By Sunny Awhefeada,
So much has been said and written about the exploit of Mmesoma Ejikeme the nineteen year old girl who not only awarded herself a mark of 362 in the last Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, but took an entire nation of two hundred million people for a ride until the body that administered the examination, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) burst her bubble. Weeks earlier when the news of her “outstanding performance” hit the airwaves, she was toasted as an ideal child.
Many a parent pulled their children by their ears asking them “can’t you see a small girl like you scoring 362 in jamb?” Some even put her over Hilda Baci applauding her cerebral prowess over Hilda’s culinary tenacity. But once the bubble burst, she became the subject of how not to be a good child.
Her transformation from model child to that which now demands sympathy is symptomatic of how Nigerians detested the deed. Yet, our beloved country, Nigeria, has been taken hostage by the same deed right from our inaugural moment as a nation.
Mmesoma is merely a perpetrator of an act that has come to be garlanded in our clime. For want of a better nomenclature I choose to call this act the Mmesoma syndrome. It manifests in forgery, rigging and other forms of corruption and it has become part of our culture and an important index of statecraft.
The story has been told of how the British rigged Nigeria’s first national government into power at independence. That giddy dawn also saw a crook who had been convicted for swindling in the colonial era emerging as Nigeria’s senate president.
That period saw a quack getting appointed as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of Nigeria’s premier university. The fellow claimed to have obtained the coveted Doctor of Science degree from the University of Toronto and he earned plaudits and reverence for that feat until his bubble was also burst.
It happened that a leading professor from Toronto was visiting Ibadan. Our Doctor of Science Pro-Chancellor was introduced to the visitor who expressed doubt if such a name ever attended Toronto.
On returning to Toronto, he checked and crosschecked the records and discovered that our Pro-Chancellor was a fake Doctor of Science. The man wrote to the University of Ibadan. The Federal Government and the University got embarrassed and wanted to sweep the matter under the carpet.
The Pro-Chancellor initially rejected the call for his resignation. Wole Soyinka, then a young writer and lecturer in the University, resigned in protest against having a charlatan presiding over ceremonies at Ibadan. The Pro-Chancellor later resigned, but was rewarded with another appointment.
The foregoing examples constitute less than a tip of the iceberg of Nigeria’s romance with putrefaction. This putrid condition seems to have peaked since 1999.
After sixteen years of military interregnum, a civilian dispensation was ushered in in May 1999. The nation was still cautiously trying to adjust to the new reality when it was hit by forgery scandals.
The young man who emerged as the first Speaker of the House of Representatives not only doctored his age, but also claimed to have got a Master’s degree from Toronto, the same Toronto! The Senate also had to battle with the reality of Evan and Evans in trying to unravel the identity of the Senate President at that time! The University of Chicago scandal also assumed a life of its own within the same period. Thus, as it was in the beginning in the 1960s, the present dispensation also began on lies, faking and forgeries. Here are we are! The years following these scandals also saw a quack professor presiding over the nation’s electoral body.
Checks conducted by a leading news magazine of that era revealed that the man attended no formal institutions that awarded him the degrees he claimed. His example is just probably one out of thousands.
Among us are fake doctors, fake lawyers, fake judges, fake prophets, fake pastors, fake universities, fake drugs, fake everything and more. A famous poet had also raised alarm over a VC without CV (Vice Chancellor without Curriculum Vitae). The fakeries keep multiplying because Nigerian is not famous for sanctioning misdemeanours. We glamourize crime and de-odourize smelling shame.
The public space has been rigged and seized by men and women whom Mmesoma sees as worthy models. If two of our presidents could attain such a high office laying claims to academic certificates they never possessed, then Mmesoma must have felt that adjusting her result could pole-vault her aspiration. She was merely conforming to what has become a norm. Nigeria’s public space is at the mercy of fakers.
The list of present and former governors, lawmakers and ministers who have been accused of faking academic certificates and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate is endless. Many of them sprang up from nowhere and laid claim to schools they never attended and certificates they never acquired.
Just this week a former minster who was also a senator has been dragged to court for parading a fake NYSC certificate. The woman had enjoyed privileged positions for many years using a certificate for which she never toiled.
Some years ago, a retired police chief who was then a serving senator, shocked his fellow senators when he told them during a sitting that many of the senators seated in the chamber were crooks he had prosecuted in the past. The unhallowed chamber erupted. The social media was to spin a wicked humour, out of that experience, depicting a mother asking her son where stealing will lead him and his reply was “National Assembly”.
The present configuration of Nigeria’s public space is anchored on the Mmesoma syndrome. Heavy doubts hang over the academic pedigree of the head of the executive arm of government.
The fellow who presides over the legislative arm of was undergoing prosecution for corruption some years ago and at a time he had the ironic reality of being co-minister, in the same ministry, with his erstwhile prosecutor. As governor, he prided himself as uncommon and claimed to have built a world class hospital saying that his people would no longer go overseas for healthcare.
Weeks after leaving office the uncommon governor who built a “world class hospital” suffered a knee injury and had to be flown overseas to be treated in an uncommon hospital fit for an uncommon governor.
The world class hospital he claimed to have built was for the people who were not uncommon like him! Part of our sorry narrative was the public declaration by the national chairman of a ruling party that any politician undergoing prosecution for larceny will be forgiven if he crossed over to his party.
Elsewhere, he proclaimed that democracy was not for those who cannot bear the pain of rigging.
Ours is a rigged nation, a permissive society where sinners are transmogrified into saints.
“Nigeria has evolved into a big canvas of fraud and too many people are daily signing up for perfidy.
“Parents and teachers are involved in examination racketeering and bleakness is what now confronts us.”
Mmesoma must not have acted alone. The dexterity that could produce the faked result, the social media frenzy that greeted her as the “highest scorer”, her resistance and insistence on being innocent couldn’t have been her design. A syndicate could have put her up to the act. She should be encouraged to talk and, may be, more damning revelations would be thrown up.
The initial support for Mmesoma and outrage against JAMB point to lack of confidence in our national institutions. Nigeria needs attending to and in doing this it is the citizens that should be attended to.
We need a reorientation that will evolve a new and wholesome value system for our society. We seem to have been errant for too long. Let us cure our nation of the Mmesoma syndrome.