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Mmesoma, Nigeria’s certificate forgery market and ethics

An obsession with certificates in Nigeria is fuelling black market for certificate forgery. Mmesoma’s attempt at falsifying her UTME 2023 results is symtomatic of a Nigerian society in need of value reorientation. Cases of academic credentials forgery in Nigeria numerous. It is time to hit the reset button towards a competency-based evaluation not certficates-based.
Competency-based Education
Competency-based Education - Credit: University of Wisconsin System
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Joy Mmesoma Ejikeme has been in the eye of the storm following her presentation of a Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) 2023 score of 362, which earned her the momentary title of highest scorer.

This also earned her a scholarship worth N3 million from Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing (IVM) and the Anambra state government was also on the verge of offering her a scholarship when the cast began to unravel. The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) punctured the bubble when it said the result does not correspond to what was in its database, which means it was forged.

Her quick response (QR) code read another candidate’s name and scores, pointing to a disparity. In an earlier video, Mmesoma claimed innocence of the forgery accusations. But the board withdrew her original result and banned her from writing UTME for the next three years.

JAMB’s disavowal of her forged results triggered a fury of objections from different quarters. Many Nigerians took to social media platforms to haul invectives at JAMB, accusing it of systemic inefficiency. Mmesoma claimed she has been a brilliant student throughout her time in school and has no interest in falsifying her scores. The IVM spokesperson said he did not think the girl he met was capable of such illegality. And there were calls from different quarters for an independent investigation. Many took to the microblogging sites to display amateur forensics in the matter.

To pursue the investigation would require detective skills such as Sherlock Holmes in his proficiency with observation, deduction, forensic science and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic, which he employs when investigating cases for a wide variety of clients, including Scotland Yard.

However, the Anambra state government saved everyone the trouble of hiring a consultant detective such as Sherlock Holmes. Charles Soludo, a professor of economics, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and governor of the Southeastern state constituted a panel to investigate the forgery allegations.

On Friday, July 7, the panel of inquiry set up by Soludo released an eight-page report which stated that Mmesoma had owned up to her illegal behaviour and accepted wrongdoing. Here are the four key findings of the committee.

First, Ejikeme Joy Mmesoma’s original UTME aggregate score was 249, according to the results released by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Second, the results paraded by Ejikeme Joy Mmesoma with an aggregate score of 362 were fake as shown by variations in the registration number, date of birth, centre name and other infractions. Third, Ejikeme Joy Mmesoma admitted that she manipulated the fake results herself, using her phone. Fourth, the Principal of Anglican Girls’ Secondary School, Edu Uche and the education secretary, Diocese of Nnewi (Anglican Communion) expressed dismay at the conduct of Ejikeme Joy Mmesoma.

Following these findings, Romanus Ejikeme, Mmesoma’s father has apologised to Nigerians and JAMB, admitting that his daughter lied to him. But he has also requested justice be tempered with mercy.

Similarly, the former Minister of Education Oby Ezekwesili, said she is satisfied with the Anambra state panel of inquiry findings in the case of Mmesoma Ejikeme. Ezekwesili, in her reaction to Mmesoma’s confession, said she upholds JAMB’s sanctions on the teenager but also urged that she receive proper counselling and not public victimisation.

Read also: Mmesoma: Ezekwesili endorses Anambra independent committee’s findings on alleged forgery

Read also: Mmesoma confesses to forging JAMB result

Read also: Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing withdraws scholarship from Joy Mmesoma Ejikeme

Nigeria’s certificate-centric society and forgery market

Mmesoma’s case of forgery is a psychosomatic symptom of Nigeria’s certificate-centric society, which drives a black market of certificate forgery. We run a risk of psychologising a social dysfunction but to view this with the psychosomatic prism offers a helpful mental model towards developing a theory of social change. While the term psychosomatic is used for individuals we apply it to society seen as a body.

Psychosomatic disorder is a psychological condition involving the occurrence of physical symptoms, usually lacking a medical explanation. People with this condition may have excessive thoughts, feelings or concerns about the symptoms — which affects their ability to function well.

Similarly, results and certificate forgeries in Nigeria are physical symptoms of the psychological conditioning of many Nigerians. We may have excessive thoughts and feelings about these social phenomena and in many cases they might affect our ability to function well as a society. Going after certificate forgers will be ineffective as long demand for their services remains. But the solution lies in de-normalising our collective obsession with certificates and titles in Nigeria. Our obsession with certificates is legendary.

For instance, five months ago, the Texas Board of Nursing in the United States charged 18 Nigerian nurses working in the state to court for “falsely obtaining educational qualifications.” The board named 23 nurses accused of certificate forgery in a statement posted on its website. Eighteen of the indicted nurses were from Nigeria.

This followed the launch of a multi-state coordinated law enforcement action by the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and law enforcement partners to apprehend individuals engaged in a scheme to sell false and fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts.

