…pleads for review of ban on Benin, Togo degrees

…ICPC commences investigation

The fate of some 15,000 Nigerian students in the Republic of Benin may be hanging in the balance following the Federal Government’s response to an investigative report by a journalist with the Daily Nigerian detailing how he obtained a degree from a university in the neighbouring country in six weeks and participated in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme despite having participated in the scheme in the past.

This is according to the president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in Benin Republic, Ugochukwu Favour, who spoke on Channels Television’s breakfast show, Sunrise Daily, on Thursday.

In the Daily Nigerian report published on 30 December 2023 entitled “UNDERCOVER: How DAILY NIGERIAN reporter bagged Cotonou varsity degree in six weeks, participated in NYSC scheme”, the reporter, Umar Audu, narrated how he reached out to a racketeering syndicate that specialises in selling degree certificates from the neighbouring countries in December 2022 and got a degree certificate and a transcript from Ecole Superieure de Gestion et de Technologies (ESGT), Cotonou, Benin Republic, delivered to him in February 2023, having paid money covering tuition fees, an evaluation letter, a resident permit, immigration stamps at the border post and transportation.

The reporter said he got a degree certificate for a four-year programme, Mass Communication, “in less than two months without application, registration, studying, writing exams or crossing Nigerian border”.

With this degree certificate from ESGT, he registered for, was mobilised and went ahead to participate in the NYSC scheme despite having earlier participated in the scheme in 2018.

In a quick response to the report, the Federal Government suspended the evaluation and accreditation of degree certificates from Benin and Togo Republic.

A statement issued by the Assistant Director, Press, Ministry of Education, Mrs Augustina Obilor-Duru, in Abuja on Tuesday, said the suspension was pending the outcome of an investigation that would involve the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the two countries.

She said that the investigation would also involve the ministries responsible for education in the two countries as well the Department of State Services (DSS) and the NYSC.

“This report lends credence to suspicions that some Nigerians deploy nefarious means and unconscionable methods to get a Degree with the end objective of getting graduate job opportunities for which they are not qualified,” Obilor-Duru said.

“The ministry has also commenced internal administrative processes to determine the culpability or otherwise of her staff for which applicable Public Service Rules would be applied,” she said.

She said the issue of degree mills institutions, i.e institutions that exist on paper or operate in clandestine manner outside the control of regulators, “is a global problem that all countries grapple with”.

“The ministry has been contending with the problem including illegal institutions located abroad or at home preying on unsuspecting, innocent Nigerians and some desperate Nigerians who deliberately patronise such outlets,” she said.

But reacting to the Federal Government’s decision on Thursday, the NANS president in Benin Republic, Ugochukwu Favour, requested the government’s leniency over the ban on the validity of degree certificates from both the country and Togo, saying 15,000 Nigerian students in Benin would be negatively affected by it.

“For now, I will say that the Federal Government should look into the issue. Now, you can’t because it is happening in this school punish everyone because it involved close to 15,000 students in the Benin Republic,” Favour said.

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He said that the government had to work more to look into the situation and bring charges against people connected to the story.

However, he stated that NANS in the Benin Republic has formed a committee to look into the issue, saying that the report of its findings will be essential in putting a stop to such incidents in the future.

Earlier, NANS Senate President in Nigeria, Akinteye Afeez, had asked the Federal Government to reassess the suspension placed on the accreditation and evaluation of degree certificates from neighbouring Benin Republic and Togo.

In a statement, Afeez said the government’s commitment to upholding the integrity of academic qualifications was commendable but urged the government to “carefully consider” the impact of the decision on legitimate students who have pursued their education in these countries.

“We believe there is a need for reassessment. While the reported corruption is undoubtedly a cause for concern, it is crucial to distinguish between those involved in fraudulent activities and the vast majority of students who have pursued their education genuinely,” NANS said in the statement.

“Furthermore, Benin Republic and Togo host a significant number of Nigerian students seeking quality education. A blanket suspension can strain diplomatic and educational relations, impacting the opportunities available to Nigerian students in these neighbouring countries.

“A reconsideration of the suspension would alleviate the stress and uncertainties these students currently face,” it said.

Meanwhile, the National Universities Commission (NUC) on Wednesday said it has identified at least 37 illegal universities operating in Nigeria.

The Acting Secretary of the NUC, Chris Maiyaki, who disclosed this in Abuja, said some arrests had been made in that regard and that the DSS was involved in the clampdown on illegal institutions.

Some of the illegal institutions listed by NUC include University of Accountancy and Management Studies, operating anywhere in Nigeria; Christians of Charity American University of Science & Technology, Nkpor, Anambra State or any of its other campuses; University of Industry, Yaba, Lagos or any of its other campuses; University of Applied Sciences & Management, Port Novo, Republic of Benin or any of its other campuses in Nigeria; Blacksmith University, Awka or any of its other campuses; Volta University College, Ho, Volta Region, Ghana or any of its other campuses in Nigeria; Atlanta University, Anyigba, Kogi State or any of its other campuses; United Christian University, Macotis Campus, Imo State or any of its other campuses, among others.

The ICPC also said it has commenced investigation into the certificate racketeering report.

A statement signed by the spokesperson of ICPC, Mrs. Azuka Ogugua, on Wednesday said the ICPC Chairman, Dr. Musa Adamu Aliyu, SAN, convened a critical meeting at the ICPC headquarters in Abuja with “a reporter from a news outlet” to verify details and move beyond speculation.

“The investigation into Ecole Superieure de Gestion et de Technologies (ESGT) in Cotonou reveals a concerning situation where degrees are allegedly awarded in as little as six weeks, bypassing standard academic procedures like application, registration, coursework, and examinations,” Ogugua said.

“In response to these critical allegations, the ICPC is embarking on a thorough investigation. This probe will rigorously examine the networks and individuals engaged in these malpractices, with the objective of restoring and preserving the integrity of our educational system,” she said.

She said the Commission would furthermore engage in “a synergistic collaboration with relevant domestic and international bodies to jointly evaluate the legitimacy of academic qualifications procured from overseas institutions, especially those highlighted in the investigative report”.