffing into his past and found blood. When they wrote to NYSC to authenticate his certificate, NYSC wrote back to say it didn’t issue the certificate Mbah was holding. Peter Mbah swore his was the real McCoy. He ignored calls to step down and proceeded to the polls where he was subsequently declared winner. Now, the first ground of petition by Mr Chijioke Edeoga and the Labor Party is that since the NYSC certificate Mbah presented has been declared false by NYSC, Mbah is guilty of forgery and perjury and therefore ought not to have contested the election which outcome is also in contention.

 

Under oath at the tribunal, NYSC insisted that it did not issue Mbah’s certificate. It said it had records that Mbah registered for national service as claimed, but had no proof that he completed the service year requirements. It produced an archival log book to show where Mbah should have signed if he had collected his real discharge certificate – along with others who served in the same state and year. Mbah’s signature row was blank. NYSC then went ahead to show copies of discharge certificates it had issued to other corpers who served alongside Mbah, with forensic evidence to show that Mbah’s was forged. Plus a copy of the original certificate which Mbah should have collected if he had completed his service year. It bears a different number from the one Mbah is holding.

 

Mbah’s traducers do not contest that the man was duly registered for his mandatory service year. But sometime before the year ended, they say, fortune smiled on him extraordinarily. He was appointed Chief of Staff to the Enugu State Governor! In excitement, the young man skipped camp, abandoned his discharge certificate and headed east to take up a once-in-a-lifetime job offer. It was only after the job had expired years later that he remembered his unclaimed discharge certificate. But by then he couldn’t get it issued officially since he hadn’t fulfilled all preconditions for the award of the certificate. So, he probably decided to issue one to himself…

 

No one should be punished for a crime they did not commit. Nor should the guilty be allowed to get away with their crime. In a rare instance where state institutions appear to work in Nigeria, NYSC has stood its ground on this one. Just as JAMB did in the case of Mmesoma who boosted her test scores. Can we expect any teary confessions from Tinubu or Mbah? Not very likely. Politicians and school girls don’t come from the same planet.

 

In his defense, Mbah and his legal team have gone almost full cycle. First, they insisted that he holds the proper NYSC discharge certificate. When that didn’t seem to stick, they asked a court to stop NYSC from testifying against him at the tribunal. Since the court refused to grant that application, they now claim that the NYSC discharge certificate is not a crucial constitutional requirement for persons seeking public office in Nigeria.

 

This looks like a desperate legal gambit. Much like being caught with a wallet belonging to someone else and saying “It had no money in it anyway.” There’s no such thing as forgery of an unimportant document. Forgery is forgery. Mercifully, it is not within the powers of Mbah and his lawyers to determine the importance of any document required for filing by relevant state authorities. Did INEC list the filing of NYSC certificates as optional? Why didn’t Mbah exercise his discretion by declining to submit this non-critical document? Why did he go all the way to allegedly fake it? How could the discharge certificate of a compulsory national service suddenly become insignificant for public office? Why wasn’t INEC interested in resolving this matter long before the elections and before anyone was sworn in?

 

Those who say that Bola Tinubu, Peter Mbah and other politicians are on trial here miss the point completely. With the weight of matters in dispute and the level of diligent prosecution that has followed Yakubugate, it is the Nigerian judiciary that is on trial. What the judges find and how they rule will have consequences on us all for years to come.

 

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