Most Nigerian organisations drive this obsession with certificates when they evaluate competency as a function of paper qualifications. This is detrimental to quality human capital development in Africa’s most populous country. Human capital is the stock of competencies, knowledge and endowment of education, social and personality attributes, embodied in the ability to perform labour so as to produce economic value. It is not the stock of certificates or paper qualifications.

The mere acquisition of a certificate is not and cannot be synonymous with competency. We must appreciate the essence of a certificate, which is a signal that an individual has gone through and completed a course.

However, some multinational companies, non-governmental organisations, embassies and consulates in Nigeria focus attention on core competencies, experiences and achievements. Paper qualifications are only signals.

Weaving excellence into the social fabric

Socrates, 470BC – 399BC is famous for the saying, ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’. He brought a fundamental shift to Western philosophy. Philosophers before him studied the universe but he shifted attention from the cosmos to human society and human life. He asked such questions as what is good, truth and justice? What does it mean to lead a good life? He forced Athenians to examine the foundations of their ethics. The Athenian democracy put him to death. He did not leave any writings but his pupil Plato made his teachings known.

A society that fails to take moral values and ethics seriously will chase after shadows and confuse them for reality like the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave. We had initially stated that certificates forgery black market is psychosomatic of a dysfunctional society. It is the physical symptom of a mental condition. We are tying this psychological conditioning to a decaying moral fibre of Nigerian society.

It is time for the comatose National Orientation Agency (NOA) to get to work if it still has any raison d’être. We seem to have digressed but until the mental conditions that lead to certificate forgery are addressed nothing will change. The NOA, in partnership with relevant organisations such as Edugist, has a role to play in redressing this disturbing trend.

It is not coincidental that the genuine top scorers of the UTME 2023 are members of the Deeper Life Bible Church. It links back to moral values and ethical foundations. Deeper Life Bible Church is known for its austere adherence to morality. While church attendance is not a sufficient condition for a life built on ethical principles, it is necessary. We also know that Islam has strong ethical underpinnings that drive Muslims to excellence. However, without a personal commitment to excellence, no religious affiliation suffices in the quest for excellence. Mmesoma’s case shows this, she also belongs to a church but it is not enough as we have seen. Whatever circumstances led her to this unacceptable behaviour. We recommend counselling and suggest that the three-year ban is enough deterrence.

Let us wrap up with these aphorisms. Love for excellence kills obsession with certificates. Obsession with titles kills love for excellence. Excellence helps to transcend scarcity in many ways.

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2 months ago

It is grossly unfortunate that a section of the society has continued to manufacture various reasons to justify what was primarily a criminally forgery of UTME result. This is even after the culprit had suddenly owned up amid strident defence of the criminal act by the same section of the society who would have wished the girl did not burst their ballon of “I told you, all Nigerian institutions steal people’s wish”

It would have been very interesting if Edugist had mentioned the countries in which the issuance of certificates and now badges are not used as evidence of achievement and competence. I wonder why Nigeria should now be an exception simply because a section of the society needs to rationalise criminality and their intent to destroy national institutions for reasons, some of which may not be hidden from discerning members of the society.

Ikechukwu Onyekwelu
2 months ago
Reply to  Benga

There is something called the Sociological Imagination. This is a mindset that shows the intersection or interaction between personal biographies and history, the self and the world, (wo)man and society…you cannot explain individual behaviour without reference to the social context and vice versa. So, to understand Mmesoma’s illegal behaviour, you need to place her in her social context, in society, her sitz-im-leben. This was what the editorial took a shot at.

1 month ago

I do not have any problem with the assumption that her social context rooted in her sociological background might have influenced her as evidenced by my contention that she had that unflinching support almost 100% from those that shared her values. (I hope I am not being dragged into another contentious debate on the support base).

Your response clearly avoided the issue that I raised in my comment above, which is simply how would the measure of competence/proficiency as practiced all over the world now become an excuse for criminality singularly in Nigeria.

Anyway, thanks for the engagement.

2 months ago

It is important that Edugist gives room for critical engagement on contemporary issues that it has put out as editorials.

I disagree with this editorial that the issuance of certificate of competence, achievement or completion in Nigeria as a demonstration of skill acquired or attendance at a training can be a sufficient excuse or justification for criminality.

Edugist editorial did not do justice to the issue as it did not mention anywhere in the whole world where certificates are not required or used as an attestation to competence. This is the main reason why RPL and CAT are now trending in education circles.

Ikechukwu Onyekwelu
2 months ago
Reply to  Benga

Many thanks for your engagement with our editorial. Our editorials are designed to spark conversations such as this. The point of the editorial is that emphasis should be on knowledge, skills and abilities not certificates. We also admitted in the editorial that certificates are signals, pointing to a course completed. An obsession with certificates is not the same as seeing them as what the are, signals.

Edugist called Mmesoma’s behaviour illegal as well. However, you will miss the forest when you focus only on individual trees. The big picture is that there is a certificate forgery blackmarket because the Nigerian society is obessed with certificates. Your reaction confirms this.

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